Do you ever make yourself crazy for no good reason? I did once, but then I snapped out of it. Okay, this is just one instance of self-imposed craziness. I wrote this column eons ago, but it's a nice reminder to stay grounded in reality. My towels still don't match.
It’s Not Always a Good Thing
Kmart commercials are really beginning to grate on my last
nerve, and it’s not a good thing.
It was seeing Martha Stewart relaxing in a bathtub on a
commercial for her new collection that did it.It crossed my mind I might get a little bit of pleasure from watching
her being dunked underwater in the tub.
Really, I do not wish her any harm.Martha made a wise move when she collaborated
with Kmart to offer her line to the average consumer.I am sure she took into consideration the
median income of a person in the U.S. was comparable to what she spent on fine
linens in the guest wing of her summer home.
I have not always been anti-Martha, but the commercial about
her family preferring a certain dinnerware pattern for their favorite dishes
made me want to hurl.Do her children
refuse to eat if their favorite dessert is not served in a green dish?
I used to watch her show, and I fell victim.I tried to emulate her artsy-crafty methods
on a budget close to 1/100 or less of what I imagine she makes a year.
I would watch jotting down recipes.Never mind the fact that I had to look up
what some ingredients were to even figure out where to find them in the
grocery.Never mind the fact some of the
ingredients were not even available in Bluffton.
I was hooked.I was
ready to turn old quilts into shower curtains, cook gourmet meals, and have
beautiful cats napping nearby as I harvested rare and exotic vegetables from my
I’d imagine inviting forty of my closest friends over for a
dinner party where we’d stroll about my beautifully landscaped yard, complete
with a fountain made from milk jugs and a windmill constructed from recycled
We would laugh while I told witty stories as we sipped wine
aged in the cellar I dug as a weekend project.The wine of course was made from grapes I had grown and stomped
We would walk through my orchard while I showed them the
exquisite peaches I would later make into preserves to present as gifts to my
guests. Later, I would show them the
canning jars which I’d hand-blown from the glass I had collected in my spare
After a scrumptious meal of delicate lobster I had trapped
myself, dipped in a succulent butter I had blended in my very own butter churn,
I would give them a tour of my home.
It would be immaculately decorated from pieces collected on
my journeys around the world.I would
tell them quirky little anecdotes about my favorite items and how they came
into my possession. If a clumsy guest broke a rare vase, there would be no
worries because I owned the last three known to exist.
I would show them the breakfast room with the glorious
morning exposure, the table already set for breakfast the next morning.I would nonchalantly mention my family
absolutely enjoyed the red Fiesta ware that was so hard to find.The thousands I had spent on it were well
worth seeing the smiles on their faces.
Lucky for me, and our bank account, I snapped out of
Who was I trying to fool?It wasn’t like I was ever going to take off for a weekend of antiquing
in New England, see a copper pot that cost more than my monthly house and car
payment combined and announce, “I must have that!”
I was done pretending to be what I was not.So what if my towels didn’t match my shower
curtain?So, what if my dinnerware
collection was the same I used for every meal?For a while, though, Martha had me convinced it was not a good thing.
My family is content with plates that are clean when I serve
them a delicious meal of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.They are also happy if there’s a dry towel
when they are done showering.I haven’t
heard any complaints that the towels are not made from Egyptian cotton in
While she may continue to create frenzy in others, I am well
grounded in reality now.The average
person doesn’t have the time or the finances to do what she does.
As far as I am concerned, it’s a “good thing” the local
Kmart closed.About the time my family
asked for a specific dinnerware pattern with their favorite meal, I’d be the
weird woman picketing outside with a sign that said “Down with Martha.”
words of the popular Easter song warning me that Peter Cottontail was hopping
down the bunny trail could send me into a fit of hysterics as a child.I didn’t care if hippity-hoppity Easter was
on its way or not.I wanted that dang
rabbit to keep his distance.I had a
love/hate thing with ole Peter Cottontail.I loved that he brought me a basketful of candy on Easter morning.I hated that he would show up at the last
place I’d expect to see him.
