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Authors: Sharon Creech

Absolutely Normal Chaos

BOOK: Absolutely Normal Chaos
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Sharon Creech
Absolutely Normal Chaos

For Karin and Rob Leuthy
and all our Creeches

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Dear Mr. Birkway

Here it is: my summer journal. As you can see, I got a little carried away

The problem is this, though. I don’t want you to read it

I really mean it. I just wanted you to know I did it. I didn’t want you to think I was one of those kids who says, “Oh yeah, I did it, but I lost it/my dog ate it/my little brother dropped it in the toilet

But please PLEEEASSSE DON’T READ IT! How was I to know all this stuff was going to happen this summer? How was I to know Carl Ray would come to town and turn everything into an odyssey? And how was I to know about Alex…? Sigh


Mary Lou Finney

Tuesday, June 12

I wish someone would tell me exactly what a journal
. When I asked my mother, she said, “Well, it’s like a diary only different.”
helps. She was going to explain more, but Mrs. Furtz (the lady who just moved in across the street) called to say that my brother Dennis was throwing eggs at her house, and my mother went berserk so she didn’t finish telling me. How am I supposed to write a journal if I don’t even know what one is?

I wouldn’t be doing this anyway, except that Mrs. Zollar asked me to. She’s an English teacher. She asked us to keep a journal this summer and bring it in (in September) to our new English teacher.

So, new English teacher, I guess I better say who I am. My name is Mary Lou Finney. I live at 4059 Buxton Road in Easton, Ohio. I have a normally strange family. Here’s our cast of characters, so to speak:

Sam Finney
(whose age I am not allowed to tell you) is the father. He is a pretty regular father. Sometimes he likes us and sometimes we drive him crazy. When we are driving him crazy, he usually goes out in the garden and pulls some weeds. When he is at work, he is a geologist and spends his days drawing maps.

Sally Finney
(whose age I am also not allowed to tell you or anyone else) is the mother. She also is a pretty regular mother. Sometimes she drools all over us and sometimes she asks my father if there isn’t something he can do about us. When we are driving
crazy, she usually cries a little. When she is at work, she is an oral historian and spends her days tape-recording stories that elderly people tell her. I think that by the time she gets home to us, she is a little tired of hearing people talk.

Maggie Finney
(seventeen years old) is the oldest daughter. She’s my sister. She is your basic boy-crazy, fingernail-painting, mopey ole sister with whom I have the misfortune of sharing a room. She does not like me to touch her things.

Mary Lou Finney
(thirteen years old) is the next
oldest. That’s me. I don’t know what I am. I am waiting to find out.

Dennis Finney
(twelve years old) is the kind of brother who will climb a tree with you one minute and tell on you the next. He gets into a fair amount of trouble (such as getting caught throwing eggs at Mrs. Furtz’s house, breaking windows with apples, etc.), but he is okay other than that.

Doug Finney
(better known as Dougie) (eight years old) gets lost in the middle of everyone else. He’s skinny as anything and follows everybody else around. He’s quiet and more serious than the rest of us, so nobody minds him tagging along, but he calls himself the “poor little slob.”

Tommy Finney
(four years old) is the spoiled-baby type kid. We think he’s cute as anything, and so he gets away with murder. He’s the messiest eater you’ve ever seen.

This journal is not as hard as I thought. I just hope I am doing it right. It would be terrible to do it all summer and then take it in and have someone look at it and say, “Oh, but this isn’t a journal, dear.”

I tried to ask Mrs. Zollar a million questions about the journal when she gave it to us, but Alex Cheevey said, “Geez. We don’t want to know
much about it. Then we’ll have to do it
. Can’t you ever keep quiet?”

And now I will reflect on that. I used to think
Alex Cheevey was cute, because his skin is always a little pink, like he’s just been running a race, and his hair is always clean and shiny, and once we had to do an oral report together and even though I did most of the work, he patted me on the back when we were done, as if he realized what a good job I did, and he is certainly the best player on the basketball team and so graceful when he runs and dribbles the ball. But now, as I reflect on it, I see he is really a jerk.


Wednesday, June 13

I’ve been sitting here thinking about last Friday, the last day of school, when I heard Christy and Megan talking about Christy’s party. I wasn’t invited. They are always having these parties, but they only invited me once, and that was because I took Megan some books when she was sick and spent three hours explaining the homework and even doing some of it for her, and so for about a week she was my friend.

