Saturday, November 26, 2011
A Pocketful of Pennies
When we were young, my sisters and I were allowed to roam the neighborhood on our bikes. We'd be gone for hours, unsupervised. As long as we were home by dinner time, which we always were, all was well. When it was raining, we stayed inside and played Barbies, or My Little Ponies, or house with our dolls, always barring our baby brother from the play. But you can only play nice with conventional toys and be cooped up inside for so long, before you start getting rambunctious and creative. We'd run around the house like crazy, bouncing off of everything, and climbing the walls, literally. We lived in a single wide trailer which is pretty small for a family of six. The hallways were narrow and perfectly spaced to climb when you were bare foot, bracing yourself on the moulding. I liked to do this daily. Dad would always yell at me and say I was going to warp the walls.
Sometimes we'd take over the living room and play a made up game of "don't touch the floor" in which you'd pretend that the floor was a swamp filled with alligators, the pillows and removed couch cushions were rocks that jutted above the surface, and the couch was a boat that occasionally sank into the depths stranding us on the precarious rocks. A jump rope was a perfect rescue line that helped to get pulled to safety on the shore - the kitchen.
But one of our favorite games was baseball - inside. We'd use the couch, pillows, and bar stools as the bases. We usually used a pillow as the bat too. Various items played the part of the ball. It was only a few steps between bases, even for a child, in that cramped space. But we imagined it to be a vast ballpark. We each played the role of multiple ball players on each team since there were only three of us - we didn't include our brother most of the time. (He was just a baby so he was probably napping.) Being the oldest and bossiest, I also filled the role of the announcer. I would invent different names for each player. We even had pinch runners, a Cabbage Patch Kid, who would be stand ins when the bases were loaded. Now don't get me wrong here, we were not allowed to play ball inside. We were definitely not permitted to throw things, no matter how soft. But we did these things anyway reassuring our mother that we were careful (as we bounced off the walls from a combination of sugar and boredom).
There is one particular game that sticks out in my mind as I do believe it was the last game of our illustrious careers as amateur pre-adolescent indoor ball players. It was a rainy day, not a downpour, but wet enough that we were inside until it tapered off. The bases were loaded. Our mother had once again told us to "knock it off" because we were "going to break something". And wouldn't you know, a few moments later, we did just that.
One of us hit a fly ball to right field, a homer for sure. It flew just over the television and into one of our mother's prized knick-knacks, a small porcelain wishing well. We watched helplessly as it came crashing down and shattered into pieces on the living room floor. We froze for a moment, waiting to sprint to the bedroom as our mother rushed into the room to see what had just happened. Instead of turning angrily towards us, she began to pick up the pieces and then she began to cry. Overwhelmed with shame, we three began to cry as well. We slowly and silently went to our room, punishing ourselves.
While wallowing in our pity, we began to talk about how sad we had made our mom. She had never cried like that before and it was more punishment than if she had chased us to our room yelling threats of "wait til your father gets home." We devised a plan to make it right. We scrounged together what little change we had in our piggy banks and filled our pockets with the loot. We then did something we had never done before. We left the house without permission.
We snuck out the back door and onto our bikes. We rode as quickly and as silently as we could down the street and out of ear and eye shot of our home. We then roamed the neighborhood, stopping at every yard sale in search for the perfect replacement. We found a small crystal bud vase and a porcelain figurine of two doves. We pulled the change out of our pockets and offered it to the seller. We forked over handfuls of mostly pennies, not sure if we had enough to cover it. But the man, seeing our tear stained faces and overhearing our conversations, decided that we had paid him enough and it was a fair trade.
We swiftly and carefully returned to our home, giddy with pride. We snuck back inside and found our mother in the fragrant kitchen standing over a bubbling pot on the stove. We were sure she hadn't noticed we were gone. We cautiously approached her and gave her the gifts. We told her how sorry we were for breaking her wishing well. She silently took the gifts and once again began to cry. Confused and contrite, we returned to our room to cry some more and wait for the real punishment when our father got home from work. But at dinner that evening, Mom didn't even mention the incident.We had made our peace.
My mother barely recalls that day, but she did confess that although she never let on, she knew we had snuck out as our whispering and the squeaky back door gave us away. That day I learned all kinds of invaluable lessons. I learned to respect others - especially my mother's things, everything is replaceable, silence can speak volumes, never play ball inside, what your father doesn't know can't hurt you, and it is not good to make your mother cry (unless it is from happiness - but that's another story).