On April Fools’ Day my grandmother and her sisters packed their lunch pails like any other school day. Their mother walked them to the dirt road and kissed them goodbye, but instead of turning left to walk toward school, the girls turned right toward the train tracks. They walked up the tracks a piece until they got to a little marshy pond, a favorite spot of theirs. They lay beside the pond in their school dresses and watched the clouds drift by and giggled at the thought of their classmates sitting at their desks that bright spring morning. They pulled out their lunches and ate them. It was only nine in the morning, but they felt like eating, and it was April Fools’ Day, and who was going to stop them?
They caught some bugs and picked some wildflowers and got mud on their dresses, and then decided to catch the last half of the school day. So they walked back down the train tracks and up the dirt road toward the school. When they passed the house, their mother waved at them from the porch.

When they got to school the teacher said, “Where have you girls been?”

“At the marshy pond,” they said, “beside the railroad tracks.”

“And why were you at the marshy pond?” the teacher asked.

“It’s April Fools’ Day.”

The teacher made the girls stay in from recess for a couple of weeks–a punishment they willingly accepted. From what I understand, this happened more than once. Apparently it was sort of a Dowdy family tradition, to act the fool on April Fools’ Day, and to receive the punishment for that foolishness without complaint or rancor.

I love that picture of my great-grandmother waving to the little truants as they pass back by. Having given them room to try out a little harmless foolishness, she waves them on toward its logical outcome, not intervening on either end, but rather letting her daughters experience the truth that wisdom and foolishness are a matter of choice, and that choices have consequences.

  • Jess
    2:29 PM, 31 March 2011

    Now that’s MY kind of April Fools’ story. 🙂

  • sally apokedak
    5:16 PM, 31 March 2011

    Great story. Your great-grandmother sounds like a wise woman.
    I love stories like this. We’re living in a different world now. Not just the part about the lunch pails and the dirt roads. But the part about the parents being allowed to decide for their children what’s best and teachers being allowed to discipline. I know there really are no good old days, but I still love the stories about the times when life was…harder, yes, but less complicated, too, I think.

  • Patrick
    6:28 PM, 31 March 2011

    Is the world different? I didn’t have a pail. Mine was an aluminum “Happy Day’s” box, till that wore out and I got a plastic Snoopy one, and then an insulated bag. My daughter uses an insulated bag today, but it still holds a close approximation of what I carried as a lunch, and kind of reminds me of the boy with the fish and loaves- fillet-o-fish sandwich? What is different under the sun?
    Us city dwellers don’t encounter many dirt roads, but I know they are still there. I return to the ones I walked in my childhood from time to time. Things there are still the same as far as I can tell. An Amish family lives in my grandparent’s old house- but the environment seems much the same.

    When do parents not have power to decide what is best? Do they know what is best? We choose a private Christian school for our daughter. Some of the participants in this blog have talked about being home schooled. Parents have as much control as they are willing to claim- they have parental choices to make and those choices will have consequences to their family.

    Since when can teachers not give consequences? Today in a public school these girls would probably spend a few days in ISS (in school suspension) and have the number of hours they’ve missed held against their attendance record. Their mother would likely be notified of their defiance, and would likely be requested for a parent teacher conference for each child with the intention that this will cause further consequences at home. No more using paddles at school- I agree with that one. There are better ways to punish, and punishment is still alive and well in schools.

    What I agree has changed in our world- people playing victims and not taking responsibility for their choices and their outcomes. People no longer want to claim the power over their lives that is theirs, because then they can’t blame someone else when it doesn’t go the way they wanted. Government trying to impose parenting on children and family’s because they won’t willingly do it for themselves. But this particular story could still happen today in a family where a parent makes wise choices- and children know they are responsible for their own choices.

  • sally apokedak
    1:09 AM, 2 April 2011

    Glad to see your thoughts on this, Patrick. I’m not sure if some of your questions were directed to me, or if you were just throwing them out and then answering them yourself. I’m not going to answer you here, in any case, because Jonathan doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who enjoys a lot of controversy.
    But I don’t want you thinking I’m ignoring you. I’ve read you comment with interest.

  • Patrick
    2:00 AM, 3 April 2011

    Glad you responded, Sally… sometimes I just respond to things that strike my curiosity or interest. I posted that and then thought “oops! I hope that doesn’t sound rude or offensive”. I appreciate your views and opinions too, Sally, and didn’t mean to counter all your thoughts. I should have clarified. My comment was clearly responding to your comment, and not the blog post directly- but I should have made clear I’m just sharing my thoughts on your thoughts. Jonathan actually seems very open to side discussions in his comments sections- he’s just less likely to chime in if it’s not directed at him. 🙂

  • sally apokedak
    9:35 PM, 4 April 2011

    I’m sure Jonathan is open to side discussions. I enjoy strenuous debate, however, which I’ve learned over the years is not as enjoyable to people who have not been raised in families like mine, where friendly/noisy/lengthy debate was considered the best way to consider opinions, discard some, and take ownership of others.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      5:00 PM, 5 April 2011

      Sally, Patrick, of course you’re welcome to side discussions and even controversy, though I can’t promise I’ll join in–especially over the next few weeks, as I finish up this Flannery O’Connor bio.

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