Yesterday's Magazette

12 – A Very Lucky Girl

A Very Lucky Girl

By Jean Johnson

As any child will quickly tell you, to be “lucky” is of utmost importance in life. As a young girl I desperately wanted to be “lucky.” But to me, being lucky meant being what I wasn’t—a boy. At 10, the words “boy” and “lucky” seemed synonymous. Real or imagined, I yearned for the rights and privileges that my brothers and male cousins seemed to have, that I felt I didn’t have, based on the biologically “unlucky” fact that I was a girl. The summer I turned 10, we moved to a new house. There’s a photo of me with my mom and brothers on the porch, and I marvel at how content I look, compared to what I felt inside.

As far as I could tell, the only thing lucky about that summer was that our house was a short city block from the country. So, when I could, I’d run ‘til my Keds hit the dirt road—to the spot where a pretty brown horse waited for me, and the soothing sounds of the wavering green jungle of cornfield and pasture grass met.

The most alluring place in our new world, however, was Clay Hill. Even now, as I write, I hear the words in whispered tones, for it was verboten. Clay Hill was just what the name suggests—clay—and my brothers tell me it was verboten to them, too. Not that I believed them. Too many times I saw them strip off red clay covered clothes onto the basement floor, jumping up and down and swearing me to secrecy. While I’d been dusting the house or helping with laundry, they’d had fun on Clay Hill. It didn’t matter that Mom would be mad; they’d had their adventures. I saw it on their sweaty, happy faces.

Clay Hill may sound innocuous enough, but it was dangerously enticing to kids for miles around, with its maze of steep paths running up and down. Countless boys’ bicycles had worn deep grooves into the hillside, making it treacherous, especially on rainy, muddy days. In some places there were only small scrawny trees to grasp onto precariously, to pull yourself further up the hill.

But, what really called to me from Clay Hill, were those precious, silent moments on its dusty, flat plateau. Oh, the view was sublime! From these outlawed heights, I appealed to Zeus. Why, Great Zeus wasn’t I born a boy? One time I took a spiral bound notebook and practiced writing the Greek alphabet so I could contact Zeus for a do-able favor.

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Ah, yes, I felt captured by the dull hum of our little suburb, and resentful of my brothers’ freedoms, but I know there was an earlier rise to those feelings that began at Uncle Andy’s South Dakota farm.

The moment is clear. I am my five-year-old self. I am sitting in a big steamy kitchen, wiggling, and uncomfortable in the confining crispness of my Sunday dress. I am watching the laughing backs of Aunt Margaret and Mom as they press against the kitchen sink, steam rising over them, obliterating their window view of the outside world.

Over my shoulder I hear Dad and Uncle Andy, and my cousin, Jim, getting ready to go outdoors. Rinny, the German shepherd, is barking excitedly through the screen door. It is then I see it, the “unlucky” world of women (the world of hot, steamy kitchens) and the “lucky” world of men (the world of daring work and unfettered adventure!).

I felt like crying, but turned to say goodbye instead. But then, incredibly, Uncle Andy noticed me. When his eyes locked on mine, he must have seen the longing, and he disappeared up the farmhouse stairs. When he reappeared, he was holding a pair of small dungarees and a white cotton shirt. As everyone watched, he helped me into the “boy” clothes, took my hand, and walked me out the front door!

While I have countless memories from countless changing seasons on the farm; and can now recall almost any day spent there as a lucky day, I realize it was Uncle Andy who made it so. I especially recall a muddy spring day when I was a little older. Uncle Andy and Jim were working on a tractor outside the small garage that was closest to the house. Usually the garage was closed, so curiosity called me into the dark, cool interior. It was full of such odd odors, and things, which I can name now, but couldn’t then. I circled around, looking at the tractor parts, car parts, horse harnesses, leather straps, oil, gas, rakes, and hoes—the kind of place most everyone had back then.

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As I stood nervously in the half-dark interior, the sound of Uncle Andy’s clanking tools reassured me. Then a mouse skittered in front of me. It paralyzed me for a long, thrilling second, and then I laughed, and the sound of my laughter completely filled the space. When finally I was able to move, I saw Uncle Andy and Jim in the streaming sunlight, their faces intent on the mysterious work of fixing things. I hurried to them, leaving the fear behind.

As I stepped out of the garage Uncle Andy motioned to me. He reached for my small white hands, and enfolded them in his big, greasy hands. He helped me turn the slippery tool on the dirty tractor. When the tool slipped to the ground, I hesitated to look up at his face. I expected disappointment, but found only joy.

A half a century later, standing near the edge of the Acropolis, looking out over the city of Athens, I rethought my childhood desire to be a boy, and knew my heart’s desire had been something else entirely. The luck of it was that I’d had Uncle Andy. I had been a lucky girl.

*Jean Johnson lives with her husband, Randy, in New Braunfels, Texas. She has worked as a newspaper reporter and consumer advocate. She enjoys genealogy and is currently working on a family history.

Vol. 38 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2011


 

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