Hello, hello, dear readers! I hope you had as much fun with this as I did; so much fodder! Anyway–feel free to tag me with your response, or however you’d like to get it to me. As always, the links to all of the prior prompts (and my responses) are below. Enjoy!
Narrate a story about a person or a family member, a story that’s been passed down or ritualized; a story about yourself. Embellish, if so desired, or contrast the story with what you know to be the “true” account.
We always seemed to get into some sort of trouble when we had a cousin sleep over.
It didn’t matter which cousin, or how long they stayed. We just always found a way to be doing something we knew we shouldn’t…and usually got caught doing it. It’s almost as if my siblings and I felt the need to prove that, exhibit A, we had fun stuff to do around here, and exhibit B, we could be just as adventurous and rebellious as the next kid.
It was summertime, which meant we could stay out late; we weren’t called inside according to the clock–we were called when the light of day had completely run its course. On this particular night, my cousin Monica was sleeping over, and we were giddy with the extended playtime we were afforded by the humid early-July evening.
The waning light found us playing in the sparse crabgrass of the front yard, shouting things at the cars that drove by, usually too fast. I only knew they were going too fast because my parents had gotten into habit of running to the edge of the yard, screaming “SLOW DOWN!” at the taillights of the offenders; we were too young as of yet to be embarrassed by this, and my three younger siblings and I had begun doing it as well.
It was this pastime that my cousin, sister and I were partaking of that night. We would scream this directive at every passing car, whether or not they were adhering to the 30mph speed limit. After about 15 minutes of this, we grew bored. Monica found an empty Aunt Jemima syrup bottle by the side of the road, and we devised a new game. We would wait until a car crested the hill, and one of us would throw the plastic bottle into the street to see if we could get it to land directly in the path of the tires, thus crushing Jemima’s face into a flat, brown mosaic of stereotyped features (In hindsight, my memory of this event has clearly been sullied…I’m pretty sure that it was not Aunt Jemima syrup that used that racist “mammy” style bottle, but Mrs. Butterworth’s…and as my research tells me, they didn’t go to plastic until 1999…but let’s just go with this, for the imagery, at least). None of us had been successful yet, and time was running out, as it was almost full dark.
Another car came over the rise, and it was my turn. I figured our failures were due to throwing the bottle too early, thus allowing the driver to see the bottle, and perform evasive maneuvers. I waited until the car was just about to pass by…and threw. CLONK. Jemima bounced off the hood of the car, and landed in the neighbor’s front lawn, next to a fire hydrant.
We froze in shock, and the car, which was not one of the speed offenders, slid to a stop on the road’s sandy surface. Our paralysis broke, and we fled for the backyard. A loud, male voice yelled out for us to “get your butts back here!” and “what the hell did you throw at my car, you damn kids?!” Terrified, we crouched behind one of the multitude of skimpy birch trees my parents had planted on the eroding hillside that was our backyard. My mother, hearing the fracas and not knowing the cause, came outside, dish towel in hand. An angry exchange ensued, which we were not privy to the details of, as we were still cowering out of range. A few moments later, the car took off, now clearly exceeding the speed limit. We emerged, and filed down to the house, where my mother waited outside the back door, still holding the towel.
“What happened?” she asked, surprisingly calm. We related the story, truthfully. I believe, had we the time, we would have fabricated a story, or at least given the real one a twist in our favor. But whether out of fear or lack of time, out it came. My mother looked disappointed. “I wish I had known that,” she murmured, and I suddenly understood. She had defended the criminals, in effect. I felt small and stupid, undeserving of my usual label as the oldest and most responsible.
The next day, my mother spent the morning in the kitchen, making cookies. I don’t think I had ever seen her bake before. Our oven was simply a storage space for store-bought bread and Hostess cakes, to protect them from mice. After arranging the slightly burnt sugar cookies on a paper plate and wrapping them in tin foil, she piled us into her black Plymouth Valiant, and drove a mile up the street to a house I had never been to before. She parked the car, put on the emergency brake, and told us to stay put. I remember watching her sling her Army backpack-cum-pocketbook over her shoulder, her faded jeans tucked into her knee-high chunky-heeled leather boots, as she walked up the steep driveway to the front door. She rang the doorbell, and to my horror, the syrup bottle guy opened the door.
I’m not sure what happened next, because as soon as I laid eyes on him, I ducked down to the Valiant’s sandy floorboards. I remained there, frozen, until I heard the driver’s door open to admit my mother back into the safety of the car, the midday sun glinting off the metal rims of her glasses.
It never occurred to me to wonder how she knew where he lived, or why didn’t she have us accompany her to the door, to personally apologize; she’s been gone now for 40 years—stolen from us by spinal meningitis at age 32—and these questions will never be answered, much like so many other things I’d liked to have asked her: Was it love at first sight when she met my Dad? Did she get postpartum depression after her pregnancies? How did she manage the daily chaos and stress of mothering four young children, all day, every day? Did she suffer from depression and anxiety, as I do now? Did she ever want to go to college? So many things to wonder about…
I wonder if the guy ate the cookies.