A couple of my early formative years were spent in El Paso, Texas. There are random snapshots in my head of San Antonio, but I have clear memories of the El Paso house with the sunny backyard and the greasewood-studded caliche hill that dropped off into the gully across the street.
My hero and leader, my big brother, had just begun his illustrious academic career and I was on my own. My world was opening up. I could go outside by myself––in fact I was receiving messages that encouraged pursuit of outdoor adventures from Mama. On this day the invitation was very specific, “Go play in the backyard while I get dressed, but don’t get dirty.”
I fully understood that not getting dirty was the prime directive. I was also wearing the greatest dress-up dress that Mama had ever made. It was a blue organdy pinafore with lace-edged ruffles, a deep hem inset with lace and a big blue bow in back. Even my Shirley Temple curls were groomed, held in place with a matching blue bow and my usually bare feet were encased in shiny Mary Janes.
I was certain that playing with the hose and the allure of mud pies was on the “don’t” list. Swinging would be OK, but the best part––jumping off at the cusp of the arc—might leave grass stains or bloody knees, violating the Don’t Get Dirty mandate.
Don’t Get Dirty was the objective. Where is dirt? It’s on the ground, of course.
So, I climbed the fence. It was a red picket twisted wire fence with no wooden stringers. To walk the fence, you had to put your feet between the pickets and sidle down the double twisted wire. I almost made it across the backyard before the misstep. My slick-soled, fancy-buckle footwear didn’t hold as well as my bare feet and I slipped. I was falling toward the alley side of the fence.
Once my descent into “dirty” stopped, I realized I was still ahead of the game. No bump, no bruise, no blood, no dirt.
But, there was a problem. Looking down I saw my shoes were many inches above the ground. I squirmed around enough to look up and saw that the top of the fence was higher than I could reach. The pinafore hem held fast but each flailing effort produced the sound of fabric and lace threads giving way.
I soon realized that the best I could hope for was that the garbage truck, only about a block away, would arrive before my mom did. Surely, the men would recognize that I was not garbage and toss me back over the fence. And maybe my mom would never notice the snagged lace.
Hope may spring eternal, but my fondest wish was not to be fulfilled.
The screen door opened and banged shut and Mama was calling me. I didn’t answer. Although it was irrational to think that the rescuers would arrive before she found me, I still held on to the slightest shred of hope.
I suspect it was the telltale band of blue organdy wrapped around the red picket that gave me away.
Upon discovery, I explained I hadn’t gotten dirty and as far as I was concerned, Mission Accomplished. Luckily, Mama had a self-imposed rule about disciplining children, “If you have already laughed, it isn’t fair to fuss.”
Who knows? The garbage men may not have recognized my value and tossed me in the truck instead of over the fence. But when I find myself hanging on by a mere thread I am not persnickety about the source of assistance. I believe it never hurts to be alert to the possibility that aid may materialize from a most unlikely alliance.
Carolyn Wiley lives quietly, for the most part, in Longbranch.
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