The car in front of me slammed on brakes and I, just as quickly, slammed on brakes and instinctively flung my right arm out and across the passenger’s seat. This time there was no one sitting there whose life I was saving from being thrown into the dashboard, just my pocketbook.
If pocketbooks could talk, though, I suspect it would have thanked me for keeping it from flying into the foot of the car and spilling its contents. Thank goodness pocketbooks can’t talk because mine would most certainly fuss at me for overstuffing it with foot-long grocery store receipts, slivers of paper on which I’ve jotted notes that make no sense, random hair gadgets, paper clips, a box of band aids, a wallet that won’t stay shut, a pair of broken reading glasses, four tubes of lipstick, three loose and slightly fuzzy Lifesavers, and a coupon for cat food.
We don’t have a cat.
But apparently the person driving the car in front of me does. I know this because on the rear window of their car were some of those little decals of stick figures that are supposed to show how many people are in your family. There in the bottom left corner of the window were stickers of what I assumed to be a Daddy, a Mama, a big child, two medium sized children, two smaller children (twins?), a baby, two dogs and a cat. And apparently they are a happy family because the little decals were smiling and waving. The dog looked happy, too, but the cat just sat there without much expression, as cats often do.
I don’t have any decals on my car showing everyone that I have a husband, two children and two dogs. I guess I like to remain a mystery to fellow drivers and if anyone is driving down the road and wants to know how many people are in my family, they can wait until we stop at a light and roll down the window and just ask. At which time I will probably put my foot on the gas and speed away because that would, quite frankly, freak me out.
There was a day — and probably still — is when you could tell how big someone’s family was by looking in their back yard. I remember driving somewhere with my mama when I was a little girl and hearing her say, “That’s a big family” when we drove by a house out in the country. I asked her how she knew and she pointed to the yard and said, “Just look at that clothesline.”
Sure enough, there floating in the breeze were a couple of pair of big britches, some skirts, a dress or two, a half-dozen pair of little britches and little dresses of various sizes, and some tiny things that only a baby could wear. I remember also seeing some underwear flapping in the wind, and I wasn’t too sure what I thought about that.
“Please don’t hang my underwear out there,” I remember begging Johnnie Mae as she was getting ready to hang some clothes outside one day. I was a little girl, and Johnnie Mae stayed with me and my brothers and sisters when mama and daddy both worked. As much as I can remember, we had a clothes dryer, but Johnnie Mae liked to hang some things outside on a line strung up on the side of our house because, she said, the sunshine and breeze made them smell and feel good. But not my underwear.
I don’t know if I just didn’t want anyone to see my underwear or if I was ashamed of my underwear. The latter, it couldn’t possibly be, because I recall having the most wonderful Holly Hobby underwear and Wonder Woman Underoos. Maybe I was afraid they would get stolen hanging there on the clothesline, which would have devastated 6- or 7-year-old me had anything happened to my superhero undershirt.
Johnnie Mae must have understood my anxiety because she would, instead, help me hang them in the bathroom where they were safe. Then I would help her hang the rest of the laundry outside and hand her the little wooden pins and then she’d let me run underneath the sheets as they blew in the wind and it never bothered me that my brothers’ and sisters’ underwear were out there blowing , too. But not mine.
I guess anyone driving by our house back then could say, “That’s a big family” about us. That’s what I said out loud when I saw the decals on the car in front of me the other day, the one with the stickers of a Daddy, a Mama, a big child, two medium-sized children, two smaller children (twins?), a baby, two dogs and a cat.
A cat. I wonder if they want my coupon.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.