But the party was the stupidest (I know there is no such word as stupidest) thing I have ever seen, with the girls all giggling in the middle of the room, and the boys all leaning against the walls, and then they put on the records and started dancing, just the girls with the girls, until finally a slow song came on and
some of the boys danced slow with some of the girls just to hang all over their necks, but no one asked me to dance, so I had to stand by the food and pretend to be hungry as anything.

I keep forgetting to reflect on things. I will reflect on these parties. If I was a boy, I would wish they would plan something interesting, like maybe a game of basketball.

After our last exam, Christy came slinking up to Alex and said, “Welllll, Alex, see you tonight.” (I am going to try some dialogue here.)

Alex looked down at his shoes and said, “Unnnh.”

Christy wiggled her shoulders and said in this thin little voice, “Well, you

Alex put the toes of his shoes together like he was pigeon-toed and said, “Unnnh.”

Christy pushed her face right up next to his and said, “It’s at eight o’clock. Don’t forget!” Then she patted her hand on his shoulder a few times and turned around and wiggled away. Lord.

I walked home from school with Beth Ann. Beth Ann Bartels is my best friend, I guess. We’re very different, but we have been friends, with no fights, since the fourth grade. I tell her just about everything, and she tells me
, even things I do not want to know, like what she ate for breakfast and what her father wears to bed and how much her new sweater
cost. Sometimes things like that are not interesting.

But, anyway, on the way home, as Beth Ann and I were passing the Tast-ee Freeze, it suddenly occurred to me that school was over and it was summer and I was going to have to start having fun the very next day and I wouldn’t see most of the people at school for three months. Beth Ann and I live on the farthest edge of the school district, at least two miles from school. Everyone else seems to live on the other side of the school. Well, it was a little sad to realize that school was over. Then I thought, boy, isn’t that just typical? You wait and wait and wait for something, and then when it happens, you feel sad.

I always stop at Beth Ann’s house before I go on home. We have this little routine. We go in and the house is quiet, not at all like my house, which is a complete zoo at any hour of the day or night. Her house is always immaculately clean, as if someone had just raced through with a duster and a vacuum cleaner or as if no one really lived there. Our house always has people’s clothes lying all over: socks on the stereo, jackets on the kitchen table, everyone’s papers and books clumped in piles on chairs and counters. So I like to stop at Beth Ann’s house before I go home.

Beth Ann’s parents both work and so does her older sister Judy, so we have the house to ourselves.
We always go into the kitchen, and I sit at the table while Beth Ann takes out a bottle of Coke and a bag of potato chips. It amazes me that there is always Coke and potato chips. In our house stuff like that would disappear in about ten minutes.

On the way home from Beth Ann’s, I ran into Alex Cheevey, who doesn’t live anywhere near here. He had his hands in his pockets and he looked very pink. When he got up close to me, I said, “Alex Cheevey? What in the world are you doing over here?”

He said, “Oh. Do you live over here?”

I said yes, I did.

He said, “Oh. What a coincidence.”

I said, “Why?”

He said, “Oh. Well, I know someone over here.”

I said, “On Buxton Road?” I was a little surprised, because Buxton Road is a very short road and I know everyone on it and I had never seen Alex Cheevey here before.

He said, “Oh. No.”

I said, “On Winston?” Winston is the next street over.

He said, “Oh. Yeah.”

I said, “Who?”

I am getting tired of writing “I said” and “he said.” Sometimes you don’t have to put those words
just to know who is talking, so I’m not going to.

“Oh. The Murphys.” (That’s Alex talking.)

“The Murphys?” I’d never heard of the Murphys.

Well, anyway, we talked on like that for a while and he asked me if I was going to Christy’s party. I told him that no, I was not going, and I was
I wasn’t going.

So that was on the last day of school, and when I got ready to go to bed and thought about everyone being at that party, including Alex, I sort of wished I was there too. Not that I thought it would be any fun, but because I didn’t have anything much to do that night. I’m not used to this idea of vacation yet.

Boy, if I write this much every day of the vacation, I will need ten journals. Wouldn’t Mrs. Z. be amazed???

