When You Are Small...

January 03, 2003

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When you are little, everything is small. I was small. It was just my size. I always start in the garden. 

From the time I can remember, I was either building roads in the gravel driveway or day dreaming in the garden. I don't remember those day dreams now. I am not sure they were very significant but I was there for hours so I must have been doing something. I believe there were days, if I had no place else grown ups needed me to be, that I probably sat in that garden the entire day. 

I had siblings, they sometimes would try to get me to go play with them. But I imagine the conversation would have gone something like:

"Let's go swing." 
And, I'd say, "I'm kind of busy right now." 
And, they'd say, "Doing what?"
"Playing in the Garden."
They would shrug their shoulders and run off. I actually saw my brother stop once and say,
"Are you sure? You're sure you don't want to come and play?"
I was always sure. 
I must have been an odd child. I never seemed so odd to me but I bet adults saw it. I bet other kids saw it. I never saw it. I was just me.

We would walk to the drug store, the three of us. They would come get me in the garden. Conversation:

"Let's see if dad will let us walk to the store"
I'd say, "Well I'm kind of busy right now and the store is a long way."
"Aw, come on, you've been here all day and besides, dad always tells you yes. We need you to go ask."
I would weigh my options, the garden, the store, they always looked so hopeful at me. Could I tell them no? I don't think I ever could, or did. At least not as a child.

So I would say ok and run off to my dad. More often than not, he would be tinkering with something. In the work shop, in the old cabin, in the shed - always tinkering. I would cling to his pant, leg and all. 
"Dad, can we go to the store?"
"Be careful, there are things here that can be dangerous."
That never made any sense to me. I was clinging to his pant leg, how could anything hurt me when I was so obviously protected.
"Can we go to the store?"
He'd stop long enough to look at me.
"And, what are you going to do at the store?"
I would shrug - "Buy something?" And smile.
Sometimes he would even ask, "Have you got any money?"

Most of the time I didn't - but he always did. He always had change. You see, the question was always "Can we go to the store?" We never asked for money, because if the answer was yes, then the money was always there. Besides, I always wanted the free coupon. The drug store put coke coupons on their prescriptions and my parents would save them so when we went to the store, sometimes we would get money and sometimes we would get the coupon. Now granted, the coupon was always for a soda and couldn't be used for anything else but I could get a shot of vanilla, chocolate or cherry in it. And, It was free. I preferred the coupon to the dime - what a soda normally cost - because then I didn't have to choose. Maybe that seems odd but free means I just had to be happy for the soda. The $.10 means I have to choose between the soda or the candy bar. I didn't like to choose, I wanted them both, equally. It was too bad the coupon wasn't for a free soda and a free candy.

So I would have to ask - "whose turn is it for the free soda this time?" Dad would have to check and see how many coupons he had before he could even answer. He was always fair and rotated the coupons between us. If he only had 2 coupons - then the third one of us got an extra dime. We - or I should say I - never got this at the time. My perception is probably skewed by now but it always seemed that each of us had a different way of handling our "money" or wealth - if you want to throw the coupons in. My brother was very meticulous. He decided what he wanted, what he could compromise on and tried to save a little bit of his money for the next visit - course he never had to spend it on the next visit because we always got more change. My sister, she would select as much of everything that she could with the little bit she had so she could have more pieces and it would last longer. Sometimes it wasn't even the stuff she liked the most. I thought long about what I wanted most right now, what would make me the happiest, then I would select it and then I would look at what each of my siblings had and see what they did not get because they didn't have enough. And, if I still had enough money left, I would buy the things that they really wanted but couldn't afford to buy so that we could share them later. When my littlest sister was born and started coming to the store...Her money was even stranger. She always selected one item - only one most of the time that she really wanted - and then the rest of her change went into her pocket - into her piggy bank - into her savings account. I have a standing joke that the first penny my sister ever touched is still in her bank account somewhere.

