The Saturday Night Dippity-Do Torture Trial

We get into the strangest subjects on road trips. I swear I don’t know why. But when you’re stuck in the car for hours on end, things come up that never get talked about during life’s normal days. So, when some friends and I spent five hours headed for the coast, we got talking about the childhood memories we wish we could erase. One of them recalled an intolerant church he was forced to attend. Another talked of grade school bullies. I admitted, my pain didn’t begin to match theirs, but I still don’t like Saturday nights because of a childhood routine. Some might call it “getting ready for Sunday”. For me, it was the Saturday Night Dippity-Do Torture Trial.

Some Things Never Change

Once a month, my family drove across two states, so my Dad could see his folks in Oklahoma, and do all the small chores and repairs beyond the skills of my uncles. That was a fine and laudable practice, but one that recurred too often for the rest of us. My Dad’s folks and brothers were kind, but they expected us to entertain ourselves, and there wasn’t much to do in that small town. Buy a Coca-cola, take a trip to the variety store, and chase the chickens in Mimmy’s back yard was about the limit of each trip’s entertainment options. After that, we had to go inside and sit.

My father’s family were world-champion sitters. They could sit for eons, without moving. Well, they were a farm family, which means they were tired and entitled to some Hard-Core sitting. But they sat long past my endurance. And, every Saturday, they sat through the same exact shows.

First was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. One or two grown men (usually just the younger one) would travel into a wilderness and film/interact with various indigenous species. Then the older one would explain how humans imitated (or improved on) the natural world by buying life insurance. Porter Wagoner’s show followed this, a program of country music and rube comedians. The minute the last twang of the steel guitar ceased, a drift of bubbles crossed the TV screen, a champagne cork popped, and we were in for another hour of sitting with Lawrence Welk’s band, Poligrip, and Geritol. Every. Stinking. Saturday. Night.

Now, let’s just say, those shows were not to my taste. No surprise, since I was a kid at that time and their target audiences shopped for denture adhesive and life insurance. But, what made this a true torture test was my mother’s habit of rolling my hair in curlers (so I’d look pretty for church on Sunday) while the TV blared.

Beauty Must Suffer

While the zoologist chased chimps, and Porter sang with Dolly, Mom would section my wet hair with a comb. Then, she’d pick up a lock, lubricate it with a cold setting gel called “Dippity Do”, and coil it around a hard plastic and metal hair curler. Once the lock was anchored securely around the plastic tube, Mom would wind it tight to my scalp and lock it in place with a long, plastic pin. The pin was angled so torque and gravity kept the curler in place but it felt like it was being forced into my skull. Then Mom would locate and gel up the next lock. If I complained or suggested Mom was in danger of impaling my brain, she’d mutter “Beauty must suffer” and keep going

By the time Lawrence Welk was striking up the band for its third polka, (No matter what the band played, all of Welk’s arrangements ended up sounding like polkas) my head was covered with sore spots where the curler pins stabbed, and soaked with that wet, sticky gel, that had the consistency of snot. Finally, Mom would grab two last handfuls of gel and slick down the last hair strands too short for curlers, my bangs and the fringe at the base of my neck. Then, she’d fasten them down with (I’m not kidding) pink, hair setting scotch tape. My head, now plastered and taped like dry-wall, I was allowed to “enjoy” the rest of the program, as long as I didn’t move, squeak, or interrupt the program or its Geritol commercials.

They say kids never appreciate all their parents do for them, and I suppose that is true. My folks and their ancestors worked hard and sacrificed so I’d have the opportunities they missed. And over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate some of my parents’ musical tastes. But polka music still triggers my terror of long, plastic hairpins, especially if I hear it on Saturday nights. And I’ll always loathe Dippity Do.

Daddy, Mr. Pryor & The Big Mistake (Pt. 2)

Like I said…

Like I said, locking Mr. Pryor’s utility meter shut wasn’t our smartest idea. But buying the lock at the Wide-Awake was the big mistake. How big, I didn’t really understand until the sheriff served me with a Summons to appear in Court.

“Robert, you’re being charged with a serious crime. You can have an attorney if you want one, but be in Judge Brown’s Court at 7:00 p.m. tonight. And you’d better tell your folks.”

Like I was going to do that! Mimmy might believe her boy, Bob, was a good boy, but your Papoy knew better. And, as much as my Mama fussed at all of us, it was Papoy who laid down the law. So I figured I’d keep this news to myself.

I got ahold of Jack and Ick and found out they’d been served as well. We didn’t have time to talk right then, so we agreed we’d meet early at the courthouse, come up with a smart story, and keep our parents out of it.

Just getting to the Courthouse was a Problem

So, right after supper that night, I said, all casual, “Well, I think I’ll go downtown. Same as I’d said a bunch of times without a word from my folks. But this time, your Mimmy speaks up.

“Oh, don’t go downtown tonight, Bob. Stay and listen to the radio with us.”

“Uh, what? Mama, I’d like to but I’ve got to go downtown. I promised I’d meet Jack and Ick.”

“You see Jack and Ick every night,” my Mama said, unperturbed. “You can sit home for once..”

Now, this was a pickle. I had to leave, but I couldn’t tell her why, not if I wanted to keep my skin. Part of me wondered if she knew about the court hearing, but I kind of guessed she didn’t. Knowing would have made your Mimmy mad and she never kept those feelings to herself. So I kept saying over and over that I’d like to stay home, that I’d rather stay home, that I’d stay home for every night for the next three weeks, but tonight I’d needed to leave. After ten minutes of sweating, she finally let me.

All Rise….

I drove to the courthouse as fast as I could and got there with about seven minutes to spare. Jack and Ick were mad at me being late but I think they were more scared than angry. Anyway, just as we sat on the first bench in the courtroom to try and get our stories straight, the courtroom door opens up and in walks Jack’s Dad. He doesn’t say anything but “Jack”, but we all know what that means. Jack goes and stands by his Dad. Then Ick’s Dad walks in the same door.

Well, after that, I sat by myself, on that front bench, watching everyone filter into their seats. The bailiff and court reporter, behind the judge’s bench, and other people clutching summonses in front. And Jack, and Ick, both standing by their Dads and looking pretty puny. Still, the clock’s getting pretty close to seven and I’m beginning to hope I can at least keep this from my folks. Just as the clock clicks to seven and the bailiff says”All Rise”, that back courtroom door open again and my Dad walks into the courtroom.

