The first thing I remember seeing as I walked down the wooden stairs were four pairs of freshly polished boys’ shoes on the floor beside the dining room table. Scruffy leather scraps curved like bananas, toes pointing upward, eager to be filled. From smallest to largest, even the large ones seemed small that day.
It was Easter Morning, and I was six. Mom was too busy that day to cook, so Wheaties, Cheerios, and Rice Krispies were on the menu, with cold milk and sugar as our condiments. Mom beamed as we all had new Easter outfits, a rare treat for the Willoughbys. I don’t recall what older brother Charlie or Sister Gara wore, but I’ll never forget the uniforms of us four brothers. Dave was four, Phil was five, I was six, and John was eight. Lined across the couch were four sets of white shirts, white socks, and light blue shorts held up by dark blue suspenders.
The matching clothes fit our stair-stepped bodies. We were not allowed to touch them until we had all eaten, brushed our teeth, and washed behind our ears. There were no chances to take, these duds were not to be donned until we were ready for the car. Mom’s picture-perfect vision was not to be threatened. To ensure the timely costume change, Charlie and Gara were enlisted to assist. Charlie, the teenager, was clearly aggravated with the task and was assigned to be my valet.
I forgot to mention, we had never worn shorts before, so we were new to exposing our legs in public, let alone church. When Charlie finished attaching my suspenders, he gave an evil smile and pointed to my bare knees. He then uttered the most fearful foreboding my young ears had ever heard.
He looked seriously at my pale legs, shook his head, and exclaimed, “The girls are going to kiss your knees!” My eyes widened in terror. I had been to that church before. There were all kinds of girls there! Big girls, little girls, skinny girls, and fluffy girls.
Long before the Boston Marathon, my imagination pictured me running down the aisle of the church with dozens of long-haired pursuers, screaming for a chance to plant their lips on my knees. I didn’t think I could survive a knee-kissing, so I knew I had to hide. As we all headed for the car, I immediately bolted for the chicken house. Mom, knowing that the chicken house was the most likely place on the farm to soil an Easter suit, screamed in terror.
Mistaking her logic, I thought she had been enlightened to my peril and was encouraging my escape. To my horror, she yelled, “Stop him”. The betrayal I felt, realizing even my mother was part of this heinous crime, was immense. Charlie, realizing he had something to lose if I reached the roost, chased me down, grabbed me around the waist, and dragged me to the car where the rest of the family was waiting, oblivious of the motivation behind my flight.
I fought like a badger, kicking and screaming. If it wasn’t for his eight-year advantage, I’m sure I would have escaped. I was tossed into the back seat and was on the way to my execution by feminine lips. I began to wail, “The girls will kiss my knees!” Dad laughed at the absurd idea, and mom simply quipped, “They will not.”
However, Charlie sat beside me in the car, silently looking at my knees and then my face, shaking his head in pity. At six, I knew my life was over. Barely down the road, Dad tired of my wails and said, “You better dry it up or I’ll give you something to cry about.” The only thing I feared more than a knee-kissing was my dad. I swallowed and looked at my matching brothers, thinking ‘they have no idea of the torture we were all about to endure.’
We arrived at Mount Olivet church in Smithville, Missouri, to the sound of hymns on the piano billowing through the open stained glass windows. As we walked from the gravel parking lot, we passed the church cemetery. The church and cemetery, founded in 1878, showcased headstones worn by time. I wondered how many of those poor souls had succumbed to knee-kissing.
Stepping inside the small country church, which barely had room for a hundred people, I resigned myself to meet my maker. We were slightly late, so we filed our family down the aisle between the pews, starting from the back to the third row from the front. I was surprised my hands hadn’t been tied behind me as I lowered my head, making that death march. I expected to be mobbed by voracious lips at any moment.
We passed girls on the first row, and nothing happened. I thought maybe they hadn’t noticed us. Then we passed the next and the next. To my amazement, the girls didn’t seem to notice the bare knees of the Willoughby boys at all. We found our row, slid in, and crowded together on the hard wooden seats.
As I sat down on the pew, my shorts hiked up, further baring my pink knees. I strained at the hems to pull the material as low as possible, yet I was unable to cover my entire bend. Although I felt safe sitting in the middle of the pew surrounded by siblings, I still covered my knees with my hands in a protective gesture.
As I can share this mostly true story with you, know that all four of us brothers survived that Easter morning without a single peck on the knee. Looking back on that ominous day, all I can say is that God must have sent angels to cover the eyes of the lassies as we passed by. Lord knows we had pretty knees. His mercies never cease.
Rest assured, I understand that my torture that morning was nothing compared to what Jesus endured to offer eternal life to believers and give us Easter. Praise be to God, our deliverer and knee protector!
Read Other Blogs By Andy Below:
- Remembering Our Fallen: The Legacy of Memorial Day
- The Toilet Paper Chronicles: A Grandpa’s Unexpected Battle
- Angels, Easter, and Bare Knees
- Ironing Story
- Man VS Ceiling
- July 26, 2022
Books By Andy Willoughby