Thursday, May 24, 2018

Over the Hill

   This may be tooting my horn, but, well, I'm just going to say it, I was really good at first grade. Things like reading and spelling came easy to me. In fact, my first grade teacher, we'll call her Ms. H., even had me help struggling classmates with their spelling words, puffing me up like a peacock.
   When I entered first grade, the school was just implementing a new method to teach reading, known as the Letter People. Mr. C – Cotton Candy, Mr. D – Delicious Donuts, Mr. L – Lemon Lollipops, Mr. M – Munchy Mouth. Inexplicably, I remember being hungry a lot at this age.
   Nonetheless, I breezed through first grade, with possibly an unnatural affection for oddly shaped characters and gratuitous alliteration, but also with a great deal of confidence in my spelling prowess.
   Riding high on my first grade successes, I charged into second grade with my curly, red head full of consonants and vowels, possessing a capable grasp on how they all fit together.
   It was well into the school year, and as a class, we were practicing our spelling words out loud, but individually as the teacher called on each of us. When my name was called, I braced for the challenge. My word was 'hill'. Pfff. So easy. Straightening in my chair, jutting out my chin, I sounded off.
   “H, E, L, L.”
   A satisfied smile on my face, I waited for my expected affirmation of accuracy.
   It started with snickers, but erupted into full on shrieks of glee. Little glistening eyes filled with delight. Even Mrs. C - Cranky Crab was laughing. Eyebrows furled, looking from one to the next of them, I wondered what had gotten into these people.
   Silently, I spelled the word again. H, E, L, L. Yep, that's when I heard it. A look of terror crossed my face. Would I be sent to the principal? Would there be a paddling waiting for me at home? Was I in a hill of a lot of trouble?
   No cause for alarm. Mrs. C – Crusty Cow offered me a second chance to spell it. And this time, remembering my spelling rules, I put the 'i' before 'e'.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Blob

   We were on a family vacation at a crystal clear, mountain lake in Tennessee. My parents had rented a lake cabin for our week-long stay, devoted to boating and skiing.
   Our first day, my sister and I had already explored the nearby woods, fashioning a make-shift fort in a cluster of trees, but, bored with that fairly quickly, we then turned our attention to the beach.
   Walking along the sandy edge of the water, we discovered a nest of floating, gelatinous blobs. Nodular. Brain-like. Groovy. And I don't mean in the 1960s flower child way. Bobbing on the ripples.
   My sister asked me what they were, and being the smart ass, eleven-year-old I was, it was exactly the right amount of encouragement I needed to contrive a far-fetched tale, intended to scare the heebie-jeebies out of her, about these unfathomable beings.
   We kicked at them, ran them through with sticks, pummeled them with rocks, all the while, I wove my fanciful yarn. In my most sinister voice, I detailed for my sister the story of how, after dark, these slimy creatures, triggered by the moonlight, would bulge and swell to a humungous size, monstrous and grotesque, hungering for foolhardy campers. A fresh-water jellyfish uprising bent on revenge against those who had dared to harm them. I explained to her, with my eyes wide and intense, if we survived the night, we should all count ourselves lucky.
   My sister listened amused, but unconvinced, and she went about the rest of her day unaffected.
   I, on the other hand, had told the story so well, so masterfully, I spent the remainder of my evening in a state of lather, prickly with dread.
   What if I was right? What if it was all true?
   I didn't want to be the main course at a gummy-monster banquet. But darkness was coming, and I was powerless to stop it. Therefore, I went to bed – at about 6 p.m.
   Bring it on, mucous demon, if you can find me under my covers.
   My one advantage, by hiding in the sheets, was my family members were still up, still fully visible, oblivious, unhidden...the horde would get them first.
   I awoke the next morning, alive and intact. Unconsumed. Un-congealed.
   All just my crazy imagination. So preposterous. Fffff, I hadn't really believed it, anyway.
   But just to be on the safe side, for the rest of that week, I maintained a distended distance from the beach. No reason to push my luck. No need to poke...the blob.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Trick or Treat

