The Right Road

“I think dad has something for you outside,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“You better go see.”

She walked with me to the shed that was at the back of the garage. At first, I didn’t see it until he began to push it toward me.

“This is your bike.”  It was much bigger than my other one that had training wheels.

It was a beauty painted a bright lime green with a flowered banana seat to match and handlebars that were designed to make it look like a motorcycle. I jumped on it so he could adjust it to my height.

“Let’s give it a try,”he said.

This was the first time I was to ride without the help of two extra small wheels. I had reached the age of liberation, and I was thrilled.

When I started to walk toward the driveway with it, he redirected me by saying,

“Not that way. We have to go through the backyard and go on Norway.”

This was how I became introduced to the fact that I was banned from riding freely on the street in front of our house. It had something to do with it being the 1970’s, having the neighborhood filled with teen drivers galore and people zooming so fast that the living room floor vibrated when they roared by.

My mother was adamant that I not put one toe toward that direction for fear of my safety. The route behind our house never had a single vehicle ever drive on it, so she knew I wouldn’t get run over while practicing. My dad hung on to the back while I pedaled to teach me to balance, and in no time I was moving along quite easily. It was all so exciting at first until monotony set in from seeing the same scenery.

I often wondered when I looked out  our front window and saw other kids gliding by why they weren’t quarantined to a dull, obsolete street like I was. Where were their concerned parents? These children were right out in the street living life on the edge.

A neighbor friend rode her bike over one day and asked if I could join her.

I ran in the house and got permission with the usual stern response,

“Yes, but only on Norway Street.”

It was futile to argue as all of my attempts prior had fallen flat.

I backed out from the garage and started walking through the yard to the gate.

“Let’s go ride on the other street,” she said

“I can’t. My mom won’t let me. She thinks it isn’t safe because cars go by so fast.”

“I do it all the time,” she whined.

This conversation went on all the while we walked through the back alley. She was wearing down my already fragile resistance.

“My mom lets me go wherever I want to. Yours treats you like a baby.”

How was I supposed to deal with that? The more she talked the more I was convinced that one small jaunt elsewhere wouldn’t hurt me.

“Okay,” I said.

I turned myself in a direction I had never gone before. The wind whipping through my hair felt better than ever. Just as I would begin to relax, however, I would recall that I was on a forbidden thoroughfare. I quickly checked over my left shoulder and then my right to be sure no one was following and reporting back to headquarters.

Moments into this glorious and freeing experience, I saw a familiar figure up ahead. It was one of my three brothers!

There was no denying what I was up to, and all members of the household knew the rules that were set for me because they had gone through the same thing.

There was no getting around him or fleeing the other way. I had to go past him and face the consequences. As I went by him, he said,

“You aren’t supposed be on this street.”

That’s all he said in the most calm, quiet manner I had ever heard. While I was expecting yelling and ranting and being dragged into the house, that was his only reaction. His unpredictable response threw me straight into fear. I made a beeline for where I was supposed to be.

“Are you in trouble?”

“Probably.”

“I need to go home, ” I said after a few minutes. My momentary adventure had turned the afternoon quite sour.

I put my bike away and noticed that the station wagon was gone.

I walked into the house and found it to be empty and quiet. Just before leaving the kitchen, my brother materialized.

“Mom is gone shopping, so I’m in charge. I didn’t tell her that I saw you riding on the street, and I won’t. Just don’t do it again.”

I should have collapsed with relief at his generous offer, but that was when the tightness in my chest began, and I couldn’t rid myself of it.

I kept replaying the scene over in my head and feeling guilty for not being given a proper sentencing.

I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of being caught, and waking up drenched in sweat from nightmares. I woke up to the sound of my mom working in the kitchen.  How was I going to face her at breakfast? Like ripping off a band aid, I decided to get it over with as quick as I could.  I sprang out of bed, flung open my bedroom door as the floodgate of my tears rushed down my face.

Crying did not relieve the crushing weight on my chest.  It intensified the problem and left me only able to gulp and my vocal cords to fail me.

“What is wrong?” she said looking up at me from the kitchen table.

