Shenandoah, Iowa, in the heartland of the USA. Early October, 1948.
Devil Don has come home from school to deposit his books and have a snack before walking over to the radio station. Margaret has placed two glasses of milk and two small plates on the “kitchen” table, the kitchen being defined as the spot where the table stands. There are two graham crackers on each plate. A pretty little Handmaiden is at work under her mother’s watchful eye as she washes Devil Don’s face, then carefully pulls back each shirt sleeve to wash his hands.
“Donnie,” Margaret inquires, “Where is your brother?”
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Devil Don asks in return.
“As a matter of fact, yes. You are his older brother, and your father and I expect you to look after him . . . at least to a certain extent.”
“Did you ever tell him that? Because I don’t think he’d like it too much.” Devil Don flashes a quick smile at the mother and her daughter.
The youthful Handmaiden pulls a chair back from the table so that Devil Don can be seated. “Thanks,” he says, still smiling, “But you don’t have to try to push me up to the table. I can get there myself. Would you like a graham cracker, Darlin’?”
Margaret frowns, but her indignation is unnecessary—as well as ignored. The girl smiles and says that a good Handmaiden is happy just knowing that she’s serving her master well. She adds, however, that it is very thoughtful of Devil Don to offer, and her mother beams at both the youngsters.
Margaret cringes and walks out the door, calling back to Devil Don that she is going to look for his brother. She hopes he hasn’t flown off somewhere.
“I’m going over to watch Daddy in a few minutes,” Devil Don says to his companions. “Aren’t you two pretty much at the end of your shift?”
The mother acknowledges this, but she asks if Devil Don needs help with his homework. Devil Don begins to munch on his second graham cracker, apparently declining to answer, and the mother says that she will see to it that some high school-age-Handmaidens, ones with good grades in English, are available at seven o’clock to help Devil Don with his essay. She winks at him, but he merely finishes the graham cracker. She washes his plate and places it in the cupboard.
The daughter speaks up. “Do you want Mama and me to bake a birthday cake for your mother this year?”
“Don’t bother,” Devil Don answers. “Last year she told everybody at the station that Phil and I baked it together, as a shared—” Devil Don pauses to mimic putting a finger down his throat—“labor of love. No point in you folks wastin’ your time when she is so unappreciative of my efforts.” The three of them giggle.
“We’ll tell the next shift to meet you at KMA, Sweetness,” said the mother, signaling the daughter to move to the door.
But St. Phil stomps in before the Handmaidens can leave, closely followed by Margaret. St. Phil is rumpled and dusty, and Margaret is furious . . . with Devil Don. “Donnie, see what happens when you don’t look out for your brother? My poor baby was seized by a dozen ruffians and pummeled to the ground.”
“I WAS NOT! Jimmy Brooks was laughing at that stupid picture you made me pose for in the KMA Guide. He told everybody I probably kissed that girl, too, and I told him that I DID NOT KISS A GIRL, and then I punched him in the nose. He grabbed my shirt and pulled me down, and we both wrestled around a little. Then I hit him again and left.”
Margaret glares at Devil Don. “It’s all your fault!”
“Why?” asks Devil Don.
“BECAUSE IT ALWAYS IS,” screams Margaret. Then, noticing that the Handmaidens have not left, she turns on them. “My baby has had a terrible experience. Can’t you at least help him wash up for his after-school snack?”
“I DON’T NEED ANY HELP FROM GIRLS!” bellows St. Phil.
Margaret bursts into tears and follows the Handmaidens out the door. Devil Don, who has retrieved the KMA Guide from his parents’ bedside table a few steps away, turns the pages of the booklet until he finds the offending photograph.
“Don’t worry about it if she wouldn’t kiss you,” Devil Don consoles his brother. “She probably doesn’t kiss worth a damn anyway. None of her sisters do.”
“But I didn’t kiss her, and I didn’t want to kiss her, and I don’t want to kiss ANY girl.” St. Phil sits down behind the full glass of milk. “Are we supposed to share these graham crackers?”
“Yeah,” Devil Don answers, helping himself to the top one.
While Devil Don and St. Phil finish St. Phil’s snack, Margaret walks to the radio station. It’s clear to her that St. Phil will soon be besieged by girls demanding his attention. Margaret could see it in the eyes of that girl in the photo. The little slut was affecting that bored, Lauren Bacall attitude, but she was clearly lusting for St. Phil. Margaret decided it was time to have Ike explain the facts of life to the boys.
Two days later.
Ike walks to the radio station with Devil Don and St. Phil. Once there, he and the boys will set things up for the morning program, and then he and Devil Don will tune their guitars while St. Phil visits with the radio staff. At the house, Margaret dresses quickly and prepares to join her menfolk.
It’s a cold, dark Iowa morning, although not nearly so cold as it will get in another month or two. Devil Don is inhaling deeply and enjoying the sight of each visible breath he exhales. October has delivered the blessed killing frost that annually calms his hay fever. On the other hand, St. Phil looks troubled.
“Boys,” Ike begins in a shaky whisper, “I want you to know that you can ask me questions anytime. I mean about the subject of our little talk last night. You know what subject I mean. Although, of course, I don’t mean you should ask anything while there are ladies present. I mean, not on the particular subject that I was explaining to you last night. Uh, Donnie, could you ask your Handmaidens to step back just a little?”
The three women, all waitresses at the local diner, are well out of earshot of Ike’s whispering, but Devil Don discreetly signals them to move back even further. He hopes his father will not have time to return to his “birds and bees” topic before they reach the radio station. Fortunately, the KMA minarets are already in view.
Devil Don also hopes Margaret will not go bowling with her women friends again tonight. It was difficult enough listening without laughing aloud as Ike tried to explain sex, but if one night of “man talk” had made both Ike and Phil so uncomfortable, watching them two nights in a row would be unbearable.
At the studio, Ike loosens up a bit as he and his older son adjust the microphones and tune their guitars. St. Phil sits glumly on a folding chair. Soon Margaret enters, smiling at the station staff members, and beckons Devil Don to come over to a corner of the reception area.
“What did your father say last night?” she asks.
“Nothing of practical value,” Devil Don responds.
“Don’t get smart with me, young man. Why wouldn’t your brother eat his breakfast?”
Devil Don stifles a laugh. “Well, Daddy started off all right, saying that we were getting to a time of life when we would be interested in girls. But then, Phil jumped in and said he didn’t like girls and never would, and I guess Daddy lost track of how he planned to explain things. He kind of had trouble moving away from birds to people. Anyway, I think Phil won’t be wantin’ eggs for breakfast for a while.”
Margaret says nothing, and Devil Don observes his mother for an awkward moment. He realizes that he has never seen her at a loss for words and tries to soothe her. “Mama, Phil’s only nine. None of his friends care about girls either.” Devil Don himself, of course, cannot remember a time when girls did not fascinate him, but he thinks it may have something to do with the Handmaidens being so nice to him all the time.
“You just don’t understand, Donnie. Your brother is so handsome. Girls are just not going to leave him alone.”
“I think he can take care of himself. Look, I have a suggestion, Mama. I know you like Phil and me to do everything together. Why not have Daddy hold off on this subject until Phil expresses an interest? If we don’t have another of these talks until then, I promise I’ll do my best to pretend that it is all new to me.”
“Well. Hmmm. Well, maybe just this once you have a good idea,” Margaret said slowly. “Come on, it’s time for the show.”
Devil Don follows her at a slight distance, mumbling under his breath, “What I want explained is how, given Daddy’s grasp of the subject, did me and Phil even get born?”