2018-06-01 / Features

What They Are Supposed to Do

My first conscious childhood memory has a simple setting – the backyard of my grandparents’ farmhouse in West Tennessee, where my parents and I are living, temporarily, in the 1950s.

This is what floats through my mind, bringing a smile to my lips and a peace to my heart.

I recall that it is summertime and the sky is painted with the misty blue-gray of a twilight that cannot quite bring itself to admit another day is done and then fade quietly into deep country inkiness. Lightning bugs practice for full-dark performances on a stage that stretches as far as I can see over green fields and lazy leaning fences, while night creatures tune up for their moment in the aural spotlight.

I see myself biting into a wonderfully juicy, red-ripe tomato, still warm from the afternoon sun. Juice drips down not only my tiny chin but also my little girl bare arms, yet no one sighs with exasperation or makes haste to wipe the bliss away.

I close my eyes, all these years later, and almost hear the mosquitoes sing their one-note chorus around my ears. How very close I come to feeling the quick sting of the razor-edged knee-high weeds bordering the well-worn path to the garden as their green treachery reaches out to graze my skinny, unprotected legs. I am quite certain my frizzy blonde curls are plastered to my forehead and neck by little girl sweat. Of a certainty, my play clothes are stained from the day’s black earth adventure and the evening’s tasty pleasure.

I am -- in other words and in delicious memory -- a mess.

A bath – which, as I recall, would not rank high on my list of favorite things to do for another 10 years or so -- will be a necessity before any of my beloved kin can sincerely welcome my night-night hugs and kisses. Then I will be tucked up into bed on a heat-wilted sheet while an old attic fan pulls whatever breeze there is to be had in the quiet countryside through the age-bowed screen window and across my solitary sleeping space. These are pre-air conditioned summers, you understand.

I am sure I shall resist the call of sleep and beg for one more story, because that is the script I follow every childhood bedtime. But, finally, another day will end for an ordinary wee one in an ordinary time and an ordinary place, as it surely must.

But in the moment that I recall – in that precious “snapshot” memory that has lived in my mind more than six decades -- I am royalty, on progress through my kingdom by means of little girl hops, skips and jumps. Best of all, though, I am sharing an adventure that includes the delicious treat the lord of the realm has plucked off the vine and encouraged me to bite into moments before – no utensils required and no mess a cause for concern.

So, there it is -- that first time I can recall having a sense of myself.

And what I remember most is that I knew I was a princess, in that moment. No question about it.

Because my daddy told me so, as we strode along together, tasting the tangy, warm garden goodness.

I hope yours did, as well, and that he reminded you of that truth frequently, as mine did.

Because, after all, isn’t that what daddies are supposed to do?

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