Well, there wasn’t any point fighting after that. Mr. Pryor testified about his power getting locked off, and the man from the power company testified about having to cut the lock. Then the sheriff talked about his investigation into the lock and the cashier said her piece. Tell you the truth, I wasn’t feeling pretty sick by then. So when the judge said, “Boys, are you sorry for all the trouble you’ve caused here tonight? “, we all answered, “Yes, Sir, we are.”

“Boys, you need to apologize to Mr. Pryor.”

“We’re sorry, Mr. Pryor./”

“Are you’re going to harass this man again?”

“No, Sir. We won’t, Mr. Pryor.”

“You boys are going to pay the Power Company back for the time their man spent cutting off your lock.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And you’re going to pay the costs associated with bringing all these people to Court tonight.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Fine. Next Case!”

And last…

I turned up the center aisle, glad the Judge hadn’t decided to throw me into jail. As I passed my Dad, he opened his hand, and quietly said “I don’t think you’re going to need the car for awhile.”

I gave him the keys.

Daddy, Mr. Pryor, and The Big Mistake

I always connected this story with the last days of Summer, when days shorten and vacation has ended. So, as autumn begins, I start one more of Daddy’s stories, the one where he finally got caught…

It was me, and Jack, and Ick Nault, one night. We were driving around town, looking for something to do. You know how it is: late night, small town, teenagers with time on their hands. Someone always finds an idea. We found ours in an alley.

There we were…

There we were, in my Dad’s car, driving down this one alley when someone points out we’re right behind Mr. Pryor’s house. We could see his back yard, and laundry line, and his utility meter at the edge near the alley. And one of us, (I don’t remember who) got the bright idea of turning off Mr. Pryor’s power at the meter. I don’t think we’d have bothered with anyone else, except, we knew Mr. Pryor wasn’t home, and he always seemed to have it in for us. Anyway, we grabbed one of the wrenches Dad always carried in the car, twisted the power off and drove on away.

I didn’t think anything about it until the next week at school, when one of my girlfriends started talking about her job at the phone company. Those were the days when people didn’t dial a number direct, they called the telephone operator and asked her to connect then. My girlfriend worked part-time as a phone operator and she said, “I got the strangest call Saturday night. Mr. Pryor called the utility company to see why his lights were off when everyone else on the street had power. Isn’t that odd?”

I tried to act real cool, but I think she guessed I had something to do with it. Anyway, we all laugh, and the joke worked so good, we decided to try it again next Saturday. But that idea wasn’t good. We barely had ducked out of sight from shutting the power off this time, when here comes old Mr. Pryor, with a wrench in his hand, to turn it back on again. That wasn’t any fun. So we decided to up the ante.

Our Big Mistake…

Now I’ll admit we’d have been smarter to quit right there, but “smart” wasn’t in our vocabulary back then. Planning was, so we made a plan. We found out when Mr. Pryor and his family would be out of town next. We packed up our tools. And we bought a combination lock. Sure enough, when the superintendent next came back from out of town, the power was locked off at his house. Cutting the lock off meant getting the utility company and the Sheriff involved which uncovered our big mistake: buying that lock at the local dime store, a place we called, “The Wide Awake”.

The Sheriff went down to The Wide Awake with what was left of our lock and showed it to the cashier. Of course, she identified it. Yes, they sold that model lock, they were the only store that did, and they’d only sold one that year. She didn’t have to look up any records to see who bought it, she remembered that very well. It was Ick Nault, and Bob Zumwalt and their buddy, Jack. She remembered because we were laughing and hee-heeing the whole time we were buying it, and we paid for the lock with change.

How do I know what the cashier said? Because she testified to it in open court! I ended up in front of a judge over this! But how I got to court is another story right there, so I’ll pick this up tomorrow night…

Daddy, Lloyd, & Lisa*

You kids remember the Andy Griffith show? Set in Mayberry, North Carolina? The barber in that show was a funny guy named Floyd. Well Grandfield had a funny barber too, only his name was Lloyd. And he was sweet on a gal named Lisa.

Now, Lisa worked in an office, in Grandfield. And she was married to somebody else. Fact is, Lloyd was married too. But that didn’t change how he acted around Lisa!

Like this one time…

I was at the barbershop, getting my hair cut. Harvest was going on, and Grandfield was full of people; so full, Lloyd had this other barber working with him. Both of them, cutting hair, fast as they could, and a bunch of men still waiting in line.

Well, my turn came up, and instead of old Lloyd, I got the other barber, Harold. And this young guy working the harvest, up from Mexico I think, he was sitting in Lloyd’s chair. Now, the Mexican fella didn’t speak much English, but he pointed to a picture Lloyd had on the wall to show he wanted a crew cut. So, Lloyd got out his hair clippers.

My, that kid had a thick head of hair! Hot as it was, and working outside, I can see why he wanted it cut. Anyway, Lloyd slapped the No. 2 guard on his clippers, and they went bzzzz-bzzz-bzzz up the back that young guy’s head. The Mexican closes his eyes. And that thick hair starts falling on the floor.

Then, here came Lisa

Just as Lloyd swung around to the front of this guy’s head, here comes Lisa, walking up the sidewalk outside. Smiling, and wearing one of them dresses where the skirt flips up in the breeze. How Lisa’s dress found a breeze in that heat, is more than I can say, but it did. And old Lloyd starts watching her.

And that’s when the guard slipped off Lloyd’s clippers. Instead of bzz-bzzz-bzz, the clippers start growling, grrowll-rrowlll-rrowll, but Lloyd doesn’t notice a thing. From where I’m sitting, I can see the poor Mexican fella asleep in Lloyd’s chair, and a white strip starting behind those clippers and stretching up the center of his scalp. I started laughing so hard, my shoulders start to shake. And Harold has to stop cutting my hair too.

Scalped!

Lloyd’s still watching Lisa parade up the street, and his customer’s still asleep, unaware his crew cut’s become a reverse Mohawk. But everyone else in the Barbershop is watching when the clippers grind to a stop, stuck at the crown of that poor man’s head. And that finally gets Lloyd’s attention.