I saw her give me the usual registered nurse scan to check my coloring, dehydration level, and my pupil size.  When you have six kids, and one comes staggering out of her bedroom at an early hour in the summertime, no good is usually going to come of it.  She was probably getting ready to grab a basin just in case I was about to throw up.

“Don’t you feel good?” she asked.

The compassion in her voice just made me cry harder.  I was not worthy of being asked if I was alright.  I had committed a crime without punishment, and I couldn’t handle it.

The sniffs and shudders continued until I got myself under control and admitted my wrong doing in understandable English.

“So, you rode your bike on the street that you aren’t supposed to?”

“Y-y-yes,” I said.

“Do you promise never to do that again?”

I nodded.  It was easier than trying to speak.

“Then I won’t take your bike away this time.  But, if you ever do it again, you can’t ride it anymore.  Do you understand?”

Another nod as she handed me a tissue.

“Okay.  What do you want for breakfast?”

I couldn’t believe the fortune I had struck at not having something bad befall me after going out of my way to blatantly go against her orders.  She had every right to send me to my room for however long she wanted.  My bike should have been locked up for weeks.  But, none of that happened and instead, I was given a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice.

I found out many years later the behind the scene conversation that my brother had with her.  Apparently, he had told her he had seen me even though he told me he wouldn’t.  I guess his theory was that if he said that to me, and made her aware of my disobedience, then she could be on the lookout for any future rebellion on my part.  My sobbing confession made my mom see that my conscience was alive and healthy, and she could trust that I was not going to put myself into that predicament again.

In my walk with God, and in the times when I have messed things up, it has been demonstrated to me the type of approach that my brother took.  Instead of lashing out, and bringing down the hammer, my misgivings are often shown to me in subtle, non-threatening ways so I can make some changes.  And, the only reason why those mishaps are revealed to me is because of the great love of God.  We are here to live a life that is joyful and rewarding not riddled with shame and guilt.  When we find ourselves veering off into the wrong lane or one that isn’t for our highest good, we can depend on the reliability and faithfulness of heaven to put us back on the right roadbike

(My old bike in the rafters in storage)

Accused

He was at it again.  With poor aim, he flicked peas to the amusement of his comrades. I dodged the green bullet he sent my way by swaying to the left.  He set his sights on the girl who was eating her lunch quietly next to me.  How had I ended up sitting across from him?  Had he forgotten the events of less than twenty-four hours? John ‘the tomato’ was living life on the edge for whatever reason I was not aware of. He earned his nickname because his face was round and turned bright red when he was angry or got caught doing his daily devious deeds.  He was taking his chances while we were under the watch of a woman straight out of Nazi Germany.

She plainly announced her presence with a strong nicotine odor and a dragon voice to match.  An entire table of energetic smiling children would freeze with utensils in mid-air as she slithered by with a slow deliberate stroll, darting her squinting eyes looking for infractions.  All verbal communications would stop when she locked her eyes on a child, and pensive normalcy would not resume until she continued onward with her patrol.

When she decided that the noise had gotten on her last nerve, she would pick up a microphone and yell,

“BE QUIET!” with decibels that could have shattered the sound barrier.  We never knew when she would blow.

The lunch room was located in the elementary school’s gymnasium to conserve space.  An orange partition was set up to confine us for crowd control, and to serve as a means for public humiliation.  If a student was apprehended for breaking one of her laws, he or she was immediately dispatched to the ‘the wall’ with nose pressed against it for the rest of us to see.

The day before, I had witnessed her approach John from behind, grab his shirt by the collar with her talons and drag him off to a spot.   There was no wrongdoing on his part that any of us had seen.  She had decided to punish him just because she could.

He had beat the wall with his fists screaming,

“I didn’t do anything!  I want my mom!  I didn’t do anything!” True to form, his face was a brilliant shade of crimson.   Usually, I didn’t feel bad for him because he generally was guilty of the crime, but this time had been different.  There had been no offense to afford him the trip up there with his backside to us.

So it was beyond me why he would want to tempt fate to be singled out again.

