were some of the activities that thrilled Bobby to the core. However,
for Bobby just life itself was exciting. And really at that time and that
place what red-blooded American boy would not wake up every morning jumping
for joy and ready to go? He was living smack-dab in the middle of the
greatest country in the world-some said the greatest country that ever
was or ever would be. We had just beaten the Germans and the Japanese
in a fair fight. We had saved Europe and everyone liked us that year,
even the French. Our girls were the prettiest, our boys the handsomest,
our soldiers the bravest, and our flag the most beautiful. That year it
seemed like everyone in the world wanted to be an American. People from
all over the world were having a fit trying to come here. And who could
blame them? We had John Wayne, Betty Grable, Mickey Mouse, Roy Rogers,
Superman, Dagwood and Blondie, the Andrews Sisters, and Captain Marvel.
Buck Rogers and Red Ryder, BB guns, the Hardy Boys, G-men, Miss America,
cotton candy. Plus Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Amos 'n' Andy, Fibber
McGee and Molly, and anybody could grow up and become the president of
the United States.
Bobby even felt sorry for anyone who was not lucky enough to have been
born here. After all, we had invented everything in the world that really
mattered. Hot dogs, hamburgers, roller coasters, roller skates, ice-cream
cones, electricity, milk shakes, the jitterbug, baseball, football, basketball,
barbecue, cap pistols, hot-fudge sundaes, and banana splits. We had Coca-Cola,
chocolate-covered peanuts, jukeboxes, Oxydol, Ivory Snow, oleomargarine,
and the atomic bomb!
We were bigger, better, richer, and stronger than anybody but we still
played by the rules and were always good sports. We even reached out and
helped pick up and dust off Japan and Germany after we had beaten them
. . . and if that wasn't being a good sport, what was? Bobby's own state
of Missouri had given the world Mark Twain, Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers,
and the great St. Louis World's Fair, and aboard the battleship Missouri
the Japanese had surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur. Not only that,
Bobby's Cub Scout troop (Bobwhite Patrol) had personally gone all over
town collecting old rubber tires, scrap paper, and aluminum pots and pans.
That had helped win the war. And if that wasn't enough to make a boy proud,
the president of the entire United States, Mr. Harry S. Truman, was a
true-blue dyed-in-the-wool Missourian, and St. Louis had won the World
Series. Even the trees stood a little straighter this year, or so it seemed
He had a mother, a father, and a grandmother and had never known anyone
who had died. He had seen only photographs in store windows of the boys
who had been killed in the war. He and his best friend, Monroe, were now
official blood brothers, an act so solemn that neither one spoke on the
way home. His big sister, Anna Lee, a pretty blue-eyed blond girl, was
quite popular with all the older boys, who would sometimes hang around
the house and play catch or throw the football with him. Sometimes he
was able to make a quarter off the guys just to leave them alone on the
front porch with Anna Lee. In 1946 a quarter meant popcorn, candy, a movie,
a cartoon, and a serial, plus a trip to the projection booth to visit
Snooky, who read Mickey Spillane books. And after the movie he could go
next door to the Trolley Car Diner, where Jimmy, their boarder, would
fry him a burger if he was not too busy.
Or he might stop by the drugstore on the corner and read a few of the
newest comic books. His father was the pharmacist so he was allowed to
look at them for free as long as he did not wrinkle or spill any food
on them. Thelma and Bertha Ann, the girls who worked behind the soda fountain,
thought he was cute and might slip him a cherry Coke or, if he was lucky,
a root-beer float. Downtown Elmwood Springs was only one long block so
there was never any danger of getting lost, and the year-round weather
couldn't have been more perfect if he had ordered it off a menu. Each
October a nice big round orange harvest moon appeared just in time for
Halloween. Thanksgiving Day was always crisp and cool enough to go outside
and play tag after a big turkey dinner and snow fell once or twice a year,
just when he needed a day off from school.
And then came spring, with crickets, frogs, and little green leaves on
the trees again, followed by summer, sleeping out on the screened porch,
fishing, hot bright sunny days at Cascade Plunge, the town's swimming
pool, and so far every Fourth of July, after all the firecrackers, whirligigs,
and sparklers were gone, lightning bugs and large iridescent blue-and-green
June bugs showed up in time to make the night last a little longer.
