I went “home” this past weekend for my niece’s baby shower. Ahhh, it was good to look out over familiar farmland and see the sunrise streak the sky in deep hues of red, purple and orange, leafless trees forming black silhouettes. I wish I was an artist. Vickie and Julie begged me to tell a story they remember from when they were little girls. I was a teenager, sixteen, with a brand new license to drive. I learned to drive in a full size Dodge van, big enough to hold all eleven of us. No wimpy mini-van for this new driver.
Mom took us kids to The Clinic in The City every week. Thanks to Julie, at last somebody believe Mom: I had allergies. Julie had terrible eczema. Julie’s eczema made mine look like a few patches of dry skin. It was so bad that one time a rich lady told Mom if she could have Julie, she would make sure the poor babe got good medical care. That about made Mom flip; and it made Mom want to keep Julie covered up underneath a little receiving blanket anytime she was in public. It was the flipping part that got things done, ’cause Mom marched Julie right to the doctor, just like she did when I couldn’t breathe, but this time, Dr. Diekowitz listened. When Mom had her face looking like it never smiled in its life, and her words got three-syllabled, and she pronounced each one distinctly, well nobody, not even Dr. Diekowitz, ignored her. Next thing you know the bunch of us were in The City at The Clinic. Not everybody had allergies; just me, Julie, Johnny and later Frankie. Going to The Clinic was an all day thing, and except for Deanna who was almost grown and could stay home alone, all us kids went. That was partly because Mom said so, but mostly because everyone wanted to go. Besides, whenever Deanna was left in charge, she made everyone clean the house, which was way worse than sitting in a waiting room all day.
I had to get a shot every week; but I only saw Dr. Cookingham once a month. Dr. Cookingham was a pediatric allergists, about the only one around back then. I was too old for a pediatrician, but hey, The Clinic was free. That’s nothing to complain about, even if lots of times we had to wait forever. If somebody had to see the doctor, we waited forever to the Nth degree.
That’s why Mom sent me to the Day Old Bread place, while she waited for Dr. Cookingham to see Johnny. Of course the Little Kids wanted to go with me: they like me and I liked them. A lot. Vickie went along too, because she was the littlest of the Big Kids; she was almost as much fun as a Little Kid, just a little bigger.
Mom gave me directions to the Day Old Bread place, and told me to just come back the same way I went. Bread for 10¢ a loaf as a great deal; we stopped there every week and got about as much as we could carry. Once a man had his arms loaded down with bread, so he asked Mom to fish his keys out of his pocket, and of course she helped, because that’s being a good Samaritan. After a couple of seconds of Mom fishing around in that guy’s pockets, first one side then the other, Mom had a better idea.
“Maybe I should hold your bread, while you get the keys,” she said, and the man let out a long sigh.
Anyways, getting to the store was a cinch, because Mom gave perfect direction, but getting back was another story. That’s when the trouble began. The street I came in on was one-way , so it was impossible to go back that way. That’s okay. I’ll just go up another block. I thought. That’ street was one way, too, so one more block. That street ended in a “T”. I turned in the direction of The Clinic, counted back three streets, and another one-way, going in the wrong direction. My thin thread of directional sense got twisted into knots, I along with a back seat full of Little Kids somehow got on the road where Grandma lived before Grandpa built her a new house. I recognized the new gas station built right next to their old house, which was why Grandma wanted to move. I knew where I was and I knew I was a long way from The Clinic, but I had no idea how to get where I belonged. I headed away from Grandma’s. I drove through downtown, through an area where women walked around wearing shiny dresses two sizes too small and black high-heeled shoes. Their hair looked all ratted up like on American Bandstand, only like they fixed it last week, instead of that morning like they should have. I looked for a place I could trust for directions. No gas stations in sight. Again, one-way streets led me in circles, until pretty soon everything started to look familiar. And all those places looked well, like I might be in the Red Light District, even though no one ever exactly told me what the Red Light District was, I knew it was a place I should get the heck out of.
“When are we getting back to The Clinic?” Frankie chirped, just because he was bored. “I’m hungry.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “We’re lost.” I rounded a corner, bumping one rear tire up over the curb.
“We’ll never get home,” cried Vickie.
“I’m gonna starve, ” yelled Frankie. I looked in the rear-view mirror. Marcia’s eyes were as round as Peppermint Patties, and she was sucking away at her fingers, not saying a word. The three other kids were huddled together in the way-back seat, with their arms around Vickie, because after all, she was a Big Kid. Vickie’s blue eyes popped out of her head and her mouth turned down. She didn’t want responsibility.
“I’ll get you back. I just don’t know when,” I said in the most reassuring voice I could muster, which, did quiver a little, but was steady enough to calm the back seat. I stopped in front of a shop with “Dog Grooming” in neon pink letters above the door. A girl, just a little older than me stood just inside, putting a pink bow on the forehead French Poodle. She looked at me like I was from outer space. I opened my mouth to ask for directions, and all that came out was blubbering tears. The girl shuffled back, her eyes darting every which-a-way, her arms clutching the poodle tight to her chest for protection from the crazy-girl-me in her shop. I took a couple of deep breaths that came out all stuttery, like when I was in kindergarten. Somehow, I got my words out straight, and got directions back to The Clinic.
Perhaps I was lucky it took so long; Mom was past angry and moved on to worried-sick by the time I got back. She did circle back to angry when she realized I wasn’t laying in a ditch somewhere and she worried for nothing, but she moved on to astonished that I ended way the heck up over by Grandma’s which was 10 miles away. The Day Old Bread place was just a couple blocks from The Clinic.
I earned a reputation for having a bad sense of direction; I will never prove I overcame it with experience. Okay, maybe I still have a bad sense of direction. I did get a GPS for Christmas last year. Still, I also earned a reputation for being one heck of a problem solver. Tenacious, I’m told. I am confident my flaw led me to my strength. And I’m gonna believe that ’til the day I die!