Growing up in Pleasant Hill, Alabama, had some unique pleasures.
One of my favorite games when we were children was hide-and-seek. My favorite place to hide was near the top of a tall yellow pine at the edge of the yard. I wore dark clothes and if I positioned myself correctly, no one could see me thirty feet above them. Of course, no one ever expected me to be that high off the ground. With a nice warm breeze, there were times when I simply didn’t want to be found and waited an hour after they had given up to eventually come down. It was a peaceful place to hide, and I could see most of the fields and houses across the road from this vantage point.
When my brother and sister came to visit during the summers, we usually paired off and played games. My brother, David, and I would explore the woods sometimes or read comics while my sisters, Gina and Tina, did similar activities.
On this occasion, I suppose I should add that this wasn’t an active game of hide-and-seek, as my brother and I were hiding from our sisters without their knowledge, so they weren’t actually looking for us. At that age, boys tend to hide from their sisters anyway and vice versa.
My mother had an old 3-speed bike that she never rode. I didn’t know how to ride a bike then, so my brother pedaled the bike standing while I tried to sit on the seat. However, for me, that never worked too well, and I ended up walking along beside him.
The old dirt road behind our house separated a pasture from the woods. It had a moderately sloped hill right before we lost sight of the house. My brother and I decided to go down the road. We usually stopped at an area in the road where a horrible mud puddle of slick red clay pooled. With thick honeysuckle and blackberries on both sides of the spot, we couldn’t get around the mud hole too easily. And if we ever returned home with red mud on our shoes or clothes, we got into trouble.
So, after reaching this spot, we decided to head back to the house. When we were near the top of the hill, the echo of our sisters talking clued us of where they were, and that they were walking directly toward us.
My brother motioned toward a path to the side of the road that was sparse with trees. We hurried to the hillside, which was only about twenty feet away from the road. A pine branch hung down in front of where we stood, but it was not wide enough and didn’t have enough needles to prevent them from seeing us. For cover, it was no different than standing behind a narrow clothesline pole. We were exposed, but David told me that if we went any farther into the woods, our feet would crunch the leaves and give away our position. So, we crouched behind the branch and the bicycle.
Our sisters continued talking as they walked up the road. Oddly, right as they walked past where we stood, they both looked directly at us. I was certain they’d seen us, but no recognition registered in their glances. They kept talking and walking. We waited until they were out of sight before we rose.
I said, “How did they not see us or the bicycle?”
He shook his head.
He told me that he wanted to get back to the house before they did, but to do so, we’d have to cut through the woods with the bike. He was older and stronger, so he carried the bike. We followed our dogs’ trail through the trees. The dogs had paths they used a lot when they wandered off in the mornings and at night. Those paths we also used, since they were worn down.
However, the path we were on took a different direction than we had hoped and if we chose to follow it, we’d go deeper into the woods and not toward the house. Leaving the path, though, was not easy. Thick rows of green briars stood like hedges. We used the bike to push our way through. But the sharp briars were unavoidable and cut through our jeans into our legs. I was no longer in a hurry to get to the house before our sisters.
We continued for a few more yards and after we passed through, we had a clearer path. However, by this time, our sisters were also heading back toward the house on the dirt road. Any movements across the dead leaves was certain to alert them, but what could we do?
I followed as my brother ran three or four steps carrying the bike, and then he’d stop. He figured if we took quick, choppy steps we’d sound more like an animal and draw less suspicion. The summer canopy kept us covered in shadow, and when our sisters heard our stomping through the leaves, their interest turned toward us.
“What’s that in the woods?” Gina said.
“I don’t know.”
They mentioned several things. One was “it might be the dogs.”
“No, the dogs are with us,” the other said.
David took several more steps, and I followed. Then we crouched low and waited.
“Whatever it was,” one of them said, “it has yellow legs.”
They ran toward the house. Eventually, we got home and acted none the wiser when they told us about the ‘wild animal’ running in the woods.
Even to this day, I find it unusual that they had both looked right at us while we stood right in the open, and they simply didn’t see us. And that’s not the only time such a thing has occurred when I played hide-and-seek. I once hid on my hands and knees behind an upright paper bag in plain sight and the person looking for me had walked right past me.
Who knows? Maybe I can really wish myself invisible, eh?