We sat around the table sharing stories of childhood mischief. Jonesy and I, each in our turn, making a confession of some childhood angst. Macy shook her head and said, “I forget when you were young there was nothing to do.”
Our green console TV brought us channels 2,4,5 and 17. On a good day, if the wind didn’t blow and the rabbit ear antennas were manipulated into the absolutely perfect position, we would receive channel 30, although it was often fuzzy with a white wavy line distorting the picture. Momma put a limit on our tv watching. It could happen only if the list of activities she had enumerated in her yellow legal pad had been successfully crossed out with completion. Daddy would generally want to watch the evening news, which was boring, so we were better off being outside anyways.
Beyond our yard was a neighborhood referred to as Two Hills subdivision. It was two circled streets nestled inside the other with a long main road that lead to the two hills. That neighborhood was a perfect place to be a kid. Self-contained off of Lascassas Pike, those circle roads were our playground. The neighborhood was filled with children our age and so there was always someone to play with. The most important of those playmates were our cousins, Jeff and Julie.
Jeff, five years my senior, and Julie, just a year older became constant companions. Most every story of significance in our time at Two Hills include our beloved cousins.
I was a tom boy. To be more accurate, I hated wearing ruffled dresses. In the early eighties, children boutiques were full of dresses, likened to puffy, ruffled pageant dresses. I wanted jeans, my stretchy embroidered belt with magnet closure, and an izod collared shirt. My Aunt Sharon, childless and generous, gifted my sisters and me with these costly dresses. My parents, still in the process of completing their education, were grateful for these beautiful clothes for their girls. I was miserable. Wearing them to church was one thing, but my Mom, hell- bent on making me a lady, insisted I wear a dress at least one day a week to school. I wanted to die. The injustice of it all was not lost on my over-opinionated mind. To make matters worse, Polly Flinders decided tiers of ruffle were not enough, so they began to sew jingle bells into the inner skirts. I hated Polly Flinders and wished her boils on the bottom of her feet.
Jeff received a two person go-cart and our lives changed for the better. His yard, not quite as long as ours, had a back boundary with a shallow ditch that curved. This made for the best go-carting course in the world. The red metal of his go-cart would gleam in the sun. It was always my hope that my Aunt Malinda would pick us up from school, so that I could sit next to Jeff on the Go-Cart and sing The Duke’s of Hazard theme song at the top of my lungs. Andee and Julie were much more sophisticated than me. They were into fashion and boys. I was shaped like a rectangle, wearing Polly Flinders ruffles–clearly I was striking out in both of these areas. I was better suited as co-pilot on the go cart.
On a forced-to-wear-a-dress-to-school day, Malinda picked us up and took us to her house. The putty brown plaid dress I was wearing had puffed sleeves and a full skirt. The material ruffled at the neck into a mock turtleneck. Trimming the neck and sleeves was a thin ribbon. I hated that dress. Putty brown did nothing for my complexion and it felt like something the Ingalls sisters would have been forced into wearing. That dress had ruined my day, but Jeff’s go-cart was the cure. I jumped on with him and off we flew. Round and round the yard we sped. My dress tucked around my legs, so as not to get it dirty. The whole idea of having to protect the dress made me hate it all the more. But with each pass around the yard, I became less and less concerned about the dress and more drunk in the high of speeding through the yard with my cousin. The breeze hitting my face, causing my breath to catch. My permed hair flying in the wind. My dress flowing to the back as we skidded across the crest of the ditch causing me to hold myself steady in the seat and with no warning……rip. There, where once a skirt lay, were my bare legs and Wednesday’s panties boasting blue rosebuds and lace trim. The skirt of my dress flapped back and wrapped around the rear tires ripping it at the seam from the bodice. I looked at Jeff with horror. He looked at me with confusion. We both looked back to see my dress wound around the rear tire, ruined.
My first response was panic. My mother was going to be so angry. The second was embarrassment. I was not sure how I was going to be a lady and get off that go cart, naked from the waste down with my teenaged boy cousin sitting there wondering what had happened and if he was going to have any liability in the whole trouble. The final emotion,…pure elation: the plaid, putty-brown prairie dress at last was dead. I don’t recall what my mother’s response to the dress damage ended up looking like. I just remember that dress was never going to school again. You remember the victories!
