My mother drove the school bus year-round; staying home alone was not an option, so we left home at six Monday- Friday, around the winding roads of Greensville County for two hours, scooping up children 5-13 years old. We were heading to Route 18’s school of destination with fellow students who wished they could sleep in, play in the yard, or do anything other than board 718 for four weeks during the prime summer break.
On the other hand, I passed every subject but needed something to do during school hours because riding a school bus and not exiting the bus at school was weird. After the morning drop-off, Mom would go to the bus garage for fuel and clean the bus inside and outside. Sometimes I got to pump the gas and hose the tires, but I would ruin my shoes. I got Mom to ask the school board if I could attend classes. They said NO, but reversed their decision when Mom’s boss explained that it would be the cheapest solution for everyone. No daycare meant losing a good driver and would stretch an already-packed rural system too much. That county section needs four buses but only had three during the summer. Mom, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. French covered a third of Greensville County.
No, I didn’t bump my head and wake up stupid! I was bored enough to beg for the opportunity to attend summer school. That was the summer of 76, my first day at Hicks-Ford Elementary School for the summer session; we visited the library.
H.O.A.X…Hoopla’s Outing and X’s compatible chromosomes! That title grabbed me when I looked for a book worthy of a summer read at ten.
The story began:
My name is a Japanese and Chinese smashup of the words for my mother’s favorite fragrance, my birthstone, the two grandmothers’ middle name, and my dad’s love of basketball.
Honeysuckle + Opal +Lala: It’s a challenge to try to teach someone how to pronounce all five syllables of my first name, and the middle one doesn’t just dance off my lips either, so, for the interest of time, the stupid squiggly lines of the Chinese alphabet don’t matter… call me, Hoopla!
I get called all sorts of name butchery, but I’m dealing with it! I love basketball as much as Dad did too. He played some in school for a P.E. credit until he began getting winded. After his diagnosis and a blood transfusion, he was fine.
That was all I had time to read then, so into the backpack it went. Still looking for more summer distractions, I remembered the Nancy Drew series had a few titles I hadn’t read yet. So, with three contenders and only ten minutes to get checked out and back to the meeting spot. The library was my refuge, hiding place, and a staycation place. For the most part, I was a good girl who never got in trouble, but on rare occasions, my punishment would be no library trips for a week. I got punished for burning dinner once because I got engrossed in a book and boiled all the water from the spaghetti noodles.
Hoopla was the main character’s nickname and was my age.
As I read on, I discovered that the alien who inhabited Hoopla’s body that day in the park was cancer, a form called Non- Hodgkin Lymphoma. One may say that cancer tries to communicate with the host’s body and decides to reap havoc instead.
Hoopla described it like this:
Instead of staying with the nanny, my younger brother, and sisters at the kiddie rides, I ventured over to my home away from home, the basketball court. People underestimate my skills because of my short stature and age. Or maybe it’s because I am Oriental, soft-spoken, or just because I’m female. A 4’3’’ slant-eyed girl can’t hoop, is what everyone thinks or says. Only a few people know. I have a good friend who practices in Central Park around ten daily and lives the next block from my building. I would sometimes shoot layups against him for pocket change, advice on form, and how not to grow up too fast. That happened to him and his twin brother, who dropped out of high school when they weren’t allowed to play for fun.
That day I was in the zone; my fadeaway threes were on the mark, dead-on netting us fifty big ones, and my legs were on fire from the run-and-gun type game we were in, or so I thought. I thought I wore too many layers; a New York mid-morning in April was still cool. Before I could leave the court, I got wobbly like a wind sock puppet blowing aimlessly with no control hither and yon until I felt nauseous and dizzy. It left me as helpless as one of those giant waving balloons in front of the car lot the day after tax season started. Dad always started his balloon family members waving on January 2nd, only because mom won’t let him work on New Year’s Day.
That was a year ago; during a pickup game in the park, I shot a three-pointer, and as I released the ball, it felt like an alien took over my body. My legs became mushy spaghetti, unable to support my frame. I dropped like a wet noodle, hitting my head on the blacktop. Dazed and embarrassed, I just lay there until the ambulance arrived. Like a Pro, as they wheeled me away, I flashed two thumbs up, or at least I think I did…
I put H.O.A.X. down for two weeks, thinking it was about something other than what it would be until I returned the books. The librarian asked me whether I enjoyed it. I couldn’t lie and say yes. I fudged the truth and just said I ran out of time. She gave me that over-her-glasses look and smirked. I blushed and dropped my head, knowing she didn’t believe me. She said something that shocked me….it took me two attempts, and I, too, put it down before I realized it could have been about us. It’s a true story written by the donor and recipient as a gift to all who are going through something scary and need a transfusion.
I smiled and rechecked it out!