A city girl puts on country airs - and errs

Like everyone else, I have mind-videos of my life that I enjoy playing over and over - lovely souvenirs of the high points. Then there are the tapes I'd kind of like to erase. Like the time I impressed my boyfriend.

I was a teenager in search of my identity. At least, that's the slant I prefer to put on it. The truth is less pretty: I was a teen seeking to dazzle someone (a goal that has never stood me in good stead).

In this case, since my beau was from a town about twice the size of our own 4,000 population, I settled on a country-girl persona. Never mind that in reality I was a town girl used to sidewalks rather than barnyards, Pekinese rather than piglets.

I seem to recall that I dressed with special care that day, not only wanting to look nice, but to look "country." Time has mercifully blotted the particular outfit from my mind, although I get flashes of gingham and denim, and maybe even (although I hope not) pigtails.

I took my friend on a country walk that fine fall Saturday. We strolled the dusty dirt road next to the canal that snakes alongside town and off into thirsty rice paddies.

I pointed out the stately weeping willows the town was named for, and the miles of golden fields. In the far distance, purple-blue watercolor-painted mountains shimmered through heat waves. The air was heavy with the scent of rice-paddy swamp - but not nearly as heavy as I was with a sense of my own self-importance - as I continued in my role of country expert/tour director.

Even as a teen, I was whole-heartedly enthralled with the insect world. I knew this was extremely uncool - my best friend had warned me repeatedly. But I was scanning the dirt under my feet for fascinating creepy-crawlies when I spied something fantastic. Something colossal. Something so amazing that I stopped dead in the middle of the road, causing my poor pal to walk right into me.

"It's OK," I said quickly to his startled apology. I never took my eyes from my awe-inspiring discovery. "Look." My voice was hushed, reverent.

"What?"

I pointed dramatically. "There." It was a roundish object, roughly the size and shape of a two-layer birthday cake, and a marvelous, rich green.

"There?" he said. And again, "Right there?"

I waxed eloquent, as only someone who is extremely ignorant can do. "It must be a fungus - yes! The biggest, most magnificent toadstool I have ever seen! Maybe it's grown so large because of the humidity from the rice paddies.... Man, oh man. We should call someone. I want to go back and get the camera."

I stood gawking at my treasure in utter delight. Then I turned to Mike, who seemed literally struck speechless.

While I gushed evermore over the gloriousness of my splendid discovery, he squinted from the most incredible toadstool in the world to my face and then back again, frowning, as if he were watching a perplexing tennis match.

And then he said, "Terry."

I turned to him, fully expecting to hear a plan to notify scientists, magazines, and television stations. "I'll stay here and guard it while you go call," I offered.

"Terry."

"What?"

"That's a cow patty."

And that's where my mind-video ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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