Reckless youth

How I got here..


Posted by on Jun 7, 2006 in Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments

I stood there holding the boutonnière, desperate to get Dian out of the bathroom stall. She kept repeating, “I can’t pin that flower on that boy”, between sobs. I knew the Christian thing to do was be compassionate, but I was fuming. I could finally fit into my sister’s strapless aqua blue and white ruffled formal gown, and I was not going to waste my evening in the high school bathroom. What could I say to keep this girl from ruining what was suppose to be the premier romantic evening of my life? I summoned my most authoritative, maternal voice, and threatened her with everything I could think of; from the loss of what social status she had, to her immortal soul. When I promised to do the pinning, she finally emerged, but her eyes and face now matched her bright red hair. I told her she might want to powder her nose, and raced back downstairs to the waiting escorts. I pinned the flower on Billy’s white sport coat, just as I had done earlier for my own date, and took ’s corsage out of his hand. Seeing the frozen smile on his face, I explained that his blind date thought he was really cute, but she was a just a little shy.

In truth she was more on the “painfully” end of the shy meter, but she was attractive and the best I could do so close to prom. I really don’t know how I had talked her into it anyway. She had never been on a date before, and her parents wouldn’t let her ride in cars with boys, which was a severe limitation on dating in our rural town. In fact, finding a date acceptable to parents and to whom you were not related was an ongoing problem, which is how I got into this dilemma. There were only 71 people in my high school graduating class and only 28 of those were male. My former boyfriend, Danny, who lived in a nearby town, broke up with me right before all special occasions like my birthday, Christmas, and any formal event. The last breakup had been quite definitive, because he had joined the army and left the state for boot camp. I was pretty much recovered from my heartbreak, but was faced with no prospects and senior prom rapidly approaching.

I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. If I played my cards right, I could turn all heads in the high school gym by arriving on the arm of a handsome Latin college student.The year before I had met a boy from Bolivia while at a festival sponsored by (God, I hate to admit this), my Girl Scout troop. Without thinking what a college man would find interesting in a sixteen-year-old girl scout, I gave him my address, and we became pen pals. I had fun pretending he was my boy friend, and wrote him earnest letters on dainty perfume soaked stationary. I used tiny hearts for dots on the letter I dispatched asking him if he would go to prom with me, and I received a reply by return mail. Yes, he would very much like to come, but he lived 30 miles away and had no transportation. He proposed a solution. If I could scare up a date for his pal who had a car, we could double. Most of my friends already had arrangements made, and very few wanted to go to prom with a blind date, but finally I though of a friend from my study hall. It took quite a bit of bargaining, but since the gentleman who was to be her escort was preparing for the ministry, and I would be with her the whole evening, she finally relented.

As I recall, the boys picked me up and we met Dian at the school rather than go through the awkward problem of her not being allowed in the car. That’s how I ended up in the bathroom in formal wear, threatening a girl I hardly knew. I was still desperate to hold onto this as the crowing romantic moment of my high school career, but like many other high school firsts, the anticipation turned out to be much better than the reality. I did get her out of the stall, and her date Billy, actually turned out to be a really nice guy, not that she noticed with her eyes on the ground most of the evening. The high school cafeteria was brightly lit and still smelled of mystery meat and instant potatoes, but we did have white paper tablecloths and centerpieces on the tables. The junior class had made an effort to achieve some sort of romantic ambiance by taping blue crepe paper streamers stamped with silver stars to the green and white walls. I don’t know if they came up with the theme “Moonlight Serenade” before or after they located the streamers, but other than the fact that there was music, and most likely a moon in the sky, I don’t recall any other thematic props.

Members of the class of 1963 danced in the gym that night to a band called the “Teen Beats”, according to my senior memories book, but mostly we were there to see and be seen. Strapless gowns were the “in” item of clothing, but those girls who were both modest and/or substantially endowed picked something less revealing. I was neither, and was more than happy to wear the ruffled horror my sister had wowed them in three years before. Formal attire for boys was their Sunday suit or a white sports coat, dark pants, white shirt, and narrow tie. The cool guys topped it off with a crew cut and possibly horned rimmed glasses. Some, like Billy and my date Al, clung to the more old fashion slicked back style, using Vitalis to make it stay in place. Both hairstyles gave the men a sort of pin headed look, and the maintenance products left a greasy residue on upholstered furniture. Girls by contrast made their hair as big as possible, teased into bouffantsupdosbeehives or French twists, and held in stasis by hair spray, giving them all the glamour of a gumball machine. The details of the dance are fuzzy now, but do I remember awkward conversation, uncomfortable laughter, and drinking fruit punch while wearing white gloves.

