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A short life of crime (07/24/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

Strange memories surface when your body is inactive for a period of time. I called my sister in Massachusetts to see how they were handling the heat and humidity that has finally left us and is settling in over the East Coast for a stay. They relented and put in an air conditioner in one of the bedrooms, which cools their little house enough for some respite. But yard work, which is never ending on their pond-side large lot, has been suspended, except for watering the plants. Some cousins from Florida are visiting our aunt, who lives next door to my sister, and whom she cares for.

So my sister has some time on her hands which in the heat she fills with reading and apparently thinking random thoughts. As random thoughts do, one came swimming up out of the depths unbidden, and she was reminded of her life of crime, mercifully a short one.

In our old neighborhood, there was a park at the end of the street, called Butterworth Park. It covered an entire block, about the size of two Winona blocks. Next to it was an area of a similar size that was wooded and had a stream running through it. All the neighborhood kids played there, and there were lots of organized activities as well. My brother played Little League baseball there, and we all went every morning to the recreation department’s playground day camp to braid gymp into bracelets and key chains for which we had no keys. My brother and I won a freckle contest one summer, and my cousin shocked us all by showing up as a “bathing beauty” for the costume contest. Most of us were clowns or Superman or cowgirls. Parents were happy to have us play there all summer, as it kept us occupied and out of their hair.

But on one day, my sister and her neighborhood friend, Ann, a quiet blond whose grandmother sent her out each morning to play in immaculately pressed clothes and her long hair in banana curls, were at the park. The town crews had recently laid cement near the grandstand, finally leaving it to dry in the summer sun.

Then some of the neighborhood “bad boys” showed up, the Rizzoli brothers, and they couldn’t resist the temptation — the blank slate that newly poured cement presents. So my sister and Ann (two more timid and well behaved little girls would be hard to find) watched the boys having fun, and decided it would be cool to do a little artwork on this fine, smooth cement.

Somehow the police became involved. Probably a neighbor (this was back when many people stayed home during the day) recognized the boys and turned them in. Or, my sister opined that they were so dumb they signed their names in the cement. But here is where her memory becomes murky. She doesn’t remember that the police came to our house, or even that our parents were aware of her crime.

What she does remember is that the Rizzoli brothers told her and Ann that the cops knew all about their involvement. Under intense grilling, they had been forced to give the police the names of anyone messing with the cement, they said. The boys told them that they were in big trouble, and they had better get over to Butterworth Park and take their punishment, which was to clean up all the trash around the grandstand.

So the girls immediately ran down there and began to clean. I told her I bet the brothers made up the story about the police knowing anything about the girls and only told them that to get them to do the cleaning up for them. But maybe she has the Rizzoli brothers to thank for scaring her so much that this was the extent of her life of crime, keeping her out of prison and allowing her to live a life of freedom, with plenty of time to sit on the porch in sweltering heat and entertain long lost memories of an almost unblemished childhood. 


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