I had a bit of an unusual upbringing because my sister is 13 years older than me. She started college the same fall I started kindergarten. My parents were very involved in the community through her high school activities, and so my earliest years were passed scrounging around for used gum, spilled candy, and other treasures under the bleachers at basketball games and youth rodeos; riding, unbuckled, on the console of the Oldsmobile on the narrow two-lane roads that stretch between Eastern Montana basketball gyms… and waiting in the hallways outside important grown-up meetings.
You know the kind of kid I’m talking about. I was one of those kids.
A momma friend of mine recently related that she has to get her young girls to bed by 7:30 every night in order to get them to public school on time the next day. Her family’s schedule struck me in its contrast to the non-schedule of my youth. When I was in elementary school, other kids would brag about having the latest bedtime. Me? I didn’t even understand what they were talking about. What’s a bedtime? Part of me wondered what it would be like to have one.
When I was a kid, Mom was on the school board and the 4-H council. Dad was on the church session and the 4-H scholarship committee. Rarely did a week pass that, between them, we didn’t have at least a couple meetings to go to. Big Sis was gone to college, and often Dad was working if he didn’t have a meeting to be at… so I, tagalong that I am, just tagged along to meetings.
Mom and Dad both attended their respective 4-H meetings inside the stately Rosebud County Courthouse. I spent many weeknight hours between 7 and 9 o’clock playing on the marble stairs inside that old building — and when I tired of the stairs, I’d poke at the buttons on the glowing pop machine or analyze the trappings of the secretaries’ desks or, sometimes, rifle through Mom’s purse as I sat next to her at her meeting.
On other nights, Dad’s session meetings were at the church and Mom’s school board meetings were at the school. If those two meetings happened to fall on the same night, I remember, I’d play in the hall at the school until Dad’s shorter meeting was over, and he’d come pick me up and we’d go home together.
If one parent was gone at a meeting when it was time for me to hit the sack back at home, I always slept next to the other parent until the one came home. When I got too big for sleeping in their bed, I’d sleep on the floor next to their bed. Once all were in for the night, Mom would move me to my own bed… and, more often than not, wake me in a few hours to put me on the school bus.
I have to chuckle thinking of first-grader me. I can remember Mom struggling to dress me as I nodded off on the edge of my bed. She’d lift my torso to put my shirt on me and then, like I giant, fast-asleep baby, I’d flop back onto the bed. She’d get me up long enough to yank my jeans up, then button them as I snoozed horizontally. She’d put my socks and shoes on me while I dozed. Somewhere between home and the bus stop they might’ve put a hot-shot to me, because I don’t recall ever sleeping on the school bus or at school.
What I do remember, vividly, is falling asleep in the bathtub one morning when she’d decided I couldn’t be sent out into public one more time without a good scrubbing.
I survived the bathtub near-drowning. In fact, I survived everything about my upbringing — and maybe even flourished because of it. I suppose a kid can survive about anything if she’s got a safe home and two consistently gentle parents to take her along.
Still… isn’t it a little bit amazing that I turned out as normal as I did?
© Tami Blake