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!

The Best Storyteller I ever Knew

Storyteller with fan

There are always tributes to male parents close to Father’s Day. Check out Social Media and you’ll see all kinds of posts commemorating the sweetest, the bravest, the kindest fathers, etc. I’m sure all of those plaudits are true. But, when it comes to titles and “Greatest” plastic championship cups, I know which one belongs to my Dad. He was the first and best Storyteller I ever knew.

My Dad loved a laugh more than anything else and his jokes were many and varied. (At his funeral, Dad stories brought out as many smiles as tears.) And, as a kid, he and his buddies pulled practical jokes to make each other laugh. And by jokes, I mean the kind of stunts that could get a kid kicked out of school. I know this because he told us about them.

The Greatest Storyteller
With an early fan.

Now some parents try to keep their own children from learning what stinkers they were as kids. But not my Dad. He loved spinning tales of his miscreant past and we loved hearing him talk. After all, we knew some of the characters. but Dad had a way of talking that made you feel like you were there. At dinner, Dad would grin, start a story and pretty soon, my sister and I would be giggling, banging our fists on the table and forgetting to eat our food (it takes a lot for me to forget food!) Barb and I loved some of his stories so much, we asked him to retell them again and again. (I referred to these as “Daddy’s Greatest Hits”) Then we brought friends over to listen to him tell them again. We never got tired of Daddy’s stories. And we miss hearing them, now that he’s gone.

So, in honor of Dad, for the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few of his stories. I don’t know if I can recapture his inimitable timing or delivery but I’ll try. Anything to hear these tales again

Some people thought my Dad was a naughty, undisciplined boy because of the pranks he pulled. To me, he was just my Daddy. The best storyteller I ever knew.

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.