The Red Panty Distraction of 1978

Aunt Kathie -- May 1, 1989

Aunt Kathie — May 1, 1989

When I was a kid, I spent my summers on a farm in Lead Hill, Arkansas  with my Mawmaw, Bob, Kathie, and often my great-grandmother, Mamaw Wines.  During this period of my life, Kathie was one of my best friends.  Kathie is my mother’s younger sister and is developmentally and physically disabled.  This picture was before she was really physically disabled and about eleven years after the story I am about to tell you.

Kathie and I used to fight a lot.  Especially at Walmart.  When I was visiting the farm in Lead Hill during the summers, Walmart was the only game in town.  Unless, of course, you count Magic Mart.  No Sanger Harris (aka Foleys aka Macys) — no Sears — not even the small-town staple, Montgomery Ward.

When I was nine and Kathie was close to 30, the only thing on both of our minds when heading to Walmart was, “I have to get to the cart before Kathie/Terry.”   I honestly do not think either one of us contemplated another single thought on the twenty mile ride into Harrison (the nearest “town”).

This one particular Walmart visit is most memorable.  In fact, anyone who happened to be in Walmart that day probably remembers it as well.

On this day, I had succeed in getting the cart.  I know you’re thinking I always succeeded, being the able bodied nine year old, but Kathie was not always physically disabled.  When it came to getting her hands on a cart, she could really bust a move.  There was definitely strategy involved.  I had to distract her, while remembering not to distract myself.  This was not easy to do at nine.  In fact it’s not really easy for me at 41, either.

Once the cart was fully in my grasp, Kathie sulked.  But to know Kathie, is to know that she never gives up and never forgets.  Not ever.  Even now, my Mom has to remember not to tell her she is going to do something because Kathie will hold her feet to the fire.  She focuses on whatever it is without abandon.  I always thought Kathie would have been good at pushing the button on Lost.

I was easily sidetracked by Donny and Marie dolls, Easy Bake Ovens and the Lemon Twist.  I don’t know if they still have this thing, but when I was a kid there was a contraption you put on your ankle and it had a lemon on the end of it.  You spun it around one ankle and jumped over it with the other leg.

As I pushed the cart through the toy section, I saw a Lemon Twist lying on the shelf, out of its packaging.  Without giving my pushing duties a second thought I ran over to it, picked it up and started lemon-twisting in the store.  A part of me did this sort of thing just to irritate adults.  (When I was older I would juggle oranges behind my mother in the grocery store begging for Apple Jacks.)

My grandmother was fun to irritate because she would start making these noises at me like she was trying to herd cattle.  Unfortunately, it’s going to be lost on you in this format — but it sounded like, “Get heow, heow.  I’m gonna see red.  Heow.  Heow.”  I would keep lemon-twisting and stare at her, laughing.  Then she would “Heow. Heow. I’m seeing red right now, Tige,” even louder.

Other Walmart shoppers would stop and stare (which, I know is saying something).  She never noticed.

As I was lemon-twisting my heart out and Mawmaw was trying to herd me into submission, I saw her out of the corner of my eye.  Kathie was standing there with the cart, triumphantly beaming from ear to ear.  My antics came to an abrupt halt and cart stealing strategy commenced.

Kathie loved a lot of things — nail polish, Mickey Mouse, earrings, dresses Mawmaw would never let her wear and red panties.  I have no idea why.  Being nine, and somewhat obsessed with Mad Libs  and underwear humor myself, I decided the Red Panty Distraction of 1978 was in order.

I was calmly walking by Kathie pretending not to care that she had the cart, and then the moment came  — we were passing the Walmart ladies underwear section.  I saw them hanging there and I took my chance.

“Kathie, look at the pretty red panties,” I said.

She beamed.  I had found her lemon twist.  In an instant her hands let go of the cart and she ran towards the panties.

I grabbed the cart and took off into a clothing section so I could hide.

Kathie pulled the red panties off the rack.  Kathie never pulled a pair of panties from the rack even remotely  close to her size.  She would always come flying across the store with the largest pair of red panties she could find.  It was, in a word, hilarious.

On this day the panties were very large and very lacy.

As she waves them in Mawmaw’s face my grandmother quips, “Kathie, put those back, you’re not a hippopotamus!”

And Kathie replied, “You just don’t know!  You don’t know, Mother!”

I stood there with the cart, smiling.

Kathie decided she was going to put the red panties in the cart anyway.  She looked around for her cart and spotted me holding it.   I am sure I stuck my tongue out at her, as I often did. She came running, red panties flying and chased me into the clothes.

Kathie was not as conniving as I was so she just chased me.  She was mad like a hornet.

After several minutes of being outmaneuvered by a nine year old she stopped and said it.  She said it so loud all of Walmart could hear it.  She might as well have said it over the loudspeaker.

“Give me the cart, Terry!  You’re a shitass! A shitass!”

Never give a nine year old an open invitation to start screaming shitass in a Walmart.  It can never end well.

I looked at her laughing, “No, you’re a shitass! You shitass! Kathie is a shitass! A SHITASS!!” I repeated the word over and over again.   Loudly.  Kathie did the same.

People stared.

Mawmaw heard the commotion, and for once, I think she experienced true embarrassment.  My grandmother said a lot of things when she was angry, but I never heard her utter a curse word of any sort.  In this moment she was mad.  A calm, scary sort of mad.  There was no cattle calling after us.  There was a steely silence as she came over and walloped us both gently across the rear end to calm us down and let us know she meant business (back when you could do that without being arrested). We calmed down.  She took the cart.

She told me years later she thought it was funny, but I saw no sign of laughter from her that day.

She separated us and we were not allowed to speak to each other for rest of the shopping trip.

We were not allowed to push any carts.

And we certainly were not allowed to scream shitass at each other across a store.

We never called each other shitass again.

But, Kathie still loves red panties and I would like a Lemon Twist for Christmas.

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