   I don't know exactly how old I was, but little enough to be amused playing a make believe game of Trick or Treat alone in the family room.
   With my plastic, jack-o-lantern bucket in hand, I went door-to-door (couch to end table to coffee table and so on), knocking on invisible doors, buzzing non-existent doorbells.
   At each stop, I would go through the prescribed routine with the pretend hostess, begging for unseen candy with the customary “Trick or Treat,” reciting my lines with my most authentic baby talk, “Twick or Tweat.”
   I went about my expedition without incident until I arrived at the rocker-recliner house.
   The generous, but transparent lady who answered the door offered a choice of candy, “What would you like little girl?”
   Still in character, the baby talk babbled from my lips, “I want a sucker.”
   Of course, the defining quality of 'baby talk' is that the words aren't spoken clearly or precisely. In fact, sometimes sounds are substituted for other sounds. For instance, sometimes an 's' might come out sounding like a 'th'. But in this scandalous instance, the 's' was substituted with an 'f'.
   My mother shot into the family room as if catapulted from the kitchen, her finger wagging. “Don't you ever say that again,” she reprimanded in a loud, screech.
   Shocked out my shoes, I spun in a panic, facing her rabidity.
   What had I said? What was I to do? How was I to ask for a sugary, hard candy on a stick? Lollipop was an awfully big word for such a little girl. And Tootsie Pop was far too specific. Stifled.
   Eh, 's'uck it, just give me the candy cigarettes.
   It was several more years until I grasped an understanding of profanity sufficient to recall this episode and reason out what I had uttered – to the great horror of my mother.
   I, however, take a depraved pleasure in its prediction of my irreverent future – the mother of all curse words, it turns out, is one of my favorite words to say – the sweet confection of it rolling off my tongue. The taffy-like pull of it. The appeal of its Everlasting Gobstopper assortment of flavors. I'd almost go so far as to call it 'ear candy' but that might be 'Dum Dum'.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Smoke and Mirrors

   In an earlier post, I alleged a begrudging reconciliation with my creeping-up, old age. An acceptance of gravity's negative effect on my once buoyant body parts. A deference to time running its natural course.
   But the winds of change have struck again. Now I must vent my spleen because my antiquity has plunged to alarming new lows, causing an intestinal disquietude, bent on venting my colon.
   Yes, folks, I am going to go there. It's time to air it out.
   In my late twenties, a male companion of mine commented about his amazement with females' ability to never pass gas. He noted his reverence for our stubborn resolve to withhold airing our discomfort. He joked about his anxiety for our collective well-being, his fear that at any moment a woman in his company might combust like a shaken can of soda, setting off a contagion of eruptions among the other females, like the exploding of a string of firecrackers. One woman after another blown to bits by her own obstinate decorum.
   He wasn't exactly right. But back then I could hold it in with ease.
   That was then, this is now.
   Maturity has ripened me, I admit. The vapors waft up, pungent and fermented. Mustered into the sweet, horseradish-y aroma akin to mustard gas. And always, always, at the most inopportune times.
   For instance, at the office, speaking with a co-worker, I feel the pressure building. I grasp for a piece of paper to crackle in my hand, to disguise the noise. No paper in reach, I tap my fingernails on a counter top or wall, a deluded confidence in my ability to conceal my defective social graces.
   But the worst, the absolute worst of it, is during my massage sessions. Face-down on the table, my tummy gurgles. The magma brewing in the caldera. I squirm. I tense. I clench. Actions all counter to the purpose of being on the table in the first place.
   Perhaps, rather than struggling against it, I should just do the massage therapist a courtesy, warn her to step away. Like in Army basic training when shooting a grenade launcher, we were taught to warn those behind us with the phrase 'back blast area all clear.' Would that not be an appropriate way to protect my unsuspecting masseuse, who, as bad timing would have it, always seems to have her face directly above the escape hatch. I should probably tip her better.
   Recently I made chili for dinner on a Friday night. The following week, my husband suggested I eat the leftover chili for lunch...on a work day? Inconceivable. When it takes so much effort to control it as is, I'm certainly not going to egg it on.
   I suppose I should contact that old friend of mine and give him the peace of mind of knowing there's no longer much threat of spontaneous combustion. In fact, I've read that flatulence is a sign of good health. That being the case, I fear I may be immortal.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


