Sometimes memories are clear as a bell, sometimes cloudy. Most the time memories are different depending on who’s they are. One such memory as vivid as if it happened yesterday for me and two of my brothers. Oh how different our memories are: the facts are the same, but the emotion is completely different. This is a summer story. Still, it’s on my mind because both Loren and Frank shared their version with me this past year.
I told you before about our camping trips. All eleven of us slept and changed in one big army tent with wooden poles and canvas army cots. Man-o-man, those cots and that tent were so hard to set up, but nobody did anything until camp was tidy and neat. The only time we went in the tent were: To change clothes, to sleep, to put things away after clean-up. That last one is the one that got me into trouble.
When I was a little girl, taking turns was part of everyday life, like breathing. Especially with work. Even on vacation I had jobs; only I liked the jobs better ’cause everything was outside. I liked to stay in my bathing suit all day long, but most mornings the first week of August it was too cold, so I wore jeans, and a sweatshirt. Sometimes I wore the sweatshirt inside out, ’cause the right side was dirty. I only had one small box for clothes, so I get inventive, ’cause I was messy and Mom hated messy, even if it was an inside-out kind of neat. She said even poor people could afford soap, so there’s no excuse for being dirty.
Anyways, I had to do dishes after lunch, just my turn that’s all, and I was in a hurry, ’cause the rain clouds broke up, and the sun was shining down, and well, pretty soon I was going to be hotter than blazes. I had the dishes to put away, which got stored in the tent. So of course I marched myself right in there, lickety-split, and was marching myself right out again when I heard my name called out in an angry voice. Uh-oh, how could I be in trouble for putting things tidy and neat. Still, that happened to me more than I liked to say, ’cause some times, just when I thought I was doing a good job, blammo, trouble came knocking.
“What are you doing?” Dad said. Yup. That was his angry voice, all right enough.
“Just putting the lunch dishes away.” I said, with my hand still holding the tent door open like I got frozen in mid-step, making my exit. I could only see a little bit, ’cause outside the sun was bright and bold, and inside, the tent was all shades of dark orange from the color of the tent.
“Get over here. I want to talk to you.” Dad said in his I-mean-business voice. So of course I dropped that flap and headed over to the cot he was sitting on.
“What in the world were you thinking?” he said. I heard that question a heck of a lot more often than I liked, but still I didn’t know what I did wrong.
“Just putting the dishes away,” I said, even though that seemed obvious. My eyes made out his siloette in the darkness. He was naked; his hands in a fist in his lap, hiding the secret parts nobody’s supposed to look at. I wanted to run right out of the tent, but that was impossible, ’cause Dad was still giving me a bawling-out.
I opened my eyes wide and froze them smack dab in the middle of Dad’s eyes. I didn’t blink at all, ’cause that might make my eyes look down. I trained my eyes on those black dots in the middle of Dad’s, which were pretty big, on account of it being darkish in the tent. I just kept looking straight in Dad’s eyes as he kept talking and talking and talking. Forever: I should know better; Knock first; I invaded his privacy; What was I thinking; I should know better, again; and a whole bunch of other things that blurred together ’cause I had a hard time listening and concentrating on keeping my eyes still at the same time. I thought I was never getting out of that tent.
“I didn’t know,” was all I could muster.
“That’s why you always knock,” came his reply, and at last, “Go on now. Get out of here.”
I had a lot of things I wanted to say, if I was not frozen in fear and just wanted to get the heck out of there. I wanted to point out that you can’t knock on the door of a tent; I didn’t know he was in there; and I was on my way out whistling my favorite song, “When the Saints Come Marching In”, oblivious to his nakedness until he called out my name; if he’d kept his mouth shut, I never would have known he was in there. Those arguments were racing around in my head, but I was afraid to move my tongue in case my eyes moved, too.
Sometimes trouble still finds me when I least expect it. And sometimes it’s all a matter of perspective. Dad and I never talked about that day, neither did anyone else. I never knew there were two naked boys in the tent along with Dad; my brothers Frankie and Loren-DeeDee-Bopper. That is until last year, when they shared their memory with me. In their rendition, I was much older; old enough to have a boyfriend who gave me a nickname Dad hated, Goober. In their memory, Dad jumped and danced for several minutes as the harsh outside light invaded their privacy for what seemed like forever. In their memory, he shouted out, “Goober,” which he forbade anyone else from ever uttering. This memory is so vivid in my brothers’ mind that today, when Loren or Frank are standing naked in their closet, or someone walks in and gives them a start, they do the naked-dad-dance, and shout out, “Goober,” and laugh one of those throw-your-head-back-straight-from-the-gut-laughs that refuses to stop and makes each of their wives looks askance and bewildered. I guess one man’s trouble, is another man’s mirth. Especially when time affords perspective.