I am not
sure why this unjustified terror took hold of me, but I know where it
started. I'm not entirely sure it's unjustified. Though completely accidental,
the deeply seeded fear was planted at Jack’s Surplus, a discount store.My dad called it Tokyo Jack’s. I guess because most of the merchandise was
made in Japan, or maybe it was cheaply made.I’m really not sure, but I do know that was about my favorite place to
shop.It never benefited me much to go with my mom
because she never bought me anything.We’d roam the aisles while I made mental notes on what I’d ask Grandma
Coleman to buy me the next time we shopped.
favorite section was the shoes.They had
some of the greatest clogs anyone in Indiana could possibly lay eyes on.And there were wedgies, too.Grandma had taught me all about them because
while I might have shared my love of dogs with my grandpa and my love of
Spanish with my kindergarten teacher, Grandma knew a good pair of shoes when she saw
admired a pair of avocado green sling back wedgie clogs.These shoes had it all, including a cork
heel.I would have to figure out a way
to get grandma to take me to Jack's.
was the best mind reader in the world.Never mind what they said about moms having eyes in the back of their
heads.If my mom had them, she didn’t
need them because she somehow knew what I was thinking.If she had a crystal ball and some scarves,
she could have been a gypsy fortune teller.Even
without the accessories, she knew what I was up to.
you even think about having your grandma get those for you,” she said.“You’re feet aren’t big enough, and you aren’t
useless to try to clue her in on how grandma showed me that you could take a
piece of newspaper, ball it up, and put it in the toes of shoes if they were a
little bit too big.I’d done it all the
time when I played dress up in her things.
It wouldn't be long until I could wear a woman's size 5 1/2, anyway. Everyone said I was growing like weed.
have made my argument, but a voice came over the speaker and caused me to stop
“Attention:The Easter Bunny has arrived!” a cheerful
voice sounded throughout the store.
mom’s chance to lead me away from the shoes I didn’t need, but wanted.“Let’s go see the Easter Bunny.”
know what the voice was so happy about because he was scarier than my mental
image of the devil who was going to load my parents up and take them off to hell since they didn't go to church (no dying required). All the storybooks
and cartoons I’d seen had made me think he was a cute and lovable sort who
hopped around his bunny trail delivering chocolate rabbits and jelly
had to be some mistake.This guy was at
least 15’ tall and was wearing bibbed overalls.His fur was matted and crazy like a cat with mange or a dog that was in
need of a good de-burring.
go see him,” my said and pushed me forward.
screamed and ran the other direction.
c’mon,” my mom urged.
rabbit didn’t speak, but just stared at me with those huge hollowed out
eyes.I couldn’t threaten to kick his
big, vacant eyes out because someone had apparently beaten me to the punch.
won’t hurt you,” my mom continued to urge.
that’s what they all say, I thought while my mom tried to coax me out from a
rack of polyester pantsuits, promising me we could go home.
part was that he was stationed by the cash registers.I felt him eyeing me with those huge empty
eye sockets.He looked like an Easter
zombie.I kept my eyes peeled should have make any sudden moves and leave his Easter area as my mom checked out.
felt the same about Jack’s Surplus City.Even when Grandma took me, she had to promise me that the Easter Bunny
wasn’t there before I’d even get out of the car.Not even the love of fashionable shoes could
make me trust the place again.
tried to convince me that it wasn’t the “real” Easter bunny that I saw.In fact, they said it was a man dressed up
like him.He was just one of the Easter
Bunny’s helpers.I wasn’t buying
it.No one who loved children and
delivering candy, and withstood the likes of Iron Tail in the cartoon would
send something like that to Jack’s.I
didn’t care and no amount of convincing was going to work.I did not, nor would I ever, trust that
unassuming of any impending jeopardy, I later found myself at church for an
Easter party.I really didn’t want to
go.I would have been happy to stay home
and color or play with my dolls. I'm sure my mom saw it as an opportunity for a break, so she loaded me up, and dropped me off.
