When I saw the movie Strictly Ballroom for the first time, I was pinned down in my seat by one line. This line, the key line of the movie, was so familiar to me and yet no one had ever actually uttered those words.
I realized this weekend why those words held such meaning for me.
But let me back up. The trip to my hometown was fun. Nate decided to join Sophie and me. He reminded me that we had to listen to XM Bluegrass Junction as we drove through Tennessee and Kentucky. And so we did. Did I ever tell you that my maternal great grandad was a fiddler? That music is part of my heritage so it was not only geographically appropriate, it was also a great segue for talking about my family to Nate while Sophia slept in the backseat. And if we hadn't tuned in, I might never have known that there's a bluegrass version of Fox on the Run.
It was great to see family and friends of my parents who I'd not seen since 1997 or before. I saw my first grade teacher Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Curry who used to babysit me and let me play with her fireplace tools in her pristine living room as long as I promised to leave the poker alone. I saw cousins I hadn't seen in ages and gave unsolicited advice about how to get labor started to the girlfriend of one of them. Come to think of it, I spent a week in Cincinnati in 1982 babysitting that father to be.....
Anyway, the anniversary party was very nice, just as I expected. Quiet, dignified, and a little self-conscious. I come from people who like to have a little fun. Not a whooping loud lot of fun. A little fun. They're skittish about letting people see them cut loose. And by cut loose, I mean drink soda pop, eat a good country buffet meal and sit around a pole shed catching up, telling stories, and laughing. These are not nor have they ever been cocktail partiers or chandelier swingers. They're just regular folks with no pretensions and don't accuse them otherwise. And as per usual, there was no alcohol served. And that's okay. They have their reasons.
My mother is the daughter of an alcoholic who died young. My father claims to have never liked alcohol, but the bigger reason, I suspect, is that he saw drinking and smoking as complete wastes of money and impediments to climbing the socio-economic ladder to the safe middle class.
So I had a root beer with my barbecue, cole slaw and delicious potato casserole. It didn't kill me.
On the way home, Nate and I chatted about what a nice weekend it had been. Now, Nathan was always an observant kid. Even when he was young, he'd pick up on my moods and ask "What's wrong?" So it was no surprise when he noticed the frequent use of a certain phrase during our short stay with my parents.
"Mom, have you noticed that they say 'I would have, but I was afraid' alot?"
I had noticed.
"What are they afraid of?"
It's a good question. I know that I'm more a risk taker than my parents are. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it's a disaster. Most times it's just another moment in my life to be cataloged, categorized, dissected and done with. I can't say for sure what they were afraid of, but I could guess...Fear of failure? Fear of being judged?
It got me to thinking about how we kind of cover our mouths when we laugh. How we worry so damn much what people might think, or worse what people might say about us. That's part of life in a small town, of course, so I don't blame them. They sought and achieved security. They met their goal and they've had a pretty pleasant life. They probably look at MathMan and me and wonder how we manage with the constant uncertainty that underscores our lives. Knowing that family is far away from any potential embarrassment is a large factor in how I manage living in a small town these days. No one really knows us enough to care or gossip about us. And I like it that way.
I thought about that while I drove. Finally I said, "I hate to think about how much of their lives they didn't live because they were afraid."
Nate nodded. "I guess they're happy enough."
It's something I am learning to appreciate, but I wonder....was it best to always hold back? What might life have been like if they laughed out loud more, if they didn't worry so much about what people might think, if they stopped comparing themselves and simply just did what they wanted sometimes.
And you? Do you hold back? Take risks? Somewhere in the middle?