4 November Breaking with TraditionHeart and Humanity

Freedom

At six you don’t realize yet that certain freedoms don’t lend themselves to being bragged about. 

Morning for adventure!  (A double adventure, but that was a secret.)  School wasn’t ho-hum yet, but I’d been going long enough to see how it could get that way.  I could still get excited as long as overnight, anticipating that today, yes, Wednesday, our first grade class was to go on a field trip. 

Didn’t matter where (it was “in a field,” Mrs. Williams explained).  Who cared where, just that instead of cookies-and-milk and Nap Time, instead of waiting for hours for recess, why, right after lunchtime we’d be putting on our jackets or coats, hats, earmuffs, leggings, boots, mittens and scarves (all crooked) and struggling to thrust an arm into a sleeve while we were struggling with the other arm to push the door open (with the wind closing the door three times before we made our escape).  Today, holy-moly, we’d have to be ready to climb in one of the four or five overheated cars, overheated ourselves.  And, there’d always be someone ahead to wait for.

See?  I did this once before.  I can remember perfectly the exuberance of leaving when we weren’t just going home, when the bell didn’t ring, the other classrooms weren’t out in a crazed hodgepodge right ahead of us.  (Don’t remember where we went then—obviously not important.  If the subject comes up, my mother remembers.)

And disconnected in my mind, a neat but totally separate idea, my own mother would be one of the volunteer drivers today.  Wondered for second if I was automatically supposed to ride with her?  Didn’t matter, but I’d rather not.

Now I was just getting out of bed, but it felt like all the above had already taken place.  Still half-asleep, maybe it happened yesterday?  But surely I’d remember where we went then, wouldn’t I?

I remember now—last year we went to a farm.

“Last year you went to the Best Farm—remember?” my mother said, pouring three glasses of orange juice.

“Yeah,” I said.  Was she reading my mind?  Did she say this the instant before I remembered?

“All those cows and pigs!” she enthused.

Could only remember the cow’s butts, the pink things—udders—you milk by squeezing.  Gave me goosebumps.  And manure in round-looking blobs the size of a baseball.  Tails swatting.  Dirty white pigs huddling together, mud—or maybe more manure—so much that if you almost stepped in it, backing up in worried amazement—crush! –you stepped in more for sure.  Didn’t they know we were coming?

And the overpowering stink of hay.  I sneezed for an hour, all the way home in the backseat of some mother’s car.  Who wouldn’t let anyone roll a window down even a tiny inch.

But this time, I had an adventure planned of my own.  It didn’t have anything to do with a field trip exactly.  And looking back, I guess you could say it was very ill-timed:  I decided this morning I wasn’t going to put on any underwear. 

What was the purpose of it?  No one ever explained why.  So why bother? 

Perhaps my brother dared me.  Perhaps the family doctor admonished—mildly—my mother in front of me, how since undershirts made me hot, I didn’t need to wear one.  Her fault, she set herself up for it, one of the questions on her long list of things-to-ask-the-doctor.

     I see London, I see France,

          “I see someone’s underpants!

Only reference to anything like this in my history.

“I’m not wearing any underwear,” I announced at breakfast.  Sudden briefing about my lack of briefs, similar to my father looking up from the newspaper and stating, “It’s supposed to rain today.”

“What?” cried my mother.

“Ha! Ha!” chuckled my brother.  “What a turd!”

“You go right back upstairs this minute and put them on!”  Shocked her enough she didn’t even collar Gary for the use of that dirty word.

Well, I went back upstairs, not wanting soggy cereal with slimy bananas on top anyway.  (I told her not to put the bananas on; she put the bananas on.)  But I did not put on my underpants. 

Would she check?  Would she ask me if I had?  Would I tell a lie if she did?

And back down, braced for the confrontation.  But something else must have been upsetting her, she didn’t mention it again.  Maybe embarrassed.  Maybe cleaning up the milk Gary spilled, dribbling off both sides of the kitchen table.  I just walked through the kitchen and out the door—oops—had to go back for my coat and hat—  “I’m gonna be late!” I yelled, the way I’ve heard Dad yelling this, my mother responding with, “Well, it wasn’t my fault you forgot to set the alarm.”

Out the back door and down the street and a block away before—hey!  I re-remembered, this is the day my mother’s driving us on the field trip.  Crossed my mind then it wasn’t good planning, jumbled it all up in my head, having two adventures on the same day.

Oh well, too late now. On I went, though I admit it, feeling a little chilly.  My pants with the elastic waist tight enough, but sort of like a balloon—two skinny balloons filling from the bottom—but up was my bottom, and the filling was cold air, blowing in a breeze I’d never felt quite this way before.

At six you don’t realize yet that certain freedoms don’t lend themselves to being bragged about. 

Guess though, it’s not much fun not getting caught. Mainly, it wasn’t any fun unless you had an audience.

“Now, you’d better line up and go to the bathroom one more time—even if you don’t have to—because it’s a long drive and we’re not stopping.”  Teacher’s instructions.  Probably picturing thirty of us at a gas station while someone had to use a restroom.

Long line, two urinals, and—sort of standing there with very little to do—I had to boast to the kid next to me.  “I’m not wearing any underpants!”

He looked unimpressed.  Dumb.  Not used to talking in the boy’s room, I guess

He looked unimpressed—but I bet this is the way revolutions start.

Unimpressed but he must have been secretly impressed because he made a beeline to Mrs. Williams to share the news.  And then the teacher had a private word with my mother (just then arriving).  And then my mother’s face became extremely contorted.  Couldn’t see if she was mad or not, looked more like she was ready to faint. White turning stinging red.

Oh so calm, so pleasant, so polite my mother’s voice as she asked the teacher where the nearest phone was—while her one hand was shaking my shoulder so hard my head felt like it would bobble off.  “Don’t you go anywhere!” fiercely she whispered to me.  Still, la-te-da, smiling though.

Maybe fifteen minutes she was gone, back with a paper bag with jockey shorts in it, size—well, way too big.  “Go to the restroom and put these on.”

I was holding them up, wondering about the extra four inches of elastic waistband.  “Now!” she commanded.

 “They’re real big, Mom.”

“I don’t care.  Mrs. Underhill—thank God she was home—they’re Donny Underhill’s—she lives just down the street—”, this to the teacher and the other mothers listening in.

Glad somebody was watching.  Otherwise something told me Mom would have crammed them in my mouth, crammed my head in the paper bag, crammed all of me in the backseat of the car.  She was boiling.

“But—they’ll fall off.”

“GO!”

So, all afternoon at the zoo, walking and walking, seemed like miles, with these way-too-big underpants—scrunched up, wadded—making me feel like a two-year-old in diapers again.  Funny feeling, funny looking.  She didn’t care.

And I scoped out any of the places I could spot, thinking it might be better to hang around even by the smelly lion’s exhibit, or the gorilla house with the poop all over the floor, than go home with this mother of mine whose feelings had been caged up all afternoon.  I mean, I knew I was in for it.

Oh well, some kinds of freedom aren’t worth it.

Photo Courtesy of The Press and Journal

 

 

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David Fitch

David Fitch – Retired from civil service; co-organizer with Carla Dodd of the Southeast Michigan Poetry Meetup; two prize-winning poems published last year by The Poetry Society of Michigan

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