He looks down and sees the bone-white landing strip he’s shaved up the middle of his customer’s head. He sees his clippers, caught in the middle. Then he looks around and sees every man between Lawton and Wichita Falls staring at him. And Lloyd says the words they should have put on his tombstone.

“I can even that up.”

* to protect the guilty, I changed names and stuff here.

Daddy & the FFA

Even if kids don’t like being in school, there’s always extra-curricular activities. You girls have your school sports, and music, and clubs. I had the FFA.

What’s the FFA, Daddy?

The FFA is Future Farmers of America and Jack, and Ick, and I were all in it. Well, we grew up on farms, so it made sense. But I’m telling you, we didn’t join the FFA because we planned to be farmers! We joined for the annual trip.

See, every year, the school sent their FFA boys to the national convention. We all wanted to go to. A week with no school and no chores sounded like a great idea to us! But there were two downsides to that trip: it meant spending a week with Mr. Pryor and…well, a week with a guy I’ll call Roy.

Remember Mr. Pryor?

I already told you about Mr. Pryor, the superintendent, and principal of the high school. He didn’t like me too much. He went to keep an eye on us boys and he drove the bus all the way there and back. If you think driving from Oklahoma to the coast is long now, you should have made the trip with Mr. Pryor! No air-conditioning, no interstate, and the man never drove over 45 miles an hour. And he only stopped when the bus needed gas. So getting anywhere took a long, hot, boring time.

See, Mr. Pryor was a nervous driver. He’d grip the wheel and drive real slow, just looking at the road in front of him. Which meant, he didn’t keep an eye on the back, where we kept letting down all the windows. My buddy, Ick, was really skinny back then. He shinnied up onto the roof. Then, he belly-slid all the way to the front and stuck his hand down on top of the windshield. Mr. Pryor saw that hand flopping over the top of his windshield and he had to pull the bus over. Thing is, he took so long parking the bus, we were back in our seats before he stopped! He yelled but he didn’t know which one of us to hit until Roy tattled to him that night.

…and then, there was Roy.

Roy liked to tattle a lot. He talked all the damn time. He also liked to pinch, and steal your stuff. If your Mom put cookies in your lunch sack before you left for school, Roy would smouch them long before lunch. Or he’d ask you for a share and then gobble everything up. Whatever was yours, he wanted it.

Well, by the time we were headed back home, we’d had enough of old Roy. Mr. Pryor stopped the bus for gas by this roadside stand one day, where they were selling apple cider. Jack and Ick and I wanted to get a jug of cider together but we knew Roy would just try and steal it. That’s when Jack had a real good idea.

While Ick and I paid for the jug, and Mr. Pryor was pumping the gas, Jack snuck into the front of the bus. That’s where he found the box of Epsom Salts Mr. Pryor brought to soak his feet with every night. Jack grabbed a handful of salts and then joined us back at the jug. The three of us drank all we could of the cider. Then, Jack tipped his handful of salts into the bottle and shook the rest of it up together. Then we got back on the bus.

Sure enough, there was Roy, with his hands in a bag of salt-water taffy I’d bought to take home to my folks. Didn’t even apologize. I grabbed for the candy while he looked at Jack and said, “Whatcha got in the jug?

“Cider, Hard Cider” Jack said and tipped the bottle up to his lips. It looked like he was drinking but I could tell he was just blowing air bubbles into the jug. “Sure is good.”

“Yeah, it’s tasty,” says Ick, and he pulls at the jug. “Gimme a swaller, I want some more of that stuff.”

“Aw boys, why don’tcha give me a taste” Roy wants to know. “My throat’s all dry from that salt-water candy.”

“Whose fault is that?” I growled, “Ick, don’t give him a drop.” Then I grabbed for the jug myself.

Well, after about five minutes of playing keep-away with the Cider, we agreed Roy could have “just a sip”. Course you know what he did once he got his hands on the neck of that bottle. He drank every drop there was left inside it; barely slowed down long enough to swallow. Then he laughed at us for finishing it off.

Cider and the Bus Rules

Well, that ended the cider drinking that night, but it wasn’t the end of the cider. About half an hour after we got back on the road, Roy started asking Mr. Pryor to stop. Like I said, Mr. Pryor only stopped when the bus needed a break, and we all knew it. But that didn’t matter to Roy. “Please Mr. Pryor, pull the bus over. Mr. Pryor, I need the bathroom bad.”

“If you didn’t need to go 30 minutes ago, you shouldn’t need to go now.” Mr. Pryor said. That’s the way he always talked. That and how we had to make time. “We need to make Albuquerque by nightfall,” he said the next time Roy whined for a break. “You can hang in there till then.”

We weren’t too sure about that. Roy was moaning, curled up on the seat, with his knees pulled up to his chest. And Albuquerque was a good 45 miles away. So we scooted as far away from him as we could.

By the time we hit the campground we stayed at that night, old Roy wasn’t talking anymore. He only moaned when the bus hit a pothole. But he had begun to smell. He didn’t smell like flowers, either. And he could still move. The minute Mr. Pryor shut down the engine, and opened the doors, Roy was off like a shot. He ran, hunched over, out the bus, through the parking lot, and straight into the campground shower building. We didn’t see him all the rest of that night.

Now you might think we were hard on old Roy, and I guess maybe we were. But not as hard as Roy was on that campground staff. Cause when we hit that shower-house, late that night, you could tell that old Roy had been there. And left his pants behind on the floor.

Now that’s what I call an FFA, extra-curricular activity that’s hard to forget

The Day Daddy Rolled the First Grade

You know Grandfield’s always been a small place. Shoot, there were only sixteen in my graduating class. And of that bunch, only four of us were boys. I liked that; it meant I had lots of girlfriends. But that also meant Jack, and Ick, and I got put in every school play and program

Like the year, they cast us in the senior play. We weren’t seniors but, because we were boys, they cast us anyway.

We only had little bitty parts when we had to be onstage. During the rest of the rehearsals, we were supposed to wait in the auditorium. Well, one afternoon, that teacher directing took forever getting to our scenes. That’s when we remembered the First Grade class was down the hall.

