Sunday, September 30, 2007

Oven Timers & Ladders

I come from a long line of first born daughters. Beginning with my great grandmother who was a daughter born among many sons, then she had one child: my grandmother. My grandmother had three daughters, her oldest is my mother, and I was her first-born, only daughter. Now I have four daughters of my own.

Consequently when I was growing up I was the only child in the midst of a great group of women. My mother was divorced, my grandmother widowed. One of my aunts was divorced and the other single. Men were scarce. They were a particular oddity to me.

I have always loved words and have always loved to talk. I talked quite early in life. My aunt used to set the oven timer and offer me a quarter to remain silent until the five minute timer went off. I never got a quarter. Never.

Books were my best friends. My mother taught me to read before I went to school. And later she introduced me to Harlequin Romances and Grace Livingston Hill. She would tell people that if I could not find a book, then I would read the Funk & Wagnells encyclopedias that we had in the house. I would come home from school and eat my dinner while reading. I can remember in 5th grade I read over a hundred books. But I talked and asked questions as much or more than I read.

And this incessant talking and questioning often got me or someone else in or out of trouble.

My grandmother was widowed rather early in her marriage. She kept the farm and worked it or had it worked until she died. Once, when I was about five years old, she hired a painter to paint the exterior of her house. He set up his ladder and was working on the side of the house. I sat in the yard under some of my favorite trees and watched this male oddity. Remember, there were few men in my life. Bless his heart—little did he know what was coming. For a while I was quiet. Then I began to ask questions. Just curious questions.

“Why are you doing that? Why this color? Are you going to use that brush? Will this take you a long time?”

My next question almost caused him to fall off his ladder. Poor man. I wish I could apologize.

I asked him if he would please marry my grandmother.

My grandmother was all alone and lonely ( I thought), and I wanted her to have someone to take care of her. Would he consider marrying her? Now, honestly I do not know if this man was married or not. I do remember that the ladder wobbled, and he chuckled in a way I did not understand. I found out later he told my grandmother what I had asked.

I got in trouble. I was scolded and told in no uncertain terms that I could not just go around asking someone to marry my grandmother or anyone else. These type of questions were inappropriate. I am not sure if I did not understood, or if I simply did not agree.

The next proposal I made was not quite as innocent. My youngest aunt was/is beautiful and quite intelligent. (The same aunt who set the oven timer and offered me a quarter). I met several of her beaus, because she would bring them home to meet my grandmother. And when she did I spied on them.

My grandmother had a beautiful yard—one of my most treasured places in the world. And everyone loved to sit on the front porch or out on the slope that led down to the road. It was on this slope that my aunt and her boyfriend were sitting. I was spying—watching from the trees. I came from behind and goosed them; apparently I was stealthy in my approach because I startled them.

I do believe, since I am now on this side of forty, that they were about to kiss when I interrupted. I thought this beau was quite handsome, and I was intrigued and immediately infatuated. So I asked what I thought was a very logical, reasonable question.

“Are you going to marry my aunt?”.

The same chuckle that the ladder man had came from both of them. For some reason my aunt would not look at the young man sitting beside her. She only glared at me. She told me to go away, but I insisted on staying. They got in his car and left. I never saw him again. After that incident my aunt was very careful when she brought her dates home, and she tried to find out where I was before she sat on the porch or in the yard again.

My mom and the women of my family just could not impress on me their rules and parameters for appropriate questions.

I was still asking questions in college. At the end of class, the professor would ask if any one had any questions, I know my classmates were all mentally begging me to be quiet. They wanted me to understand that this was just a rhetorical question. A mere formality. But I did not or would not understand this. And their heads dropped when I raised my hand.

Some things never change.

I still love words. At times I still read while eating dinner.

And there are times when I still ask probing, seemingly inappropriate questions. But rest assured, I do try to be careful and make sure the person is not on a ladder or about to kiss. And sometimes I look at the clock. Sometimes.


Mac Goddard said...

Well, well, I have finally figured it out; you missed your calling! You should have been a counselor/preacher. They love to ask probing, nosy, untimely, sometimes even "inappropriate" questions, and they LOVE to talk; I should know because, well because I didn't miss my calling!!

elmogus said...

THIS is why you are a writer. You love to talk. You have to have answers. There is *something* inside you that has to ask that question, has to get it out, has to *be heard*.

It's in the details, dear friend. The stories you have just told...I see them in a series of books. Your life as a young girl.

I see scores of other little girls voraciously drinking in every word, because like me....they too were/are little girls who have to talk, have to ask the question, have to know.

I am serious. Let's talk about it.

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