Monday, September 19, 2011
The Summer I was Twelve
Two Life Lessons I Learned the Summer I Was Twelve.
1) Don't ride your pony on the boardwalk.
I grew up in the Ozark Mountains, back when that was a remote place to live, similar in some ways to how the Alaska bush country is now. The nearest neighbors to our tiny house were down a fair distance down a narrow dirt road: two miles in one direction, and four miles the other way.
When I was twelve, I rode my bareback pony to the nearest town called Morrow, which was ten miles away. We went at a gallop most of the way, and when I arrived, sticky horsehair clung to my tan legs. My long hair was so tangled, my fingers got stuck when I shoved it back. I threw my shoulders back and let my bare feet swing in time with my pony's strides. I was proud of myself, ten miles was a long way to ride by myself!
The store had a marvelous boardwalk that ran the entire front it. I couldn't resist forcing my pony to climb up on it. Clompty-clomp. Back and forth. Hop off the boardwalk. Hop back on the boardwalk. Pete's hoof beats echoed with joyful magic--until Mr. Reed sprang out of his store and thumped my pony in the butt with a broom.
I stayed on Pete's back through his amazing circus pony sideways leap off the boardwalk into the middle of the street. A slow-moving car stopped short of running into us and honked, which didn't help Pete's mood. He charged into town yards, head tucked to his chest to evade the bit.
"Whoa Pete! Whoa!" He pinned his ears back and tore through grass and flowers, throwing hoof-shaped dirt clods behind him.
People yelled and shook fists at us, "Who are you! I'll call your mother!" Like I'd answer that while clinging for dear life to the back of a pissed-off pony. (Not that I'd answer at any other time, either.) It took a mile, stampeding back the way we'd come, for me to get Pete under control.
I never rode my pony on the boardwalk again, but did we ever return to town? Let's just say you can't trust a twelve-year-old girl and her pony to stay out of trouble.
2) Take care of your shoes, because your feet need them.
The summer I was twelve, I had no shoes at all. My mother, peeved at me for destroying the cheap canvas sneakers she always bought me, the only pair of shoes I owned, told me I could do without shoes that summer and learn to appreciate what her hard-earned money purchased.
This didn't seem fair. I was a country girl. I fed livestock, chased escaping pigs, rode my pony and went hunting. These activities can be hard on any kind of shoes, but three-dollar sneakers don't stand a chance.
Okay, so shoeless that summer, one day I chased a baby rabbit out into a small field that'd been brush hogged, which is how Arkansas farmers clear fields of weeds and bushes so grass can grow between the rocks.
When I was out in the middle of the field, I stopped to notice two things: the baby rabbit had disappeared and the bottoms of my feet were on fire. Dry and splintered brambles lay so thick on the ground no grass had managed to grow, to push up through the graveyard of briars. Some of the branch-sized stems were studded with barbs nearly as big as my little finger. How I'd managed to run into the middle of this field of dead thorns without excruciating pain is a mystery to this day.
The only way out was the way I'd come in.
Thorns impaled the bottoms of my feet with every step. I had new revelations concerning the suffering of Jesus Christ and his crown of thorns.
I moaned, squealed, and wept as every step reaped thorns piercing and sticking to the soles of my feet. I stood on one foot and lifted the other high to remove a harvest of briars. I must have resembled a wading crane--that cried.
After I got out, I sat for a while on the edge of the field and cradled my screaming, bleeding feet. Then walked a mile back home on bleeding feet through the woods and down the gravel road.
I learned to take off my shoes while running through mud puddles or feeding farm animals in the rain. They lasted forever, that next pair of shoes, until my big toe ate its way out the dirty canvas tip. Even my thrifty mother could see I needed a new pair before the condition of them fatally embarrassed her.
Today, I will sometimes look in my closet and count the pairs of shoes in there. And every one cost more than three dollars.