I told you that school system was small! They taught all twelve grades in one building. And I don’t know if it was Ick, or Jack, or me, but one of us thought we’d wake up the first grade.

First, we snuck out the side door of the Auditorium into a school hall. I remember, there were only three doors on that hall: our side door, the one to the janitor’s closet, and the one to the first grade classroom. And we were going to open all three.

The janitor’s closet was always full. It held his brooms and mops and buckets and all the cleaning stuff a school uses. And it had those big, industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper. We each hooked two of those rolls, and we snuck down the hall to the last door. Then Jack threw open the door to the first grade, and we bowled in those rolls of toilet paper, just like we were down at the bowling alley.

We slammed the door, and ran before they could see anything but unwinding toilet paper. But from our hiding spot in the janitor’s closet, we heard plenty. First, we heard that classroom door slam open, BANG, when it hit the wall. Then we heard the tack, tack, tack, of that teacher’s high heels, making for the principal’s office. And we heard all those little first-graders behind her, tee-heeing, fit-to-bust.

Well, the second those high heels faded out, we snuck back to the Auditorium, and sat down in our seats. And we got called to enter and say our lines a few minutes later. The director was telling us where to stand on stage when the back door of the Auditorium banged open too, BANG! And in came Mr. Pryor.

Mr. Pryor held all kinds of jobs at that school. He taught shop, and drove the school bus. And he was both principal and School Superintendent. He didn’t like me too much. Anyway, he stopped what we were doing and asked if anyone had left rehearsal.

The director, she told him no one had left, but for some reason, he didn’t believe her. And he had all us boys stand up in a line. Then he questioned us, one at a time.

“Jack, did you disturb Mrs. Hillenbrand’s classroom?”

“No, Mr. Pryor.” Jack says.

“Ick Nault, did you interrupt Mrs. Hillenbrand’s First Grade?”

“No, Sir.” Ick says, looking right back at him.

Of course, I was stuck at the end of the line. And I began to get tense. So, when Mr. Prior said, ”Bob Zumwalt, did you roll Mrs. Hillenbrand’s first-grade class?” I tried to boom back my answer. But my voice broke just as I opened my mouth so ”No, Mr” came out real high, like a girl, and then ”Pryor” bullfrogged out of my chest.

Well, I turned red, and everyone started laughing. And Pryor knew I was guilty as sin. But, whatever my punishment, it wasn’t near as good as hearing that first-grade teeheehee over toilet paper.

Daddy & the Homemade Fireworks

It was me, and Jack, and Ick Nault…

The “Good Boy”, Bob.

(Funny, how many of Dad’s stories started that way…)

Anyway, we were hangin’ out in your Mimmy’s back yard and I was telling them about John T’s leftover chemicals. You knew John T studied Chemistry, right? He’d go to classes up at Norman during the week, and come home on the weekends with chemicals from the college lab. So, I was tellin’ Jack and Ick about John T’s chemicals: how one of them burned whenever it was exposed to the air, and how another makes all kinda sparks. Anyway, we decided to take some of those leftover chemicals and turn them into fireworks.

Now, we didn’t have any rocket launchers or things like that. But we could lay our hands on some empty tomato paste cans. So, we poured some of the chemicals into an old can, added a fuse, and covered it with ash so it wouldn’t catch fire right away. Then we lit the fuse, and Jack or Ick hauled off and threw it as high and far as he could. Then we watched it go, arcin’ and sparkin’ through the air….until it landed …in the next-door neighbor’s garden. That’s when we hid in the weeds.

See, the neighbor’s kids were also outdoors, on the far side of their yard. They didn’t hang out with Jack and Ick and me, because they were only four or five, and we were in middle school by then. They were always outside, I mean, all day, every day, and real quiet for kids. That’s because their Dad worked nights and slept during the day. But they weren’t going to stay quiet when there were fireworks going off!

Sure enough, that can landed amongst the tomato plants and butter beans and those burning chemicals shot up like a fountain. The little kids next store took one look at the sparks and started yelling and screaming their heads off. Then their back door banged open, WHACK! The neighbor, he comes running out, mad, bare-foot, and pulling his pants up over his underwear. Then he sees our fireworks display..

On the one hand, you could tell, he’s never seen a fire like this one. On the other hand, it’s burning through his groceries. So the neighbor ran for a hose. But water just makes a magnesium fire worse, and now it’s headed for his rhubarb and squash. So, then the guy gets a hoe, and tries to sneak up on the sparks like he can smother them while the fire’s not looking. About that time, the fuse hits another pocket of magnesium and the fountain of sparks shoots straight up again. And he backs away.

All through this, me, and Jack and Ick are lying in the weeds near the fence, trying not to get caught. But watching that guy with his pants undone trying to sneak up on a can full of sparks made me laugh. And then when I heard his little kids chanting behind him:

“Kill it, Daddy, Kill it!”

“Kill it, Daddy, Kill it!”

Well, that’s when all of us lost it. And the neighbor heard us laughing.

He threw down the hoe and started running toward us but Jack and Ick and I got out of there quick. It’s not hard to outrun a man whose pants are down around his knees. And you’d think I’d have better sense but we snuck back and hid under the front porch until he got the fire out and tried to complain to your Mimmy.

Now Mimmy never liked renters in the first place, even when they were renting from her. And she sure didn’t like men in their undershirts on her front porch. So when he started in saying, “Your boy, Bob..” she snapped back in his face.

“Don’t you talk about my boy, Bob. My Bob’s a good boy. You just stay on your own side of the fence and keep your tacky, cotton-picking kids out of my roses. And put a shirt on before you leave the house!

In Praise of Difficult Mothers

You can tell Mother’s Day is close. The stores are selling products that “tell Mama she’s special,” and restaurants are booked solid for Sunday. On the internet, there are quizzes and surveys about famous and unknown moms celebrating those fabulous, strong, nurturing, maternal women. And I think that’s great. But it leaves a lot of us out.

The Truth about Some Moms

The truth is, many of us were raised by women who didn’t meet the expectations made on Mommies. Who weren’t naturally maternal or nurturing, no matter how many children they raised.  Moms who hated some of the roles they were stuck in. I’m talking about Moms who fought personal demons while raising their children and didn’t always win.  Difficult Mothers.

