When I was in first grade, Diane H was the only kid in the class who was skinnier than I was and almost as short. She shared her Fritos (a forbidden food in our household, where my health- conscious mother ruled Cabinetland) with me at lunch, and she would talk to me. Thus, I being the discerning and complicated person most six-year-olds are, she was my friend. One day, she brought something very exciting for Show and Tell: her twin baby brothers, who were pushed into the classroom in this amazing double stroller, something almost more intriguing than the babies themselves.
Diane moved away after first grade, and I didn’t think much of her until she showed up at my junior high school (her family had moved back). She was one of only five people I’d known from elementary school who ended up at my junior high, but we were in junior high, where it was mandatory to pretend you’d never laid eyes on someone who’d been your friend in first grade. Thus, having become an even more discerning and complicated person, she was no longer my friend.
But, then, she ended up at the same high school with me (even weirder than ending up in the same junior high. She and I were the only two in our class who had attended all three schools). These years probably being the ones when I was at my most discerning and complicated, we became friends again. The fact that we were both short, quiet, blonde girls whom teachers often confused might also have had something to do with it. It’s hard not to be friends with the person people keep referring to by your name. I couldn’t fool the boys, though. All my crushes knew exactly which one was Diane, since their crushes were all focused on her, while they ignored me, she being the prettier, less awkward one.
Little did I know that while Diane and I were busy engaging in this on-again/off-again relationship, her twin baby brothers were growing, and they had another brother David. David was in Ian’s class back at the elementary school (a Lutheran school associated with a Lutheran church called St. John’s). The twins were still a bit young, but that would soon change. Also back at that elementary school were two other kids Susan and Michael, who were fellow faculty brats with Ian and me. Their father taught German at the college where our father taught history. Michael and Ian had been pretty much inseparable from the day they met. Now they had this third new kid to make their twosome into a threesome.
Talk about the quintessential darling little boy. David H. was as tow-headed as they come. He was tiny, much smaller than Ian and Michael, and he wore large plastic frame glasses that always seemed to be falling off his nose. He had a very squeaky little voice that was often hard to hear when large groups of kids were gathered together. Now talk about looks being deceiving, but I’ll get to that shortly.
I soon discovered Susan and Diane knew each other from St. John’s church, which both their families attended, and pretty soon the three of us were hanging out together, despite the fact Susan was two years younger and would never attend the same schools we did. The fact that their sisters all hung out together made it easier for Michael, Ian, and David to do so, and this was when I finally got to know Diane’s little brothers. All three of them really were little, tiny, in fact, although Mark was more a normal-sized boy than his (obviously fraternal) twin brother Eric. Eric’s hair was darker than David’s, though, and he didn’t wear glasses.
The H. children were all brilliant. Their mother was either the first woman, or one of the first women to graduate from Duke University’s engineering school. She in no way resembled the other mothers of that era. She worked as an engineer, her home was no spotlessly clean, and she was not the sort who brought homemade goodies to school on a regular basis. She was tough, smart, witty, and fun to hang out with, and I thought she hung the moon. Diane, on the other hand, was one of the most feminine girls you could ever meet. She was the one baking cookies, sewing, meticulously applying makeup, neatly wearing the preppy styles of the day – everything matching. She loved to laugh, but you’d never catch her laughing too loud, nor would you ever catch her talking loudly (sins which I committed on a regular basis). Most of the time, she barely spoke above a whisper. She was a studious girl who never got into trouble and didn’t do anything to draw attention to herself.
She didn’t seem to be related to her mother, and she most certainly didn’t seem to be related to her brothers, whom I soon discovered were all putting their high I.Q.s together in what seemed to be a race to destroy the planet. Their chosen means of doing so revolved around an inferno theme.
In those days, fireworks were illegal in North Carolina. In order to get anything more bang-worthy than a sparkler, one had to cross the border into South Carolina. The H. boys could have put Lucky Luciano to shame with their network of runners willing to hustle down there and bring them back their contraband. Most of us Tarheel kids had a few bottle rockets in little lunch bags we’d proudly show off to people who’d promise not to snitch on us, everyone being sure we’d end up in jail if caught with such goods. The H. boys, on the other hand, had whole shopping bags full of things I’m sure no one had ever seen outside of China.
At some point, I began to wonder how Diane managed to survive in that family. Her mother wasn’t one to really care too much about exactly where her children were when they weren’t bugging her, and her father wasn’t around much. This gave the boys plenty of opportunities to torment their sister. I wasn’t used to reckoning with such brothers. I had this sweet younger brother who would build forts or invent games and then come find me, all excited, so he could share them with me. Diane’s brothers were the types who’d tell her they’d found a cool cave deep in the woods, then lead her into those woods just as it was getting dark, grab all the flashlights, and race out, leaving her stranded. I was terrified to follow them anywhere.
One night, my parents were out of town, and I decided to have a party. Since Susan and Diane were both coming to my party, I told them to bring their brothers along. This way, Ian would have some friends to hang out with, too. This was the night I finally caught a glimpse of the terror Ian must have endured on a regular basis hanging out with those boys, despite the fact he’d never said a word about it to me.
My friends and I were all hanging out in the living room, listening to music on my parents’ stereo and trying to impress members of the opposite sex. Ian and his gang were hanging out outside somewhere. The phone rang. I knew it had to be my parents, so I raced upstairs, closing doors behind me to answer the phone, hoping they wouldn’t be able to hear the noise indicating their living room was full of teenagers.
I talked to both of them, told them Susan and Diane were over, and all seemed fine until they wanted to speak to Ian. Ian? I suddenly realized I had no idea where he was. It was too early on a Friday night for him to be in bed. I stumbled for a moment and then told them Susan and Diane had brought their brothers, and the boys were outside somewhere. I wasn’t sure where. As I said it, I looked out the window to see a trashcan in the middle of our backyard, flames leaping from its depths, as the figures of pre-teenaged and teenaged boys scattered. What the hell? I don’t know how I managed not to drop the phone, convinced as I was that the headlines in the next day’s papers would read “Explosion at Teen Party Burns Down House, Killing All.” I fumbled through some more lies with my parents and finally managed to get them off the phone.
By the time I’d raced back downstairs and out the door, “the boys” had managed to get the fire under control. Although I felt like screaming my head off at them, I was a teenager and knew that wouldn’t be cool. So, I did the “cool” thing. I calmly asked them if everyone was all right and got a few gruff “yeses” in return that satisfied me. To this day, I haven’t a clue what they were doing, and I’m amazed we all survived.
Even more amazing is that all those boys survived not only that night but many others like it and managed to make it into adulthood. Tiny little David and Eric both grew to be over six feet tall. I haven’t seen any of them in years, but they all got married and had children of their own. I wonder what their kids’ fireworks collections look like.