“It is helpful to know the proper way to behave, so one can decide whether or not to be proper.” –Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine, 1997

I am not a particularly naughty person.  In fact, I’m very decent most of the time.  But, I do have my naughty side that just has to come out and play, I call her my “evil twin” which is not my twin sister, who has at times been my evil twin–but for the sake of this blog I want to discern the two.

Growing up in a small town, the youngest child  of six (technically, twinsie is five minutes older) of a Lutheran minister, we younger kids had very little supervision.  Our mom was a working mom, and our Dad worked all day at the church.  So, we were left to our own devices from a very young age.  We did go to hospitals with our dad while he visited the sick, which always included a trip to the dusty Salvation Army, which would yield boxes of  Nancy Drew books that I would read when I wasn’t playing, and often those trips included a movie and a meal at Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips.  True heaven.

And there were the days we popped into the church to watch the church secretary mimeograph Sunday’s bulletins, and the chance to churn the mimeograph machine’s barrel and smell the ink.  Sometimes, on Wednesdays, I’d go down the hall to the multipurpose room, and after washing my hands very carefully, sit at the colorful quilt stretched taut on the wooden stretcher frame, surrounded by gray-haired towns ladies, and they’d give me a little threaded needle and I would make the tiniest of stitches so very carefully–my dirty feet hung still as could be so as not to cause my hand to move.

To this day, I know if those quilts still exist, there are my very own little girl stitches in them, and I think it impossibly wonderfully ironic how  we can leave our own mark in places that take many different single pieces of cloth, with the stitches of many hands, big and small,  to make one whole thing that is of great use to someone years away from the moment the needles pierced it.

Besides my forays into the church.  I was never at home, I was always outside playing during the long, hot midwestern summers.  I loved the buzz of bugs and the singing birds, the sweet scent of wheat and manure from the surrounding farmlands and the hot sidewalks under my bare feet that kept me skipping over them as fast as I could.  Every now and then the soles of my feet needed a respite despite their sturdiness and the roughness that running barefoot for three months straight can give them.  And I loved nothing more than to hop onto the “forbidden grass” of a neighbor two doors down from the parsonage.  I could not understand why on EARTH he would not let us run on his grass! Of all the grass in the whole of town, his was the most lush.  I wanted to do cartwheels and back hand springs, it was like having a natural gym mat right on our street to do all my cheerleading stunts on.

His grass was always cool deep down where its thick roots were shaded by the perfectly manicured tops.  Imagine how wonderful that felt on days we could fry an egg on the cement from the heat of the sun?  I tried to stay over on the other side by Mr Five-o-clock’s house, where only dirt survived the shade there to avoid temptation, and I never confessed it to anyone–that I had stepped on the forbidden lawn–unless one of the neighbor kids (and they’d know who they were if people other than family read this blog), saw me, and declared that they would walk up to the door, knock on it and tattle on me.  Though, it was never done, in fact, those same kids and my twinsie and I could run behind all the houses on my block straight through to their house on their block, the forbidden grass, too.  In the evening, we’d stand in their yard, looking all the way through the back yards to mine, say, READY, GET SET, GO!  And run as fast as we could so that the forbidden grass man would not see us on his forbidden grass.

Truth is, to us that beautiful grass was a waste of beautiful grass.  Why would he save it all for himself, yet we never saw him walk barefoot on it, not ever.  It was sad, like a doll in a box that could not be played with, or a bike hung in the rafters of the garage all summer long, beautiful, and shiny, or watching a blissfully sunny day through a window.

Now, of course, I understand Mr Forbidden Grass.  I understand that his grass was his glory.  I understand that if we’d been able to play on it, maybe it would have not been as glorious.  I also understand the anger that crept up around his neck when he’d see a few of us hop on his grass and then run like hell’s fury down the street, much too fast for him to catch.  And was it worth it for him?  I have no idea, but I think he missed such an amazing opportunity there for joy.  Like a mother watching her family eat a meal she’d worked so hard to provide, their joy making the effort worth it.

To that naughty little girl and her naughty little friends, that grass was sheer bliss, even if we had to be naughty to experience it.

And then again, maybe that was his joy, the little stinkers on the street getting pleasure from his beautiful grass.  Maybe, all along it was why his grass was so beautiful, so he and maybe his wife could watch the show play out on hot summer days?  Maybe he even wanted us to enjoy it, even if he pretended not to like it at all?

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One thought on ““It is helpful to know the proper way to behave, so one can decide whether or not to be proper.” –Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine, 1997

  1. Love the memories Bon! It is funny the things that I do not remember but you remember so vividly! I remember those summers but the forbidden grass I have forgotten! I am glad you are my memory! I treasure these!

    Like

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