   I was about seven when it occurred to me something about this Santa Claus story just wasn't adding up.
   First, we didn't have a chimney in our house. How was Santa making entry? And if it was, in fact, that easy to get into our house in the wee hours of the night, what was keeping other, more duplicitous, professed do-gooders from prancing right in.
   Second, one year earlier, my extended family had gone to great lengths to put on the blitz with a Santa Claus showcase on Christmas Eve at my Grandma and Grandpa's house. Santa jingle-jangled into the family room, sleigh bells clanging, sack slung over his shoulder. My two cousins, my sister and I stared, awestruck.
   We each had a turn on his knee, receiving a gift and a candy cane. Camera flashes burst all around us. The clicking, eight-millimeter movie camera, with its retina-scorching light bulb, recording it, for all time, in Technicolor.
   Only a few minutes later he dashed away, dashed away – through the swinging kitchen doors. I had just a moment to consider how none of what had just happened jibed with Santa's prescribed Christmas Eve agenda before the grown people in the room hurried us children to the plate glass window in the dining room, carrying on maniacally, pointing and gesturing to the pitch dark, backyard. “Do you see him? There he goes. Look there's his sleigh.”
   What the dickens were they all talking about? A born skeptic, my eyebrow arched like the toe of an elf's boot, I peered out the window, but saw no creature stirring, not even a mouse. But I did smell a rat.
   So the next year, I devised a plan. I was going to solve this mystery once and for all. I would stay awake all night, listening. Listening for reindeer paws, tinkling bells, or a deep, baritoned Ho Ho Ho.
   I awoke the next morning, certain I had dutifully accomplished my mission. I had my proof. Or lack thereof. I'd been fed a bowl full of jelly long enough, and I was going to set the record straight.
   Gifts opened, Dad sat at the Kimball organ, playing a tune. I leaned against the top of its cabinet, preparing my case. Deciding to get right to the point, my stubborn, little chin jutted out, I declared, “I stayed awake all night last night, and I never heard Santa come.” Heh heh! Whatdaya got to say about that?
   My father never missed a beat, played his song unperturbed, and met my accusing stare. “Sounds to me like you need a nap.”
   Wha?! I had wandered into dangerous territory. Being told to take a nap on Christmas Day? Quick as a missile, I had to get out of sight. So away I did fly like the down of a thistle.
   My father had won this round, he was clever and cunning. I made up my mind though... next year, I'd dissect the Easter Bunny.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Head Games

   I can't explain how or why this little dinner time game got started. My boys were around five and three then, and sitting at the table one evening eating supper, we were playing a silly game for our own amusement.
   We would say a word, any word, for the objects or people we saw around the room then add the word 'head' to it. That is 'Mommyhead', 'Seanhead', 'Drewhead', 'chairhead', 'spoonhead', etcetera. As I said, there was no rhyme or reason for it, just an innocent dinner diversion which my kids, with their underdeveloped senses of humor, thought was outrageously funny and were literally laughing their heads off.
   Dinner over, we were clearing the table. My mother and her then husband arrived unexpected, letting themselves in through the front door, which was fine...for a moment.
   Dear Reader, if you've read my previous posts you may see where this is heading, but I'll go on.
   Still playing the game, my youngest, his eager face aglow, a twinkle in his eyes, took in a big, open-mouthed breath of air, having an 'aha' moment. I could see the words forming on his sweet, little lips, and I was powerless to head it off. He pointed at my mother's husband, and proud as he could be, declared, “Dickhead.”
   There's no good way to recover from that, there's no excuses to be made, no apologies will suffice. I could stammer and attempt to explain, but finally I just had to move past it with a shrug, oh, and a subtle smirk on my face, proud of my boy, who did, unknowingly, hit the nail on the head.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pick Your Poison

   I have a vague memory of being loaded into the ambulance, my mother, frantic (perhaps that's too strong a term – mildly unnerved, maybe), climbing in behind.
   I'd been poisoned. And fearing for my life, Mom called the squad to whisk me away to the emergency room.
   Poisoned? You ask. My goodness. You say.
   My mother told the story this way...I had licked an anteater behind the couch.
   I cannot begin to convey the monumental amount of puzzlement this information generated in my tiny brain – for many years.
   Why did we own an anteater? What was his name? Why did we keep him behind the couch? How come I'd never noticed him there before?
   Confident in my mother's description, I tried to picture the scene, to remember this intimate encounter. It seemed like something I wouldn't forget.
   But the effort to remember only provoked more questions. What part of the anteater did I lick? Was it his snout? Was it his rear? If I had licked somewhere else would there have been a less toxic outcome?
   Knowing anteaters have enormous tongues, I was also compelled to wonder, did he lick me back? Perhaps he, in fact, licked first, causing me to politely return the favor. Maybe we were just comparing our tongue sizes – an innocent case of I'll show you mine if you show me yours.
   I tried in vain to decipher the mystery and was quite a bit older by the time I asked my mother to explain it again because I couldn't figure it out.
   I'm sure, dear reader, it doesn't take a terro card to clearly see the truth of this story. No need for clairvoyance. My mother had been willfully imprecise with the use of the term anteater, but I'm forever grateful for it. For as a story teller, when presented with a chance to make a mountain out of an ant hill, you have to get in your best licks.