It was June, 1967 and I was eight years old.
Earlier that year, my parents decided to break free of the shackles of abject middle classdom and create nothing short of a castle for themselves and their children.
So, on a hill in the little traveled part of the small South Central Texas berg we called home–on land owned by maternal grandfather (and given to us gratis) , Mother and Daddy built a five bedroom monstrosity–replete with gables, a billiard room, a foyer with a 22 foot ceiling, a multi-car garage, an intercom system…and all the other 60’s era trappings that would tell the slack-jawed yokels who’d come to gawk, that the Kendrick’s had in fact, “arrived”.
This home was my mother’s self described “dream home” and in the first half of ’67, she and my father made frequent trips to an architect in San Antonio to fine tune the blueprints. On this particular day, they were going back to the architect to resolve a kitchen issue and would be leaving the minute Daddy got back from a breakfast meeting.
School had only been out for summer break a few days and I’d already gotten in trouble and getting grounded was my punishment. I can’t even remember the infraction, but I was forbidden to leave the house, nor could I invite anyone over. This included a moratorium on playing with Fran, a lifelong friend who was a year younger and lived next door.
My oldest sister, Kathy–in all her 14 year old authority– would serve as warden and baby-sitter that day.
My father finally drove up into the garage and started honking the car horn, which was code for “wife, get out here and let’s leave”. Out the door went Mater with a final warning, reminding me that I was NOT to step foot out of the house, nor could anyone come over to play.
“Yes..yes. Have a safe trip. We’ll see you both when you get back from San Antonio this afternoon. Bring us back a surprise”.
And off they drove.
I went to the den and flipped on the TV. Three channels and nothing was on. I’d read every book. Every “Highlights Magazine” hidden picture had been found. There wasn’t anything to do.
The phone rang. It was Fran.
“Hey Laur, watcha doin’?”
“Nuthin’. I’m really bored. Watchu doin”?
“Nuthin’, I’m bored too. Wanna meet in the alley and play? Or climb trees in Dr. Buck’s back lot?”
“Nah, I can’t. Mom and Dad left for San Antonio and I’m grounded and can’t play outside or anything”.
“Then can I come over? Then maybe we can make Brownies in your Easy-Bake oven! Or maybe we could make some Incredible Edibles?”
“Sounds fun Fran, but Kathy is baby-sitting me and I’m not supposed to have anyone over”.
“Well, make a deal with her!”
“OK, hold on. Let me think of something”.
Just as I put my hand over the receiver and yelled “Kathy???” she walked in the room and firmly said “No!”
“But I haven’t asked you anything yet!”
“It doesn’t matter, the answer is still no”.
She plopped down in a chair and started reading a magazine. She was thumbing through a story about the fab/gear countenance of The Beatles.
“Fran, she said no. I guess we can’t play today”.
“Come on, Laurie, she’s a teenager. Can’t you convince her? Do something. Try blackmail!”
I thought for a minute.
” Kathy, remember a few weeks ago when you had that mark on your neck?”
She put her magazine down and looked at me with an eyebrow slightly raised. “Yeah, it was from an accident in Science class…so what?”
“Yeah uh-huh, I know that’s what you told Mom and Dad, but since when are Tommy Bronwin’s lips considered “science class”?
“What are you talking about?”
“It was a hickey and NOT a mark caused by getting too close to the Bunsen Burner at school, Kathy. I overheard you and Wanda on the phone. You were talking about making out with Tommy”.
Kathy looked angry. She slammed the magazine down right on Ringo face.
“OK, what do you want in exchange for your silence?”
“I won’t tell Mom and Dad about the hickey, if you let Fran come over and play.”
“OK, but she has to leave before they get back which should be around four this afternoon. If she comes over now, that leaves you guys a few hours to play. So, we have a deal, right?”
“Right”. I picked up the receiver once again. “OK, come on over.”
We hung up and Fran rang the front doorbell in a matter of minutes.
We immediately went to my room to play with my Little Kiddles and their self contained dollhouse. Fran and I marveled that my dolls had been out of their plastic perfumed bottles for weeks and still smelled like strawberry, lilacs and one scent we couldn’t identify.
When we tired of Kiddling, we moved on to “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots”. Fran knocked my block off. Then, we switched to playing “Operation”. Just as I was about to remove the appropriately shaped “wrenched ankle”, Fran said she was thirsty.
She followed me to the kitchen where in the fridge, there was an ice cold pitcher of “Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry”, the newest flavor in the “Funny Face” cavalcade of powdered drinks. Just as I was pouring her a glass, I heard Kathy scream.
“They’re back! Oh no! Mom and Dad are back early. I just heard the car pull up in the drive way. Get rid of Fran! Get rid of Fran!!! If they find her here, we’ll both be grounded for life and I’ve got another Bunsen Burner session planned with Tommy Bronwin this weekend!”
Kathy was in a panic.