Late in the evening Al asked me to show him the rest of my school, and I naively believed he was interested in the American educational process. I took him upstairs into the darkened hallway so he could see my science lab. I was peering into the window when I felt his hot breath on my neck. I turned around and found myself pinned to the wall, with his left hand trying to find flesh somewhere under the 50 yards of organdy ruffles I was wearing. I pushed him away and insisted we return to the dance, making it clear that his expectations of sex were not going to materialize. Looking back, I now realize that the cultural differences between us were enormous, and he must have thought that a girl forward enough to ask him out was, as was said in the day, “hot to trot”. He pouted for the rest of the evening and refused to come to the after party at my friend’s house. It was just as well, because Dian wasn’t allowed to go, and her Dad was waiting outside to pick her up. Without even a goodnight kiss, my thwarted Latin lover and the future Methodist minister dumped me at my girlfriend’s party. I think the minister would have been happy to kiss me if I had asked, but my date, Al, sat on the other side of the seat with his arms folded across his chest.

It is ironic that the only picture I have of the event is of my friend Dian her date Billy. I have no idea who took it, but it was probably me. I never thought until recently that my parents didn’t take pictures of their children with their dates, even for formal occasions like proms. I don’t think they wanted to encourage immoral behavior like going to dances. It’s really a blessing, because I still have a fantasy that I looked wonderful that evening and all my boyfriends were cute and cool. While cleaning out my Mom’s garage some years ago my sister and I came across the dress we had both worn. The years had not been kind to the frothy creation. Granted it was folded and wrinkled, but no matter how we tried, neither of us could imagine it ever looking like we thought it did on those evenings when we were the bells of the ball. I never got another letter from Al, and I don’t recall talking to Dian a lot afterward either. I think Billy did his student ministry at a rural Methodist church in our area. I not only lost track of him, I have actually forgotten his last name. I’m sure his grace and diplomacy served him well in his chosen career, but hopefully he married someone a bit more outgoing than Dian.

My inspiration for this recollection was an exchange with a British blogger who put up a post about proms. She was speaking of them in the traditionally British sense, and when I asked her to explain, she  did so graciously. I realized from her remarks that her vision of the prom was a fantasized Hollywood version of the American rite of passage. If Hollywood had produce my prom they would have cast the three stooges in the leading roles, but I’m sure someone was or is having fun at these things or the tradition wouldn’t have hung around so long. Having sent my children off to many proms, I am aware that they are a lot more fun now that dinosaurs are no longer roaming the earth. I do hope my recollections will trigger memories for you all, hopefully embarrassing, and you will share them in comments.

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Life Lessons

Posted by on May 7, 2006 in Dad, Reckless youth, Spirit | 0 comments

By the time I was six I am sure I had told a fib or two, probably influenced a lot by a neighbor girl named Judy Nell, with whom I was forbidden to play. She was a practiced, and almost professional liar, rare in a child so young. In me she found the perfect foil for her games, because I believed every word she said. I recall us sitting together one summer morning, on opposite sides of the wire fence that divided her yard from my grandmothers. She showed me a half dollar size piece of broken blue pottery that she was keeping inside a large box of wooden kitchen matches. She declared, with the greatest conviction, that the bit of blue plate had magical powers and would put out all fires, perhaps a prelude to getting me to start one. I begged her to demonstrate, but she would only show me one burned match, and told me that she had extinguished it that morning using the magic token. On this occasion her mother caught us, which was much preferable to being found out by mine. My mother was the one who had declared this relationship off limits, since I was the gullible chump that was being led astray. I don’t know what her mom thought about us playing together, but she never told on us, and managed to prevent us from setting the house on fire. I sure my mother was relieved when Judy Nell moved to another city, but I remember how sad I was when the notorious pre-scholar departed. I had no one to play with for a long time, until my own naive mark moved in across the street.

