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Making a silk purse from a sow’s ear

Just exactly when Sammy Johnston came to town, I’m not sure.

And, why our grandmother invited him to come play with my cousin Jimmy and me, I didn’t know.

He came to visit his own grandmother and he came from a big city where I had never been.

He was a big boy with big ears and a big mean mouth. But, he had on the first silk shirt that I had ever seen on a little person, a little boy person.

His shirt was shiny brown silk with pictures of, what Sammy Johnston said was sail fish jumping up out of the ocean, all over it. It was beautiful.

And, there I stood in my stripped tee shirt with a stretched neck and jelly stains.

Sammy Johnston in his silk shirt was in charge.

For a whole week, we climbed trees, went fishing, played in the barn, picked blackberries, caught minnows, hunted arrow heads and climbed barbed wire fences.    

And, that’s where it happened. Sammy Johnston got his brown silk shirt caught on a barb and ripped the sleeve.

He started to cry and said bad words, “Darn! Dang!” His mama would kill him for tearing his new silk shirt.

Then, he stopped crying and looked at me. “Do you want it? Do you want this shirt?”

Did I want it?  I’d given my little soul over to the devil for the want of a silk shirt!

“Well,” he said. “We’ll swap. My brand-new silk shirt for one of your brand-new shirts.”

I didn’t have a brand-new shirt… but I did have one shirt that was sorta new. I got it for Christmas, — a green plaid, flannel shirt.

“I don’t want that ol’ hot shirt,” Sammy Johnston yelled. “Get a new shirt!”

“I don’t have one,” I said and dropped my eyes to my bare feet and dug my toes into the sand.

“Well…then …just go ahead and take it!” he said, and threw the brown, silk shirt on the ground. I reached down and picked it up and walked away.

When nobody was looking, I held that soft, silk shirt up to my face. How soft and wonderful it was.

I waited until Sammy Johnston went back to the big city and then I put on my brown, silk shirt and wore it every day.

“You’ve got to take it off long enough for me to wash it,” Mama said. ‘You don’t want it to smell bad.”

The other day, I was rummaging through the storage house and, tucked away in a box, was that brown, silk shirt with sailfish jumping up out of the ocean.

It still didn’t smell bad.

I wonder whatever happened to Sammy Johnston.