Navigating life through a literal lens

When I was a tyke of 5 or 6, I found a tick on the left side of my chest. I was terrified.  

I had heard that ticks suck your blood, and there sat a tick – right on top of my lifeblood. Surely he was going to drain my heart dry. I was going to die. 

I ran screaming bloody murder (pun not originally intended) all the way up the hill from our house in Rocky Branch, through the trees, searching for Daddy, who was working in our little wooden chicken house. Looking back, I’m sure my screams of “there’s a tick on my heart, and he’s sucking out all my blood” were unintelligible.  

All I know for certain is that, in the end, Daddy’s anger flared. For a few minutes, he, too, probably had thought I was dying, only to learn that his baby merely had a small tick attached to her plump frame. 

Perhaps this was one of the first signs that I’m a literalist. I pretty much expect that what I hear is literally what the speaker means. (Anyone else out there fall into the same category? If so, welcome to my world. Let’s join forces.) 

Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t get jokes or that I can’t engage in and enjoy banter. It’s just that sometimes the literal meaning gets in the way. 

Fast forward to the third grade at Farmerville Elementary. My teacher, Mrs. Albritton, had written an assignment on the board. (Hello out, there third-grade classmates!) She was requesting that we “Read Pagel.” Completely mystified, I asked her for assistance and, rather like Daddy, she became impatient. 

I’m not sure how the meaning finally came to me, but eventually I figured it out. “Page1” was written very close to the edge of the blackboard, and Mrs. Albritton was running out of room. So she squashed everything together, virtually omitting the space. She had wanted us to read “Page 1.” How was I, the literalist, supposed to know that? 

Fast forward again, to early adulthood when I joined the church softball team. Mind you, I didn’t even know which hand to put the glove on. But I liked to win, and I was a people-pleaser. Combine those traits with those of my coach, who was a weight-lifter, physical education professor and fierce competitor, and interesting things were bound to happen. 

One day he tried a new drill, something I’m sure was designed to help push us to the next level of greatness. I mean, he did eventually lead us to the championship of Ruston’s church league.  

That particular day, as we marched toward the title, he asked each of us to run toward him as fast as we could while he guarded home plate – and to use our shoulder as we plowed into him. I’m sure visions of being called safe danced through my unsuspecting head. Today, glancing through the mist of history, I can see why my team members let me go first. I took Coach Jackson at his word and hurled myself forward. 

The crash was probably heard in Grambling. I bounced off him like a big, fleshy basketball, my glasses rocketing through the air and landing several yards away. This time, though, it was Sallie Rose’s anger that flared (like father, like daughter). I couldn’t believe Coach had asked me to do something so perilous. I also remember that none of the other young women who literally followed in my footsteps took him literally. 

So I must advise: Be careful what you tell me. I just might believe it.

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