The Day a Raggedy Dirty Pair of Underpants came Flying through the Window
Fiction by Joe Henderson © 2015
The day a raggedy pair of old dirty underpants came flying through the window. This was back in the days when not everyone had screens, or the screens were missing for some reason. An era when, if the weather was hot and everyone’s windows were open, things from outside regularly flew inside: bugs, birds, hats, smells, small children, unwanted commentary on one’s lawn, home or wife; basically just a whole range of things you really didn’t want to experience.
One day we were sitting in grandma and grandpa’s parlor, fanning ourselves and saying things like, “It sure is hot, ain’t it?” and, “Sure is, but not as hot as that one August—1951, wasn’t it?” and so on, when we heard a peculiar sound, like an inner tube deflating. It was coming from outside.
“What on earth is that?” said grandma.
“I don’t know,” answered Aunt Effie. Then all of a sudden something came sailing through the window and landed with a plop on the floor, right in the middle of the room. Everyone jumped as if they’d gotten a shock.
“What in Sam Hill is that thing?” said grandpa.
“Don’t know,” said Uncle Ern, “but I don’t like the looks of it.”
“See what it is, grandpa,” said grandma.
“You see what it is,” replied grandpa, “You’re closer!”
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” said my mom. “Bob, get up and take a look at that thing—I’d do it but Joe’s on my lap.”
My dad grunted and pulled himself up off the sofa. Bending over the thing that landed on the floor, my dad peered down for a moment, kicked it with the toe of his shoe and shrugged.
“Looks like a pair of underpants,” he mumbled, and headed back to the sofa. This sent another shock through everyone present.
“Yes, underpants,” repeated my dad, settling back in. My sister laughed, and taking my cue from her, so did I. The word “underpants” was hilarious to us kids, one of those not-quite-dirty words that were on the list of words that you could say to make other kids laugh without getting in too much trouble. But the older people didn’t think it was funny at all. They were scandalized.
“Underpants?!” said Aunt Effie and Aunt Ina at the same time. “Why, I never!”
“Are you sure?” said my mom, pushing me onto the arm of the overstuffed chair she and I were sharing.
“I’m as sure as I can be without actually touching them,” muttered my dad, “And a very dirty, raggedy pair, too,” he added, scrunching up his nose.
“Let me see,” said my mom, sliding out the rest of the way so she, too, could have a look.
“My land!” mom cried out, “It is underpants—Bob, get those things out of here!”
“What?! They’re not mine, I don’t want to touch ’em!”
“Oh, here! Get me a stick or something,” said grandpa to grandma testily, “I’ll get ’em out of here.”
“A stick?” replied grandma, “Where am I gonna get a stick? You get a stick.” Grandpa muttered something not quite below the level of hearing and shambled off to the kitchen.
Meanwhile Uncle Ern got up and went to the window. “Now, who would throw a pair of underpants into somebody’s house?” he said, peering outside. “Something funny’s going on around here.”
“Yes, something funny,” agreed the chorus of aunts who nodded their heads solemnly, and my sister and I laughed again.
“Do you think somebody’s trying to tell us something?” Grandma asked worriedly.
“If they are, what is it they’re trying to tell us? That we’re slobs?” asked Uncle Ern.
“Well, if they are, it’s a very peculiar way to pass judgement on someone.”
“Elon! Did you mow the yard?!” hollered grandma to grandpa, who was still out in the kitchen. He said something from the far end of the house but we couldn’t make it out.
“Go out and see if that trash can’s covered up, too!” Grandma added, then she leaned over to Aunt Ina. “Last week Miss Ollie said to me in that icky sweet voice of hers that she ‘just loved it when all the bushes and yards in the neighborhood were kept nicely trimmed,’ that’s how she talks, you know, she says things in a roundabout way. Then she added, ‘and somebody’s been stealin’ my tomaters again—why do you think they’re doing that?’ I had the feeling she was blaming me for it somehow,” said grandma, looking at the window. Miss Ollie ran a boarding house next door to grandma and grandpa’s house, and her thick layer of rouge and eye makeup was a regular source of merriment for us.
“What are you trying to say, Tressie?” said Uncle Ern, “That these here are Miss Ollie’s underpants?”
“Land no! I’m – I don’t exactly know what I’m saying.”
“Well, I think I know,” said Uncle Ern. “That’s what happens when you gossip. It gets back to the party you’re gossipin’ about. Now look what’s happened,” he said pointing to the underpants.
“Do you honestly believe that Miss Ollie would stand out there and fling a pair of her underpants through our window?” asked grandma.
“No!” said Uncle Ern, “I’m saying one of her roomers, that family with all those kids heard Miss Ollie gossiping about us, saying the yard looks bad, the gutters are falling down, the shingles are coming off, the—”
“Okay, Ern!” said grandma. “That’s enough! You know Elon can’t get up on the ladder anymore and fix that stuff!”
“Yes, I know, but ‘Little pitchers got big ears,’ and they’re hearing the old folks over there gossiping about you, and then the kids go out and hook a pair of panties off the line, and the next thing you know, they’re sailing into your house!”
“But why in the world would they do that?”
“If their folks say disrespectful things about their neighbors, and the kids hear it, they’ve learned to disrespect the neighbors from their parents, and act out on it.”
Everyone looked at my sister and me. Sometimes we played with those kids, but not very much; they were sort of mean.
My sister said “Don’t look at me! I wouldn’t dare touch her old underpants!” Which made me laugh again.
Grandma said, “Of course you wouldn’t, honey, but . . .” My mom jumped in. “Grandma’s trying to say we know you and Joey wouldn’t do anything like that–you couldn’t have done it, anyway, you were sitting right here. But in the future, we just don’t want to have things we say in private repeated.”
My sister started to object, but right then grandpa came in the parlor with a garden hoe. He scooped the offending pair of panties up with it and swung them around, making everyone duck, and hoisting them high in the air like a fish he’d caught, trotted them off to the garbage can, muttering and growling all the way.
* * * *
A couple of days later, grandma was hanging laundry in the back yard. “Yoo hoo, Tressie!” Miss Ollie called to my grandma from across the hedge. “Did you happen to see anyone hanging around my backyard the day before yesterday? A pair of my good underwear disappeared off the line . . .”