JEAN of PARK
Yes, as a teenager in the year 1429 Joan of Arc did divinely lead an Army of French grown men to an extraordinary victory in the Hundred Years’ War. But I wonder, if there was no battle to fight, or if she had been born in another century, would we know of her name?
History meant as much to me when I was a teenager as the calculus I never studied. Insignificant a name as it may be, my sister, Jean of Park, in my eyes was every bit as courageous, strong, intelligent, and creative as Joan of Arc. Given the opportunity, I surmise she too could have led an army of French men to victory.
Perhaps you have heard the story of a mother that lifted a 4000 pound car up off the road to save her child; no doubt child’s play for my sister. I can imagine Mt. Everest in all its glory and the first woman about to climb it. My sister would not just climb it, she would move it for an optimal view, and when she was done she would leave it to settle, walking away buffing breathe on her fingernails, wiping them on her shirt sleeve announcing, “That was easy!”
My sister took me places without ever leaving our beds. We went to France, we went to Disney World, we traveled with Santa, and we rode wild horses bare back into the sunset. She was my fearless leader; I was her faithful protege and our bond was as tight as two woven French braids on the same head.
“What happens next?” I would ask.
And she would answer, “Follow me.” And I always did, and so it was meant to be on one momentous Park Fireman’s Day.
In Park, we liked to honor our firemen, and our firemen liked to party like they went to Rome and did it like the Romans. Fireman’s Day would always kick off at 9am on the first Saturday in August with a fanfare parade through Main Street, and would not end till the whole town dropped like hibernating big brown bats 36 hours later on Sunday night. Kids of all ages were invited from 9 months to 90 and although alcohol was a main ingredient, it never seemed to spoil the broth. Kegs were primed, fireworks readied and tubas and trumpets prepped to be blared non stop while hot dog vendors and Good Humor men anticipated lining their pockets.
At 15, two years my senior, Jean of Park had decided she and I were now old enough to last the whole 36 hours. One problem. Our mother begged to differ. Our mother would be one of the few in town not to participate in Park fun, as it seemed happiness and fun were words she kept in her closet unworn.The previous year when we asked if we could stay late, she squashed our desire with a stomp of her ornery left foot. “NO!”
Jean of Park would occasionally call me a baby, or Miss Goodie Two Shoes. Not often, but the night before this particular Fireman’s Day she did when I told her I had asked our mother if we could stay out all night with the big kids.
“Mommy said we can’t stay out past dark this year again, period end of sentence.”
“Why did you ask her permission baby baby stick your head in gravy? Dont worry about it. It doesn’t matter. We are going to stay out all night. Period end of sentence. I’ll come up with a plan.”
Was I worried? No. I was not worried. Jean of Park did the worrying for the both of us.
It wasn’t until late in the day after the festivities were in full swing that I was informed of the plan. J O P took me behind the huge maple at the edge of the town square to give me my orders. It was hard to hear her over the oompah-pah’s nearby, but I grasped the plan and memorized it A-stat.
“Here’s what we are going to do. We will go home before dark, just like Mommy told us to do. We will say good night to her and march right up to bed. You know she is always passed out cold by 9:30. At 9:31 stuff your bed with one of the old comforters in your closet. And then put your Thumbelina doll on your pillow with just the head sticking out.”
I raised my hand above my head as if I was in school with a query. “I see where you are going with this, but are you forgetting something? How are we going to get back out? You know she always deadbolts the door from the inside and keeps the key in her room.”
“Haven’t I told you numerous times to let me finish explaining before you interrupt me? I’ve got it all figured out. Listen up. We are going to climb out the window.”
“But the alarm?”
“There you go again Baby Buttinsky. The alarm is only wired on the downstairs windows.”
“Yeah….and so does that mean we are risking our lives by jumping out of a second story window?”
“Don’t be a jerk. Trust me. Your window connects to the den and the roof up there is flat. I’ll scoot out first, by using a sheet to lower myself and all you have to do is jump. I’ll catch you. We’ll be fine. Got it?”
“Got it.” If J O P said jump, I said how high. In this case, it was how low. In the grand scheme, just semantics.
It might have looked more than crazy if a neighbor looked out their window at 9:32 when I dropped from the roof, but they were all uptown a sheet or two to the wind as my sister effortlessly caught me right after she expediently tossed the get away sheet securely under the Rhododendron.
When we were running back up town full speed ahead, gleefully perspiring, J O P said, ”Giddyup” once or twice and I heard the thunder of the hooves beneath us pounding the pavement. Without a doubt we had the best night of our lives, with clean noses, if the penalty of disobedience was left out of the equation.
About 6:30 am the next morning, I was so tired but having way too much fun to ask my sister how and when we planned to go home. Besides, the plan was not my concern, at least it wasn't until we got caught red handed. As we were diagonally crossing Main with a clustered group of our friends, approaching slowly, like a patrol car was my mother’s 66 Dodge Dart. Of course I was the first one spotted. My sister did a quick Hudini disappearance act by diving behind a bank of garbage cans and then stealthily ran from the scene of the crime.
For an hour while my mother chastised me, she refused to give up circling every surrounding street in the neighborhood until my sister, exhausted, finally surrendered, only because she knew she had to sleep somewhere and she figured it might as well be her own bed.
We were grounded for a month but we didn’t care. While we were in captivity we would just travel to some new exotic place we could see from our beds and laugh conspiratorially about the look we didn’t get to see on our mother’s face when she tried to wake up our dolls.
It could have been worse. At least we weren’t burned at the stake.