Published Friday, January 11, 2013
“Johnny said he knows karate,” my son said one day after school. “He’s only a brown belt. That’s not very good.”
“Um, you might want to take that seriously,” I said. “That’s one step away from a black belt, and you also better take purple belts or even orange belts seriously for that matter. Just take my word for it.”
At which point, my entire family turned to stare at me.
“You seem to know a lot about this,” my husband said.
“Well, I had a neighbor who knew karate – Lou Ann Delmonto,” I said. “And one day, I challenged her, and it did not go well.”
“You mean that skinny woman?” my husband asked. The day I met him he was actually at a table with that skinny woman, my childhood nemesis.
“Yes, and she was even skinnier as a girl,” I said, “but freakishly strong.”
By this point, my son was all ears.
“You mean she beat you up?” he asked.
“Well, no, not exactly,” I said, “but I do remember distinctly how her elbows, knees and feet hurt. She used a few karate moves on me.”
“Why did you challenge her?”
“Oh, she bragged all the time about doing karate,” I said, and she wore purple eye shadow when I wasn’t allowed to and had nice, tan skin year round in comparison to my ghastly pale complexion, I thought to myself. If I had thought a little harder, I would have added that she could also skate backwards.
“I remember that day distinctly because it was the day I got my swing set,” I said.
“You mean the one at Nana and Ben Daddy’s house?” my son asked.
“Yes, that very one,” I said.
He snickered and remarked how small it was, no offense.
“I was very proud to have a wooden swing set with a tire swing,” I said. I guess my pride was perhaps what gave me the courage to challenge Lou Ann.
“Did you end up in a ditch?” my son asked.
My daughter had once remarked that all my childhood stories ended in the ditch to which my son asked, “What’s a ditch?”
Kids these days.
“Was that the only fight you got into?” my very curious son asked.
“Well, there was another one with the boy next door,” I said. “He teased me about my bike over and over until I finally had enough and jumped off it (It didn’t have brakes, was rusted and came from the dumpster down the street), and the next thing I know, he and I were fighting in the ditch.”
“Did you win that one?” he asked.
I don’t recall if I did. I do recall wishing an adult would please come out and break us up. The 1970s was a different era. Adults did not interfere with kid business. Disputes were settled in the yard while adults went about the business of being adults. Play dates were not arranged. Your options consisted of whoever lived on your street. Lessons were learned the hard way as were trophies earned.
Our days were spent outdoors. If my sister and I stayed in, mom would assign chores, plus we didn’t have air conditioning, so it was not to our advantage. Our animals were loved deeply but lived outside. We ate dinner together every night at 5. Kids were never allowed to have steak or shrimp, and we’d never so much as seen a crab leg. Mom fried everything in lard that she kept in a jar in the cabinet. We didn’t have snacks that I can recall, other than ice cream at night. Summer days were long, and we were happy – when we weren’t fighting in the ditch, that is.
“Someday, son, I’ll tell you the rest of the story of me and Lou Ann Delmonto and the rest of my childhood gang,” I said, suddenly feeling nostalgic, “but for now, we’d better sign you for karate lessons, just in case.”
(Disclaimer: I would never endorse violence, and my son has learned by observation to do as I say not as I do.)