When I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of it. Not that I needed or wanted much. I was more than content to be tied to Momma’s apron strings–in fact, she’d have cut me loose a lot sooner if I had let her. Daddy always said he’d spend his old-age rocking on my front porch. My world revolved around home and church and grandparents and school. Everything except school was within a five mile radius.
When I was 13, my sister extended that radius by beginning her freshman year of college. She went to a small, private Christian university in Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery is, by far, not the LARGEST state capitol, but it was much larger than where we grew up. It was also very, very far away. I remember going with Momma to see Sissy that spring–there was a variety show of sorts in which my sister played a can of Spam–and our first night there she and her friends decided to take us “flying.”
This little university had a curfew (as did the one I attended). The decision to go “flying” was made somewhat close to curfew, none-the-less, we all crammed into a car (I remember being on someone’s lap) and headed to downtown Montgomery. It was late by my standards, probably 9:30/10:00–early spring–cold–wind was blowing. We parked near the capitol on one of the wide, well-lit, empty streets then took full advantage of them. I remember running willy-nilly with my big sister and her friends–comporting myself in a manner I’d here-to-fore never been allowed to behave in public. And no one was telling me to stop. Not even Momma. In fact, I was being ENCOURAGED to do so. This madcap hilarity was the standard–the norm–and I was not only included but welcomed.
We dashed up the steps of the capitol building where I stood on the exact spot Jefferson Davis became the one and only President of the Confederacy. I peered through the locked doors of the rotunda vestibule and saw the well-worn steps of the then 132 year old antebellum staircases. Even at the tender age of 13, I distinctly remember thinking about how many shoes had gone up and down those stairs to wear them so, and that many of those shoes had been on the feet of famous (and I now know infamous) people.
Secondary to the capitol building, however, was the opportunity to “fly.” A few blocks over, there were some square pillars encased in mirrors, so that if you stood with the corner of the pillar in the center of your body then raised one arm and one leg, it appeared to those who were watching just like you were flapping your wings and flying. It was hilarious to watch. Everyone–even Momma–had a turn. Then we crammed back into the car and high-tailed it back to campus to make curfew. We may or may not have stopped at Hardees on the way.
On that ride back to the dorm I experienced something for the first time in my young, small, sheltered life. More than the hilarity of the situation, more than the overwhelming thoughts of history I had knocking around in my brain, more than the amazement that my sister was ALLOWING me to go somewhere with her, more than the feeling of being included by her friends, more than the fact that my mother was letting me stay out THIS LATE in a town THIS BIG and was also WITH US (she was, at the time, one year older than I am now), more than any of that was the overwhelming sense of freedom.
It was wreckless abandon. It was heady and intoxicating and on the very verge of chaotic. Never mind that there was an adult mother with us who was closely monitoring the situation (I was in shock and awe that she had not turned us around and sent us back to the dorm). To me it seemed as though all caution had been thrown to the gusty spring winds of downtown Montgomery, and I thrilled in it.
I remember the cold. I remember the dark. I remember the cramped car. I remember the song that was on the radio (Always Something There to Remind Me by Naked Eyes). I remember the unfamiliar scent of the dorm room and the feel of someone else’s sheets on my face when I climbed into bed that night. But what I remember most was that being my first taste of what was in store. It was the first time I saw that there was a bigger world out there–one that was ripe with possibility just for me.
It was my introduction to radical freedom.
And it was just like flying.