A few of my more recent posts have had a darker tone so I figured I would lighten things up a bit with a childhood memory.
When I was little I was fascinated with pennies and other shiny coins just like any other kid my age. I was too young to have an ‘allowance’, but my father would occasionally give me special chores around the house in order to earn a few coinage. Whenever he presented these tasks to me he made it sound like only I could do it and it was VERY important. It kept me busy and would give my mom a break from having to find things for me to do. This one particular time I remember he was out gardening as he did every weekend. I would sit out and watch him or occasionally pick up a rake and do my best attempt at helping. He brought me over the bucket that he would use to wash his VW and set it down next to me.
“Stacey, I have a fun project for you to do tomorrow! The snails are eating our garden, how about I give you a nickel for each one you find in the yard? Put them in this bucket and I will count them when I come home from work ”
That night all I could think of was starting the next morning as early as possible so I could find every snail that resided on our property. I had dreams of making handfuls and handfuls of nickels, enough to buy whatever I wanted at Toys R Us.. Yep, I would be rich and my dad would be so proud of me when he saw that I had cleansed the earth of those shell wearing, plant eating pests!
I grabbed my bucket (didn’t get up at the crack of dawn like I had planned but I was still out early enough before my mom started playing her soap operas on the kitchen television) and got to work. I scoured every inch of the yard both back and front. Behind every bush, flower, rock, along the fence line, around the trees… and by the end of the day I had accumulated a large cache of snails. To a child’s eye I had hundreds in that bucket when in reality I probably only had maybe 20 or 30. It didn’t matter, all I cared about was my daddy was going to be thrilled with me and I was going to make a LOT of money! My mom called me in for lunch shortly after that and I could hear “All my Children” on her television, so I knew it was around noontime. I didn’t want the snails climbing out of the bucket so I carried it inside into my bathroom and placed it in the bathtub. Closing the little sliding glass door shut on the tub I thought to myself “There! they would never get out and would be safe and sound for when my dad got home!”
My father usually came home from work in the evening around 6 or so (or just after when the ABC evening news theme could be heard on the television). Mom kept her small kitchen TV playing throughout the day while she puttered around doing her ‘mom things’ so I was able to tell certain times of the day just by what I heard coming from that tv. I ate lunch, then went to my room to play. All I could think of was how proud my dad was going to be when he saw how hard I had worked in the yard that day.. Maybe he would even pay me DOUBLE per snail! I was going to be set for life!
“OH MY GOD! DAMNIT! STAAACEEEEEYYY!!!”
My mom’s voice boomed through the house like an explosion. I remember I had my bedroom door closed and occasionally I could hear her walk to and from past my door throughout the afternoon doing whatever she was doing.
I opened my door and walked out into the hall. Literally having no idea what was wrong I looked in the kitchen and the living room for her, but she wasn’t there.
“Mommy? where are you?” I stood there silently waiting for her reply
“I. AM. IN. YOUR. BATHROOM!”
Oh.. ok. I continued down the hall towards the bathroom still wondering why she was so worked up. Mom was sort of a drama queen and did tend to overreact at times so it could be anything. Still, I hadn’t done anything wrong (in fact, in my mind I was a hero that day!) so the sound and tone of her voice didn’t jar me one bit …. until I peeked around the corner into the bathroom.
Now, they say that when you are young and learn things for the first time, life experiences tend to help things ‘stick’ in your mind more. Stuff like ‘don’t touch one of the stove burners while they are hot’… burn yourself once and you never do it again. ‘don’t pick up a bee with your bare hands to get a closer look’…. you’ll get stung. The lesson I learned today was this:
Snails can get out of a bucket. snails can also get out of a bathtub with a sliding glass door. They do not climb, they do not hop and they do not fly… they slime themselves out of the bucket, across the tub and up the wall.