Tomorrow’s celebration is a minefield for the moms and adult kids who fit into this category, but it doesn’t have to be.  Because Difficult Mothers also leave legacies for their children to share

  1. A Unique Set of Survival Skills.  Lots of Moms teach their kids how to walk, make their beds and ride a bike.  There’s nothing unusual about that.  But some kids get, shall we say, more esoteric lessons.  Like mixology instruction for toddlers.  Or how to recognize the warning signs of an emotional break-down.  How, and when, to call 911. How to look after yourself and your siblings when Mommy can’t.  I’m not saying these are great lessons to learn and, in a perfect world, no kid would know them.  But this isn’t an ideal world and sometimes the weird things these kids learn,  enable them to live long enough to become adults.  And that’s the name of the game.
  2. Resiliency.  If you land in the mud long and often enough, you start to see the funny side of falling down.  That’s my belief.  And kids with difficult moms are used to situations that, at least metaphorically, end up in the mud.  So they learn to roll with the punches.  Lose that scholarship or job opportunity you wanted?  Start looking for another one. Drunks crashed your wedding or your vacation’s rained out?  Folks, it ain’t the end of the world. The funny thing is, once enough time passes, some of those embarrassing family moments become great stories in the family mythology.  And every child of a difficult mother I know is blessed with a sense of humor and collection of stories.  Yes, sometimes they end up laughing through tears, but it’s still laughter, a blessing in life.
  3. A greater understanding of humanity.  I’m not saying every great humanitarian is an adult child of a dysfunctional family, but I am saying that being able to see your parents struggle first hand is to realize being an adult isn’t easy.  For some folks, it’s downright hard.  And recognizing that in your own family, makes it easier to see when other people are fighting uphill. Maybe that gives you a bit more empathy, makes you a tad less judgemental than others.  You know that love is perfect, but people aren’t.  And you learn that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
  4. They taught us that being flawed doesn’t mean you didn’t try. Sometimes, it takes a lot of time (and therapy) to see this, but most parents are doing the best they can with the world they inherited and cannot control.  My Mom (bless her) became a traditional wife and mother just as her culture devalued that stereotype.  She heard that, as a woman, she could (and should) do more, get more, have more in life. And, as a people pleaser (just like me) she tried.  But no one told her how to accomplish all this or what costs and pitfalls came with each of her choices.  So, things weren’t always easy at our house.  She still loved my sister and me, but her personal unhappiness and discontent were mixed in with her affection. And, as kids, we couldn’t sift through those conflicts. At first, we blamed ourselves for her deep-seated, negative feelings. Then we blamed her for ours.  A long time passed before any of us got to forgiveness.

So, as the difficult child of a difficult mom, I’d like to suggest we change one thing about Mother’s Day. Instead of thanking Mom once a year for her super-human abilities, let’s acknowledge the frailties inside us all, every day.  Let’s make it easier to say (and hear) “I was wrong” and forgive each other for mistakes we’ve all made.  We don’t need our moms to be Donna Reed or Lorelai Gilmore for us to love them.  They don’t need us to be perfect, either.  We can all settle for being difficult if lovable human beings.

A Possum ate my Internet

I know this post is late and this excuse sounds weak but my story is absolutely legit, and it started last Friday when Darling Husband asked for the new WiFi password.

Now, some would think that’s a reasonable question, given that I’m the closest thing we have to an IT department. (Terrifying thought!) On the other hand, as the household IT rep., I never change the passwords without warning. So if Darling Husband suddenly can’t access the ‘net, there’s probably a bad reason why.

No Wi-Fi

There was. Two of the three green lights on our Wi-Fi has changed to blazing red. The WiFi had power but the landline phones were out. And our internet link was dead.

Forty minutes of hold music and recorded questions on my cell phone later, and our internet provider pronounced the diagnosis. Our WiFi was dead. They would ship us a new one over the weekend. In the meantime, we’d have a nostalgic reminder of life in the pre-internet days.

Listen, I like to joke about being tied to technology, but I had no idea it was true. Okay, I couldn’t stream movies or shows so, I decided to pay bills…until I remembered my bank stuff was all on line. I couldn’t write on the blog, I couldn’t read my magazines, or catch up with the news; I couldn’t even get the weather forecast. Re-reading downloaded books worked until I ran across a word I didn’t know. Automatically, I tapped the screen before remembering the Dictionary was an on-line feature. I’m not dependent on the internet, I’m addicted!

Monday’s good news was the replacement Unit arrived. The bad news was, nothing changed. I pulled out the cell phone, spent another 30 minutes negotiating recordings and hold music until a Real Person at the Internet Provider said I (sigh) needed a technician’s visit. Could I be home on Tuesday? Was he kidding? I’d have been home if it meant missing my own birthday.

The Real Source of the Problem

As a rule, I like technicians. They’re usually smart, practical, good-humored people and this guy was no exception. With his meter and tools, he cheerfully climbed through the weeds and verified the electronic signals were getting to the outside of our house. Then he began tracing the lines.

Evidence of the Crime!

And there was the source of the problem. A Cat-5 wire had been cut. No, not cut, ripped apart, bitten right where it went under the house. The technician opened the door to look into the crawlspace.

And, just as quickly, he backed out. “Found your problem”, he said, and pointed with his flashlight. I poked my head in and, there in the corner was one of the biggest possums I’ve ever seen. At least 5 pounds, he was, and filling the space between the wall and first joist. Staring back at me. And hissing.

Now I have a healthy fear of possums. Some of them are rabid and they all have teeth. So, the three of us retreated to our neutral corners (me, the tech, and the marsupial) and reconsidered our various options. Finally, new Cat-5 wire was hung, well out of Perceval Possum’s reach. But this has taught me a lesson.

It doesn’t matter if I was raised pre-World Wide Web; I’m a citizen of the virtual universe now. I can’t exist without the darn thing. But I also exist in a universe with unpredictable weather and wild animals. And sometimes they take precedence. So, for all of you who are sick of hearing excuses, I apologize. But honestly, once a possum eats the Internet line, there’s not much else a person can do.

Spring is a-coming in (loudly sneeze, atchoo!)

