Just Follow Directions
Life might go smoother if we all would just follow directions. Teachers give directions. Directions are printed on clothing for washing. And booklets, containing instructions, are included with all new appliances. But most of all, mothers give directions and expect their children to follow them.
Growing up, my mother gave many directions. Most of the time, I listened to my mother and followed her directions. Here is an example when I did not just follow directions.
One spring day on the front lawn of the Canajoharie East Hill Elementary School, Mom had been assisting my Brownie troop leader with games. Duck, duck goose and red light green light were our favorites. Then, when mother started to set out our picnic, she noticed a nearby fresh deposit of dog poop. Without a shovel or any other means to scoop up the brown lump, Mom grabbed a paper plate and a rock to cover the disgusting pile. Then, Mom announced the warning to my beanie-clad friends.
“Don’t look under the paper plate.”Unfortunately, the white paper plate had the opposite effect. It was as if Mom put a spot-light on the forbidden area. As a result, the girls and I were drawn to the marker like moths to a flame. Shortly after hearing the announcement, the first member of our troop skipped over, shifted the stone and lifted up the plate.
“P U … poop!” The initial rule breaker ran away holding her nose after looking under the plate.
Two more girls quickly dismissed the direction with similar responses. And then I joined in on the fun with my own plate flip.
“P U… poop!” I confirmed.
Eventually, the whole troop disregarded my mother’s directions.
From the driver’s seat of our station wagon and in reaction to the afternoon’s events, mom expressed her disappointment all the way home.
I witnessed another time when my youngest sister did not just follow directions.
“I am going to get the afternoon mail,” Mom declared with authority.
The corner store housed the official U.S. Post Office boxes for the village of Ames. Prior to her fall afternoon walk, Mom had set my three sisters and me up at the kitchen table with an activity. She knew that four busy sets of hands needed to be occupied. We would be alone during her quick trip to the end of the street.
My mother left her daughters immobilized on a long bench pushed up against the wooden picnic-style kitchen table. In front of us, piles of colorful, plastic beads patiently waited. We were each given a long rubbery filament.
“Don’t put the beads up your nose.”
Mom announced her last-minute direction as she slipped her arms in her coat. Next, she grabbed an umbrella resting on a rag rug near the unlocked kitchen door and left.
Hmm-mm. That is an interesting statement. Who would do that?
Watching the door close and dismissing her curious words, I focused on my project. I knotted my plastic string and laid out my beads in a pattern in front of me. I loved jewelry and was excited to make my own necklace.
Within minutes of being unsupervised, I noticed a few red drops on the maple table in front of my youngest sister.
“What did you do? Did you put a bead up your nose? Mom said not to do that!” yelled my older sister.
Seated at the far end of the table, my little sister innocently shrugged her shoulders and mumbled.
“I just wanted to try it.”
I felt sorry for my youngest sibling. After all, Mom did plant the seed of this tempting idea. If only my sister had just followed the directions.
The culprit’s long blond tresses made a natural curtain in front of her pale face. Her hair hid her streaming tears. Her small body slumped forward. She rested her pointed, quivering chin on the edge of the table in the telling pool of blood.
Within minutes, the remaining three of us instinctively banded together in sisterhood. We slipped down off the bench and landed under the table leaving the youngest one still locked in her position. On hands and knees, we scooted out and sprang into action.
One of us stayed nearby and tried in vain to dislodge the plastic booger. But the well-meaning probing fingers just pushed the plastic piece further inward. The oldest gathered triage supplies from the upstairs bathroom. Meanwhile, I turned on the kitchen sink full blast and stuffed wads of toilet paper under the faucet. A trail of water on the linoleum floor led to the table. Pretty soon, clots of damp, blood-soaked toilet paper littered the table top like an awful crime scene. Down the hallway in the powder room, an empty cardboard toilet paper roll signaled surrender.
We panicked when we heard footsteps on the wooden steps of the side porch. The squeak of the screen door sent us scrambling to our original positions as if nothing happened. But it was clear, one of us had not just followed directions.
It did not take Mom long to notice.
“Why would you do that? I told you not to! Didn’t you listen to me? What is the matter with you?”
The usual motherly phrases sputtered out like machine-gun fire. They were not really questions. No answers would have satisfied Mom’s inquiry.
We were kids. We were adults-in-training. For us, directions were more like suggestions. Sometimes, we added our own interpretations.
A pair of tweezers and few Q-tips were all Mom needed to expertly dislodge the infamous bead. The bloodied pink piece was displayed on a napkin on the kitchen table. It was evidence for my father to inspect.
By the time Dad got home, the blood on the paper square had dried to a dark maroon color. It blended in with the floral pattern of the napkin. The small piece of plastic looked so innocent. Just like my little sister.
Dad did not seem overly interested in the nugget when Mom recounted the story. The whole tale seemed a bit ridiculous. Dad just wanted to get to his meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Fortunately, that evening the post-dinnertime conversation focused on the U.S.Presidential pictures printed on our cardboard milk cartons. We had been cutting out the images with the intention of memorizing all of them in order. The collection spread out across three placemats. And so, the bead incident quickly faded like the dried blood on the napkin.
Now, I am a mother and a grandmother. Sometimes, I give directions. I try to stick to basic safety issues.
“Don’t put your fork in the toaster when it is plugged in.”
“Don’t stick your hand in a hole in the ground unless you know what dug it.”
“Don’t sit on the toilet during a thunderstorm.”
“Just follow directions!”
Of course, not all of my directions are followed. Based on my own former habits, why should I have such high expectations? Even today, my inner child would draw me to look under a paper plate with a rock on it. After all, there could be poop!
(original story was posted 5/13/17 under the title “Lessons from a Small Town: Following Directions. Story was shortened and edited and more pictures were added.)