When I was a kid growing up in South Alabama, my mother’s middle sister and her family lived five miles away. I grew up in my aunt’s house and spent a lot of time with my first cousins. We got along like a house on fire. We had a great time playing princess and cowboys and Indians and pirates, chasing after the mosquito truck on our bikes (which explains in part, at least, my brain damage), climbing trees, rolling up and down the large dirt mound near my aunt’s house and playing King of the Mountain, and exploring ditches and culverts. The Lord protects fools and idiots, I guess, ‘cause we never got snake bit. Heck, we never even SAW a snake. I guess we scared them all off. No self-respecting reptile would come within a mile of such rowdies.
My mother’s youngest sister was married to a Baptist preacher. They lived out of state, and we saw them and their children maybe once a year. My cousin Jeannece (named after my mother, Jean. Jean’s niece, get it?) was a major pain in the butt.
I was a real tomboy, rough as a cob and very active. My hair was kept very short because my mother had exhausted her limited store of patience years earlier on my older sister’s long hair. I never wore shoes. I ran like the wind. I was always and eternally covered in dirt and cuts, scrapes and bruises.
My favorite clothes were an old shirt and a raggedy pair of cut-off jeans passed down from my older cousin, Buster. I wanted to be a boy something fierce. Boys didn’t have to wear dresses or worry about their panties showing on the monkey bars at school. Boys didn’t have to cook or do housework or take care of babies. Boys could pee standing up. They could pee in an ARC! Peeing in an arc was totally cool. I wanted to do that. Kiss your elbow, some twisted adult told me, and you’ll turn into a boy. Consequently, I spent a lot of time trying to kiss my elbow.
Jeannece, on the other hand, was slightly chubby with long, carefully curled blonde hair and girl clothes that matched. She somehow managed to stay clean; I swear, that girl repelled dirt. She did not run. She did not climb trees. Her bike was pink, with a white basket and frilly things dangling from the handle bars. She liked baby dolls and playing house. She did not want to be a boy. She was fond of announcing she was going to have six children when she grew up. Grow up? No way. Six children? Inconceivable to me. And that was before I knew where babies come from. After that, the idea was doubly gross.
My cousin Jeannece was the kind of kid that tattled on you to get you in trouble. If you hadn’t done anything that deserved a whupping, she’d make something up. Adults loved her. She was Pollyanna on the outside and The Bad Seed on the inside. I can lay more than one peach tree switching at Jeannece’s door. Needless to say, she was not my favorite cousin. I dreaded those visits.
When she came to visit, my grandmother, who adored Jeannece and considered me the devil’s spawn, would shake her house shoe at me, give me the evil eye and say, “You’d better play nice with your cousin Jeannece, or else.”
That ‘or else’ held a world of menace. I tried to play nice with Jeannece. I really did. But it was useless. We were just too different. Sooner or later, she fell down or got left behind because she couldn’t run fast. Or she became unhappy because the rest of us didn’t want to sit inside the tidy lines of the imaginary house she’d drawn in the dirt and play dolls and Mommy and Daddy. Guess who always got to be the Mommy and boss everyone else around? Yep. The tears would inevitably commence . . . and the house shoe would come off.
I grew up, of course, though I still find it hard to believe. My husband has been fighting the battle of the bulge for the last twenty years. Part of the problem, he says, is that in his mind he’s still a skinny guy who can eat whatever he wants. I have the same problem with my age. In my mind I’m still nine years old running barefoot down the street with my dog, Andy, chasing that mosquito truck.
But on the outside, at least, I’m grown up.
And that brings me to the point of these ramblings. I am co-writing a book with another author. Writing, for me, is a solo act; never tried to write with another person. I am VERY excited about the possibilities. The brainstorming has been incredible and the creative energy is amazing. I worry, however, that I might run off and leave my friend behind.
In short, I’ve got to remember to play nice.
Oh, by the way, Jeannece grew up, too, and she made a perfectly lovely adult. She’s a very gifted teacher, and she has five children.
I got over wanting to be a boy . . . although, I will admit to an occasional twinge of envy when I am waiting in line in the ladies’ room.