We never looked at our mom the same way after she streaked.
My sisters and I were having a conversation at lunch one February weekend about streakers at our high school. In the early 1970s, occasional streakers darted through our high school cafeteria. We wondered whether the trend would escalate as the weather got warmer in the spring.
“I’d like to try it,” Mom interjected into the conversation.
We looked at her, stunned. She did not even appear embarrassed by our chatter about social bedlam reigning at our rural Minnesota public school.
“You would not,” I said frowning. I was known by my sisters for being a bit of a prude.
“You’re joking,” challenged Kate, the middle child.
“I’m not joking.” Mom looked up from the sink and turned to face her three young teenage daughters.
“You’d never do that,” gasped Maria, the youngest.
“Dare me.” Mom retorted. She stood before us, drying her hands of dishwater with a towel, an imperious look in her eye.
“I DARE YOU!” shouted Maria, an impulsive redhead.
I kicked Maria under the kitchen table. Mom was serious, her body arched toward us like a housecat ready to leap from her perch on the windowsill.
Mom left the kitchen abruptly and began peeling off her clothes at the back door.
“No!” Kate cried. “No, Mom! Don’t.”
“Is she really going to do it?” Maria whispered in wonder.
“Mom, really!” I tried to sound calm. Had she really flipped this time—driven to distraction by three adolescent girls and overwork?
Mom threw open the back door and took off. Her three daughters crowded around the kitchen window to watch her run down the sidewalk between the house and our single car garage. She was not wearing a ski mask.
“Oh my God!” screamed Kate. “I am so embarrassed.”
“I can’t believe she’d do that to us,” Maria moaned.
“Look at her.” I tried to hide an edge of awe in my voice.
“What if someone sees her?” wailed Maria.
We had no real neighbors, except commercial businesses, and it was a Saturday. But a sighting of our naked mother was not out of the question. She was in full view of Dad and his employees down the hill at the flax fiber manufacturing plant.
Mom was a slender woman with dark blonde hair and fair skin. She worked hard and stayed active. But she ran awkwardly without clothes on, taking small, choppy steps on the freezing cold sidewalk in her bare feet. Her face bore a determined look, as though she were resolving a complex crossword puzzle. Her naked body looked vulnerable. Her belly and bottom were rounded, her breasts tiny, and her arms and legs, long and bony.
It took forever, but eventually, Mom stepped back inside the house to a litany of recriminations. She dressed in silence into blue jeans and a sweatshirt, socks and sneakers. I wanted to congratulate her. I figured it was a defining moment for her, though I wasn’t sure why she wanted to define it with public nudity.
“You have scarred me for life, Mom. Thanks a lot.” Maria yelled.
”What if the guys at the plant saw you?” Kate was exasperated, shaking her head. “You looked exactly like a plucked chicken!”
“You musta totally freaked out. Ya know?” Maria suggested.
“You didn’t think I would do it.” Mom adopted a smug grin. She had moved on to loading the wash machine with dirty whites.
I looked out the kitchen window at the bright sunshine in the backyard and the sidewalk where my mother streaked. I couldn’t wait to tell Koral, my best friend. The previous winter, her artist mom made a reclining snow woman in their front yard, complete with large breasts and pubic hair.
I am now about the age my mother was when she streaked, pushing fifty. In my own middle age, I understand her exhibitionism better than I did in my teens. The element of surprise is crucial in middle age, when routines are predictable and everybody thinks they know who you are. Defying custom is a plus. None of us expected my Republican, Catholic, community-volunteering mother to behave like a rowdy teenager, turning the table on her own prudish adolescents.
Being seen was perhaps the most important element of the streak for my mother. Middle-aged women become invisible to husbands, children, and strangers alike. She took the challenge, to bare herself to her daughters and the neighborhood; to accept the dare and run with it. I do not think she intended it, but nonetheless she created a story of her very own, a story she gave each of us, scarred for life or not. The streak was a break in her daily monotony of bills, groceries, ironing, and dirty dishes.
The rebellious teenager was still lurking in the heart of my otherwise staid mother. She was deeply satisfied to shock the family with her innocent prank, her protest stripped down to its bare essentials.
As she did the housework, I caught her smiling to herself for at least a week.