Boys and Girls

At the table over tonight’s dinner, I put my hands on my growing belly. I sigh and lean back in my chair.
My husband Marty looks up from his crab salad. “Well, it’s only about a month more, isn’t it?”
“Yep.” I nod and smile at him, happy to be having a child.
“I do hope it’s a boy,” he says. “What do you think?”
“I do, too, if that’s what you hope for.”
Marty leans back in his chair, looking satisfied and takes a bite of the salad.
My mind wanders, considering the future. I’m not sure how I would do with a little girl. All my life I was surrounded by boys—father and two brothers Gary and Tim, doing their boy things–whooping it up, going to ball games, fighting to see who was the strongest. Mom and I were not a match for them. It seemed that whenever a decision was to be made, one of the boys or Dad made it. My mother held back, tentative as she usually was, and the the boys had their way as if it were promised them at birth.
I learned to do as my mother did–to take the back seat, to say “no thank you” when offered the last piece of cake, to go to a ball game instead of to the city for shopping. The boys always held sway. They learned to express themselves, take chances, abandon caution, and assert their position. Mom was on the side of acquiescence, of keeping the peace. In those days I followed in her footsteps as the only way I knew for a girl like me.
In summertime we took our vacations in the Rocky Mountains, an hour’s drive from our home. We loved the brisk mountain air, the aroma of the pines and the clear blue skies. The year I turned thirteen we rented a cabin next to a rushing stream in Estes Park. My dad loved to fish and often came home with a enough for a good trout dinner.
“Come on, guys, we’re going fishing,” said Dad, waving his hand to include me.
I looked at Mom and she nodded. “Go ahead. You all have fun!”
Dad, my brothers and I took off in the station wagon and made a stop at the bait shop. “Fish are biting this year,” they told us. We bought live worms and shiny lures designed especially for trout.
“We’re all set,” said Dad. “Let’s catch us a good dinner!”
Dad found a flat spot alongside a rushing stream where we stopped and unloaded our fishing gear. My brothers and I prepared our rods with the bright trout lures and worms and chose our positions along the stream.
I planted myself on the bank and watched the glistening water as it rushed over the boulders. When I threw my fishing line out over the water, it wavered in the breeze, then settled down into the current. I watched and waited. When there were no nibbles, I tried again and again.
Finally I felt a tug, saw the pole dip, and my father called out, “You got one! Pull it up! Pull it up!” Dad rushed over to track every movement of my line. I held tight and pulled the line just enough to make sure the fish was hooked for good.
“Bring him in! Bring him in!” Dad shouted.
I gripped the pole and reeled in the line till I could see the fish come out of the water. It writhed on my line, my hook in its mouth, its rainbow scales shining.

“Good girl,” my father said, beaming and puffing up as if he had caught the trout himself. The boys each caught one, too, but I smiled to myself; mine was the biggest one. At the end of our day, we proudly showed off our catch to Mother. She ooh-ed and ahh-ed like it was the first time she ever saw such a catch, and we basked in the glory of our successful expedition.
Mother and I were left to clean the fish and fry it over the old stove while Dad read the local paper and the boys took up their comic books.
Mother laid out the three fish on the cutting board. “Oh, these fish are beautiful,” she said, “and this one is so big!”
“That’s the one I caught,” I tell her with a note of pride. I waited for her to ooh and aah some more, but she just shook her head. “Here, slice them open. Be careful of the knife.”
I sliced each fish along the bones and cleaned all of them, while my face burned in shame. Should I not be bragging about my catch?
I handed the cleaned fish to my mother and she fried them up on the iron stovetop. At dinner we sat around the small kitchen table and Mom set down a plate of freshly fried fish in the center next to the potato salad.
Dad set his cowboy hat aside and looked at Mother, grinning. “A fine catch, wouldn’t you say, Helen?”
“A fine catch indeed,” she said, beaming across the table at my brothers. They drank it all in, each nodding and taking another bite.
Nobody mentioned my part in the expedition, so I kept my sense of satisfaction to myself. That’s the way it should be. A girl has got to learn what it is to coexist with the boys, to balance herself on the tightrope between pleasing them and holding her own. Hanging tight and not falling.
Now at the table I glance at my husband, rub my belly again and lean in. “Marty,” I say, a bit louder than necessary, “if we have a girl, she’s going to keep up with you boys.”
He looks at me a little puzzled, then nods and takes a swallow of wine. “What’s for dessert?”

By Gail Field

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