I remember once in our exuberance to get the yes - it was ok to go to the store. We took off so quick that none of us realized we didn't have coupons or money. I believe my brother had a nickel. A nickel between us. We stood in front of the candy section for a long time. A nickel would have bought exactly 1 candy bar. We would have had to share it. And, no reflection on my brother but it was his nickel and his preference would have been to have the whole candy bar to himself. I don't begrudge that - if I only had a nickel - I might have thought the same way, then again - probably not. I always knew what my siblings were thinking - where their heart was and their mind. So we are pretending to select the candies of our choice as if we could but we all knew - it was my brothers choice and if he chose a sucker as opposed to the Hershey bar, well then, we girls would get nothing. The fountain - soda shop lady - asked me what I was getting today. I must have looked pretty pitiful when I told her that we had forgotten to get money before walking to the store so I couldn't really get anything. She looked surprised. She knew my father always sent us with change so this was kind of unusual. She said, "Well, hold on a second - I think they have a couple of prescriptions to pick up. And, if that is the case, there would be a couple of coupons for a free soda." I climbed up on the bar stool. They had the old kind with the pale blue leather seat covers and it seemed a pretty high climb to me but I didn't care because I was going to get a soda. She said, let me check and returned with two coupons. By this time, my sister had climbed up on the stool beside me. My brother had the nickel. She said they only have two prescriptions in the back to pick up. I wasn't sure whose turn it was to receive the free sodas so I said, that's ok, my brother can have mine. I think that surprised her even more. I said, well then we all get something. You see, I explained, both my siblings would get a soda and I was sure that now my brother would share his candy bar. So we would all get what we wanted and that would make me happy. So I was happy. There was an old lady sweeping the floor and I saw the soda girl look at the old lady and the old lady look at the soda girl, then the soda girl looked back at me. She smiled, but I think her eyes were shiny...kind of like lights, as if God sat there. She said, "Let me see if there is another prescription in the back for your parents." Then she disappeared and when she returned she had another free coupon. We all got our sodas and my brother did share his candy bar as we walked home. And, I know that lying is wrong but I always thought that soda girl lied about the third coupon. And it didn't seem so wrong to me. Maybe that is because we all got something we wanted so it didn't seem so wrong. I'm not sure but I offered to carry those prescriptions home and she said that was ok because my parents had to stop by for more things anyway. Now, I wonder sometimes, if they had any prescriptions at all, and maybe all the free coupons were really - well, free coupons. We were in a small town. Everybody knew everybody. It was a small town but the people had big, kind hearts. A small lie from a big heart isn't the same as a small lie from a mean heart - is it? This wasn't the only time we ended up at the store with no money but the only other time I can think of, my father showed up as we were standing in front of the candy selection, realizing we had no money - he and us - he arrived and asked if we had forgotten something. Had we?

When you are small, everything is so big. I thought we lived on this huge piece of property, that the garden was this huge playground for me. It seemed to take forever to get to the railroad track that ran behind our house. But I went back as an adult. Everything had changed. The yard was so small, not even an acre. I didn't even recognize the old property because everything was gone. The cabin, the trailer, the work shop, the wood pile, the pig pen and the corn shed. All gone. Two new houses sat on the property and I had to stop at the neighbors farm house and ask what happened to the old Kephart place. I introduced myself and the old farmer shucking corn with his son said, oh that's it and pointed to the new houses. He said, I remember you. Aren't you the little girl who ended up in the front yard of the "somebody's house" when you were five? I was hit by a car when I was five and the whole town remembered it. Yeah, that was me. 

I felt a little weird, standing there with people who knew my history and yet I barely remembered them at all. I knew their names. The wife came out of the house about this time, curious to see who had stopped by. I told them I was just driving by and I was wondering how the old place looked but I had been up and down the road 3 times and couldn't figure out where I had lived. Things change. They all agreed. Things do change and sometimes you can't go back, not because you don't want to, but because there is nothing left to go back to. I didn't realize how true that was until I was standing there and couldn't find my past. Only people of my past and shadow memories. It makes me question the memories, as if maybe if my past is gone, my memories are gone too, or maybe they have changed. Grown and changed with the times, the way the world grows and changes with the times. It makes me wonder who I am when nothing remains the same and I am changing all the time. I didn't know who that little girl was anymore. I barely remember the piece of me that was her. And yet to them, the friends and neighbors of my parents, they remembered the little girl who lived down the street. I wondered what they were thinking of the woman standing in their front yard. As they shucked corn and watched me, and I shifted in my dress from one high heel to the other. Did they see the little blond girl with the big blue eyes that used to collect milk weed so we could sell it next to the road side, or did they see a stranger that hinted at the little girl I used to be. Was I the one that caused a bit of excitement, and fear of their own Childs safety when I lay near death at five, or was I a hope that sometimes bad things happen and we all get stronger and years later we might find ourselves looking at mirrors of what we used to be, where we used to be, and wonder if we made the right choices in our life. I blink and I loose something but I'm not sure if what I have lost is something I am becoming or something I once was. Maybe in the blinking, I loose something I am. It's all forgotten so quickly.

I think I was in shock when I drove away that day. Nothing seemed to make sense and I had questions but I wasn't sure I would ever have the answers. It is like dropping your best friend at the airport and knowing that when they returned, everything would be different. The whole world would change before they returned. I cried when I dropped them at the airport. I wanted to cry now but this was different because I didn't know what I was crying for. To loose a friend is a very real thing, something you can understand. But to loose a part of yourself that you had not realized was missing until you found it gone. Well, that was something different. It was something I couldn't quite zero in on, something that I couldn't quite define. It is as if all the roads of your life have led to this moment of understanding but as you stand there looking at the roads, you no longer recognize the towns those roads have traveled through. I am driving away from something but it no longer looks like anything I have ever seen before. So I could cry for what? All the things that used to be, or might have been - or perhaps I wanted to cry because I had to see this now - by myself, all alone with no one to share it with?

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