I have certain rituals—tiny procedures to tame life, force it to “do right.” Governments topple, wacked-out shooters gun down innocents, and tornadoes swipe subdivisions off the map. But if I just cater to specific steps, my speck of space makes sense. Most of the time, I don’t question the origins of the rites. When I do, I uncover nostalgic wisps.
“You will not sleep well if you don’t wash your feet.” My Grandma DeVane’s warning pops into my mind as I lather a thick washcloth. Had I glanced up fast enough, I might have seen her standing beside me with a bar of Ivory soap (so pure it floats!) in one hand and a thin wet rag in the other.
Suppose parents and grandparents tell children all sorts of well-intended lies for fun, or necessity. Several years passed before I dropped the belief that North Carolina cows had two legs shorter on one side so they wouldn’t topple on a slope.
My dad, the jokester. Small wonder I’m a comedian.
I dropped the notion of an obese, jolly dude delivering presents by five or six when my little friends started to laugh at my gullibility. That whole reindeer, globetrotting deal was a stretch, even for me.
But clean feet equals good sleep must have made sense. I’m sure Grandma took one look at my rawhide soles and thought, “oh, heck no,” especially during the summer when I ran around like a yard dog until darkness and mosquitoes chased me inside.
She could’ve said, “You’ll not put those filthy feet on my white sheets.” Too much like a put-down. We Southerners prefer to cushion criticism when possible—wrap it in sugar, serve it with a smile.
Now, fifty years later, I sit on the vanity stool with the wet washcloth dripping on the tile and think about other things my adults told me. Pretty is as pretty does; A smile is your best make-up; and Can’t, never could.
I feel a rush of gratitude for them, those grown-ups that imparted positive—sometimes funny or bizarre—wisdom. Adults that gave me rituals to tame life.
Too bad the rest of this sleep-deprived world doesn't know this secret. I lather again, wash between my toes, then swipe up and over the ankles.