In the latter part of the 1970s, I lived with my family in a little blue house on North Tennessee Blvd in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My parents were in their twenties, my older sister was a mere 1236 days older than me, and a Pinto wagon fancied up with wood paneling sat in the driveway. Yellow ribbons tied into bows wrapped a few of the trees in our front yard. At the time, I knew it was supporting hostages, but I couldn’t be bothered to know what that was. I just knew the ribbons were pretty and I liked them hanging on our trees.
Our house sat on a corner lot of a street with very little traffic perpendicular to a street with substantial enough traffic that my mother tended to worry. To the left of the house was a ditch large enough for two or three kids to lie side by side in, but not very deep. It was often damp with run-off water. That ditch was the very clear boundary of how close we were to be to the road at any given time.
“You stay on this side of the ditch.”
“I don’t want to see you near the ditch.”
“Did I see you playing in the ditch?”
The ditch became the only place I wanted to play. That tells you a little about my inner workings. I wanted to live on the edge of danger, my own woman, facing the uncertain realities of whatever was going to happen to me just to the other side of that ditch. I had no idea what could happen, but it must be epic to get so much attention. I had to know!
In my five- year-old perceptions, I did not know, but did know, that on the other side of the ditch was a road and on the other side of the road lived two girls: Meanie and Marie. One taller than she should have been for her age, very thin, with long straight brown hair and a bold set of bangs cutting across her brow. That would be Marie. The other, shorter, stouter with hair cropped into a tussle of sandy blond curls. We called her Meanie. I have no recollection of what her actual name was, nor how we began to call her Meanie, but it was a fitting name. She was bossy, but I respected her tomboyish sensibilities and the fact she was secure enough with herself for us to call her Meanie and not feel the need to correct us. Marie and Meanie would join us on the concrete back patio of that little blue house, and we would have International Level competitions of Mother May I which would inevitably end in the “you’re such a cheater” arguments that come when children are left to officiate their own games of scissor walks and bunny hops. The cheater, cheater Pumpkin eater debate would end with Meanie and Marie storming home, past the ditch to their house on the other side of the road.
Usually at this point, Andee, my older sister and I would opt to climb to the top of the old metal jungle gym in the back yard, where we would dangle from the monkey bars by our arms and Indian leg wrestle until one of us would fall off. Before we would finish off at the jungle gym, we would dangle one last time singing the diarrhea song:
Diarrhea, ooh, ooh, ooh
Diarrhea, ooh, ooh, ooh
Some people thing you’re funny
But you’re really kinda runny
Diarrhea, ooh, ooh, ooh
As the word runny rolled off our lips in perfect harmony our dangling legs would run in the air as fast as we could.
We would then run to the white silky crocheted hammock hanging between two large tress in the back. We had invented a game called Banana Split. The rules of the game were this, get in the hammock, fold the sides around you and lock yourself in by placing your fingers through the holes of all layers of the hammock. The other player would take hold of the hammock and begin rocking it until there was enough momentum to cause the whole thing to begin spinning upside down. The person who could flip the most times without spilling out: Grand Champion Banana Split Winner of the World. The problem with this game is the hammock suspended over a large and deadly root system from the two large trees. If you spilled out of the hammock hard, you would certainly land on the roots and you would be injured. The danger added to the game exponentially. The unwritten rule of the game, if you fell out, got hurt on the roots, you never, ever told Mom. You sucked up that injury like a good soldier, because if those scrapes, bruises and light sprains were connected to the hammock and Banana Split, it was the ditch rules for sure. And that just couldn’t happen.
After hiding to the right of the house, which became the infirmary where blood must be stopped and scrapes were camouflaged with mud streaks, we would sit on the concrete pad where our hand prints and names were permanently imprinted and sing the songs of the latest greatest hits compilation album advertised on television. Our favorite combination of songs just happened to be:
“Chances Are, She’ll Have to Go, Just Walking in the Rain.” We would belt each line from the songs in our best impression of each singer: Andee as Johnny Mathis, I would join in as Kitty Wells, and together as Johnnie Ray, telling the story of some unfortunate girl who, per chance, would be leaving in a storm. The comedic genius of the placements of these songs were not lost on us and we practiced that bit until the three songs became one very real song we would sing often, spilling over in laughter.
It was about this time in our playtime that the thousand day differences in our ages occurred to Andee and she realized, she was too old to be hanging out with me any longer and she had to work on braiding ribbon through barrettes so she could build her hair accessory empire. It was about the time Andee walked into the house that Suzy would appear. Suzy was beautiful. She had long blond tresses that ended in the perfect spiral of curl. It was never dirty, nor tangled. Her clothes always matched and she often wore dresses and ruffled socks. Her black double strapped Mary Janes never had scuffs on the heels. She was everything I wasn’t. But the reason I loved her…..she wanted nothing more than to play in the ditch. As soon as Andee would disappear into the screened back door, Suzy would appear out of nowhere. She always knew when I would be alone and would need someone to play with. She also knew there was no place in the yard better to play than in the ditch. Suzy and I were stealthy. We would peek through the screen door to be sure Mom was occupied and then we would walk around the house, back to the siding to keep from being seen and head to the front where the ditch beckoned us to play. We would run to the pine trees, picking up pine cones and acting like we were interested in the majesty of nature, but mainly we just wanted to get to the other side of the trees where we knew we could not be seen from the front windows. Four more steps and we would be in the ditch. Casually we would lay in the grass, slowly moving ourselves to the edge of the ditch, until finally we would roll in. Somehow, Suzy always found the dry ground in the ditch at first, leaving me with the spot where it was wet and muddy. My clothes would be exhibit A to my disobedience. I would be so mad at Suzy for being so perfect, so tidy, so able to find the dry spot of the ditch so no one would ever know she had been just as disobedient as me. We would begin to fuss, as only truly good friends do, and she would get so mad, she would stand up and storm out of the left side of the ditch. And of course, that was the dangerous side and she would get hit by a car. Every. Single. Time. She would end up in the wettest part of the ditch and I would have to jump in and try to save her. How else were my clothes so wet and dirty with ditch water? After my best attempts at saving Suzy’s life were for naught, I would run into the house to let my mom know, Suzy was in the ditch and I was pretty certain she was not going to survive.
On the days Suzy died, I found myself in bed while it was still daylight outside, hungry from missing supper for the evening, freshly bathed with Band Aids on my scrapes. Although punished, my Mom would come and sing Now the Day is Over to me, likely soothing herself with Thanksgiving that, soon. I would be asleep, and she would be able to rest from my shenanigans.
The next day, I would wake with my first thought: hoping to stay out of trouble. My second: looking forward to Suzy showing up so we could seek danger in the ditch.