Caution! Wet Cement and Other Childhood Dangers

Vanessa Kindergarten 003

It was a sunny spring day in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula, Michigan). That doesn’t necessarily mean it was warm, but at least there weren’t several feet of snow piled on the sides of the road any longer. There were no snow pants, boots, hats, gloves and parkas to deal with. Gone (for another year) were the brutal blizzards, hours of snow shoveling, and the need for dads to put a heater under the hood of the car to keep the engine from freezing.

We lived about six blocks from the elementary school on Kincheloe Air Force Base. I was a toe-headed kindergartener and happy to be out of school for the day and walking home. My hands were free – Mrs. Mayo sent no “smiley face” papers home that day. In fact, it was a rare day when I was forced to carry anything more than myself home. This was before the days of heavy backpacks crammed full of books, papers and pencils – before hours of homework cut into evening T.V. watching time. This was kindergarten.

Girls were required to wear dresses. Mine was black and white plaid with a red bow at the white, Peter Pan collar. It had a pleated skirt that fell just above my knobby knees, and I was wearing a white cardigan with only the top button done. I can still see my little feet – white ankle socks inside new black Mary Jane’s. I have three sisters (two younger, who hadn’t started school yet – and one older, who got out of school later in the day) and I walked home alone. I guess there weren’t any other kindergarteners who lived nearby, because after I made the one turn onto Harper Street, I was the only kid around. But that was fine by me. Even at five, I liked my alone time.

Something kept me from noticing when the men began yelling at me – until it was too late.

I may have been counting my steps. Counting things becomes an integral part of my daily life – a way of dealing with stress. I couldn’t control much of what went on in our house, but I could control the counting. Or maybe I was daydreaming again about being an orphan who gets adopted by a mom and dad who don’t drink. These parents are rich and they have a brand new station wagon and they take their kids to Disneyland every summer.

“Hey you – get off of there.”

“Stop! Get off the sidewalk!”

“Can’t you see it’s still wet?”

The urgency of their words finally broke through and I suddenly became aware that I was in some kind of trouble. My heart raced, eyes wide, I stood still in a moment of panic. The same stance I take when I’m awakened in the dark of the night by Mama’s screams. Somehow I’d missed the orange cones blocking the way and had been inadvertently leaving little Mary Jane footprints in a stretch of newly repaired sidewalk. I was petrified that I had made a mistake. I was a good girl. I didn’t do bad things. I always did what I was told and tried to keep the peace. I believed that if I could be good enough, no one would get drunk, no one would fight, and no one would have to cry themselves to sleep, ever again.

But I had bigger troubles than just these men yelling at me. The seriousness of the situation became crystal clear when I looked down and saw the white cement creeping up the edges of my new shoes. Mama was going to bust my butt. She would surely use Daddy’s belt instead of her hand for ruining my new shoes. This could upset the delicate balance and turn the whole household upside down for days. I got off the sidewalk and ran as fast as my little legs would carry me.

I don’t know if those men came behind me and smoothed away my footprints or not. I don’t remember ever looking for them, or telling anyone that this ever happened – at least not for several decades. But I do remember rushing home, pulling off my shoes at the front door, and running up the stairs, my socked feet slipping on the smooth wood. I remember locking the bathroom door and turning on the faucet at the sink. I remember holding one shoe under the water at a time, scrubbing away the drying cement, holding my breath until the last of the evidence was washed down the drain. I remember being very careful not to let the water get inside the shoe because I knew it would stay wet for a while and that might give me away.

After using the hand towel to pat dry my now clean shoes, I exited the bathroom, walked across the hall into the bedroom I shared with my older sister, and placed my shoes in the closet. I’m sure this is when I was finally able to breathe normally again – to exhale and believe that I might have just avoided a disaster. Quickly, I changed into play clothes and went down to the basement where I joined my younger sisters in front of the black and white television just in time for a re-run of Lassie – where she too would save the day.

Mystery Photo

 

WhoIsThis-EstellHadThisPic

This mystery photograph was passed around at a family reunion I attended this summer. No one there could positively identify anyone in the picture (that was found in my great aunt’s photo album) but I haven’t been able to take my eyes off of it.

The first, and most notable thing that strikes me is that the small boy in the foreground seems to be smoking a cigarette like all the men (the one on the left probably has one between the fingers of his left hand, and the one leaning against the wall may be holding one to his lips). The second thing is that they’re all wearing newsboy caps…maybe it’s a fashion statement, or maybe that’s what was on sale at the five and dime, we will probably never know. But besides the obvious, there is so much more to be divined here.

Based on my family history, this photograph was most likely taken in Oklahoma, probably in the 1940’s – during the Great Depression and the worst of the dust bowl days. I’m sure there were serious issues being dealt with on a daily basis, like having enough food and water, and finding jobs; and while there may be an ounce of sadness here, I don’t see defeat.

I see grit and sincerity. There is a sense of family and purpose. I see community, and faith and ingenuity. I also see pride and joy and love.  These are salt of the earth folks and they have pride in their country and faith in mankind. They take care of each other and do the right thing more often than not. The women are probably in the kitchen fixin’ a pot of pinto beans and cornbread for dinner and they all go to church on Sunday morning.

These men work hard and take their responsibilities seriously, but they know how to laugh, even on the toughest of days. They are handsome and strong. This boy has a place in the family, and even though he’s young, he matters and is cared for and loved. He helps where he can and does what his mama says most of the time.

I may not know for sure who these men are, and I don’t know what they’re working on here – in what looks to be someone’s front yard – but I believe that they care and that they can be trusted. They will survive and thrive and be successful. They will fight in wars and marry their sweethearts and grow their families. They will provide for their wives and children, and say their prayers. They will be knocked down and they will get back up. They will do the best they can with what they have and they will help their neighbors because that’s what you do.

These are my kinfolk, y’all.

Tulia

Writing 101 Assignment – Write about the most interesting person you’ve met in 2014.

Note: This actually happened a few years ago, but as I tried to think of someone more recent to write about for this post, Tulia kept coming to mind, so I felt it was time to tell this story.

We followed the GPS instructions along the winding roads of a sleepy neighborhood tucked into a forgotten corner of town. I’ve lived here for more than 30 years and didn’t know those houses were back there, nestled along the banks of Mary’s Creek. It was early summer – not yet sweltering hot, late in the afternoon – and we drove slowly, with the windows down, searching for the house where Jim lived. Jim’s ad on Craig’s List indicated that he had for sale a wine refrigerator that might fit exactly into the space we had in our new kitchen.

A soft breeze kissed our legs as we exited the car after parking at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. Light danced in the leaves of the trees and the low sun stretched shadows long and lean across the yard.

Before we got to the front door to ring the bell, she was there, behind us. I turned and found myself looking down at a young, barefoot girl with yellow hair wearing a light blue Laura Ingalls smock dress. There was a blue jay perched on the index finger of her right hand and a small goat standing beside her. Continue reading