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Cheryl Hughes: Watch Your Step

My Career As A Woman

Yesterday, I was picking up nails where the old barn used to be, when I remembered the worst whipping I ever got.  My sisters and I were playing in the field behind our house, when my sister, Lorrie, stepped on a nail.  It wasn’t just any nail, mind you, it was a rusted, four-inch barn nail.  The bottom of her foot centered it, and the nail went completely through the other side.  The small piece of wood to which the nail was attached stayed attached as Lorrie hopped and screamed into the back yard.

That girl always did have a set of lungs, so it didn’t take long for my step-mom to hear the racket and come flying out the back door.  She took one look at the nail and ensuing blood, and proceeded to whip me, my sister, Rhonda, and Lorrie, who still had the nail in her foot and who was still screaming for all she was worth.  My step-mom now had three wailing kids to deal with, as well as a four-inch nail.  (This never made a lot of sense to me.  I think I would have cut my losses and dealt with one screaming kid.) 

I caught the words “Not-walking-around-in-that-field-in-the-first-place” between whacks to my bottom, so I added that field to the already-lengthy list of places in which to watch my step.  The world seemed like a mine field when I was young.  I was always being cautioned where and where not to step. 

 “You’re walking in the row!” was a familiar chastisement any time I was helping in the garden.  Dirt is dirt to a kid, especially before a seed has pushed its way through the soil.  My parents didn’t mark their rows with stakes or string the way Garey and I do, and I was always in awe at their ability to remember where everything was planted.

I received other admonishments like, “Get off that clean floor,” and “Stop jumping, there’s a cake in the oven,” and “Stop stomping around on the bank, you’re scaring the fish.”  Once, I slid down the bank and into the river, and my dad yelled, “Cheryl June, get up out of that water and stop thrashing around or I’m never going to catch anything!”  It escaped his notice that I couldn’t swim.  Luckily, Lorrie was paying attention, and stretched a cane pole out to where I was flailing around.  She pulled me safely to shore.  (That kind of made up for being spanked for her stepping on a nail.  The universe has a way of equalizing things if you wait long enough.)

Of all the places where I had to watch my step, the one I dreaded most was the cemetery.  In those days, people visited cemeteries more frequently than they do today.  We would put flowers on the graves of my step-mom’s dad, her deceased husband (Lorrie’s father), and her nephew who had died in infancy.  During these visits, I was always being told not to walk on the graves.  The problem was, I couldn’t seem to figure out on which side of the headstone the grave was located.  Even if I did get one grave site right, there was always another which butted up against it, so I would end up walking on that one. 

Visiting a cemetery was always a nerve-wracking experience for me, which is why, on one particular Easter Sunday morning, I was stunned when, after the church service, we kids were told we were going on an Easter egg hunt in the cemetery.  This must be a test of sorts, I reasoned, to see who had been paying attention in Sunday school.  We were all given baskets and led out to the cemetery.  I approached with trepidation and waited to see what the other kids would do.  I watched in horror as kids romped freely about, picking up eggs from headstones and from under wreathes.

I was encouraged to join in the fun, but I stood my ground in the parking lot, waiting for lightning bolts to strike the irreverent.  Finally, a Sunday school teacher took me by the hand and led me to the edge of the cemetery where the Easter Bunny had hidden some of the eggs around the small trees on the parameter.  I put those in my basket and watched as the hunt drew to a close.  I was puzzled that no one had been struck by lightning, or worse, spanked by my step-mom. 

The kids were laughing and the adults smiling when the realization of what had happened here struck me like a thunder clap: Obviously, the Easter Bunny was more powerful than any of us had imagined.  He could step when and where he wanted with no one to stop him; and furthermore, on one glorious day each year, he granted amnesty to all the children who believed in him.  From that day forward, I had a new respect for the Easter Bunny, and Easter has remained one of my favorite holidays.


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