As the school weeks went on, Mary Neil was making it really tough for me. I would see her going home from school as she came through Bona with her sisters, then down the hill to their shack carrying an armload of books every day. During spelling bees, we remained about even. I could best her handily on math tests and in science, but she was a whiz at history and geography.
I often wondered how Mr. Mitchell rated us. When we were all furiously working on a test, I would sometimes see him with a half-smile on his face watching first me and then Mary Neil to see who would finish first. All too often it was almost a dead heat. I knew that he would never play favorites and would judge us purely on academic excellence. I always worded my essays carefully and made sure that I got all the answers on the tests right.
One problem I had Was that I was now old enough to go out on Friday and Saturday nights and I got to running around with Roundtree Lindley who was my age and was allowed to drive the family pickup. He thought he was pretty hot stuff and that he was worldly wise because his family had lived for a while in a big city.
Roundtree and I had been good friends and were usually seatmates all during our years in the eighth, ninth, and tenth grades. I am pretty sure that Mr. Mitchell knew that Roundtree got some of his answers off my papers but he never said anything about it.
Roundtree and I would sometimes go in the pickup to the movies at Ash Grove up toward Springfield. Grandma and Grandpa did not like that much because they had heard that Roundtree was getting to be something of a hell raiser, but they indulgently allowed me to go until I sawed it off on my own.
We started out for Ash Grove on Saturday evening and Roundtree stopped at the Sac River Tavern over beyond Tarrytown where he knew they would sell him some beer. We got a couple of bottles—all we could afford and still have money for the picture show—and drank them under the trees near the tavern (they would not allow us inside).
It got late so when we finished the beer we tossed the empty bottles into the brush and Roundtree zoomed off up the highway too fast. I guess he was really feeling that bottle of beer. We came up behind an old farmer and his wife in a rattletrap Model A Ford that was chugging slowly along. Roundtree speeded up and said, “Let’s give ‘em a scare!”
As he passed the Model A, Roundtree swerved toward it deliberately. He overdid it and I ducked as he sideswiped the old car, knocking the door handle off the pickup on my side. That made him swerve the other way and I knew there was quite a drop-off on that side. I scrunched up and shut my eyes but he got the truck under control and slowed down. I looked back and the Model A was still coming so we figured they were all right.
I asked Roundtree how he was going to explain about the broken door handle and a dent in the door to his father. He just airily said, “Oh, I’ll just tell him it got sideswiped in the parking lot while we were in the show.”
Roundtree was one of those grinning, fast-talking fellows who could sell iceboxes to the Eskimos and he got away with it for a couple of days. He got it in the end, however. After all, it was a backwoods community and there were not too many blue pickup trucks around in those days. The old farmer described the truck to the sheriff who tracked it down to Joe Lindley. Old Roundtree did not get to drive the pickup for a while and, thinking about the close call with the drop-off, I flatly told him that I would not go drinking beer with him or ride with hi to Ash Grove when he could drive again. That pretty much ended our close friendship which was fine with Grandma and was fine with me as the smart aleck was not my type.