I was never a brave child. Well, maybe that’s not really strong enough…I can say with relative certainty that I was, to put it bluntly, scared shit-less of pretty much everything. The list of things that terrified me is too long to provide a complete inventory, but it included: bugs, frogs, lizards, dogs, asking anyone for directions or for the time, ordering at McDonald’s, playing with kids I didn’t know, birds, getting hurt, falling into water (I hung on to that one), and getting into any type of trouble (aka busted). Seriously, if Prozac had been invented 20 years earlier, I might have turned out to be a different person…or at least I’d have periodically left the house without being forced to.
Bugs are at the top of that list for a good reason. They were particularly problematic, given that we lived in South Carolina, a place designed by nature to be a breeding ground of all things creepy or crawly. The worst offender…the horrific Palmetto Bug (Cockroachicus godzillacus) thrives there. Now, being me, I would have been scared of any kind of roach, but these things are nightmare material…huge, almost indestructible, and they have WINGS. They’re so big that strangers think they’re bats, and in Florida they call them their ‘state bird’. Get it? They’re big.
Orkin knew our house well, but not even they could completely eradicate the wily water-bug (an endearing nickname). And let me tell you, there is nothing as terrifying as walking into the kitchen at night, flipping on the light switch and hearing the clickity scuttle of these armored, mouse-sized critters. (Wow, I feel vindicated…anyone not afraid of these things is just nuts!)
Regarding frogs and lizards, even though I like to think that my fear was exceptional (based on the sheer depth and strength of it), I’m guessing that screaming at reptiles and amphibians is a pretty common behavior for little girls, so we’ll let them slide. Talking to strangers…well, that would be a non-issue these days, since we now train our kids to avoid strangers at all cost. (Maybe I was just ahead of my time?) And as for McDonald’s…well, it makes a lot more sense to me now than it did back then!
Of the items left on my fear list, I think the one that adversely affected me the most was my concern about getting into trouble. In that particular area, I was almost the exact opposite of my sister, who was in trouble more than she was out of it. I, on the other hand, was a weenie…I didn’t take dares and rarely took chances that might result in my getting caught doing anything risky or against the rules (aka ‘having fun’).
Consider the whole ‘running away from home’ exercise that most kids go though. When my little sister decided to try it, she just had to make a grand affair of it. Lynnie & I had a friend (Cathy) who lived across the street, and one day when we were around 10 and 11 years old, she convinced Lynnie that they needed to go on the lam (for whatever reason 10 year-olds might come up with). They met up at the corner and took off, leaving me sitting on the porch…watching and shaking my head.
I knew that the two escapees were planning to make a stop for rations (candy) at Campbell’s Drugstore which, at a half mile away, was much farther than we were allowed to walk without an adult. Now, I don’t exactly remember, but I might have let that fact slip out when Mama started asking where my sister was…but I can’t swear to it. Maybe she just saw me looking pitifully in that direction…or maybe she overheard me cussing under my breath because I wasn’t invited to run away…or at myself because I knew I wouldn’t have gone?
Lynnie the fugitive and Cathy (who, as it turns out was not running, but had told her mother that she was walking to the drug store) were indeed sitting at the soda fountain at Campbell’s, having cherry Cokes on my mama’s ‘account’. When they saw the light blue Ford Falcon pull into the parking lot they knew that the jig might be up and quickly ran to hide in the back storage room (the folks at the store knew us). Unfortunately, Lynnie’s weakness for anything cherry-related got the better of her, and her decision at the last second to go back for the maraschino treasure left at the bottom of her Coke glass backfired…she got nabbed by a riled-up 4’11” Southern mama with a mad-on! According to all accounts, one of those ‘Damn, lady…can’t you take your kid home first?!’ situations erupted at that point, but I’ll leave that to your imagination, since I wasn’t there to witness it.
My own attempt at hitting the road was much less glamorous. I was a little younger, maybe 7 or 8, when I got mad enough to pack up Mama’s square Samsonite makeup case. I walked out to the end of our driveway but suddenly realized that I was NOT allowed to go into the street without an adult. No one ever told me not to run away…but they made it VERY clear that going into the street was a punishable offense!
Honoring my fear of being caught in the middle of an unsanctioned act, I decided to sit (on the suitcase) at the edge of the driveway, as close to the street as possible…and wait. I must have thought that a city bus might just decide to take a random new route that day and drive by our (not on a bus route) house. It eventually got dark out (oops, I guess that’s one more thing I could have added to my list) so I went back into the house in unpunished disgrace. No escape, no cherry, no adventure….sigh.
In retrospect, I guess it’s just as well that my plan fizzled out…I probably would have been afraid of the bus, even if it had shown up. Now I’m all grown up and no longer afraid of (most of) the items on that list…just don’t throw me into the water (I’ll get pissed) or force me to eat at McDonald’s, because then I really will have nightmares!