used the feltboard and taught us about the very first Easter.She put up a picture of a cave with a big
rock against the doorway.But since it
was a good Friday for God, he sent angels to roll the rock away.This made the angels happy because Jesus was
his son, and had raisins.Or something like that, anyway.The details were sketchy, and I was too busy
wondering how they paper stuck to the board without falling off.
definitely something I needed, and I would ask Grandma C to get me one.Maybe they had them at Jack’s, and I wanted
one badly enough that I would risk seeing that scary rabbit if it meant I got a
feltboard.But then again, maybe I would
tell Grandma to look the next time she was there.The image of the rabbit who was a man
pretending to be a rabbit picked by the real Easter Bunny still haunted
me.I had planned on staying in bed that
Easter night, not taking any chances as to what I might see if I got up to get
a drink of water and go to the bathroom.
everyone,” the feltboard lady said as happy as the voice on the speaker in
Jack’s, “We all have to hide now because the Easter Bunny is coming!”
was never a real reason to be afraid, I now had one.I might have been a scaredy-cat, but
something told me it was bad news if you had to hide somewhere from
took us into the stairwell leading up from the church basement to the first floor and closed the
door behind us.I hunkered down on the
steps to not risk being seen from the small window on the landing.I was sure if the rabbit saw me that would be
the end of me.
translated in a most twisted way that day adding even more reasons to fear
Peter Rabbit.Okay, he was coming.We were hiding.Why would we hide from him unless we were in
eminent danger?This was not a good sign
at all, and apparently, my paranoia was just.The Easter Bunny was obviously wicked, as I had suspected.
girl saw me crying and tried to make me feel better.She told me that there was nothing to be
afraid of, and unless she knew something I didn’t know, she had to be
After the coast was clear, the lady
tried to lure me back to the basement.When I wouldn’t budge, and had drawn a crowd of the other grownups, she
grabbed my wrist and dragged me down the last three steps.Not only did I have great mistrust for a
giant rabbit wearing overalls and sneakers, I came out of hiding for nasty
malted robin eggs and some jelly beans, which were disgusting, too.
as I had no in-person encounters with the Easter Bunny, all was fine.I was torn, though, when Dad teased that
Toby, our sheep dog, might chase off the Easter Bunny.I
didn’t know whether to cheer on my dog, or be upset that I might not get my
allotment of chocolate.
watched Here Comes Peter Cottontail,
in the same light again. When Peter
Cottontail was pitted against the evil Irontail, the nasty, mean rabbit that
sported a metal tail because he was ran over by a child on a tricycle, I no longer knew who to root for.Peter Cottontail or Iron tail.Hmm, it was the lesser of two evils, and at
least Iron tail was supposed to be scary.
I could do was to stay out of his way, and I hoped that he would do the same
for me.It didn’t stop me from double
checking what month it was anytime we pulled up to Jack’s Surplus City or I was
sent to church for some sort of party.I
wasn’t taking any chances.
Today, my husband and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. In celebration, here's an excerpt from my book, Four Eyes Were Never Better Than Two...and other observations.
There’s something to be said for being young and in
I could have been in the Arctic and it wouldn’t have
mattered to me.North Pole, South Pole,
or Outer Mongolia - the destination didn’t matter.I was eager to start my life with my soon-to-be
husband who was in the Army stationed at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.
After driving 35 hours straight with my brother and his
friend who were 18 years old at the time, I arrived at my new home in the
middle of the night.Separated only one
month, I didn’t care that local stores sold t-shirts that said, “Sierra Vista,
14 miles from hell.”Of course, I
wouldn’t realize that the t-shirts weren’t kidding until the next morning when
the sun rose.
As I headed out the door to get something out of the van
that night, he scared me to death when he yelled, “Don’t go outside without
I stopped dead in my tracks.Snakes?Scorpions?Toe-eating desert denizens?As it turned out, sand burrs were the reason.
