Janet Sheridan: The allure of the forbidden
In 1961, Boston and Philadelphia banned the hit single, “Beans in My Ears,” because the refrain, “My mommy said not to put beans in my ears,” inspired children to load their ears with legumes. Some even poked beans up their noses. Being collegiate, I resisted the lure of the lyrics but felt its tug.
When I was old enough to know better, Mom made a special candy log for Christmas that had to season two weeks in a vanilla-infused cheesecloth.
“All of you listen to me,” she said as she put it in the pantry. ”This candy isn’t ready to eat; it doesn’t taste good yet. Leave it alone. We’ll have it for Christmas.”
That afternoon, I dragged a stool to the pantry and used my finger to gouge out a generous portion of candy, thought it tasted pretty good, and helped myself to more.
Barbara snitched, and I had a candy-less Christmas.
Having three older siblings, I grew up with “I’m telling you, you sneaky little snoop, if you get into my things, you’ll regret it!” “Mom, if she messes with my stuff one more time, I can’t be held accountable!” and, “Are those my socks you’re wearing?” But I found the rewards of rummaging through the goods of others worth the risk.
Shortly before I turned 11, I carried out the most dangerous mission to date: Mom’s chest of drawers. To my disappointment, drawer after drawer held nothing but clothing I’d seen hanging on the clothesline. Then, I opened a small drawer full of handkerchiefs and scarves and found a leather purse with JB tooled on one side. The initials belonged to me and no one else. It was almost my birthday. Bob was doing leather crafting in his junior high vocational class, and I knew he would never hide something for me in his room, which I tossed regularly.
For three blissful weeks, I sneaked into my parent’s bedroom, retrieved the purse, fondled it, smelled its rich leather, and traced my initials. I couldn’t believe the brother I both battled and worshipped had something so perfect for me. I’ve never regretted my early discovery of the best purse I ever owned.
So I continued poking my nose where it didn’t belong. Several months later, in a new house in Spanish Fork, I sat at the kitchen table, studying the many cabinets marching around its walls and wondering about a section that stretched to the ceiling.
“What could Mom have stored on those shelves?” I wondered. “Nothing we use much; it’s too high. Maybe I should have a look.”
Soon, with the help of a kitchen chair, I stood on the countertop, stretched as high as I could, and discovered the top shelves held Christmas decorations and Dad’s root beer making equipment, which Mom probably hoped he would forget. Then, in a far corner, I discovered a small, unmarked cardboard box, which I retrieved and carried to the table to examine.
Inside, wrapped in tissue, I found an 8-by-11 tinted studio photograph of a smiling baby I recognized from Kodak snapshots in our family album. It was Alan, my older brother, who died as a toddler from a respiratory infection four years before my birth. Underneath the photograph, I found his funeral program, dried flowers, and sympathy cards and letters my parents received at their small home, long miles from their Utah families, in Nevada City, California, where my dad worked the gold mines, and my mom made a home for him, my oldest brother, and the beautiful, beloved baby whose portrait I held.
Suddenly, I felt like an intruder in my parents’ grief. This was not a fun game. It was emotional trespassing. In that moment, I realized there are things too private, too personal, too laden with feeling to be exposed to idle curiosity.
I whispered, “I’m so sorry,” and quit getting into things.
Janet Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.
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