There were two ways to leave Two Hills subdivision. The back way was beyond the two hills that lead to rural Rutherford County. The main entrance, the one most traveled, was two lots away from Jeff and Julie’s house. Their front yard had a ridge leading up to the road which made a perfect place to crouch and think you were unseen from the passing cars. To the left of their home Tim and Jason Page, who matched ages with my sister,Andee, and me, lived with their baby sister Missy. To their left was a quiet white brick house belonging to the Farmers.
We never saw Ms. Farmer at her home, but we knew her from our elementary school. She was a most contrary substitute teacher. She was short and wide with the build of a wide receiver. Her yellow-dyed pixie cut added to the hard look she wore on her face. She wore pleated, polyester tunics with bright, jewel-toned designs. She seemed grumpy all the time, so she was legendary to us. Mrs. Farmer was the meanest woman in Murfreesboro.
Somewhere along the way, the idea to place brown paper bags full of nothing in a line across the road became the go to activity for the Pages, my cousins, my sister and me. The lack of city street lights in our rural neighborhood offered us cover, while the ditch offered us shelter. We would wait until there was total darkness. The bravest would line up the open bags and then run, jumping feet first, Duke-boy style into the ditch. Then we would wait.
When the swing of high beams illuminated the top of the ditch, we would look with anticipation at the others lying on the cold ground. The car would approach the bags and the car would stop. The gentle creak of the opening door caused us to shrink into ourselves. We held our collective breaths as the driver exited the car, now idling in the middle of the road just over our heads. The sound of dress shoes hitting the rough asphalt in the approach toward the bags lead to the rustling of paper as the victim of our prank looked in each bag to be sure there were no small animals or sharp objects to puncture the tires of their car. The sound of the bags being swept to the side accompanied a muttering of indiscernible irritation at the end of a long work day. Once the door slammed shut and the car moved forward, we would spring from our hiding place, darting like mad, howling in the air at our paper bag power. We would meet up again, over and over, night after night, as empty bag bandits. Each car would stop for fear that this would be the night the bags would be full of piercing blades or whimpering puppies. Each night they found them empty. Each night the stunt grew less tolerable to the drivers and soon, the bags drove away with a car.
Without the bags, we now had the freedom to explore new roadside obstacles. After several failures, we landed on string being pulled on both sides of the road. The risk was high for being caught and somehow the fun of it never equaled the empty bags until we found ourselves unsupervised in the middle of the day. Missing the thrill of obstructing our adult neighbor’s way home, we brainstormed options. The string across the road was the perfect idea, but without the cover of night, we couldn’t manipulate the string from the ditch. We would have to tie the string across the road. We could tie the string from the stop sign to the utility pole which aligned well enough.We needed to hang something from the string so it would be noticed. After much consideration and without any critical thought, we wove the leg holes of my Uncle Gale’s underpants onto the string. When we were sure no one was watching, we tiptoed out of the house, quickly fastened our road block and then ran to hide by the edge of the house for our first victim.
We did not take into consideration how little traffic would come through our neighborhood in the middle of the day, so we moved our attention to four-square. When we finally heard the familiar sound of a car turning into the neighborhood., we ran to our spots, anxious to watch our victim be perplexed by our road block.
Now, I’m not so sure how many times Mrs. Farmer had fallen victim to our pranks, but on that warm summer day, she had had enough. She rolled out of her car with some effort, words rolling out of her mouth that were not discernible from our hiding places, but the tone was evident. If we were confused at all by her mood, we were quick to understand by the stomping movements of anger toward our makeshift wash line. With one swift slash of the hand, she ripped down our barrier. The string and every pair of Gale’s underwear dragged from her chubby hand . She threw open her car door and slung the garland into her passenger seat. She fell back into the car with a emphatic plop and then slammed the door for exclamation. She then preceded on to her driveway.
We all stood there frozen. Mouths agape, we slowly turned our heads toward each other. Fear and surprise pulled our eyelids back to an unnatural setting.
We had a problem.
Her name was Aunt Malinda. If and when Malinda knew, our Dad would be the next problem we would face.
In that moment, no matter how afraid of Mrs. Farmer we were, we knew no one wanted to be the person to tell Malinda we lost all of Gale’s underpants. No one.
My memory begins to fade as to the resolution of this story. I want to say Jeff, as the oldest and only boy, took the fall for the underwear. I don’t know if it was ever retrieved from Mrs. Farmer or if we faced Malinda’s disappointed glare. You forget the defeats!!
In the days where there was nothing to do, we spent a lot of time, doing the most extra-ordinary things. We were villains and rebels. We were race car drivers and faithful friends. We were kids being kids at a time where nothing to do meant there was always something to get into.