Some people say they can tell when winter goes; it’s when their joints stop aching. Others tie the season’s change to the return of tornados or baseball games. Not me. The weather and the fortunes of my beloved Royals are too unpredictable for me. No, I know Spring has arrived when the pollen appears.

First there’s nothing…

It’s the oddest thing: for months, whenever I go outside, all I see are unending acres of naked branches. The days get longer but the branches stay bare. Then one morning, everything is covered with a fine, chartreuse layer of pollen (trust me, that’s not a good look on a burgundy Jeep.) The cars get washed but more pollen falls. And my nose starts running like Usain Bolt. Of course, all of this pollen happens outside. But signs of Spring follow me indoors. Because the pollen has brought Allergy Season in its wake.

When did that thing bloom!

Seriously, the halls of my office sound like the waiting room of an ENT specialist or some old TB sanitarium. Cough, cough, hack! Cough, cough sneeze! Colleagues swap home remedies and OTC meds on their breaks. Tissues and cough drops are in everyone’s desk. We’re all trying to stay healthy but, as a group, we sound sicker than we did during the cold and flu season. Nevertheless, every one of us, chants between sneezes and bronchospasms, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious; it’s just allergies.” We know. We all have allergies.

Why can’t I sneeze like a lady?

Unfortunately, allergy season, is just another reminder of my mom’s expectations of femininity. See, Mama managed delicate, light, little sneezes. “A-tissue, a-tissue” she’d say, and then she’d reach for a tissue. So dainty it was downright cute! Not me. My sneezes build up a surge of momentum that slings my head back in recoil wheneverone of them leaves the building. Aaatt-Choo!! Att-CHOO! ATTCHOO! (That’s another problem. My sneezes travel in packs. Every allergy season, I risk getting a good case of whiplash.)

Still, I’ll take Spring with its upper respiratory troubles, over Winter anytime. Spring is the season of hope, of warmth, of new life, even life that clogs up my sinuses. So, open up the windows, plant stuff in the garden and sing a hymn to May. I’ll join you….once my decongestant kicks in.

Miss Anxiety of 1953

I have an Inner Critic that goes In and Out with Me.

I call her Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Introductions, Please

By now, everyone’s heard of their inner child. It’s the spirit of the person you were as a kid, innocent, hopeful and kind. Well, if that’s not too New-Agey for you (and I hope it’s not) some of us contend with other inner spirits that aren’t nearly so pleasant. Judgmental, tactless, critical types that appear out of nowhere and torpedo your self-esteem. A friend of mine refers to her internal bete noir as her “Inner Mean Girl”. But, after due consideration, I believe mine has a different personality. Folks, meet Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Miss Anxiety?

Miss Anxiety, 1953

Miss Anxiety has been my constant companion since grade school and she has lot of concerns . Back then, she worried every morning that I’d be late for school. Or I wouldn’t be liked if I didn’t shut up. Or people would laugh if I tried to swing at a baseball. Later she worried when boys didn’t like me. She worried if one of them did. These days, Miss Anxiety worries about my salary, my marriage, my hair length and don’t get her started on the subject of my body! (Seriously, don’t let her go there. Even during the three weeks I wore a size 5, Miss Anxiety still fussed about my upper arms. She’s a perfectly toned size 1 and there’s simply no way to please her.)

Miss Anxiety has a similar obsession with rules and her Code of Etiquette is from the Eisenhower Era. No wearing white pants, except in the Summer. No wearing white shoes ever, they make your feet look big. Speak, sneeze, sing and laugh so softly no one can hear you and then apologize for the noise. Silence is the hallmark of a true lady. And the only acceptable way a lady asserts herself involves a candy that’s two mints in one. (By the Way, I never aspired to ladyhood, But Miss Anxiety hasn’t given up hope.) And as she is a title-holder herself, Miss Anxiety is hideously competitive. She agonizes over every teeny error I make, and every time I’m not chosen. According to Miss Anxiety, unless I succeed in everything, I’ll never succeed I Anything !!

So why did I quit fighting her?

Miss Anxiety
Miss Anxiety, 1953

For years, I loathed and feared Miss Anxiety, and opposed her at every turn.. I yelled back at her and ignored her. But She wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard I tried. Then, instead of yelling at her, I decided to listen. And I realized something incredible.

Miss Anxiety doesn’t hate me. She’s not trying to make my life miserable. Like my grandmother and mother, she worries I’m going to miss out on some great opportunity. So, she continually fusses at me. And when she thinks things may go wrong, she sets off alarms.

So last week, when I got stressed and Miss Anxiety began raising her voice, I listed to what was frightening her. And I responded.

It’s not given to understand what role we each play in the Grand Design. But we all have our parts. And I’m content to know I will play mine.

Turns out, that thought made Miss Anxiety pretty happy too.

New York in my Rear-View Mirror

It’s happened. After decades of waiting and wishing and dreaming, I finally visited New York. Think I went there filled with excitement? Truth is, I was flat terrified.

Why was I so scared?

How can I explain this? First, that town has gravitas in my family. It’s where my mother and grandmother were born. My Grandmother spent more than 70 years walking this earth and she never lost that New-Yawk accent. Or the assurance that came with it. And my Mom, with her birth certificate signed by LaGuardia himself, carried her birthplace through life like an imprimatur and shield. But I am only the descendant of Knickerbockers, not one myself. And the closer I got to takeoff, the more I felt like 18 different kinds of a Rube with less edge than a serving of Jello.

But guess what: New York is just a place, a city filled with lots and lots (and lots) of people. And not all of them are edgy fashion models. There’s tall ones, old ones, fat ones, thin ones, you get the general idea. But other than the fact that that they all seem to be in a hurry to get where they’re going, New Yorkers don’t seem that much different from everyone else. It’s just that there are so all-fired many of them. And they’re busy doing everything all the time.

Manhattan in Pictures

Of course, I was at some pretty touristy venues, some quintessential NYC spots. We hit the main library

Bryant Park

The theatre district

The the Strand Bookstore

Grand Central

And some other totemic places.

All gorgeous, all exciting, all fascinating. And when I came home, happy, tired, limping on both feet (which is hard to do, by the way) I wondered why I’d felt so intimidated. And whether the trip to New York would change how I look at my life.

