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5 March 2002

I was catching up on some notes I'd made while reading back journal entries the other day and came across this in Occasional Muse.

I always take the kids to school in my pajamas, and I always think, "You idiot, someday you are going to be in accident and you will be talking to this city's finest in your bathrobe." But I do it anyway.

Did that ever bring flashbacks.

We once had a visitor who was leaving on an early morning train. In those days I was doing a lot of ferrying of kids all over the place, driving David on his paper route, etc. I frequently left the house in the early morning hours, not bothering to put on clothes, but just hopping in the car in my nightgown and bathrobe, sometimes without slippers, because unless it's wintertime I rarely wore anything on my feet (in my dotage, I've become addicted to sox). The trips were usually brief and I would soon be back home to the warm cup of coffee that was waiting for me.

On this particular morning, I got into the car in my night clothes. We joked about what would happen if the car broke down. We drove downtown, I dropped our visitor off at the train station and headed home. It was about 6 a.m.

I shouldn't have joked. It's not nice to tempt fate.

I was about a mile from home when the car did, in fact, break down. These were the years before cell phones and there I sat, in the pre-dawn hours when it seemed everyone in town was asleep. I was only about a mile from home, but I was in night clothes and bare feet and what could I do? I didn't even have the good sense to put a bathrobe on over my nightgown. I sat there till the sky got lighter and lights were starting to come on in the houses around me. I was in front of a big apartment complex and finally decided I had to do it. I got out and wandered around listening for noise behind some apartment door. I knocked on the door and asked to use the phone.

How do you explain showing up at the crack of dawn at the door of a total stranger in a state of déshabillé and looking like the mad woman of Chaillot? I tried to be casual, but I have avoided that apartment complex ever since.

Many of my most embarrassing moments have involved clothes, or lack of same. There was an incident in grammar school. I had gone alone to a neighborhood park. It was a small reservoir, actually. There was a sandbox and swings there, but no bathroom facilities and, as nature was wont to do, she decided to call while I was wandering around the playground, alone. No problem. I just went into the bushes, pulled down my underwear and answered nature's call. Only my pants caught on a tree branch and ripped a huge gash in the seat.

There was my tush hanging out for all the world to see--and me about 8 city blocks from home, with no shortcut, and naturally no money for a pay phone, even if there had been one, which there was not.

It wasn't a particularly busy part of the neighborhood and I did the best I could to walk with my back to the houses as I inched my way home. I had just crossed Hyde Street (one block from Lombard, "the crookedest street in the world," and was heading down the quietest block I could find when I heard someone overhead call my name. I looked up and there, hanging out the window with an odd grin on his face was Jimmy Wohl, a classmate. One of those who had always teased me about my weight (in fact it was Jimmy who inadvertently paid me the highest compliment in 7th grade when I had dieted and lost a lot of weight. He saw a picture of me in profile and said "That can't be Bev--she's not fat enough.")

Ever try to back down a street, keeping your tush to the wall while trying to keep up a conversation with some leering classmate grinning at you from three floors up? I don't remember how I got home after that, but my face still burns in embarrassment as I think of trying to extricate myself from Jimmy's taunts.

Less embarrassing, and more recent, but still pretty stupid was the night in Orkney in September when I managed to catch my jacket belt in the door of our B&B and had no way to call anybody, so had to stand there waiting for Walt to come downstairs and open the door, all the while looking casual for passersby.

Grace has never been my long suit. I do not have the movements of a gazelle. There are hippos who are more graceful.

Our family used to visit friends on a regular basis. They had two sons, one my age and one Karen's. The parents would settle in the kitchen to visit while the kids would be sent to the den to watch TV. Or outside to play. On occasion, we engaged in some games which involved moving more quickly than a slow stroll. I can remember how many times Pat doubled over in laughter watching me try to run. It's part of the reason I never got into physical activity. I couldn't bear the thought of being the object of ridicule.

It's funny how embarrassments last your whole life long. Here I sit, approaching my 59th birthday and I can still get churned up about my encounter with Jimmy and about Pat's taunts.

My father was a good one for that too. I was on some kid's TV show once and got the special seat right next to the host and his hand puppet. The puppet asked me who was the father of our country and I said "Abraham Lincoln." This was good for a laugh from the puppet, who then said that it was really "George-chop-down-a-cherry-tree-Washington." (Amazing how vivid that memory is) My father gave me a very hard time about that afterwards. I tried desperately to convince him that we had rehearsed it that way so the puppet could get a laugh, but he knew I was only trying to get out of the embarrassment of having given the wrong answer on television.

Amazing how things like that stick with you. I also remember the night I decided I didn't want dessert after dinner. My father feigned shock and said he'd have to have that in writing. I laughed and wrote "I don't want desert." The taunts for having spelled the word wrong made me convinced that I would never make that misspelling again.

I know I take things entirely too personally. And I blush about things that aren't really all that embarrassing. I've had people say to me, "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing with you." Usually at times like that I'm not laughing. But I try to go on the offensive, make fun of myself first, before anyone else can do it. That puts me in control. You can't be hurt if you're the one leading the laughter.

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You gain strength, courage and confidence by every expierence in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself. "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along."

- Eleanor Roosevelt

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