There are some days I will never forget. On those days of greatest personal impact, I can remember the clothes I wore, the feelings churning in my stomach, and a myriad of insignificant details that get brain-stuck for all time.
One such memory is the biggest dirt fight of my childhood, or rather the paternal storm of discipline that followed.
My brother, myself, and my cousin thought it was great fun to entertain ourselves by throwing dirt. We waged a war that would make Mr. Colin Powell proud.
No offense intended, but his mean look doesn’t hold a candle to my mom’s. She could stop suicide bombers with one raise of her evil eyebrow. I felt the full force of her military-like power the day we waged war.
The morning of the dirt war, I dressed in a one piece purple terry-cloth shorts jumpsuit. I grew up in an era when terry-cloth was used for more than towels and wash clothes. This particular Barney purple jumpsuit was a favorite. Sleeveless and legless, it was the perfect outfit for a New York summer day. Terry cloth is one of those miracle fabrics modern stylists overlook. Not only does it absorb sweat, but little particles of dirt can burrow between the fibers. I gained twelve pounds of dirt during that fateful summer day.
We waited until dusk. The adults busied themselves drinking coffee and chat-chat-chatting. We didn’t really know why sitting around the kitchen table for hours with family and neighbors was fun, so we headed out right after dinner. From their second floor apartment vantage point, the adults had no idea mud grenades and gravel bombs were exploding two stories below.
There were a few casualties of this great dirt war, so we headed in search of an infirmary or at least a band-aide. We burst through the front door, falling over each other into my grandma’s apartment. A trail of dust and grime followed us all the way into the house. I’ll never forget the grown-up silence. The sound, or lack thereof, startled us.
Did something happen?
The adults were never this quiet!
Turns out not a one of them were fans of war, especially dirt wars waged by their children. I think they removed two layers of perfectly good skin that day, scrubbing with an angry vigor. My mother found her voice and I wished on every wishing star for the next eighty years that she would once again be rendered speechless.
From that day on I vowed to keep the peace. I made mud pies instead of bombs, but I’ll always remember the fun, and secretly, in that innermost childlike place that never really grows up, I think every angry word from my mother was worth it. The scrubbing never washed away the memory. It was a good day to be a kid – a good day to get dirty.
So Monday night, after a long day of Memorial fun, my husband and I packed up our own children for an evening drive home. I looked back at their dirt smeared clothes, matted hair, and smiles. I knew they had a good day, a day to remember. I could hardly stand the stench emanating from their little bodies of my flesh and blood. The open windows only blew the smell of drooling dog, creek water, dirt, and play-hard sweat around the car.
One shower wouldn’t wash away this day’s fun.
As we drove home, I remembered. I thought about the purple terry-cloth jumpsuit and my ears packed with dirt. I glanced in the side mirror and saw my daughter’s matted hair, and I remembered my mother combing out the dirt from my own. Yes, the good days of childhood are marked by sunshine and dirt, and if the kids are really lucky, they’ll be some water.
Nothing says summer like a mud pie.