See, this trip has been high on my bucket list for almost all of my life. And I was beginning to think I’d either never get there, or, if I did, it would be the last good thing in my life. (That’s what I get for re-watching Terms of Endearment.) But now that this trip’s in my rear-view mirror (and I’m still cancer-free) I’ve got a different perspective.

My kind of Happy Ending

Yes, I’m glad I made that trip. I’d like to go back again, soon. But now I’ve been back long enough to realize real life goes on after facing the fear or reaching a goal, or even crossing something off the bucket list. And that’s good too.

So it turns out New York isn’t Perdition (no matter what some folks say); nor is it the last stop on the road to Happily Ever After. But it is a good place to get a fresh outlook on life; and it’s where I went before whatever comes next.

The day my Money went to NY (without me)

I’ve never been to New York, though the rest of my family has. My mother and grandma were both born in the City; my kids went there last fall. My sister goes there so often she can direct the tourists to stops on the Circle Line. But, I’ve never gone to New York. And I’ve been pretty much okay with that. Well, I’m not completely okay, d love to see the place (you can’t be an English Major and not want to see New York; it’s a mecca for readers and writers.) But financially, it’s never been a good time for me to fly to New York.  So I  dreamed and figured someday I would go there.  I just never thought my money would get there first.

aerial architecture blue sky buildings
Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on Pexels.com

It all began…

In that uncertain time between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, before the juggernaut of December really takes off. A few friends and I decided to get together for a quiet drink after work. It was great, with everyone talking and laughing together and everything was going well until I decided to pay for a round. And realized my ATM card wasn’t in my wallet. Or my purse.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I occasionally misplace things, so I tried not to panic. I just paid for the drinks (using most of my cash) and excused myself to look for the card.  I still didn’t panic as I researched first my wallet, then my purse, and finally my Jeep for the card. Then, I went home and searched the house while I checked my bank balance.  And that’s when I hit “Red Alert”.

money pink coins pig
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

See, almost all the day-to-day funds in our joint checking account had disappeared.  The Grocery money.  The Light Bill cash.  The payment on my husband’s dental bill.  Entire paychecks worth of cash vanished from sight, like Brigadoon, or Judge Crater.  I killed my cash card with a phone call and cried.

When I showed up, still panicked, at my bank the next day (the minute they unlocked the doors) the bankers there were sympathetic.  Yes, they could make sure my missing ATM card was dead and yes, they’d help me with the identity theft claim.  A teller and I pulled up all the account transactions to figure out which we’d need to dispute and that’s when I saw how my money (literally) took flight.

Where did it go??

First, there was the airline ticket.  “Was that you?” the bank representative asked.  No, I haven’t flown since 2016 and I haven’t bought a ticket since then.  Then there was the charge for the Empire State Building Observation Deck ($102.00!) and something called Statue Cruises.  And then there was an admission to MMA, which turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Met? My money went to New York?

I don’t know whether the Bank’s service representative or I was the more stunned.  “Well, on the one hand, these charges obviously weren’t made by you.” the banker lady said.  “You’re here in Alabama, not New York.  Still…”  “I know,” I said, looking at the computer screen.  “Someone’s taking a cool trip through the City.

In fact, if the thief had thrown in theatre tickets, that’s a trip I would have loved to take.  It’s the trip I’ve been dreaming of (and putting off) for decades because I couldn’t afford it. Along with the panic and anger, I felt, I began to get downright envious.  The Empire State Building? The Museum of Modern Art? These were places I’d wanted to see.   Someone out there has lousy morals, but their taste is not all that bad.  The only problem was they were getting their culture with money my husband and I had earned!

I found out some things because of that theft. I learned that banks have to deal with this a lot. And that some bankers are really nice.  I’ve learned that the police are careful about jurisdiction.  I had to drive to four separate stations before I found the one able and willing to take my report. It’s been a royal mess getting the checking account straightened out and protecting the rest of my financial identity.  But this crystallized a resolve in me.

I’m not putting off the chance to see New York anymore; I’m going there myself, and soon.  No longer am I content to imagine being there while by looking at TV or  Google Earth.  It’s time I saw those streets for myself.  There isn’t enough time or money enough to do everything. But I will see something of that fabled place, and listen to that cacophony of sound. See, I don’t mind my money going to New York.  But this time, I’m taking it there.

 

 

 

 

 

The Accessory Liberation Device

Everyone who becomes an Adult goes through some Rite of Passage. It may be a formalized religious ritual (like a Bar Mitzvah) or something secular, like a Driver’s Permit. But there are talismans we gather as we go through life and the world expects us to keep them handy. Well, I just threw one away.

I enjoy being a girl

Yeah, that’s what the song says. Only the lyric didn’t apply to me growing up, not once I saw the accessory list. Have you ever noticed how much extra stuff women are expected to carry? Guys go from grade school, through high school, to life, and the only new thing they get is a razor. Girls get those too but they’re also supposed to start wearing costume jewelry at some point. And make-up. And perfume. Girls are expected to do complicated things with their hair. And finally, girls are given purses so they can tote all of this extra girl-stuff around.

Some of the Bags that Ran my Life…

If you can’t tell, I’m not a purse fan. More accurately, I’ve been a purse-hostage. For the past 50 years, wherever I’ve gone, some satchel’s hitched a ride on my shoulder. And instead of helping me (by carrying my stuff) each bag has been a pain.. Going to the movies? Don’t forget the purse. Riding on the roller coaster? Where and how do I store the purse? If I’m out in public, how do I keep Pursey from being snatched? If I’m going on a plane, does it count as luggage? (Believe me, there are times when it could). And if that isn’t enough, I’m not allowed to be ruled by just one satchel. No, I’m expected to keep multiple bags I can match to any season, function and outfit, all while my husband gets by with one wallet. No wonder men have more disposable income! They don’t have to spend it on purses!

What to do?

I was bemoaning all this to my sister last month when she mentioned a smartphone/wallet case. This gadget is a brilliant idea! A simple case with the phone on one side and pockets for cash, ID and cards on the other. It carries everything I really need and (even better) slides into a pocket. Actually it’s more an a fashion choice; it’s an accessory liberation device.

…Replaced by a phone in a case. (Dog not included.)

