It is 7:00 in the morning and already I am the cause of an hysterical six year-old’s screaming! “Ohhh! Nooo! Her brains are gonna fall out! Her brains are gonna fall out! That thing is on my toe! Aaaaah! That thing is on my toe! Aaaaaaaah!”
As he crab walks backwards at lightening speed, the red, green, and gold anodized aluminum cups and several of the pastel- coloured melmac plates go flying ! As he scoots his butt across the huge arborite table top of the kitchen table that my Dad had made for us his frantic foot- kicking frenzy continues, in a fruitless attempt to fling off the offensive item! It is snagged like an errant mousetrap on the toe of his nylon sock! His screaming seems to indicate that it is just as painful too, although I know that it can not be.
Meantime, I am doubled over in laughter , and tears begin to stream down my face. Donny somehow construes my contorted features and inability to speak as an empathetic pain reaction to what he has done, and begins sobbing. Still, I am so totally overcome with laughter at the ridiculousness of the moment, that I am too incapacitated to relieve his distress. My mother puts an end to my little brother’s anguish when she grabs him up from the middle of the table and gives me a quick slap to the back of the head. In truth I really deserve it.I had previously told my little brother that the pink and silver thing on the roof of my mouth, with the little silver hooks attached to it holding the elastic band in place over my front teeth, was there to keep my brains from falling out.
In those days, in the rural Caradoc Township, there weren’t any people in our circle of acquaintances wearing any kind of dental appliance. Our old dentist was attempting to straighten my teeth by having me turn a tiny screw in something called a palate expander. As the dental appliance widened, my mouth was supposed to widen also—in theory anyway— so that the teeth might have room to straighten out. All this was a great mystery to Donny. Especially, since I hadn’t told him the truth in the first place. Story telling was what I enjoyed doing most with the little ones in our family. How was I to know that they would actually believed that so much of what I told them was the truth?
That morning was just like so many others in our family when I was growing up. A lot needed to be done in order to get eight kids out the door on time to meet one or other of the two big yellow school buses which stopped at the end of the driveway. Our mother had to delegate. While she stirred oatmeal porridge, and fried up eggs, either “dippy” or scrambled, no other options, someone would butter the toast as it popped out of the big four slice toaster. Someone else would be making sandwiches for lunches. A couple of us older girls would help get the younger kids dressed. The younger girls each learned to dress themselves fairly early (and undress themselves too.) When Norma Jean (Jeannie) first started school she tried to avoid going at all, by stripping to her underwear and hiding under the bed just before the bus came.
Jimmy and Donny usually counted on our help getting dressed. In the dining room next to the kitchen was a long chestnut buffet which once had been my Grandma Mum’s. In it a less practical mother than mine, or one with a lot less children, would have kept a chest of antique silverware and fancy table linens in one drawer, as well as a set of matching crystal and perhaps even a set of Nippon plates in the other. This was not at all reasonable to a mother like mine, who seemed quite happy with her melmac dishes and aluminum cups, and an extra set of glasses for company. Nevertheless, Dad’s china wear intervention one Christmas a few years later improved our family’s status immensely in our own eyes. Whenever we set the dining room table for Sunday dinner guests, with those red- rose patterned dishes with gold trim, which we kept stacked in the matching china cabinet, we felt positively wealthy! Nobody would ever suspect that the buffet was not completely filled with a bounty of equally beautiful pieces!
The buffet was, in fact, full of underpants and other equally unglamorous items. The two massive drawers held Jimmy and Donny’s socks, underwear, pants and shirts. The two little “cubbies” at either end, where the shelves had been removed, held all the “nighties” of the youngest four. Due to some language blip of my German Grandma, my Mom learned to call all nightwear “nighties”, leading to a few very un-macho embarrassments for the boys when they did likewise when they were older .
The dining room was the place nearest to the laundry room, through which clothing was always moving back and forth anyway. It was also a place where a pajama clad boy could be speedily dressed in school clothes by an older sister, or a towel- clad freshly bathed boy could be brought, to be helped into pajamas again before bed. Then his bath towel could be hung on a line in the laundry room or out on the clothes line if it was still clean, or put into the dirty laundry basket if it wasn’t. Efficiency was what my mother ran her household on— a lot like high-test gas. We had that too, but usually only after having chili for supper.
And now for the rest of the story… (I’ll bet you read that in your Paul Harvey voice didn’t you?)
Why was the retainer, stuck on the poor kid’s toe anyway? In all likelihood, Marsha was doing her homework at the dining room table that morning, because she hadn’t finished it the night before. She was quite a perfectionist and a night owl too, but when it got late Mom probably told her to go to bed. Mom and Dad always stayed up until after the 11 o’clock news, but until Marsha turned out the light in the dining room it wouldn’t be dark enough for them to get to sleep if they opened the door. When they opened the door they could at least get a nice cross breeze going between their downstairs bedroom and dining room windows on a hot summer night.
Probably on that morning I was causing too much commotion teasing Donny in the dining room for Marsha to concentrate, so he and I moved into the kitchen. Then he climbed up onto the edge of the kitchen table and stuck his foot out at me to help him get his socks on.( Super Nanny wouldn’t have liked that much— a five-year old who couldn’t put his own socks on, Donny, but let’s assume that the socks were just a little too small.) So, who could resist tickling those little bare toes that were so soft and cute and vulnerable, the toes of the most ticklish boy in the world? And who could blame the little boy for kicking his big sister right in her aching mouth and yanking out her “Brain Protector”? And who could blame her for having told him that it was a Brain Protector in the first place?
Obviously, with a creative brain like that, it would only make sense that it should be protected from any possible loss of contents. And obviously, considering the nightmare- inducing trauma that she had inflicted upon a little boy’s psyche, the Brain Protector had failed to do its job at some earlier point. What else could possibly explain her total lack of judgement?
Wow! After all these years I can finally unburden myself of that heavy load of guilt! Just look what a little creative writing can do!