The house belonged to my great grandmother, but when she passed away it became rental property and income for the heirs. Sammy was the child of the new tenant, several years my junior, and small for his age. Since my mother did not object to him, we had the roam of the dangerous, but delightful playground of my youth. We hung out in my dad’s body shop, and played in the junkyard and barn behind the shop. I will never know why I decided to be destructive that fateful day, perhaps because the heavy iron mall was just sitting there, right beside the pile of clay drainpipes. I had no idea what they were, but after I hit one with the mall, it shattered so satisfying that I couldn’t resist hitting another one. Since it was fun, I decided to give Sammy a turn with the mall, and he broke a few with no hesitation, except for trying to pretend he could lift the mall as easily as a girl. We kept taking turns until every pipe was smashed to bits of rock and red clay dust, but at no point did it occur to either of us that what we were doing was wrong.

That came later in the evening, when my Mom and Dad were talking about what happened to the pipes they had just bought. We were at the kitchen table, and each of the children was questioned, although there would have been no chance of anyone but me being the culprit. I didn’t hesitate for more than a few seconds before denying all knowledge of the incident. I’m sure my face betrayed me, because the next morning my mother told me she called Sammy’s parents, and he had admitted guilt. My mother had always threatened to tell my father if I didn’t behave, so I was terrified that she turned me over to him for punishment. The normal routine from her was an immediate spanking, with no words spoken, and remorse or guilt on my part was nonexistent. This was to be very different.

We all have defining moments, what psychologist call life scripts, which affect us so profoundly that they become the basis for our character. Dad and I were in the kitchen alone, and he sat on the chair with his arms around me. He told me what the pipes were intended for and how much they cost. He explained how my destruction had delayed a project he was working on and had made extra work for a lot of people, including himself. He told me that none of that mattered to him one bit, but he was so very disappointed that I had not taken responsibility for my actions, but instead had chosen to lie to him. He told me how important it was for him to be able to trust me and to believe what I said, and how it would be a long time before he would be able to have that faith in me again. He said I deserved to be spanked, and even though he had never spanked me before, he would have to now. He then patted me twice on my bottom with the force of someone brushing a fly off a piece of fragile crystal.

I will always remember the shock and horror on his face as I broke into uncontrollable sobbing. Mother came into the room, perhaps to restrain him from beating me to death after she heard my cries. He kept repeating that he barely touched me, but for the first time in my life, I had been touched to the depths of my soul. How much easier it had been with mother, where the brief pain of corporal punishment wiped the slate of guilt clean. The consequences of that day stayed with me like a grain of sand, around which I created a pearl of conscience. I won’t say I never lied again after that day, but I will say I never did it again without awful guilt. As far as my father and I were concerned, I know I had a quite a few sins of omission during the teenage years, but I like to believe I moved beyond that to establish the framework for my adult life.

I never knew what became of Judy Nell, and often wondered about her. Did she too have her Waterloo and face the truth about herself? Did she end up like my mother believed she would? Was she just an extremely imaginative child, who went on to many creative endeavors? I lost track of the little squealer Sammy too, although I would like to find him and thank him for ratting me out. I didn’t know it at the time, but it made all the difference in my life, and I am genuinely grateful.

The world we live in rarely rewards integrity, and sometimes it is very discouraging. Still, like many idealist before me, I believe that there is an earthly remuneration for a solid moral compass, if we are patient and persistent. I don’t know exactly how to recreate this homing beacon in others, but I have proof of its existence. It is not exclusive to any age, gender, race, creed, economic stratum, social class, or political party, but appears to be a scattered random attribute. Just when I have become disheartened with all the bold-faced liars that have been elevated to positions of power, I find that one honest man or woman, holding onto their convictions, and taking responsibility for their actions, no matter what the cost. I don’t know where I heard the homily, but have often repeated to others, that the best thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said. That is certainly accurate, as we have all watched the soap opera dramas that people create trying to cover one story with another. In the end, lying reduces our capacity for recognizing the truth, either in ourselves or in others, and makes for a very paranoid world. If it had not been for Judy Nell, Sammy, and my Dad I could have gone on through life untrusting and untrustworthy. Thanks guys, wherever you are.

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Pigeon Feathers and Plaster Dust

Posted by on Apr 7, 2006 in Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments


It’s hard to pick out the stupidest thing I’ve ever done from among my many escapades over the years, but I do have a few adventures that stand out in my mind. I wish they involved jumping out of airplanes, or struggling through the rainforest with only a machete and my wits, but even my idiocy is mundane, like the time my husband and I decided we could insulate the attic of our 100-year-old fan house ourselves. The windows rattled in the slightest breeze, but we misguidedly believed that the fuel bills might go down if we could get some bolts of pink stuff in the three-foot high space over our heads.

