Beth Adkins was my nemesis, but I wanted to be like her. For her approval and a few saltines, I walked around outside half-bare one fateful summer day. It’s been awhile since we crawled over the backyard fences to each other’s houses. But, if Beth were here, I would tell her about the valuable childhood lessons she taught to me. Certainly she needs to know I now wear my own blue cat-eye glasses.
The childhood lessons have been life-long. The glasses took me awhile.
Beth had everything I thought I wanted – fame and fortune. She had cool older brothers, the highest backyard-climbing tree and better mayonnaise (not miracle whip) for bologna sandwiches. You could go to her refrigerator any day and it would be stocked with the perfect sandwich ingredients. Plus, you were always sure to find crispy saltines in the cupboard. Our saltines were stale. Since hunger always seemed to strike me when I went to other peoples’ houses, food played an important role in building our relationship.
There were other reasons for my love/hate relationship with Beth. She was the first in our elementary school to have a broken arm with a cast that everybody signed. Yes, that great climbing tree became the key to her stardom. Show-off. After the cast was gone and the applause died down, Beth came back for an encore. Looking like movie star, she shows up and bedazzles everyone in our third grade class by sporting new sparkling-diamond-encrusted- baby-blue cat-eye glasses, which framed her perfectly tanned face and long straight blond hair. Her matching plaid dress and shiny black patent leathers topped the ensemble.
I was livid.
Sitting there with my skin so pale you could see through it, bad perm, and perpetually cracked lips; I tried to hide my saddle oxfords from the special shoe store. How could I ever measure up to her?
The opportunity to earn Beth’s approval and win my own fame came one hot summer day. Beth and I had spent countless hours doing summersaults, handstands and running in circles to make whirlpools in her above-ground swimming pool. (Yes, she had a pool too. (I know, unfair.) We became bored and she suggested we sneak into her brothers’ basement bedroom to find their naked magazine. Oh boy. I knew we were doing something very wrong, but it was Beth. Need I say more?
After seeing the forbidden pictures, Beth issued a challenge. Knowing that I was motivated by saltine crackers, she said she’d give some to me if I would take off my swimming suit top like the girls in the magazine and walk around the pool in her backyard. I’d have done almost anything for saltines - and Beth’s approval. As if I didn’t already feel guilty enough for looking at the magazines, I disregarded my conscience, took off my orange bikini top, grabbed my towel and took a loop around the pool holding the towel around me when I was out of Beth’s sight. It was good enough for the saltines but horrible for the soul. Finally feeling on par with Beth, I left and climbed over the fence weighted down by shame so crushing it took me days to look at my mother and weeks to confess the dirty deed.
After the naked episode it was clear to me that being Beth was not I. So, here I am, 48 years later and I still remember the childhood lessons that remain true.
Childhood Lessons for Adults
Sport your hair-do like it’s the raging style
Find your own climbing tree
Sign your own arm
And if you want to wear sparkly blue cat-eye glasses, do it!