5 PM Deadline!
Trotting With Scissors
Caution was a valued rule of thumb growing up in my house.
My newscaster father had a not-so-subtle method of instilling the ‘think twice’ maxim. “Girls,” he’d begin somberly when my sister and I sought permission to do some seemingly routine activity like say, make toast. “I know it seems that there isn’t much that can go wrong making toast, but I’m sure that’s exactly what Bill Doe thought last week when he went to the corner market to pick up a loaf of bread.”
We’d listen in grave silence as dad recounted Bill Doe’s sad fate, typically a mugging, decapitation or comparable act of wanton violence. We responded with the dichotomy of emotions that is trademark adolescence—first we’d scoff, then wonder: what if he’s right? What if the world really is a place of limitless danger and senseless violence?
My mother, the embodiment of goodness, is also cautious by nature. Some things, particularly anything involving unmentionables (we know them as underwear) are just too provocative to discuss. On a grocery store trip in the late seventies when pantyhose were still packaged in those irresistible oversized Easter eggs, I asked hopefully if they were on the grocery list, and, by the way, what color if they were?
“Shhh…we’ll talk about this in the car,” my mother said nervously. No plastic egg found its way into the cart, but I’d obviously hit on something. Curiosity mounted.
“Nude,” my mother explained later in hushed tones. “Unfortunately, they’ve named the color of my hose nude. So unpleasant, why if anyone in the grocery store had overheard us using that word! Who knows what they might have thought?”
In defense of my parents, I was certainly not known for caution.
In fourth grade, I was so careless with one of my unmentionable garments that it wound up in a lost and found box. A pair of seniors carried the box from classroom to classroom on a show and tell mission designed to eradicate the eyesore of said box from the hallway. My unmentionable, a full slip, was held aloft and gleefully received for its full entertainment value. Several boys even modeled it for the class. I’m sure you’ll be as shocked as I was to learn that my mother wondered aloud why I didn’t claim it. She actually made me go back and ask for it, but I think I was instructed to ask female PE coach for help because my teacher was a man.
My childhood was consistently punctuated by events that invariably shocked my mother and decreased the hairs on my father’s balding head. When local citizens (read: my father and the neighbor on our party line) reported sketchy bobcat sightings, I spent the better part of a week blazing deep woods trails with the neighbor boys, Lee and Keith, on an expedition of National Geographic proportions. Home play wasn’t any safer. In hot pursuit of a wayward marble, I got my head stuck between the banisters requiring the concentrated efforts of both parental units to extricate me. The marble was never found.
When I was thirteen, I pestered relentlessly for permission to take a solo trip to do charity work with street people in an inner city Chicago subdivision known as Cabrini Green. I gathered that it must be a pretty rough place, because when my parents would relate this story to other family members, the response was an invariable: “What? You’re kidding! Cabrini Green? You’re not letting her do this, are you?” You and I both know I never learned from personal experience what evils dwell in this apparent blot on the good name of our country. I wasn’t allowed to go.
I went to college briefly in Philadelphia and didn’t sleep for several months. Instead, I wandered aimlessly through the city during periods of time my parents referred to as “all hours.” I was, indeed, out all of the hours at one point or another, I’m quite sure. A friendly policeman once asked me, very nicely, to return to my dorm after I wandered into the projects at three a.m. He said I might be a lot safer. At the dorm, I’d stargaze at two a.m. while lying in the middle of the road with my Adventure Friend, a wild boy we called Block.
In my twenties, I became a mother and suddenly I feared everything. I struggled between my desire to embrace the world and my fear of it. There were so many things that could go wrong. Just look at the newspaper! It’s a mixed bag of horror out there. Accidents, cancer, poverty, crime, even bread muggings. There’s no end to the combinations of potential disaster that could be lurking under the surface of so called normal living.
I fear less now, in my thirties—partly because I got bored of it, but also because some of the things I feared have already happened. Amazingly, none of them were gruesome enough for me to wind up in the newspaper. Especially not in my unmentionables.