Memoirs of a Jump Rope Queen

by Margaret A. Frey Read author interview December 15, 2003

“Jump, jump, jump. Slap, slap, slap. Gonna find me a man that’s fat, fat, fat.” With money, of course.

Ma says it don’t cost spit to love a rich man over a poor one. She says a girl should use her head ‘cause the only thing a man wants is your other body parts. My sister, Lela, doubles over laughing and points a pudgy finger. “Then Pookie is safe for a lifetime, ‘cause she got no-o-o body. Nothing but a head on a stick. Hah, hah, hah!”

“Least I don’t have five chins and a big droopy belly.”

The hee-haws stop. Lela’s bottom lip quivers. I’m not suppose to talk about her stomach swelling up last summer or how it flaps around now like an empty pouch. Not suppose to talk about the boy, Russell Atkins or the poor baby, though most people know she lost them, or that’s what they say as if she hid them in a broom closet and clear forgot. Can’t help myself because Lela calls me names like chicken legs and ostrich and wild child from Borneo. Just can’t help it, so I don’t even try.

“Russell and Lela sitting in a tree. K-i-ss-i-n-g. First came love and then . . .”

She lunges. She’s sure to slap me hard, but I’m slick and fast. I run, then throw open the storm door, hard enough the glass clatters, but I don’t look back. Once on the street, I flap my arms and pretend I’m bright-colored bird, a blue jay maybe. A click and slap comes sailing around the corner. I cock my head to the sing-song chant.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around,
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground,
Wiggle your butt and show your shoes,
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear you’re in the news.

Not sure how Teddy Bear hit the headlines, but I’m ready for jumping. I zoom around the corner and say, “Hey,” then lean my shoulder against the hot brick wall. The Peterson’ twins are pumping their skinny knees high between the ropes. They hop on one foot and salute like soldiers. They scream, “Fast, faster.” Show-offs! I set my face to neutral and look cool and casual, not too eager or they’ll never call my name.

Janey Masters with the hairy armpits and her cousin, Mary, turn the ropes. I wish Janey would start wearing long-sleeve shirts because that hair is nasty, better on a dog than a human being. Makes you want to look away like when Ma talks about men wanting body parts. Frankenstein jitters! I haven’t asked what parts, but I’m guessing breasts since that’s all the older girls talk about—when are they coming, will they be bigger than so and so’s and if not, please God, make them perfect and round. What I know for sure is Janey doesn’t jump fast. She sticks to turning so she can pose and flick her scraggly hair. She watches the boys strut by with their slouchy jeans and the colored bands of their underwear hanging out.

Me? I could jump forever. I could jump until I died and then pray they have jump ropes in heaven. Once I slide between the ropes, everything changes. Can’t hardly explain it but the air is different inside the churn. The click and snap flies off the sidewalk and puts you right in the stride. You enter the double beat easy with your hands loose and head tucked down. Once you’re in the groove, your feet take over. The ropes set the rhythm and the jumping speed.

Ma says I’ll give up jumping sooner than later. She says it in a whispery voice and looks out the back window with faraway eyes. She gets the same look when she talks about Pop, who Lela and I don’t even remember. He had a restless heart with feet to match, Ma says. He couldn’t stay in one place and took off for parts unknown after I was born. That’s when I remember Ma’s old, nearly thirty-five. I’m not ready to quit, I tell her. Not yet. Maybe when I’m—

“Pookie! Come on, girl. Your turn. There’s dreaming or there’s jumping.”

I jump. I bow my head, then roll my shoulder and hop on the upswing. One, two, three. I slide into place like sweet, soft butter. All my body parts get tucked in the curl, a sidewalk surfer. Don’t care about the outside or the future or even Janey’s armpits. While I jump-dance in the tunnel, nothing else matters.

I’m a little Dutch girl dressed in blue
Here are the things I like to do,
Salute the Captain,
Curtsy to a Queen,
Turn my back on a big submarine.
I can do a tap dance,
I can do a split,
I can do the polka just like this.
Snap, snap, snap, snap.

My jumping feet sizzle, and they’re my very best part. Don’t plan to give them up or put them in a closet or squeeze them into shoes with pizza pie toes. Ma says I’m silly. Lela says I’m crazy. I say jumping’s better than lost babies or faraway eyes. Inside the turning, the only rules are the rhyme and the ropes and your heart beating time while you skip and dance. If I quit, I won’t know myself. Something’s sure to curl up and flat out die. I can’t let it happen. Just won’t!

I’m the Jump Rope Queen,
The best on the block.
I can jump to the moon,
In case you forgot.
I can jump on one foot,
Or jump on two,
I’ll jump right past a silly kangaroo.
I can fly to Paris,
I can shout, “oui, oui.”
Then I’ll touch the stars,
Where you can’t touch me.
Snap, snap, snap, snap.

So don’t even try.

About the Author:

Margaret A. Frey started her career as a copy/production editor in Philadelphia, Pa. Her early fiction appeared in the Asphodel, a literary quarterly. More recently, Margaret’s work appeared in Literary Potpourri, Bovine Free Wyoming, and Flashquake, and a non-fiction piece took 2nd place in the 2003 Erma Bombeck competition, human-interest category. Margaret writes from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains where she lives with her husband and book-eating Bernese pup, Ruffian.