One thing is for certain: in this life, you can only do that which is in your own power to do. You cannot snap your fingers and spark world peace, or stop crime and pestilence. You certainly cannot end world hunger, dissolve massive weather systems, or stop a tsunami after an earthquake has parted the ocean floor!
Lately I’ve been flooded with memories of something powerful my grandmother told me when I was a little girl. It was a statement so profound, that I can still feel my chest quaking whenever I think about it! She spoke to me sternly through her teeth and said, “You better not cry!” Let me explain.
I was a sheltered child growing up. I don’t have any memories of elaborate birthday parties (nor attending any for that matter), prearranged play dates or sleepovers with friends, nor many family outings that extended farther than a neighboring county. In fact, it was a rare occasion that my mother and grandmother even allowed me to leave the yard.
I know in their minds, they were trying to protect me from danger. Three decades later, I think it was overkill. It created a hunger within me that is sometimes hard to satisfy still today. Perhaps “hunger” is the wrong word to use here. I’ll coin a term from American Hip hop…in essence, overly sheltered children become socially thirsty adults.
One afternoon, I happened to be at a friend’s house playing dodge ball. Someone had the bright idea that we should all walk about a quarter mile to the local convenience store and get candy. Back in the Reagan era, a kid could go to the store with one dollar and come back with a bag FULL of candy. My eyes lit up, I was down with it, and I ran home to get my money.
I was nearing ten years old, and my grandmother was beginning to loosen the reins a bit. She said it was okay for me to tag along, and reminded me not to blow all of my money in one trip. With cash in my pocket and my hair touched up, I went out onto the front porch and waited for the gang to come by.
It was a warm, spring day in May. All of the pollen had finally settled, and the birds sang the sweetest melodies that flowed along with the breeze. I was in a trance; caught up in the moment. So much that those first few moments turned into several minutes. I think I waited on the porch that day for more than an hour for my friends to come and get me as they promised. Mind you, an hour for a child is synonymous to about three years…on NEPTUNE!
Naturally, I had become impatient. I paced the porch and went into and out of the house a few times, wondering what was really taking so long. My grandmother was unmoved. She sat on the couch in the den sowing buttons on a shirt while I struggled with the situation. She never once looked up at me to see the panic on my face. She’d simply utter, “Maybe they’re not going, Joan.”
That wasn’t enough! They said they were going to the store and that they would surely come to the house to get me too! I looked at the clock once more. An hour and ten minutes. With the last bit of pep left in my step, I went back to the front porch, peering down the lane in the direction from which I knew they’d be coming. There was no sign of anyone coming up the path. My gaze was rudely interrupted by playful chatter and cackling laughter, coming from the opposite direction. You guessed it: from the direction of the store.
Oh how they bounced up the lane, all with big bulging bags of candy. It seemed to me that all they couldn’t fit in the bags, they’d already put in their mouths. My chest was full of lead. As they neared the house, I stood still, forcing my chin to remain parallel and not perpendicular to the ground. My eyes met theirs, and I silently demanded an explanation.
They saw me from their periphery. No one could look at me directly. Then I spoke.
“I thought y’all were going to come get me.” My voice probably sounded like I was standing on a vibrating belt machine.
The oldest in the group looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and retorted flatly through the mangled Now and Later (pronounced “nile-laters”) candy and saliva mix that dripped from her lips, “Well, we forgot!”
So, that was it. They didn’t break their strides, they made no more eye contact with me, nor did they offer me a measly one-cent piece of Bubble Yum. The pressure was building in my internal geyser, and it was about to blow! I had experienced a lot of hurt in my little life up until that point, but never from my peers. To this day, I am still affected.
I did an abrupt about-face just before the dam broke. I fumbled nervously for the screen latch and flung the door open. However my grandmother obstructed my path, towering over me seemingly like the female and slightly geriatric version of the Brawny Man.
I looked up into her eyes, searching for permission to let the tears fall. Just when the first drop was about to leak from my weary lids, her face hardened like stone. She grabbed me by the face and held it up high and said, “You better not cry!”
What? “But Ma-ma, they said they were coming, and they didn’t,” I explained. With a blink, that tear was over the ledge, plummeting to the toe of my right shoe.
“Joan, ain’t no use in you crying over them gals. If they really wanted you to go, they would have come and got you. They didn’t, so they must have not wanted you to go.”
Strangely, I hung on her every word. I stood still as she waddled stiffly into her bedroom and rustled a few dollars out of her purse.
“Now, here’s two more dollars for you. Go on to the store, get your candy, and bring me some ‘bacca back when you come. Get Days Work, you hear? A plug of Apple, and a plug of the Regular.”
Considering how strained our relationship usually was, everyone on earth (minus the folks at the American Cancer Society) must be able to see the love and wisdom in her words. I was going to be just fine. Joan Benoit couldn’t have speed-walked to and from the store any faster! With a smile on my face, I made it back home with my candy, her tobacco, and a pack of fig newtons so that I could pretend to have a chew with my Ma-ma.
In life, when people disappoint you, remember this: Don’t get caught up in the how’s and why’s. Be self sufficient, and know that again, you can only control one person’s actions…your own. Understand that things happen, and that crying over spilled milk won’t feed the baby!
Did someone you once loved leave behind a nugget of wisdom for you to chew on? If so, tell me all about it by leaving a comment. If you’re new here, thanks for visiting! Share this post, follow me on twitter, and by all means, subscribe to this blog!