Before there was paintball, there was Grandpa’s Garden. All of the cousins would choose sides and gather ammo from a great selection of rotten tomatoes and squashes. Scrambling to find the most strategic hiding spots for battle, we watched them crawl through the garden rustling the stocks and giving away their positions.
They called me Peanut, because I was small. But, they made me a scout, because I was fast and barely moved the plants. After agreeing on our winning battle plan, I wiggled on my belly through the garden, leaving a trail of dirt and rotten vegetables down the front of my dress. I was very proud that I had thought to leave my patent leather shoes and socks at the entrance to the garden for their safety. “Won’t mommy be pleased,” I thought to myself with a smile.
In the heat of battle, the bow on the top of my head got caught on a plant. Like a soldier trapped in barbed wire, I struggled to get free before the enemy reached me. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get free. Ultimately, I left it behind as a casualty of war, shaking the blonde banana curls free from my mother’s handiwork. Why did she insist on dressing me like Shirley Temple? Ugh!
Now free, I continued my mission to expose the enemies’ positions to my troops. Creeping slowly, I thought that I was undetected. Gradually rising up to the plant level, I was ambushed with an onslaught of rotten tomatoes. I was surrounded by my cousins yelling “We captured Peanut! Whaddya gonna give us for her?”
My older brother the squadron leader yelled back, “Keep her! It’s more dessert for us later!” Pleased with his response, my brother smiled and waited for their next move. When it seemed like they would not give me back, my younger brother asked “Can I have her room?”
Dangling from the end of my cousin’s long arm, I struggled to get free. Suddenly we heard the booming voice of the General, “What are you kids doing in my garden?” We called Grandpa the General, because he towered over us giving orders with the authority of a General. He was the only one in the family that we truly feared and obeyed. Consequently, he was the one sent to deal with us whenever they heard strange noises.
Avoiding the long reach of the General, my brothers and cousins scattered in all directions. Falling into a heap when my cousin released me, I couldn’t move. I was frozen with fear and the General was approaching. Looking at the rat’s nest that was once bouncy curls now covered in rotten tomatoes, and the floral garden dress now more dirt than flowers, he began to soften. He asked quietly, “what happened?” With the only weapon left in my arsenal, I began to cry. Thinking me the victim of a vicious attack, he scooped me up and I lived to fight another day…until my mother saw me.
Horrified, she surveyed my knotted curls and filthy, ripped dress. Scrolling down to my knees, she saw the blood and dirt crusting. Despite the scary look on her face, I held up the clean socks and shoes, hoping that this would keep me out of the doghouse. “What on earth?” she yelled. “How can I ever fix you before the parade?” she questioned shaking her head. After the shock wore off, she made a plan for restoring my appearance.
Grabbing my hand, she led me briskly into the bathroom. With surgical precision, she attempted to untangle and fix my curls. “It’s no use,” she sighed “Oh, it’s ruined. All of my hard work on your hair is gone.” Looking down, I shook my head in agreement. “I’m sorry mom,” I mumbled. Because there was little time left, she moved quickly to braid my hair and scrubbed the dirt off my face, arms and legs. Finishing her repairs with Band-Aids on all of my cuts and scrapes. As she tossed the empty Band-Aid box into the trash, she said “honestly you look like a patchwork quilt with all these patches everywhere.”
Reaching into my suitcase to find something clean for me to wear, she grabbed the most patriotic outfit I had left. Holding up my red, white and blue Tutu and matching leotard from our last dance recital, she said exasperated “this will have to do.” Finally clean and bandaged from my battle wounds, I emerged from the bathroom in my Yankee Doodle Dandy costume. Pulling on the socks and my shoes, I joined the rest of the family at the curb waiting for the parade. When the General marched by with the Veterans of World War II, we all stood straight and tall to salute him. In unison we yelled “Happy July 4th Grandpa!”