Thursday, October 1, 2009

Boy Tests

     Each morning on the way to school, Sissey and I drive past the house I lived in from kindergarten through fifth grade.  It was two miles outside of town, situated between a cotton field and the path to Aunt Virginia and Uncle Henry's house, and was the best place on earth for a pack of kids to grow up in. As we drive by, that old house talks to me, and I have to tell Sissey what it's whispering about my life before I was "Mom."
      I was the middle child in our family of four siblings, at least the middle by my count.  First, there was the perfect older sister that never got into trouble. Next, the golden haired boy who didn't figure into the equation because he was THE BOY and in a category all his own. I came along after that,  and finally, my younger sister who got away with everything because she was the baby.   So technically, I was the middle sister; not perfect, not golden, not the baby, just the middle.
     My brother and I were Chinese twins. Born eleven months apart, I always knew I was the accident. My mother found out she was pregnant with me when she went for her post-partum checkup after delivering the golden haired boy. Suffice it to say, I was not anticipated.
     Planned or not, here I was, in a family of unbalanced genders.  I decided to change that.  I was going to become a boy.  I adored my brother and wanted to be his best friend. Obviously, being just a girl, that could not happen, so we devised a plan the summer I was nine and he was ten to change all that.
     My brother, who was always much smarter than I, came up with a brilliant idea.  He would formulate a series of "Boy Tests" which I would be required to pass.  Upon successfully passing all the tests, I would then be declared an "Official Boy", allowed to play with him in all games, and be his very best friend. 
     To begin with, I cut my hair just like his, and whacked off my eyelashes.  I started dressing just like he did in the official boy summer outfit: cutoff jeans, white tee shirt, tennis shoes.  We were convinced that we could now actually pass for twins. Of course, he was blonde, I was brunette, in addition to the other obvious differences, but we were confident we looked identical.  The test involved walking up and down York Street to see if anyone we passed would say, "Oh, look at those twins." We lived in a small town where people knew when you flushed the toilet. How in the world we thought there would be anyone who didn't know us, much less would think we were twins, was beyond comprehension, but as I said, we were confident it would work.
     The tests became progressively harder. For the next test, he blindfolded me, took me out into the woods,  spun me around a few times to confuse my sense of direction, and left me. I had to wait a specified amount of time before I could remove the blindfold and try to find my way home, all without being eaten by wild dogs or bears or any other monster lurking in the underbrush.
     We had a large, prickly juniper bush in our yard that covered an area the size of a trampoline.  It was a dreadful thing that constantly ate our kickballs, footballs, and any other errant toy. Retrieving them from the clawing, biting branches was a nightmare. For this test, I had to conquer the juniper by taking off my shirt and crawling all the way through that nasty old bush, without turning back or complaining, because everyone knew boys were tough and had to do that kind of stuff in the army. 
     I had successfully completed all my tests, when he presented me with  the killer.  I was deathly afraid of heights, and my brother was well aware of that fact. I had climbed to the top of a lighthouse that summer and gotten stuck, unable to move every time I looked down those winding steps.  After refusing to budge,  my uncle finally climbed up to get me, and held my hands as I bumped all the way down on my bottom.  Fortunately, when you are nine those things don't embarrass you. I just wanted to get down without dying.
      The ultimate challenge was this: I was to climb to the top of a towering  pine tree in our front yard, without stopping, until I reached the very top branch. Once I had reached the highest branch, I was to yell down to Joe, get his approval, and start back down.Going up was not a problem. I scampered up like a little monkey, fearless and confident, until I reached the highest point. I hollered "Made it!", and he hollered back, "OK! Come on down."  I turned around to start down, and knew I was in big trouble.  My head started spinning, my stomach fell to my knees, and I was paralyzed with fear.  I could not have moved down a single branch of that tree if Paul Bunyan were chopping it down.  I stayed up there all morning, with Joe yelling at me to move, until my brother realized I was not coming down.
      He fetched my sisters, and the three siblings tried and tried to talk me down.  No such luck. I wasn't moving one inch.  I had latched onto that top branch and was holding on for dear life.  They had no choice but to go inside and tell our mother what was going on.
     Mama came out, looked up into the tree, and could just barely see me sitting up there swaying in the top branches.  She tried her best to talk me down, bargain with me, bribe me to move, but that was going no where.  She finally decided she was coming up after me.  So here came Mama, climbing that ole pine like it was nothing, until she reached me at the top.  She grabbed my hand, tried to pry it loose, tried to talk me down, but I still wasn't budging. 
     Then, Mama looked down, and uh-oh, we were both in Big Trouble now.  She couldn't move; she was paralyzed with fear.  She had latched on to the branch below me and turned deathly pale. 
           "Someone go call your father," she slowly said between clenched teeth.  We all knew this was not going as planned.
       My older sister ran into the house, and called dad at work.  He was in a meeting, but she told them it was urgent and to please have him pick up the phone.  Explaining the situation, she  begged him to come home quickly and get Mama and Beth out of the pine tree.
    To this day, I do not know what he told them at the office when he left.  As the father of four children, I am sure he did not have to give much of an explanation, just "emergency at home" would do.
He arrived in his suit and tie to find Louise, Joe, and Ann peering anxiously up into the branches of the tree, with Mama and me hanging on for dear life up in the top .
      He climbed that tree in his suit and tie without batting an eye.  I will never forget that.  He got Mama down first, then came back up for me. He talked me down branch by branch, holding my hand, telling me not to look down, until we were firmly planted back on the ground. He then calmly brushed off the pine tags and dust and went back to work.
     I didn't even get into trouble that time. I don't know the reason why. Maybe it was because he was really afraid we both were going to fall out of the tree, maybe it was because he knew how badly I wanted to pass this last boy test.  I spent the rest of the summer in a dirt-caked  blaze of glory, running wild with the boys, an official member of the gang, and having the absolute best time of my life the summer I was a boy.

No comments:

Post a Comment