This time of late summer, of running on dusty trails and cockleburs on our socks, reminds me of a blog I wrote years ago…
My cousins and I rarely wanted to bathe when we were children. We preferred to be covered in soft, powdery dirt from my grandparent’s farm. Of course, my grandmother wouldn’t allow us to climb into a bed with dirty feet; our dusty bodies and mudpie fingernails had to be scrubbed clean before going to bed or going to town. And as my other grandmother says, “You can’t go to town with a dirty butt.”
The day I turned 25, I was supposed to be on a bus headed to Pilsn, Czech Republic. Instead, I sort of chickened out when we couldn’t find the Czech bus line in Amsterdam, but I also spotted an enormous ferriswheel circling above Dam Square. My husband said that I didn’t really try to look for the bus line—”and what about Ondra?” (our Czech friend). He was expecting us.
I wouldn’t be detoured from the ferriswheel. It was my birthday afterall, and I didn’t want to spend it on a bus with a bunch of stinky strangers. “Fine,” said Terry, my husband, “but you have to call Ondra and tell him later tonight.” There was no rush to call Ondra because the bus trip from Amsterdam to Pilsn took at least 24 hours with all of the stops through Belgium and Germany. So, I pushed through the people along the Damrak and led Terry and one of our friends to the ferriswheel. I took photos of the street, the cyclists, the tourists with cameras, the shops, “de weg naar de hemmel” sign that hung from a church and said, “the way to heaven”; opposite the church across Dam Square was one route into the red light district–the city moved as we turned above it.
Later that night, I called Ondra.
“What are you doing, Shana?” he asked irritably.
“I’m on the phone calling you from Zandvoort,” I said nervously, and awaited my scolding. He sighed deeply. I knew that his head was in his hand.
“Okay, so what is the problem?” he asked.
“We couldn’t find the Czech bus line.”
I heard him making the noises of a skeptic, “Hmmm. MmmmMmmm. Hmmm.”
“Okay, Shana, you have to do this. Listen to me, you will buy the ticket tomorrow for two days from now. And tomorrow night, I will call and you will tell me the time that you will arrive in Pilsn. Okay?”
“Okay.” Awkward pause.
“Are you scared, Shana?”
I stammered and said, NO and Yes, and maybe, and I don’t know.
“You take the bus,” he said. “Just come to Czech Republic, Shana. I want to show you my kingdom.”
Kingdom?! This word surprised me. I had to go. I had never been offered a tour of someone’s kingdom. We left the following day, traveled to Pilsn, then to český-Budejovice and met all of Ondra’s wild and crazy friends. They took us to a city that was up and down and down and up like an M.C. Escher etching (český Krumlov) and on to the ruins of a Druid complex in the middle of the Bohemian forest, then to Celtic ruins. We walked on…through fields and forests; we admired the dandelions and mossy boulders, ate food in the homes of strangers to us all, stopped for beers and smokes and laughed when everyone thought we were Czech too, found friends and listened to music, crossed more fields, sat on a crumbling stone wall built by true pagans and thought about being lost. We paused and surveyed a little town.
Finally, I was tired, irritated by a pack of gnats flying around my head and getting stuck in the sweat on my face, in my eyes. I stopped in the middle of a field, “Ondra, when are we going to your parents’ house? I need a bath. Please, can we go there tomorrow?”
He shrugged. “We are young,” he said. “We are supposed to be sexy and stink.”
We did go to his parents’ house the following day. I was given the bathroom with a tub, while the guys each waited for the shower.
It seems that as we age, we are less tolerant of dirt on our bodies, but we need the reminder of late summer canoe trips, of the child’s fondness for tiny roads in the flowerbed mulch, of green stained feet from following the lawnmower’s paths…
Back to school comes too soon, and it’s time to clean up for the classroom–haircuts, new clothes, shoes, the routine.