Several years ago we had a little boy in the neighborhood who came over to play with my kids quite a bit. He and my youngest son had all kinds of fun digging in the sandbox, splashing in the pool, playing cars and trucks and costume games together. This was a real relief to me, since most of the kids in the neighborhood were tiny toddler girls or surly teens. I wanted to encourage their playtime, so I made sure the Halloween costumes were available for daily use. We had a dinosaur costume, Frankenstein’s monster, princess and ballerina stuff, a bumblebee costume, Superman gear, and a Batman mask and cape. The boys would run up and down the driveway and around the backyard dressed as caped avengers, screaming, firing imaginary lasers and superhero weapons at each other and having a wonderful time. I thought it was just great.
We had moved to this town only a couple of years before, and making friends was hard. Small towns can be very insular, very judgmental, and this small town is no exception. My husband and I had professional acquaintances, but our list of local friends was pretty limited. The same went for our kids to some extent, so having this new kid come over to play was a real blessing.
One afternoon in July, our little neighbor friend was home having a rest after a morning of play over at our house, and I put the kids in the van and headed off to the Wal-Mart. It was hot, the sun was bright, and traffic was moderate. I had the windows open on the van and was driving along, as mothers do, with both eyes on the road, but both ears listening for trouble in the back seats. The kids were unusually quiet. I wondered if they were sick. I checked the rearview mirror quickly and noticed they were grinning at each other and giggling. I thought, “Thank goodness, it’s some kid joke and we’re going to get to Wally World with no screaming or poking.”
When I pulled up to a stoplight, a car honked at me. Since this is the local signal for “Howdy, friend”, I was pleased. I looked around to see if I could spot one of the few people I considered a friend but didn’t have any luck before the light changed. I drove along, kids quiet, breeze blowing through the window, and there was another honk. I thought it couldn’t be for me, I didn’t know THAT many people, and so I ignored it. At the next stoplight, there were two honks. I was starting to wonder – was my tail light out? Was one of my tires going flat? I decided to make sure to make a full circuit of the van once we got parked at Wal-Mart to see if I had some mechanical malfunction going on.
A few minutes later we got to the store, I got the kids out of the car and started around towards the back of the van. The giggling turned into full-blown laughter before I got there, and I had a funny feeling… And there, stuck under my rear window windshield wiper, was the Batman costume. I had driven the entire length of our small town, in blissful ignorance and happy hopes of having friends in traffic, with Batman flapping merrily along behind my van!
I couldn’t really get mad; the whole thing was just too ludicrous. We all had a good belly laugh out there in the parking lot, snorting and hooting and pointing at each other, the kids congratulating each other on a good prank, and then I secured Batman inside the van, and we got our shopping done. As it turned out, the two boys had been playing superheroes and had gotten hot and just hung the costumes on the nearest available things. Superman was at home, hanging on the paint cabinet in the garage.
A couple of years later, one of my youngest’s class assignments was to draw a picture of something funny that had happened in his life, and, you guessed it, it was a picture of a brown van, driving obliviously along with a big, black Bat cape flapping proudly from the rear.