We spent one long weekend crawling about on our bellies, frightening all the vermin who were either living there, or visiting at the gravesides of their departed friends. After we started stuffing those big fiberglass bolts up into the narrow space, both of us realized we were doing something really dim-witted. We took turns in the crawl space, but with only about one fourth of the area done, we began to see the absurdity. Sunday night when we were both blowing pigeon feathers, fiberglass, and god knows what else out of our noses, and we had to concede defeat. In fact, that project became the gold standard by which we judged all other foolish things we attempted. “Well,” one of us would say, “it’s not as dumb as that time we tried to insulate the attic of the house on Floyd,” followed by laughter at the recollection.

I have a sudden tumble of memories from that same house that revolve around our DIY projects. Lots of people were renovating houses in the up and coming fan neighborhood, and I decided we should hop on the bandwagon. I have labored through life with the optimistic notion that I can do anything I set my mind to, so I decided to tackle the myriad problems of that ancient house with only a thin home repair book and faith. After the attic fiasco I decided to confine my efforts to smaller projects, like fixing a one-inch gouge in the plaster wall of the living room.

The repair book said to cut a V shaped notch so the spackle would have a good foothold. Evidently the man who wrote the book had never dealt with 100 year old plaster, because my tiny tap with the screwdriver and hammer resulted in a piece of dusty rock the size of my hand dropping on my foot. I rushed back to the book and read that I should remove anything loose around the hole, so with some misgivings I headed back to the wall with my screwdriver. By the time my husband returned home at 5:30, I was standing in front of a spot large enough to hold a horse, with a still unopened pint of spackle sitting inadequately on the floor. He was horrified, but at that point we decided that it would be best to just remove a section large enough so we could nail up a piece of drywall (per the same helpful book). The plaster was indeed a crumbling mess, and by grasping it in your hand, chunks the size of your head would come loose. By 7:00 we had filled all the garbage cans with the boulders, and a fine layer of plaster had settled over the entire contents of the room, including our hair, faces, and clothing.

Hours later, when the giddiness of demolition that had infected us both wore off, we realized the enormity of the task we had created for ourselves. I had seen sheet rock, and I knew that it was not nearly as thick as the 3-inch layer of plaster we had dislodged. The next day I headed, less than confidently, to the home repair store hoping that some helpful employee would take pity on me and give me a simple answer. As I stepped inside and started looking through the aisles, I spied a solution all on my own. I came home with a roll of reed fencing that I cut in sections and stapled to the wall, cleverly disguising the whole mess.

It worked quite nicely, and for the remainder of our stay in the house we silently agreed between us to ignore the wall. It was amazingly easy to do until fall came, and we had an invasion of crickets. Evidently they considered the wall a playground created just for them, and made an inordinant amount of noise for such tiny little beasts. I remember being awakened by such a loud scurry and chirping one night that I woke my husband, believing we had intruders. He turned on the light, but the noise diminished only slightly. I began to imagine mice, or even rats were racing about back there on the lathing. “What are we going to do?” I said, and turned to him with that look that women have using since time began; the look that said since he was the man it was his responsibility to take care of household vermin. “I’ll get my shotgun”, he replied. The horror of his suggestion played across my face as I began to speak. “You can’t shoot a gun…” It was then he smiled, and we both started laughing. I thought how great it was that I had a partner that not only did not blame me for the mess I created, but had the grace to make me laugh at myself.

We lived in the house together for less than two years, then sold it along with it’s half insulated attic, crumbling plaster walls, and tilting floors, to someone with a lot more renovation know how. I had nightmares for many months after we moved out that the new owner was chasing me through the house, screaming things like, “Why didn’t you tell me about the water pressure?” or “I can’t plug in the toaster and the blender without blowing fuses!” In reality we had made full disclosure and allowed him to inspect freely, but my experiences had left me fraught with guilt at the amount of work he was going to have to do. I pass by the house often when I go into the city, and it’s certainly completely changed from the outside. I have never had the nerve to knock on his door in all those years to see what miracles he performed. I was told that he considered the house a great bargain, but that his fiancée walked out on him at some point during the refurbishment process. I suppose neither of them realized that in order to get through a renovation project as a couple, they would need more than technical skills. Equally essential is the wonderful gift of laughter, not to mention an unfailing sense of the absurd.