So, after almost 50 years of suspending leather bags from my shoulder, I’m back to pre-puberty basics. And it’s amazing. No more matching my bag to my shoes or rooting through the closet for a coordinating purse. No more last minute grabs for the bag I forgot while the car door closes on my arm. When it’s time for lunch now, I stand up and leave without rooting in a drawer or the file cabinet. As long as I have pockets, I can run through the world, unencumbered and both hands free.

All hail the Accessory Liberation Device! Now all we need is a law requiring pockets on all clothing….

In search of my New Year’s Day Miracle

Everybody has New Year’s traditions. Some people make and break lots of good resolutions. Some people serve black-eyed peas and greens. But that’s not my thing. While others are nursing hangovers or glue themselves to televised bowl games and parades, I’m outdoors, weather permitting, doing yard work. And I’m looking for my New Year’s Day miracle.

Yard Work?

There’s something so satisfying about clearing the yard, once the last of the leaves have fallen. You can rake and rake without breaking a sweat, and when you’re finished, there’s visible improvement. Actually, this is the small part of the year when I can get ahead on my weeding. Once growing season starts, it’s all I can do to stay even. And I quit once the temp gets too hot. So January and February are the months when I reclaim parts of the yard from the plant invaders, like kudzu. But New Years is not for reclaiming. It’s when I look for a miracle.

In Search of Spring

Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get along with Winter. It’s (usually) too wet and cold for my taste and I miss long, sunlit days. And, while I love where I live, we look kind of, well, shabby this time of the year. A little dirty and drab and run down. So I tend to spend the first day of the year in my yard, desperately seeking Signs of Spring. And, today I found them.

Know what these are? They are daffodil leaves and they’re growing in front of my house. On New Year’s Day. When winter’s just settling for 3 months of cold weather, these tough little flowers are sticking their heads above ground. The prospect of ice and snow doesn’t scare them (the way it scares me!). They’re growing, they’re daring to believe in Spring on the very first day of the year. That takes great Instinct…. or Nerve.

So daffodil leaves are my annual New Year’s Miracle and I hunt for them like a kid after Easter Eggs. I’m not ashamed. They’re a promise. A herald. An omen of change. And a great way to start the New Year.

Look like baby leeks, don’t they?

I think it’s Time for a Change

I started this blog years ago because I had a story to tell. A story about how two irreconcilable sisters learned to work together. Somebody told me before I could publish my book, I had to have readers which meant I needed to write a blog. When they asked what I could write a lot about, I replied, “Stories.”

Why Stories?

See, I think stories are the most powerful magic we wield. You can change a person’s future with a story. Think of all those people who started working toward law school once they read about Atticus Finch. The veterinarians who followed James Herriot into the profession. Think of the destruction caused by Mein Kamp.

But stories can change history as well. For centuries, Richard III has been vilified, not from the facts but because the next king spread nasty stories about him. And those stories made it into a great play. Sometimes the fictional story is so engaging, that we forget what really happened. Or a well-told story can rescue the truth from obscurity.

The thing is, stories, good stories, can undermine all our defenses. They let us see connections we were blind to before. They find the fear hiding deep in our hearts and linger in the corners of memory. They won’t let us go. Those are the tales I like to describe as “The Ones that Follow Us Home.

So What Will Change?

Well, I’ve spent 4 years writing (mostly) about stories other people have published and I think it’s time for a change. I still love taking about good books and I’ll continue to talk about some of those. But I want to change things up a bit.

I want to tell you some tales I care about that other folks haven’t written down. Ideas that have meaning for me. Stories that followed me home.

Like the tale of two little girls who believed they had nothing in common beyond a timeline and DNA. That’s a story still waiting to be told…some other day.

The Day Facebook brought Molly home

Leslie Sez - Molly Sez -
I’ve got to say it: I love Facebook. It’s a great way for keeping up with friends and family; I can share personal news easily, and it’s fun! I wish my dog, Molly, knew how much we owe this wonderful appI have no idea what Facebook is, but I’ll tell you I wish I didn’t exist! Leslie’s always tap-tapping onto that Facebook thing she talks about instead of petting me. It’s enough to make a dog jealous!
It all started earlier this Summer when I had to get my hair cut in town. I didn’t like leaving Molly because the weather looked chancy, but I had an appointment to keep. And I figured she’d be okay at home.I remember that as a hot, sultry day, and I couldn’t believe Les would leave me at home. Of course, my other human, Rog stayed home like he should to let me in and out the front door. So I went out for a walk.
Just as my haircut was almost finished, the skies opened up, and it poured. I mean, lightning and thunder that made the ground shake. I drove home through the deluge as quick as I could to help Rog with poor, thunder-shy Molly. When I got there, he said, “She’s not here!”I was watching this lizard on the neighbor’s porch rail when all of the sudden, the sky shouted – KABOOM! Les says it’s nothing, but she doesn’t understand – skies aren’t supposed to do that! I ran and ran to get away from the noise. But the noise kept following me.
I never want to relive those frightful next hours again: walking, searching, knocking on doors, and always calling Molly’s name. In desperation, I even posted Molly’s picture on our village’s Facebook page. Les was afraid? She doesn’t know what fear is, not until a thunder-monster starts chasing her tail. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore and then I didn’t know where I was! I wasn’t just scared; I was the worst thing a dog could be: LOST.
I was about ten steps away from tears when my phone began to chime. Someone had seen Molly’s photo on another Facebook page and made the connection! They called, and then Rog called, and we jumped in the jeep. Fifteen minutes later, Molly was back in my lap, all 65 wet pounds of her!I didn’t know that lady in the yellow house, but she had a Facebook thing in her hand, like Leslie. She let me in, to get away from the Thundermonster. Then some more humans put me in a car and drove me someplace else. But Leslie was waiting there!
According to Google, Molly covered about 1.5 miles in her Thunder-run, but that journey took her far past our neighborhood and into a place we didn’t know existed. Without Facebook and the help of some lovely generous people, we might never have found her again. So I thank them in my prayers every night. Hey, this is all above my head. All I know is that Thunder-monsters are real, and most people are great, even when they’re obsessed with Facebook. We’re all in this life to help each other out, and I helped Les find some more human friends that day.
(Even if Facebook helped a little.)