I grew up in an age and family where children were meant to be seen, not heard. If either of my parents could have foreseen how my older brother and I would erupt with ideas and opinions as we neared adulthood, they probably would have been more lax about the policy. But they weren’t. And, boy, have they paid for it.
In high school my brother and a friend put out a political newspaper printed in red ink that protested the Vietnam War. He hawked copies at his high school, and when the administration found that to be disruptive, he took his bundles to the street corner and handed copies to driver stopped by traffic. I can’t remember whether all of this came before or after the year he joined the debate team. He has always loved the art and power of persuasion. How he ended up being a real estate developer rather than a lawyer still puzzles me.
I, too, had my causes. Most had to due with women’s rights, and I still champion those, although I no longer discuss them with my mother whose views are conservative. She still refuses to acknowledge that I kept my own surname when I married 17 year ago. Last week I received a birthday card from her. The last name on the envelope was my husband’s.
Such protest by my mother or others by my father has not stopped me from expressing myself on the pages of magazines, short stories, novels, letters to the editor, feature articles, Facebook and this blog.
Once I wrote a story about a trip my brother, father and I took to Belize in the days before it became prettified enough by Francis Ford Coppola and others to appear on HGTV and the Travel channels. After the column appeared in a magazine, my father threatened to sue me. He said we were definitely not on the same trip. My brother agreed, but his version differed from my mine and my father’s, too.
So, understanding how opinions and point of views can create havoc and dissension in a family, I still can’t believe that my father took advice from me seriously when I was only eleven or so. Back then, even I knew my suggestion was a fantasy, a crazy one. The kind Beaver Cleaver might dream up. But, heck, if my father was willing to listen to me, I was glad to hog the spotlight and talk.
It was a sunny fall day. My brother was off who-knows-where, and my mother and her best friend were going shopping and to a matinee in downtown Norfolk. Before leaving, she instructed my father and me to rake up and burn the leaves four-inches deep on our three-quarter-acre yard. Just the idea of this chore sapped our energy.
I wanted to bike with friends, hang out at the neighbor’s house where the daughter and I would take our Barbie and Ken dolls and smash them together so they could make out. This was long before we found out that Ken was gay. Before we even knew that gay meant something other than happy.
My father, who often kept a bushel of iced Lynnhaven oysters on the flatbed of his pickup and a bottle of Seagram’s under the driver’s seat, wanted to visit his buddies. I don’t know what his exact plans were for that day, perhaps rockfishing, but he had no more desire to clean up the yard than I did. For the first time, I understood we were allies. And that was when I told him I had a plan. I did not think he would go for it. Afterall, he was the adult.
I suggested to him that we rake the leaves away from all the trunks of the trees, then set the yard on fire. He said it was a fine idea. I was thrilled, even though I had doubts that I kept to myself. Whatever happened, I imagined my mother would never ask us to rake again.
The job took longer than we thought, leaving us no time for our friends, and by the time my mother returned home late that afternoon, we were guarding our yard of smoldering ash, careful to make sure the house did not burn down.
It took my mother a few moments to take in what we had done, even longer to find her voice because she was so livid. Madder than when I forged her name perfectly on a failing arithmetic test in third grade or when, at age four, I stole a caramel out of the Braff candy barrel at Overton’s Supermarket.
She wanted to know what we’d been thinking in our addled brains. We told her.
Then she told us what was in her sensible one – that someone would have to clean the smoke film from the windows, the soot we tracked onto the floors of the house, the paws of our white toy poodles every time they came in from doing their business.
But that wasn’t all. Someone, meaning my father, would have to plow up the yard with his tractor, rake it smooth, sow new seed, and keep it watered with a web of hoses attached to sprinklers cross the yard until grass sprouted.
It was a long time before I saw my friends anywhere except in Sunday School. My mother kept me busy after school and on weekends, washing dogs, dusting, mopping and so on. A list too tedious for details.
The next November, what I had imagined would be the best possible outcome – that she would never ask my father or me to rake again – never entered her mind. I hauled one small pile of leaves after another to the fire.
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My novel, Cooley & Rose, is now available as an e-book at Amazon Kindle Store, the ITunes Store, the Sony Reader Store, the Nook Store, Kobo, Baker & Taylor, Gardner’s, eSentral, eBook Pie, Scribd and Amazon.co.uk. NEW: A paperback version is available from Amazon. Please rate and review, good or bad, with the distributor and Goodreads.com. Thanks.