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Horse Sense

Posted by on Jul 7, 2005 in All things natural, Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments

My mother approved of my friend Janice Sue because she thought the seemingly meek and popular girl would be a positive influence on me. She was an only child, the sole target of her mother’s compulsive neatness. She had chin length red hair with a natural curl that seemed to stay in place through anything short of a hurricane. Society dictated that young ladies wear dresses to school, a garment that required a modicum of ladylike behavior. I don’t know what kind of super fabric Janice Sue’s were made from, but they never showed the ravages of playtime. My own mother tried in vain to achieve the same effect with her tomboy daughter. She tortured my straight, plain brown hair into braids and dressed me in a freshly starched and ironed little dress each morning. These antiquated garments generally had an attached sash, tied in the back with a large bow. Janice Sue went home each day with her bow as perfectly tied as it had been when she started. My sash, done up with one of my Mother’s industrial strength knots, occasionally stayed tied, but it was frequently ripped from one side of my dress and hung flapping forlornly in the wind when I headed home. This actually matched nicely with my hair, set free, quite by accident, during recess, and trailing wildly behind me as I ran the 2 blocks home each day. Adding to the effect was the fact that through the whole of the second grade, I wore a short, black, plastic, jacket, fringed with white, purchased for me in a moment of maternal weakness.

As an aspiring cowboy, I kept the jacket on as much as possible, including during my second grade class photo. In my spare hours I dreamed of a life in the rodeo, lassoing steers from the back of a stallion that had steam blowing from his nostrils and fire in his eye. By age 10 I had stored this future goal on the back burner along with my aspiration to become a ballet dancer and pop singer, but I never quite let go of the romance of the idea. Imagine my delight when the friend I considered a bit on the prissy side turned out to have grandparents who kept horses. As incredible as it may seem, Janice Sue was an avid rider and was surprised when I told her of my hitherto unfulfilled yearning. Before I could say gitty up, I was invited for a Saturday visit.

We both showed up in jeans, the de rigueur uniform for cowboys, to which I added a plaid shirt and a bandana. The barn smelled intoxicatingly of hay and large animals, in fact, very large animals. A mild mannered, ancient gelding had been selected for my first ride, one that had not moved faster that a turtle for the last ten years. The first inkling that the romance of the open range might not be everything I had dreamed of was when I stood beside a stirrup, at eye level, and was instructed to put my foot in the hole, hold on to the saddle horn, and pull myself up. I had thought I might leap onto the back of the horse from the ground, like the TV cowboys. We ended up with Janice pushing upward on my rear end and me straining every muscle to pull myself to the back of the enormous beast.

Having failed to get clear instructions about how to drive the creature, I had no time to contemplate my awkward and unfamiliar situation. Free from human restraint, and evidently dreaming of his youth as a wild stallion, he took off like a shot, before Janice Sue could even board her mare. Once she caught up with us, and collected the reins I had dropped to wrap my arms about the neck of the beast, I had a brief lesson on the finer points of convincing a thousand plus pound animal that he wanted to be a conveyance for an aspiring cowgirl. Holding tightly to what passes for controls on a horse, I spent the next 3 hours shouting, “Whoa, Whoa”, while Janice Sue expressed her amazement at the frisky behavior of an animal that had previously been ready for the glue factory.

I tried to detect a smirk on my Mother’s face when I came in dusty and sore that evening, but she always played her cards close to the vest. I volunteered that I had a wonderful time and couldn’t wait for a second chance to further develop my equestrian skills. What I did not mention was that I had acquired a new respect for my “fussy” friend and a backside that needed a heating pad. What I lost that day was my idealistic vision of life in the saddle. In fact, the only time I ever got on a horse again was some years later when I accepted the challenge of a boyfriend. Neither the horse or myself were confident about the contact, but the horse proved his superior good sense by tossing me immediately to the ground, where I have remained firmly since that day.

Janice Sue turned out to be the kind of friend we all aspire to have, and she and I went on to have many adventures. We spent one whole Saturday walking on stilts, we chased boys together at recess and locked them in a “dungeon” of shrubs, and stayed up all night at an after prom party. We have lost touch with each other now, but I know she married and overwhelmed her “in control” mother by having four children. In fact, word is that she kept her last pregnancy a secret from her mother till it was far advanced, knowing the disapproval she would face. I would love to see her again and let her know that she was a good influence on me, but not in the ways my mother hoped. I have never become neat, and I have no passion for housecleaning, especially ironing, but at least my family did not have to endure the heartbreak of a daughter who moved to Texas and worked in the rodeo.

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