On hot muggy August afternoons, just when you thought you would die of
the heat, clouds would begin to gather and distant thunder boomed so deep
you would feel it in your chest. Suddenly a cool breeze would come from
out of nowhere and turn the sky a dark gunmetal gray, so dark that all
the streetlights in town got confused and started coming on. Seconds later
an honest-to-God Missouri gully washer would come crashing down hard and
fast and then without warning pick up and run to the next town, leaving
behind enough cool water to fill the gutters so Bobby could run out and
feel it rushing over his bare feet.
Although Mr. Bobby Smith had only been on this earth for a very short
time and at present occupied only four feet eight inches of it, he was
already a man of considerable property. Most of which he kept in his room
on the floor, on the walls, on the bed, under the bed, hanging from the
ceiling, or anywhere there was an empty space. As the decorators would
say, he was going in for that casual, devil-may-care, cluttered look that
his mother had the nerve to say looked like a Salvation Army junk store.
It was only an average-sized bedroom with a small closet, but to Bobby,
it was his personal and private magical kingdom full of priceless treasures.
A place where he was the master of all he surveyed, rich as a sultan.
Although in truth there was nothing in the room that a sultan or anybody
else, for that matter, would want unless they were in the market for a
box of painted turtles or an assortment of rocks, a flattened-out penny
he and Monroe had put on the streetcar tracks, or a life-sized cardboard
stand-up of Sunset Carson, his favorite cowboy, that Snooky had given
him from the Elmwood Theater. Or maybe two silver dollars or an artificial
yellow fish eye he had found behind the VFW or a small glass jeep that
once had candy in it, for about five seconds. Among his possessions that
year was a homemade slingshot, a bag of marbles, one little Orphan Annie
decoder pin, one glow-in-the-dark ring, one compass, one Erector set,
three yo-yos, a model airplane, a boy's hairbrush with a decal of the
Lone Ranger on it (a birthday present from Monroe that Monroe's mother
had bought), a cardboard Firestone filling station complete with pumps,
a bookshelf full of ten-cent Terry and the Pirates, Joe Palooka, and Red
Ryder books. Under the bed were several Spider Man, Porky the Pig, Little
Audrey, and Casper the Friendly Ghost comic books, plus an L&N train
set, his plastic braided Indian bracelet a girl gave him that he thought
he had lost, and one white rubber handlebar cover from an old bicycle.
But Bobby's world was not limited to just what he could see or touch or
to the space inside the four walls of his bedroom. He had traveled a million
miles in the L&N train under his bed, ridden up treacherous mountains
through long black tunnels over raging rivers, and in the little plane
hanging from the ceiling he had flown around the world, often over Amazon
jungles teeming with alligators. Even the streetlight on the corner provided
Bobby with a wonderful show. As he was lying in bed on breezy summer evenings,
watching the shadows made by the leaves of the poplar tree dancing on
the side of the house next door, they soon became palm trees, swaying
back and forth in the warm trade winds of the nearest tropical island.
Some nights he could hear the faint strains of Hawaiian music and see
rows of hula girls dancing right above the Robinsons' bedroom window.
So enthralled was Bobby with this image that he had sent off for a ukulele.
Nobody was more disappointed. He had expected it to play a song when strummed
but it had not. The sound it made was a far cry from music, Hawaiian or
otherwise, so he quickly moved on to the harmonica and was convinced he
was really playing a song when he wasn't. So great was his imagination
that when he rode a broomstick handle around the backyard he could see
the dust and hear the sound of the thundering hoofs as he galloped across
the dry western desert. That year he went to sleep each night with his
eyes full of cowboys and Indians and his head filled with voices. "Tom
Mix and the Ralston Straight Shooters are on the air!" "From out of the
West comes America's fighting cowboy!" "Quaker Oats . . . delicious, nutritious,
makes you ambitious!" "You bet 'um, Red Ryder." "I'm back in the saddle
again." "Well, I'll be a lop-eared kangaroo if it isn't roundup time."
"Me Tonto, you Kemo Sabe." And his favorite, "Hi-yo, Silver, away!"
An outside observer might think his life was just about perfect. However,
to be fair, there were two distinctive and troublesome drawbacks to being
Bobby Smith. One was his appearance. He was a nice-enough-looking boy
with brown eyes and brown hair. His teeth were straight. His ears stuck
out slightly but nothing out of the ordinary. One problem was that his
mouth turned up a bit at both corners, making him look like he knew a
secret and was pleased about it. This expression caused his mother and
his teachers to ask constantly, "What are you up to?" even when he wasn't
up to anything. No matter how much he professed his innocence, they always
replied, "Don't lie to me, Bobby Smith, I can tell you're up to something
by the look on your face."