Picture a cocklebur with very sturdy,
unforgiving thorns.I was raised in
Indiana.While I hate to fuel the myth
about barefooted hillbillies, I never wear shoes unless I am leaving the house
with the intention of getting into the car.But, the sand burrs made mosquitoes, poison ivy, and other bothersome
weeds seem like nothing.
Later, I only had to extract one from my foot before I
relented.Shoes were a desert
requirement.This made my feet sad.One of my husband’s favorite claims is that
he bought me my first pair of shoes since I’m a Hoosier and all and still look
for the outhouse sometimes because indoor plumbing is a novelty to me.In actuality, I started wearing the shoes I
already owned because sand burrs weren’t the most pleasant thing to pull out of
the bottom of my feet.The brown blades
of grass were the equivalent to strolling on a bed of razor blades, too.Shoes were a necessity.I felt sorry for a region whose inhabitants
never realized the divine feeling of shade grass beneath the bare feet and
between the toes.I can’t imagine
missing out on the ritual of sitting under a tree in the grass with a couple
friends talking.In AZ, one’s rump would
not be forgiving.
When the bright Arizona sun rose that next morning, not only
did it illuminate the sky, but also my view of where I was going to spend the
next three years.I didn’t cry, but I
think it was because I was experiencing some sort of climate shock and my tear
ducts had yet to adjust.
My view when I woke up the next morning.I suppose it could have been worse, but I
sure never got used to seeing mountains.Indiana is rather flat.
My husband rented a house trailer before my arrival.Buena Vista was the name of the trailer
park.The name translates into “Good
Vista.”Vista according to
Webster’s:a distant view through or
along an avenue or opening; an extensive mental view (as over a stretch of time
or a series of events).
The blazing hot
concrete patio was often covered with the tiniest grasshoppers I've ever
seen.I'm surprised they didn't cook on
it."I'm sorry, I can't leave
because I'm being holed up in my home because of a grasshopper militia."
What an extensive mental view of the first place we lived
together as husband and wife it’s left me.I didn’t realize how bad Buena Vista really was back then.It’s a very good thing I thrived on the
newness of being in love because it is not some place I would return to
My first question once I walked out the door the next
morning was, “Why is the grass brown?”
“You have to water
it,” he said.“Except during monsoon
season when it rains every day for a month.”
During monsoon season, it was 120 degrees in the shade with
100% humidity.Also, these rains washed
the snakes out of the mountains into the valley where we lived.Also, bears and mountain lions.Well, if the National Guard that came down
for their two-week training didn’t scare the latter out of the mountains.I was hardly surprised when animal control
extracted a brown bear from a tree around the corner.When a nearby neighbor stepped on a
rattlesnake as she went to her next door neighbor’s house to borrow sugar
(honest to goodness, you can’t make things like that up) and was whisked off to
the E.R., I treaded lightly and considered getting some combat boots as a
It did not take long for homesickness to set in.The only friend I felt like I had was the
maintenance man.Heaven knows we saw
enough of him between plugged toilets, swamp coolers that blew hot air, and gas
leaks.Swamp coolers, I learned, put
moisture into the air.I didn’t know
what it was supposed to do.I only knew
it blew hot outside air at about 70 mph down that trailer’s hallway.Sure, if I stood in the hallway, it blew the
sweat off my forehead as it beaded.They
aren’t kidding when they say it’s hot in the desert and that it’s a dry
heat.It was often hard to tell that I’d
sweated at all, except when signs of dehydration started to set in.Apparently, our swamp cooler was not putting
moisture into the air, hence the reason for the cyclone of hot air.Once repaired, it helped cool things down a
bit.Except during monsoon season
because the air was already full of moisture.