I heard her approach with my right ear. When in a situation where threats abound, the senses become more keen.   It was the familiar squish sound of soft soled mandatory cafeteria shoes along with the perfume cigarette scent she wore like a badge of honor. John sat up straight and ceased fire of his vegetables.   She bent down underneath our table and brought up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had been trampled by numerous shoes.

“Who does this belong to?” she hissed.

We all shook our heads to indicate it wasn’t any of ours.  Without warning, the tomato pointed his dirty pudgy finger at me and exclaimed,

“It’s hers.  I saw her throw it.” A bold faced lie.  The kid who had been wrongly blamed the day before was targeting me.  Any compassion I had felt for him melted away forever.

I glanced up to face off with one of my biggest terrors in human form.

“Is this yours?” she bellowed with her red lips in a snarl.  The entire room went silent.

“No.  I already ate mine.”  I had been done eating for quite awhile and had disposed of my brown lunch bag.

“It’s hers!  I saw her!” he said again. This time his friends joined in with him as well as others around us.

She stood over me and presented the item in question directly underneath my nose.

“Eat it.”

“It isn’t mine,”  I said trying to convince her of the truth. It wasn’t working.

“You either eat this or you will have detention.”

I wan’t one of those kids who got detention!  I had not ever been sent to the wall.  Detention meant the beginning of years of juvenile delinquency, and that was not who I was.  And, I had been told to never go against an authority figure.

The first bite was crunchy as gravel from the floor mixed in with the bread on the surface of my teeth.  I gagged at first but managed.  There was no liquid to wash it down so each sandy bite felt like the desert. I could hear the stifled giggles as those around watched me eat a meal that wasn’t mine.  Her dark shadow enveloped me until she was satisfied with my last swallow.

“We don’t throw food here,” she said as she sauntered away.

When I got home from school that day, I was greeted with the usual question:

“How was school today?”

“I had to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich off the floor, ” I said.

“WHAT?”

I explained the event to my mom.

“Why did you eat it?”

“I was told if I didn’t that I would get detention.”

This situation would have been harrowing for any parent to hear, but she was a registered nurse who kept our home sterile like a hospital.  There was always a can of Lysol lurking in a cupboard waiting to be sprayed.

“Don’t ever do that again, ” she said.

I thought that was the end of the matter, but that evening I could hear her relating the tale to my dad once he got home from work.  From my vantage point in the house, the news wasn’t going over so well.  I was ushered into a remote location in the basement that was nearly sound proof while a phone call was made to the principal.

Before bed, my dad stepped into my room and said,

“If she ever makes you or another child do something like that again, say something right away.  If she does anything that isn’t right, tell an adult.  She will be fired.”

I went into the lunchroom the next day with a new sense of power.   It was like someone had slayed the dragon or at least put out her fire.

I proceeded as usual to get my small carton of milk to go along with my bag lunch. I made sure to distance myself from John’s table.  I had no sooner been seated when I sensed her approach.  With a fake loving hand on my shoulder she said in a voice so soft,

“I didn’t mean for you to eat that sandwich.  There must have been some mistake.”  I looked her directly in the eye without a trace of fear or humility.

“You made me eat that sandwich that wasn’t mine and you know you did.  My dad said you will be fired if you ever do that again.”  She dropped her hand away, blinked rather rapidly with her mouth contorting in shock.  I had found my fifth grade voice. She had suddenly lost hers. She turned on her heel and marched away.

There have been other times in my life where I have been in situations where I felt alone in the face of uncomfortable circumstances.  However, I have learned that just because I feel that way doesn’t make it true.  Just like my dad supported me, we have access to our Creator who loves us so deeply that a plan will be enacted on our behalf if we ask for it. A heartfelt prayer asking for assistance can change things around in an instant. We can go from helpless to hopeful very quickly just by spending some time in the presence of the One who sees it all.   There will be times when maybe the truth of the matter is only known between us and heaven, but we can find comfort knowing that we are not walking on earth in solidarity.  Someone is always in your corner.  Even when you are unjustly accused.

peanutbutter