What is it about a secret that makes you want to tell everyone, even a complete stranger? Ever notice the repercussions for telling a secret grows proportionately as we do? Until we get to be adults, that is, but that’s where this story ends.
The beginning is first grade. There all you had to do to keep a secret was pinky swear. It was simple and worked for everyone, except for Ryan. He was born with only one pinky. So he could only pinky swear half as much as the rest of us. For the most part, though, pinky swearing worked just fine in the first grade.
By the time we’d made it to Old Mrs. Crabtree’s third-grade class, if you told a secret, you promised to stick a needle in your eye. By the fourth grade, “and hope to die” was added to that statement.
Who added it, I don’t know, but looking back there was one person in Mrs. Crabtree’s class that should’ve had about 1,000 needles in both eyes.
Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, secrets were hard to come by and even harder to keep. What was the reason? The girl who lived next to Neighbor Thomas that went by the name of Blabbermouth Betsey. Well, she really went by Betsey, but we all nicknamed her Blabbermouth, and for good reason.
If there was a secret held by anyone on Flamingo Street, or in Mrs. Crabtree’s class, you could be sure that soon it would be blabbed by Betsey. Standing 4-feet-8-inches with curly black hair, she was all mouth (Betsey, not Mrs. Crabtree).
I don’t really know how tall Mrs. Crabtree was. She didn’t come out from behind her desk all that often. I guess because she was sick and tired all the time. At least that’s what she said whenever one of us was being dragged to the office by our ear.
That’s back when ear-dragging was an accepted practice for misbehaving students. Give it about three more weeks, and I bet they’ll be at least one teacher out there that’d really love to drag that deserving student to the office — the student whose parents think is such an angel and can do no wrong.
Special note for all you teachers out there: if you do any ear-dragging this school year, you’d better keep it a secret. Ear dragging can get one into really trouble nowadays.
Alas, sometimes the good old days are just that, but I digress. This story isn’t about the fine art of ear-dragging misbehaving students to the office. It’s about trying to keep a secret.
Who stole the coconut from the church’s Hawaiian festival? Just ask Blabbermouth. If Old Mrs. Crabtree gave any of us an “F,” our parents already knew before we got home, thanks to Blabbermouth. If there was a lie, secret, or scandal on Flamingo Street, Betsey somehow knew all about it.
When we reached Briarwood High School, home of the Mighty Buccaneers, Blabbermouth just kept blabbing. In Colonel Baker’s tenth-grade biology class, who opened all of the cages so the frogs could hop down the hallways to freedom? The police investigation really wasn’t even needed. All they needed to do was ask Betsey. I got into big trouble for that one.
Funny, now that we’re all grown-ups and have jobs, things are really different when it comes to keeping secrets. Now you can get into big trouble for not telling secrets.
For example, if you know who paper-jammed the boss’s fancy new copier and don’t tell. Be the first one to put a scratch on the Chief’s new fire truck and not say anything.
And finally, the next time you see those blue lights behind you, and the nice police officer pulls you over and asks have you been drinking, tell him you can’t answer. When asked, why, just say, “It’s a secret.” See what happens.
And no, don’t try to use your one phone call to tell me it’s my fault you’re in jail. I can’t tell you my phone number. It’s a secret.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]