My mother never throws anything out. She still has the same pair of red rubber flip flops she wore in Far Rockaway 49 years ago when a policeman stopped her on the street and told her to go home and get dressed.
“I am dressed,” she said, meaning her red flip flops, a two-piece bathing suit, her ponytail clip and her Hunter College class ring.
“Go home and put on something decent, lady,” the policeman said, going off in the direction of the boardwalk, his nightstick whacking against his thigh.
We had been headed back to our little rented-for-the-month bungalow, but now we were frozen in place and couldn't take another step. My mother reached for my hand and squeezed it tightly, her long fingernails digging into my palm.“Shit-shit-shitsky” she said, under her breath.
I never heard my mother curse before. I didn't think she even knew the word "shit." I laughed. Then she laughed, too. We both stood there in front of the bargain store, convulsed with laughter.
My mother said it again, a little bit louder this time. “Shit-shit-shitsky.” I couldn't believe it. Mom was cursing and no one threatened to wash her mouth out with soap. Not even the policeman.
We were gasping now, from laughter, and maybe also from shock. A policeman had just spoken in a way that made it very clear he was not our friend.
We went home then, running almost, my mother’s red rubber flip flops smacking against the baked sidewalk, my own leather sandals pumping hard to keep up.
When we reached the screen door of the bungalow she said, “Don’t tell Daddy.”
And I never did. I never told anybody. It’s our secret, my mother’s and mine.
No one else will ever know.