I recently celebrated my birthday. I’m not going to tell you exactly when I was born, but I will tell you that it was a much more dangerous time than it is now. In fact, it’s a wonder I lived through my childhood.
You youngsters reading this are probably scoffing. Dangerous? What could be more dangerous than what we have to deal with today? Well, let me give you a partial list of the things I survived:
When I was a child, seat belts in cars were purely decorative. I was allowed to stand on the front seat next to my mother while she drove with one hand and smoked with the other. When braking, she would throw her right arm out, thereby stopping me from sailing through the front windshield but clotheslining me in the process.
And speaking of smoking, it was de rigueur. It was allowed EVERYWHERE. And EVERYBODY did it. One of my most vivid memories was of my mother sitting next to me in the movie theatre smoking a Winston, the red tip of her cigarette and her white lipstick glowing in the dark. I was so enamored with this visual that I spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror smoking my candy cigarette and trying to get the right movie star attitude that Faye Dunaway captured in Bonnie and Clyde.
I grew up in a time when all food was healthy. Sugar gave you energy and ice cream built strong bones. White bread was the only kind of bread there was. Wonder Bread had over fifty minerals! (Sugar was the top ingredient.) And if you didn’t get enough energy from the Wonder Bread then you could dump sugar all over your breakfast cereal. TV dinners were the modern woman’s dream. My mother marveled at how a TV dinner cooked for fifty minutes in the oven could scald your mouth with the Salisbury steak but the mashed potatoes were still frozen in the middle.
If you scorched your mouth too badly you could always soothe the burn with Tang, the choice drink of astronauts. (My stepdad called the spoon he used to stir the Tang a “spoontang.”)
When I got tired of ingesting chemicals, I switched to the natural-ness of coffee. I began drinking it at the age of eight just so I could have the joy of making (gasp!) instant coffee.
I believe that toys were cleverly designed to attract children and then mutilate or kill them. It was the government’s way of dealing with the population explosion. Why else would I be allowed to play with popper knockers? (Those hard balls made out of glass that hung on a string and you knocked them together until you bounced it off your little brother’s head and got sent to bed without a TV dinner.)
I also had an easy bake oven in which I concocted many yummy desserts made out of ordinary household cleansers that I found under the sink. Add a few bugs to the concoction for crispiness and my little brother was stupid enough to eat it. Pogo sticks and romper stompers were another toy that defied death but resulted in many trips to the hospital. (Couldn’t afford store bought romper stompers? Then tie strings to metal Folgers cans. This way you can not only fall off them, but you can slice an artery while doing so.)
I also blew up my little brother with the chemistry set I got for Christmas. (His hair grew back in thicker than before so it wasn’t a total waste.) I still maintain that the burned curtains in the living room were not my fault. If my mother didn’t want burned curtains she should not have bought me the wood engraving set that had only a five inch electrical cord and then hung curtains right over the outlet.
I defied the odds and lived through my childhood. I suppose that is why I feel indestructible today. And that is also why when Saxon asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday I suggested we go river rafting. So, off we go to Hanging Rock Floats on the Illinois River to begin my six mile water adventure. I never dreamed that I would come closer to death on my birthday than I ever had before.
Saxon volunteered to be the leader of the raft. To her this meant she got to sit in the very back of the raft and boss me and Emma around by yelling orders like, “Row left! Row right! Stop rowing! Row harder, faster! What’s wrong with you pussies, I said row!” I think the idea of being raft leader appealed to her inner Great Santini.
The first mile went without incident. Mostly because the current swept us along and rowing wasn’t necessary. The next mile, the current became stronger. It sucked us faster, spun us around once or twice and, in general, scared the living shit out of me.
If that weren’t scary enough, we rounded a bend in the river only to see that we were headed straight for a downed tree in the middle of the river. We were going to crash into it!
Saxon was unfazed. In true Bull Meechum fashion, she barked orders at Emma and me, “Row left! Row left!”
Emma and I frantically dipped our oars over the left side of the boat and rowed. This only made us spin closer to the tree.
“Row left! Row left!” Saxon screamed.
Emma and I rowed left with all our might.
The tree loomed closer.
“What’s wrong with you two?” Saxon screamed. “I said row left!”
“Don’t yell at us!” I screamed back. “We are rowing left!”
“You are not!” she yelled louder. “Watch out! We’re going to hit that –”
We hit the tree. We bounced off the tree. We plowed into the tree again. And again. And again. The roar of the river drowned out Saxon’s cussing. Almost.
Saxon will deny this part, but I swear this is what really happened. She stood up, pushed me to the side, saying, “Get out of my way.” She pushed against the tree with both hands and one foot and almost toppled our raft over, while all the time cussing at me that I didn’t know my left from my right and it’s a wonder I didn’t kill us all… etc etc…
Finally, the river spun us around enough times that it regurgitated our raft onto the other side of the tree and we were once again floating freely down a calm Illinois river.
After a long pause, Saxon said, “Next time I say row left, I expect you to row left.”
Emma and I looked at each other, then looked back at her. I said, “We were rowing left.” I held up my hands and illustrated my right from my left, saying, “See? Right. Left. We were rowing left.”
Emma and I turned back around. Several long seconds passed in silence, then Saxon said softly, “I meant your other left.”
I politely refrained from saying anything more mainly because there was a child in the raft. But the whole time I was thinking, “Blog. I shall seek my revenge in a blog.”
It all worked out though. We made it safely down the river and I’m here to tell the tale. However, next year for my birthday I think I’ll ask for some lawn darts. They’re safer.
A Perfect Romance
“Reminiscent of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. This book is pure mind candy. I loved it.” New Paper Adventures
“…it’s a rollercoaster ride of side splitting, gut wrenching laughter right the
way through. Plus there is a deliciously hilarious twist that I really didn’t
see coming.” Terry’s Lesfic Reviews