I know I’m getting older, and my memory certainly isn’t what it used to be, but I’m pretty sure (in fact, I’m almost positive) that once upon a time, a long, long, LONG time ago, I used to be a little girl who did little girl things.
I haven’t always been cautious and conscientious, boring and old (despite my husband’s testimony to the contrary). Back before the responsibilities of adulthood requisitioned my sanity, before the stresses of high school hammered my spirit, and before the nightmares of puberty claimed my innocence, I was just a normal kid. I swear.
Well, sort of. I definitely wasn’t a “girlie girl”; I refused to wear pink (blue was my color of choice), and I didn’t play dress up or take dance lessons or bake cakes in the Easy Bake Oven. I did own a few Barbies, but I soon lost interest in them and donated them to my little brother who gladly used his GI Joe action figure to karate chop their heads off (over and over again).
I remember vaguely those little girl days of long ago. Some of the memories are as sweet as the watermelon juice that sluiced down my chin and neck, while others are as painful as the bee stings that tortured my bare feet when I ran through the dewy grass–but all of them contributed in some way to the essence of the person I was becoming.
I remember splashing through rain puddles and feeling the cool mud squirting between my toes. I remember blowing dandelion thistles into the breeze and sucking sweet nectar from honeysuckle flowers. I remember climbing my grandma’s fruit trees and swinging upside down from the limbs–until Grandma informed me that showing my underpants to the neighbors was most unladylike. Her scolding didn’t keep me out of the trees, but out of respect for her wishes (and fear of her abundant supply of switches) I did start wearing shorts under my dresses so my undies were no longer on display.
I remember the excitement of summer Tuesdays when the ice cream truck’s bell could be heard from blocks away. I remember running to the corner with dime in hand, already tasting the bomb pop or orange push-up that would soon be mine, all mine.
I remember playing outside all day, coming in just long enough for a lunch of bologna and potato chip sandwiches and strawberry Kool-Aid. And then I was out the door again, riding my bike all over the neighborhood and running back and forth through the sprinkler to cool off. I remember my pigtails bleached white from the summer sun and my skin darkened to a chestnut brown, and I remember feeling like the most special little girl in the world when my sweet grandpa hugged me to his chest and called me his “blonde Indian princess.”
I remember when it was too hot to play, I could always find a shady spot where I could sit quietly and practice my multiplication tables and my handwriting (okay, maybe that wasn’t normal) or read my favorite books (Little Women and Nancy Drew). I also remember getting yelled at for reading in the dark after I had gone to bed (“You’re ruining your eyes!”)–and then sneaking a flashlight under the covers so I could keep reading.
I remember owning the meanest Shetland pony known to man and being determined to ride him no matter how many times he bucked me off. When he couldn’t buck me off any more, he tried a new tactic–running full speed toward the barbed wire fence and then stopping suddenly just before impact, attempting to throw me into the fence. It only took one horrendous tumble into the barbed wire before I learned to bale–and as soon as I would jump off, that dang pony would run away, and I would have to catch him to get him back into the pen. I was too stubborn to accept defeat, but I don’t remember ever winning a single battle with that horse.
I do remember catching lightning bugs in a Mason jar and putting the jar by my bedside for a nightlight. And one summer in my later childhood, I also remember catching frogs at the pond and placing them in a Mason jar filled with rubbing alcohol. After they were dead (which didn’t take long), I would dissect them with a steak knife and try to identify their internal organs. It never occurred to me that what I was doing was cruel–I just thought poking around in their squishy insides was cool.
I remember going with my parents to visit their friends, who all had children much younger than I was. I didn’t want to play with the little kids, and frequently (if I promised to be quiet) my dad would let me stand next to him while the grown-ups played poker. I got to sort and stack his money and watch his cards, learning the ins and outs of five-card draw and seven-card stud (deuces wild). He also sometimes gave me sips of his tequila sunrise (orange juice with pretty colors swirling in it), which might explain why those poker nights frequently ended with me asleep on the living room floor.
I remember Saturday morning cartoon marathons when my little pajama-clad body could spend hours plopped in front of the television, chomping on Fruit Loops or Apple Jacks and watching Deputy Dawg, Huckleberry Hound, The Jetsons (my favorite!), The Flintstones, Yogi Bear (with his sidekick Boo Boo), The Archies, and Scooby Doo. My parents may have owned the television the rest of the week, but Saturday mornings belonged to me and my sister and little brother (I’m sure my mom didn’t mind the hours of free babysitting).
And speaking of my sister (who was only 11 months younger than I was), I remember her being both my worst enemy and my best friend. I remember no one could make me angrier, and I remember one particularly nasty fight when she was beating my legs with a broom handle until I broke a glass Coke bottle over her head. But I would also defend her against all outsiders, and when an older neighborhood boy threw a dirt clod that accidentally hit my sister in the face and made her cry, I punched the older boy in the face and bloodied his nose. His mother called my mother, demanding that I be punished, and listening to my mom’s end of the conversation I knew my bottom was about to be blistered–but when my mom heard why I had punched him, she gave me a hug and told me not to do it again.
I wish all my punishments had been that easy. Sometimes I was locked in the broom closet (until my mom realized I really didn’t mind), and sometimes–especially if my crime was backtalking–I received a swift slap across the mouth. More often, though, my punishments came at the end of a leather belt. I remember so many times being told to “go get your dad’s belt” and wanting desperately to hide his belt and claim I couldn’t find it–but somehow knowing that little lie would only increase my mother’s wrath. Even worse was being told to “just wait until your father gets home”; I would spend the rest of the day in fear and dread of the moment when my dad would walk through the door. I don’t remember ever being spanked by him, but I do remember countless times when I wished he would spank me instead of putting me through seemingly endless verbal reprimand.
I have so many other memories of my life as a little girl–playing “catch ’em and kiss ’em” in the cornfield, scratching mosquito bites until they bled, eating strawberries right off the vine, doing the “hokey pokey,” and planting marigolds and snapdragons in my grandma’s flower beds–all stuff that normal little kids do, right?
All proof that, once upon a time, I was normal. I swear.