I wasn’t. I would calmly take Fran out the front door….but wait!!!! Was this possible??? Mom was coming through that door. Damn! She’d gone around the front to get the mail. My father was entering through the back door. We were being tag teamed! All escape routes were blocked. There was only one thing to do:
I had to hide Fran and the only place I could think of : the built-in clothes hamper in my parents’ bathroom.
Why there? I don’t know. It seemed like the perfect place; the ONLY place to hide her at the time.
I shoved Fran inside and closed the small, double doors just as my father was entering the bathroom. He told me in no uncertain terms to “get the hell out” and shut the door behind me. Something was obviously wrong. He didn’t look well.
I went into the kitchen just as mother was putting the mail on the table.
“What’s wrong with Daddy?”
“Oh, he had Mexican food at his breakfast meeting this morning and you know what it does to his stomach. We had to make three emergency bathroom stops on the way to San Antonio before we decided to turn around and come back home”.
Just then, I heard the bathroom fan power up. Uh-oh. Either he was firing up the hibachi or this was a doodoo situation of massive proportions.
I sat at the table with my mom as she sorted through the mail. I tried to figure out what to do. Fran was trapped in that cramped clothes hamper in a hot, tiny bathroom with my father, apparently in full intestinal distress.
What should I do? Was Fran OK?
Five minutes went by and suddenly, the whole ridiculous reality of what was happening struck me as funny and I started giggling. Mother asked me why I was laughing and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. I knew I’d be grounded until I was fifteen, but I had to do something because I started worrying about Fran’s mental and physical health.
Just then, the door of the bathroom opened and my father walked out and announced that he was feeling better and that he was going back to the office to get some work done. As he left the house, I told Mom to follow me into the bathroom.
She was muttering something about me having a “death wish” for forcing her to enter the bathroom. When we got to the door, “it” hit us. The atmosphere was–for lack of a better adjective–“thick”. It was horribly, HORRIBLY obvious that the Mexican food breakfast my father had eaten earlier, had retaliated in a most egregious way. It’s exit from its tubular prison in my father’s lower G.I. must’ve been loud, explosive and extremely painful experience for my father….. and for Fran.
I opened the hamper doors and peered inside.
There she was; silent, motionless. She was huddled in a semi-fetal position, in the far corner of the hamper. Her face was pressed against the wall. She turned to look at me, her eyes squinting in the bathroom light. She looked dazed, she was sweating profusely and her face was pale with a greenish hue. Although they were dirty, the poor kid stuck two of my father’s black Gold Toe dress socks in each nostril, apparently in an attempt to thwart the stench. She was clenching one of my mother’s bras.
I helped her out, pulling off soiled underwear and dirty shirts which had stuck to her sweat-soaked clothing. I gently removed the socks from her nose. Automatic reflex and I guess, survival mode took over–she fought me on it.
Mother lit matches and waived them around the room. Futile effort—they weren’t helping. The odor was horrible.
Garbage scowl bad.
Bayonne, New Jersey in August bad.
“Laurel Anne Kendrick”, my mother said in between gagging fits. “Would you care to explain why Fran is semi-conscious and lying in a pile of dirty clothes in the hamper in my bathroom while your father was making stinkies?”
I replied, “Not now Mom. Help me with Fran”.
The petite seven-year-old was shaking. Her strawberry blond hair was matted and damp. Mother and I grabbed each arm and we walked her into the kitchen, away from the “hot zone”. She was wobbly.
Fran sat down at the table and was trying to speak. The only thing intelligible was the word “water”. Mother poured her a glass and I asked her if she was OK.
She gulped down two full glasses before finally being able to say, “I’m fine”. She then took a deep breath, let it out through her mouth, then looked at mother and me. “But I think the bigger question is how’s your father? I’m just a kid, but I’d say he’s pretty sick.”
We let Fran sit for a minute to compose, we then walked her to the front door and I apologized. She said that I should forget about it, but the experience had allowed her to rule out nursing as a possible career.
She then rubbed the back of her head and retrieved a sock that had been hiding there. She handed it to Mom.
I closed the door behind her and felt my mother’s glare on my back. I turned around slowly. She was standing there, hands on hips and then she uttered the infamous one-word sentence that mother’s utter, “Explain!”
I told her what happened and instead of getting yelled at, she started laughing. She immediately went to the phone and called my father at his office and told him that he wasn’t alone in the bathroom.
Well, as expected, I was grounded for an additional month and lectured about the importance of privacy. My sister, Kathy was placed on house arrest for two weeks for her complicity in “the bathroom affair”.
My parents eventually got new house blue prints made to their exact specs and within a year, we moved into Casa Kendrick. As time went by, we never talked about “Potty Gate” very often, but for a while there, Daddy instantly checked every cabinet large enough to contain a small child in every bathroom he entered, public or private.
Oh yeah…one more thing I should mention: the new house had four bathrooms and not one of them had a clothes hamper…..built in or otherwise.