Another Day in the Country
My mother was a prankster of sorts, drawing the line at silly things like jumping out at you in the dark when you weren’t expecting her while playing hide and seek or squirting water at you from 10 feet away when there was no water gun in sight. She came from a family of pranksters.
Her brothers were pranksters, except for her youngest brother, Art, who was absolutely perfect in her sight — and he pretty much was. Her other two brothers were known for their pranks, which went beyond silly things. I’ve told you some of them — like overloading the shotgun with powder because they were tired of following the Lutheran preacher around attempting to shoot rabbits. Or the famous prank my Uncle Hank would never live down, according to my mother: substituting rotten eggs for his sisters’ Easter eggs.
Usually my mom’s pranks weren’t mean; but one time she ventured over the edge.
We were visiting friends. It was a hot, humid, sweaty, summer night. The June bugs were buzzing all around the lights. Our friends’ little 5-year-old, Bobby, was running around in his underpants, and my mom caught a June bug. When Bobby ran past her, she dropped the bug into his underwear.
The child went ballistic. You can imagine the fright. I can imagine what it felt like because just last night one of those silly things plopped into bed with me — in the dark — and I could feel its wings and its sticky, clinging legs … ahhhhhhh.
Dead June bug. Wide awake Pat.
My poor mother was so chagrined. Poor little Bobby was scared out of his wits. My mother apologized profusely and never pulled a stunt like that again. Bobby’s mom comforted and consoled him, assured him that Mrs. Ehrhardt (imagine this — she’s the preacher’s wife) hadn’t meant to frighten him. We all were a little shocked, I guess, that my always-careful mother had honestly done this. My dad? Yes. My mom? Don’t think so, but she had.
“I was just kidding you,” my mom offered the excuse to Bobby. He turned his little tear-streaked face up toward her and said, “Mommy says kiddin’s yi’n.”
His mom had been explaining to him that kidding was lying and shouldn’t be done just as pranks were wrong. Ruth is long gone and so is my mother, but the lesson lingers on.
My cousin and I were talking the other day. He grew up in Ramona, and our conversation drifted toward pranks he’d pulled in town when he was a kid — well, not exactly kid, try teenager.
“Old enough to know better,” as the saying goes.
He and I both grew up on stories about town pranks and school pranks and church pranks. Maybe it’s what the kids in those days did before television entertained them. I’m glad I wasn’t around then — especially as mayor, responsible for helping clean up.
As he regaled the table with stories, everyone but me was laughing.
“C’mon, Pat,” he said. “We were just having fun.”
“Not funny,” I said.
We’ve had more than our share of pranks in Ramona recently, and it’s not funny for the oldster who is frightened by the doorbell ringing in the middle of the night nor is it amusing when you have to clean up a mess. My cousin still had tears in his eyes from laughing at the memories. Both of us remembered our dads telling stories of their teenage years. We loved those stories and we’d laugh. I didn’t know those people whose outhouses were turned over or came home from church to find pigs in the house. I laughed, then. But now? Not funny!
I know the people in this town, their weariness, their hard work, their fearfulness, and their vulnerabilities. Not funny to heap more of the above on anyone because someone thinks it’s funny.
I guess times have changed. We attempt respect by saying “African American” and not say the “n” word. (In my Dad’s day, the latter was normal.) It’s no longer funny for a woman to be demeaned with sexual innuendo and excused with “I’m just kiddin’.”
You don’t joke around about guns at the airport, either.
It’s another day in the country, and maybe we’re improving.