The other drawback was his parents. Everybody knew who they were and would
tell on him the minute he did something wrong. His father, the town's
only pharmacist, a Mason, a Rotarian, an Elk, and a senior elder at the
First Methodist Church, was just naturally on a first-name basis with
the entire town. But to make matters even worse, his mother was a local
radio personality known as Neighbor Dorothy, who five days a week broadcast
her show from their living room. And each year she would send her listening
audience Christmas cards with the family's picture on them, so that people
for miles around knew who he was and what he looked like, and sometimes
when a guest did not show up his mother would grab Bobby and make him
be the guest and ask him all kinds of questions as if he were a complete
stranger. On holidays his mother would put him on the radio to recite
some stupid poem. And to add insult to injury, his personal and private
business was often discussed on his mother's radio show and everything
he did, good or bad, was talked about for all the world to hear.
His only consolation was that this was a cross both the Smith children
had to bear. This was of little consolation to Anna Lee. Last year his
sister had gotten hysterical when their mother happened to mention that
Anna Lee did not have a date as of yet for the prom because she was holding
out, hoping the boy she thought looked just like Glenn Ford-her major
movie-star crush at the time-would ask her. Dorothy had always shared
things about her family with her audience before but when Anna Lee heard
that piece of information going out over the airwaves she ran through
the house screaming as if someone had shot her and flung herself on the
bed sobbing, "Oh, Mother, how could you? You've ruined my life. I'll never
get another date as long as I live. I might as well just kill myself."
She stayed in bed wailing with a cold cloth on her head for two days while
her mother, who felt terrible about it, tried to make it up to her by
bringing her homemade peach ice cream and promising never to mention her
name over the air again.
At the time Bobby thought it was pretty funny but Bobby was not yet at
the sensitive stage where what other people thought about you was a matter
of life and death. So for the moment, other than not being able to get
away with much, he didn't have a care in the world and, like most ten-year-old
boys, believed that something wonderful was always just about to happen.
Excerpted from Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie
Flagg Copyright 2002 by Fannie Flagg. Excerpted by permission of Random
House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of
this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing
from the publisher.
Fannies back in town--and the town is among the leading characters
in her new novel.
Neighbor Dorothy, the lady with the smile in her voice, whose daily radio
broadcasts keep us delightfully informed on all the local news, we also
meet Bobby, her ten-year-old son, destined to live a thousand lives, most
of them in his imagination; Norma and Macky Warren and their ninety-eight-year-old
Aunt Elner; the oddly sexy and charismatic Hamm Sparks, who starts off
in life as a tractor salesman and ends up selling himself to the whole
state and almost the entire country; and the two women who love him as
differently as night and day. Then there is Tot Whooten, the beautician
whose luck is as bad as her hairdressing skills; Beatrice Woods, the Little
Blind Songbird; Cecil Figgs, the Funeral King; and the fabulous Minnie
Oatman, lead vocalist of the Oatman Family Gospel Singers.
is 1946 until the present. The town is Elmwood Springs, Missouri, right
in the middle of the country, in the midst of the mostly joyous transition
from war to peace, aiming toward a dizzyingly bright future.
Fannie Flagg gives us a story of richly human characters, the saving graces
of the once-maligned middle classes and small-town life, and the daily
contest between laughter and tears. Fannie truly writes from the heartland,
and her storytelling is, to quote Time, "utterly irresistible."
Flagg began her writing career behind the scenes of televisions
Candid Camera and progressed
to out-in-front as performer-writer. Her acting achievements led to roles
in motion pictures including Five
Easy Pieces, with Jack Nicholson; Stay Hungry, with Jeff
Bridges and Sally Field; and, most recently, Crazy
in Alabama, with Melanie Griffith. For the theater in New York
she did Patio Porch and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy
Dean, Jimmy Dean, and played the lead role in the Broadway musical
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
novel, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, was on the New York Times
bestseller list for ten weeks. Her second, Fried Green Tomatoes at
the Whistle Stop Cafe, praised by Harper Lee and Eudora Welty, was
on the Times list for thirty-six weeks. It was made into the memorable
hit movie Fried Green Tomatoes, starring Jessica Tandy and Kathy
Bates. The screenplay, also written by Flagg, earned her the coveted Scripters
Award and was nominated for an Academy Award and the Writers Guild of
America Screen Award. Her reading of the Random House audiobook received
a Grammy nomination.
gave way to an even bigger hardcover success for Welcome to the World,
Baby Girl!, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, which The Christian
Science Monitor called captivating . . . a comic novel to open with
open arms. Flagg lives in California and in Alabama.