Saturday, December 17, 2011

Middle-aged Women Don't Bounce: Part 6

Dad and I had successfully scouted out my route for the following Tuesday and after a hair-raising trip back out of the traffic, we were finally home.  I realize that the 'traffic' I am writing about would seem like a cake walk for most people who live in truly urban areas, but for a kid like me who lived where one car going by on our dirt road every other hour was heavy traffic, it was nerve-wracking.

Dad and I arrived at home safe and sound that Saturday and I felt relieved until I realized I'd have to do a repeat of this performance Monday through Friday for years on end.  I tried to put the feeling of dread out of my mind, though, because the next day was Sunday and my graduation day.

It was also someone else's graduation day, too.  That someone else was Carl  He's been feeling a bit left out because so far, I have not included him in this story, so it's high time he got in the act.  This will be old news for some of you if you've read me for long, but for the benefit of anyone who may have forgotten such vital information, Carl and I met in 1972 when we were fourteen.  He was our local blacksmith's son and I was, of course, the farmer's daughter. Carl played a huge part in all of this, but in the interest of time and my sore derriere, suffice it to say he was there and I was in love with him. (Oh, I hasten to add, I still am.)

We all showed up to the school that Sunday, graduated, bid adieu to high school and went home.  Graduation was a blur to me, I vaguely remember it, probably because I had too much on my mind. I had one day left, Memorial Day, and it was a very long one.  I am wired pessimistically and have a sub-zero sense of self-esteem.  I'm not proud of it; just stating a fact.  My folks always used to tell me not to get a 'big head' on the rare occasions praise would be forthcoming, and they had nothing to fear.  I remain humble. 

And I was worried that Monday, oh, how worried. I tried to busy myself with anything I could, and grabbed our old push lawn mower and proceeded to mow the lawn.  Nothing like physical activity to take the edge off the jitters.  In high school, whenever we had to give speeches, I would always try to go first to get it over with because I figured that way, no one would remember how much my performance stank.  And then I could sit and relax for the rest of the hour.  So, in a way, that Memorial Day went down in history with me as one of the Longest Days of my Life.  I just wanted to get the first day of work over with.  

Like most human beings, I dislike being humiliated.  Especially in public.  And my nervous nature often gets me into a lot of predicaments I'd rather not be in.  Haste makes waste and all that. 

Pride always goes before the fall, then and now.  My earliest memory of public humiliation is very fuzzy, I don't know how old I was, but it has stuck with me all my life.  When I was a very little girl, my mother used to put my hair up in pin curls.  Every night she would comb out my tresses and twirl the hair around her finger and pin the resulting curls with bobby-pins.  My task was to sleep with all these pins in my hair all night long.  I wonder how in the world she managed to get a three-year old kid to sleep with those things in all night, but I guess I must have been vain then.  This was before I learned to be humble. 

So anyway, from little on I would go to church with my mother (Dad did not attend) and people would tell me what a cute little girl I was. I was very shy, but heard the praise often (actually, I know it was my hair they found so attractive due to the resemblance to Shirley Temple, again, my hair, not me) and didn't think too much about it, one way or the other, really. 

I thought I was too young to be all puffed up about my adorableness, but on the way home from church one day, I remember my mother slowed down on our drive and said, "I know people tell you you're cute now, and that's nice, but it won't last forever.  I've been trying to downplay it because I don't want you to get a Big Head.  You're going to be getting older and then they're not going to tell you that anymore, so I don't want you to get to thinking you're special or anything, because when they stop saying it, it will hurt." 

I know my mother meant well, but that was truly a turning-point in my life.  It was a good thing I was still semi-cute when one Sunday morning in church the unthinkable happened.  I just vaguely remember it, but my mother has told me about it so often that it's become part of my folklore.  And explains a lot about me and my personality. 

The way the story goes was like this: Apparently there was a Christmas pageant and I was one of the little children who was supposed to be singing up in front of the congregation.  I must not have been more than three or four years old and Mom said I was wearing a new little red jumper she had made for me.  She had my hair all in ringlets, of course, and I had little white anklets with black and white saddle shoes. (I saw the picture of me wearing this get up, so I know this is true.)

When the time came in the service to head up to the front of the church, Mom said I was scared to leave her, and I clung to her like a drowning man to a life raft.  Finally, after a stern whispered talking-to, she pried me off of her and I found myself out of the pew and into the aisle.  There the patient volunteer music teacher motioned for me to hurry, because I was the last little 'cherub' to arrive. I was near tears, but Mom said I dutifully started to almost trot to make up for lost time on my way up that long, long church aisle.  

But, I never made it. 

Mom had sewn me the new little red jumper and blouse to wear that day, but apparently I was in need of something else much more.  New elastic in my drawers.  As fate would have it, right there in the aisle on my way up to the front of the church my underwear decided to make it's debut for Christmas, too.  As I trotted, my undies descended and dropped, eventually all the way to my ankles, tripping me.  I fell flat on my face. 

Too bad I can't completely remember that day, because I guess I brought down the house.   Mom said the laughter was prolific, even in the congregation of usually staid Lutherans, oh, I had them in stitches.  How cute!  My mother said she watched in horror as this all unfolded, bolted out of the pew herself, scooped me up and whisked me away to the Ladies' Room where she did a fast fix and a pin-up with a cheap brooch she was wearing.  At least she didn't make me appear in front of my Adoring Public again that day.  She said by the time we slunk back into church through the back door, the song was over.  Thank goodness.

No wonder people found me cute. I had a regular act going. That was officially the end of any 'big-headedness' on my part.

All these things were running through my mind while I was mowing the lawn.  What if this happens, and what if that?  I was what-iffing myself to pieces.  When I went out to greenchop that afternoon, I almost forgot to shut the cow yard gate.  Luckily I remembered before the cows discovered my mistake.

When I finally went to bed that night, I tossed and turned.  What if I made a major mistake my first day?  Would they send me home?  How would I explain my failure to my friends?  How would I pay for a new car without a job? 

I felt I'd put the cart before the horse, was crossing bridges before I got to them and had champagne taste on a beer budget all rolled into one. 

But it's too late to shut the barn door after the cows are out.

"Tomorrow," as Scarlett said, "Is another day."


Alison said...

Oh Karen, how dreadfully embarrassing for you as a tot! I've had many nights like the one you had just before your debut as an office worker. I bet you did just fine.

Beth said...

Karen, I have really enjoyed reading your story. I'm sorry about this one experience, but eager to hear the rest of the story. Merry Christmas!

Patrick's Garden said...

Hey Karen,

Isn't it weird how some event in early childhood can leave a scar on the adult psyche. In my example it was child abuse at age 7, that still haunts me at 46. While that's an extreme example,I can appreciate your example very much.

Anonymous said...

Oh Hunnie ....snif !