“Jo, you fall off of there and I’m gonna spank you,” says my grandfather, watching me tightrope-walk the front porch railing.
“Why?” I say, wishing I knew how to do a cartwheel. “I’d probably get hurt as it is.”
“Cause you shouldn’t be up there doing that.”
“Well, you didn’t say nothin.”
“I shouldn’t have to. You should know better.”
I never knew better. Never had a clue most of the time. I would do things that got me in trouble and have absolutely no understanding of what I did wrong.
Like the time I built a tent out of blankets and chairs in the living room. Fun, kid stuff right? It was, until I decided we needed a campfire. I got my mom’s big blue canning kettle, put some torn up newspaper in, and lit it up. Nothing smells better than a freshly struck wooden match and a toasted Marshmallow. It seemed like the thing to do. When our family went camping, we always had a campfire. I wanted Barbie, Midge and Ken to have the same experience with me. I don’t even like Marshmallows if they haven’t been toasted.
My mom was at work at the time and our babysitter, Heidi came running in when she smelled, well…either the smoke or the delicious aroma of my toasty confection. It was on fire and getting burned, just the right amount, when she pulled my tent apart, slammed the lid down on the canner, and put an end to my camping experience.
“Joetta Lynn, what do you think you’re doing?” She yelled. “You could have set yourself on fire and burned the whole house down. You should know better!”
“But…” I was thinking how to explain the necessity of a good campfire when you’re in the wilderness of your living room.
Heidi says. “Butt is right and your’s is gonna get it when your daddy gets home.”
She never did tell him. I convinced her that I wouldn’t do it again and I would “think seriously about the consequences, young lady before I upped and did something so foolish.”
Problem is I didn’t. I couldn’t really. I was a “why not, what if,” foolish, fun loving, kid who liked to take risks. I’d climb high in my friend’s tree and put my ear up to the telephone lines that ran through it, just to see if I could listen in on a conversation. I couldn’t. I’d see how far I could ride my bike with my eyes closed. Not very far. Try to jump over two dogs at the same time and once, (only once) I tied my jump rope around my waist, put my roller skates on and tied the other end to the bumper of our neighbors Pontiac. He only went about twenty feet before he saw me, but it was one wild ride! I have the scars on my knees to prove it.
Again, I should have known better.
However, I think my youthful audacity paid off. It allowed me the freedom to explore a bit of the flip side of life. To think about the impossible and attempt the improbable. To create something from nothing without great concern for the end result.
Oh, I’m more responsible and understand the consequences of my actions now. After all, I am an adult and being a mom and a teacher reigned me into the realities of life. I channel my fun, foolish, risk-taking self, through my art and written words. I paint what I imagine and create stories of people that find themselves in unpredictable and precarious situations. I let them get their knees skinned. Behind the easel and over the keyboard is a place of redemption for me. I can be that person, transformed in limitless ways.
I know I have a great character, when I sit back from my manuscript or work of art and think, “Oh yeah, You should have known better.”