What my mother saw when she walked into the bathroom I am surprised she didn’t pass out. There were snails everywhere… EVERYWHERE~ on the walls, ceiling, all across the room. Their slimy trails decorating behind them in zig zag patterns…. all over the white walls.
“What the HELL is this?!”
I looked around the room still confused at what I was looking at. huh… I didn’t think they could do that. I think all I was trying to ponder was why did I find so many on the ground if they could go wherever they wanted by sliming themselves around like that. Maybe there was more up in the trees I could find later.!
“LOOK AT THIS GODDAMN MESS!”
Oops.. mom cussed but only mild cuss words. She would say damnit, and hell the most (never, ever the brown word or the dreaded f word) She still would make those 2 mild words just as lethal sounding by the way she pronounced them. By that time I finally started weighing in on the severity of this situation. She walked out of the bathroom and I followed behind her. Stopping for a second she doubled back to the bathroom and slammed the door shut muttering something about how she didn’t want the snails to get out any further. I continued to follow her into the kitchen explaining the whole situation from my innocent point of view. I told her about the very important job daddy had given me and how I was going to make a lot of money off of those snails and I didn’t want them left outside where they could crawl out so I brought them in to the bathroom where they would be safe. Mom waved her hand in front of her face as if to tell me she had heard enough.. with a huge sigh she sat down on her white ‘telephone talking’ stool, picked up the phone and dialed a number. I sat down at the kitchen table and watched her, still trying to process the fact that I had done something wrong rather than something completely amazingly awesome.
“Cindi, do you want to hear what your little sister just did?”
She had called my sister. Uh oh… I sat silently and listened to her recant the whole story from when she walked in and found the snails right up to my version of why I had done what I did. When she was done talking she was silent for a few minutes, then said “Ok.. I will talk to you later after Frank gets home” and hung up the phone.
“Mommy, I wanted to say hi to Sissy!” Really bummed out that she had hung up the phone before I was able to talk to her. Mom did another deep, heavy sigh and looked over at me sitting at the kitchen table.
“Oh, she couldn’t talk…. she was laughing too hard”
Mom spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the bathroom walls. I asked her once if I could help but she replied that I had done enough and to go do something else in my room. I didn’t argue…
Later on that evening when my father came home I am sure mom unloaded on him. I think I hid in my room until after that exchange was done, unsure of what would happen. A few times up until he got home I went to my room and cried finally realizing how badly I had screwed up. All I wanted to do was make my daddy happy and make a few bucks on the side! Would he be mad at me? Would he never ask me for help again? Was I a huge disappointment?
Dad came into my room and sat down on my bed. Now was the moment if he was going to yell at me it was going to happen. I looked at him and couldn’t even think of what to say.. so I waited for him to say the first word.
“Well now, your mother told me what happened today….”
Uh huh… I looked down at my feet and was waiting for him to react the way mom had. Imagine my surprise when I looked back up at him and he was smiling.
“I guess now we learned something new today about snails!” he said with a smirk.
He wasn’t mad at all! He knew my intentions were well meaning and I wasn’t in trouble! That’s all I was worried about the whole day was disappointing my dad. He probably sat quietly while my mom yelled and screamed about his ‘stupid’ idea to have me collect snails, then when she was through he came in to make sure I was okay. My father the hero! I never gave him enough credit for being the one who understood me the most.
That night he took me to 31 Flavors ice cream for a cone. We would do that occasionally and walk up and down the little strip mall looking in all the windows of the businesses while we ate our ice cream. I don’t think we talked at all about the snails but this was his way of telling me that everything was going to be okay. Dad still gave me occasional mini jobs to make a little money, but they never EVER again involved snails!
The above story became a tradition of sorts to recant at holiday gatherings, to visiting friends (and my boyfriends), and basically to anyone that would listen when the mood struck my mother or sister. Cindi had told me years later that it was one of her favorite stories to tell people. Her little sister that painted the bathroom walls and ceiling with snail slime. Yep, that’s me!