For your sake, though, mystery reader, I hope things get a little more
. God.


Thursday, June 14

Well, I have to admit that we did get an
bit of news today! I almost missed it entirely, because of all the commotion at the dinner table. There is always commotion at the dinner table—you can hardly hear yourself eat. We had spaghetti, and Dougie doesn’t like spaghetti and was pushing it
around his plate and slopping sauce all over, and so Dennis punched him and Dougie started crying and Mom told him to be quiet and eat his spaghetti because he wasn’t getting anything else. And Dougie said, “I’m just a poor little slob,” and Dennis said, “That’s right.”

In the middle of all that Dad said, “Had a letter from Radene today.” Radene is married to Dad’s brother, Uncle Carl Joe, and they live in West Virginia. “Did you see it?” Dad said. (He meant the letter.)

“No, I didn’t see it. Dougie, if you don’t stop that hollering right this minute—” (Just to give you an idea of how hard it is to follow the conversation.)

“Well, she wants to know—”

“Dennis, are you aggravating the situation? If you are—” Mom can hardly eat, she’s so busy trying to figure out who’s causing the trouble. All this time Tommy is throwing spaghetti all over the floor and it’s in his hair, but that’s just the way he eats.

“Sally, are you listening or not?” My dad is getting annoyed because he can’t stand all this commotion, and it happens every night.

“Why, of course I’m listening, Sam. Dennis, put your hands on the table where I can see them.”

“Radene wants to send Carl Ray up here.” Dad eats a meatball.

About this time Dougie is so upset that he spills his milk right onto my plate.

“Sam, can’t you
something about them?” Mom said.

My dad looked up from his meatballs and spaghetti and said, “Somehow, I don’t think that any of my study of rock formations and fossils prepared me for this.”

I don’t know how we all settled down, but we did for a time, and that’s when Mom finally realized what Dad had said about ten minutes earlier.

“Radene said

“She wants to send Carl Ray up here.”

Carl Ray is one of Aunt Radene’s and Uncle Carl Joe’s seven children. He’s my cousin.

“What do you mean, she wants to send Carl Ray up here?” My mom didn’t look too happy about this.

“Just temporarily,” my dad said. “He wants to get a job. No work down there. It’ll just be for a little while, until he gets a job and gets on his feet.”

“Send him
? To
house? To live with
?” As I said, my mom didn’t seem too happy about all this.

Then she said, “Don’t you think that’s a little strange, Sam? There are lots of other places he could go, aren’t there?”

My father shrugged. Sometimes he doesn’t like to elaborate.

“And just where exactly will we put him?” My mother had stopped eating by now.

“Well, we could put the boys in together—”

“All three of them?”

“Wouldn’t hurt ’em. Then we could put Carl Ray in the little room where Tommy is now.”

“In the
? Sam, are you

“It’s just temporary. A month. Maybe two months. Maybe the summer—”

? Are you serious?” My father was closely examining his meatball. My mom kept going. “And
does she want Carl Ray to come up here?”

My father was chewing when he answered. “Saturday.”

Mom almost choked. “
Saturday? Saturday
? Sam, today is
! You can’t be serious. Why didn’t she phone?”

“They don’t
a phone. You know that,” he said.

Maggie said, “How primitive!” Maggie could not exist for one single day without a phone, I can assure you.

So Carl Ray comes the day after tomorrow. That should be interesting. I have to admit I’m sort of surprised, mainly because the West Virginia Finneys hardly ever leave West Virginia. The only time I ever have heard of Uncle Carl Joe venturing this far north
was when he visited my father and met Aunt Radene, a long time ago.

My parents talk about that time whenever New Year’s Eve rolls around. That’s because they had one heck of a New Year’s Eve, and Uncle Carl Joe and Aunt Radene fell in love “at first sight.” Anyway, Uncle Carl Joe whisked Aunt Radene off to West Virginia (I think they got married first), and I bet they haven’t left West Virginia since. They never visit
anyway. They have too many kids to fit in the car. We’ve been to their house, though.

I can hardly remember which cousin Carl Ray is, but Maggie told me later that he is the one with the white-blond hair and he is seventeen years old, the same age as Maggie. This should be

BOOK: Absolutely Normal Chaos
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