Buena Vista wasn’t so muy buena.After the plus sign appeared on a pregnancy
test, we put in for on-post housing.Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long to move.I didn’t care where it was.We could have been in the middle of the
firing range, and it had to have been better than Buena Vista and the trailer
from the late 60s.I didn’t miss my
neighbors to our right who seemed to have some sort of communal living thing
going on.I bid a final farewell to the
ones whose bedroom butted up to our bedroom at the end of the trailer after
many sleepless nights of overhearing their fights and making calls to the
Back home, I had friends and family.There, I knew next to no one except a German
girl across the street.Sometimes her
English left a lot to be desired, but we both were pregnant at the same time,
so we bonded over that.She didn’t seem
very homesick.I was so sad, and
jealous, when they were being transferred and she went back home to
Germany.I missed sitting around in a
group with her and her German friends while they all spoke their native
tongue.I missed being told, “Stick
around us long enough, and you’ll be fluent in German.”The only thing I was fluent in – counting
down how many days we had left in the desert.
I felt as lonely as this lone cactus somewhere on the route
to Nogales, Mexico.
August 30, 1992 was our departure date.I do often wonder how different it might have
been if technology was then what it is now.Back then, there was no such thing as email, text messages, or even free
long distance.Maybe email existed
somewhere at that time, but I hadn’t heard of it.I anxiously answered the phone those days as
quickly as I could with the hopes of speaking to someone back home calling to
chat.I relied heavily on letter
writing, which I loved, so that was one of the few advantages of living in the
dark ages pre-Internet and free long distance.
I suppose many sit around and have a good chuckle over the
first place they lived when starting out.While I think back and grimace, I do know there was one positive thing
about the experience.If our marriage
survived Buena Vista, it can survive anything.
The decision to leave Arizona brought about our first fight
as husband and wife.“You can stay,” I
told my husband who’d been offered a civilian job there.“The baby and I are going home to IN.”It was a promise, not a threat, and he knew
Several times a year, he reminds how close he’d be to
retirement.When the wind chill is below
zero and the snow flies, he tells me it’s all my fault that we still aren’t in
AZ where it doesn’t snow enough to count and you can celebrate Christmas in
short sleeves.I don’t take it
personally, and seldom do I come close to having any regrets.We’ve been back in IN for over twenty years
now.I must concur with the infamous words
of Dorothy, there is no place like home.
I've been trying to post something at least weekly, but this week, our four year old granddaughter is staying with us. Spongebob. My Pretty Pony. Or maybe it's My Little Pony. I'm not sure, but she'll correct me when I get it wrong. Rainbow Dash. Paw Patrol. Big girl bicycles. Sidewalk chalk. Bubbles. Happy Meals. Fuzzy pajamas. Snuggles, cuddles, and hugs. We're having a great week, but I think she might be one of those new super breeds of children who require so little sleep. My kids napped up until the time they joined the Navy. As I went to sleep last night, I was reacquainted with that totally exhausted feeling that I hadn't felt since my kids were that little. You know, where you're just trying to stay awake long for bedtime. I haven't had the urge to doze off in the recliner for eons.
Anyway, here's an old, very old column from the archives of Off-Kelter, the column I wrote for ten years.
I love a good mystery.However, I would rather get my fill of suspense and intrigue by reading
a book or watching a movie.Instead, I
play amateur detective on a daily basis.
Objects disappear and reappear in the strangest places.Case after mystifying case, I am constantly
piecing together clues to try to figure out why these things happen.I have yet to completely rule out a gremlin
or poltergeist activity.I will put
something down, and five minutes later, it is missing.Entire gallons of milk have disappeared from
the refrigerator.An axe that I’m not
even sure was ours made a surprise appearance in the front yard.
The bathroom is a haven for oddities.I never know what I will find lurking in
there.Imagine my surprise when I opened
the shower curtain to found two empty bottles of shampoo, a tube of oozing
toothpaste, and a bicycle helmet in the tub.Several days prior, I had found the helmet on the bathroom floor and
tossed it into the toy box.
Both boys had showered the night before.While I had picked up wet towels and dirty
clothes, I hadn’t peeked behind the curtain.Befuddled, I pondered why the children were showering with toothpaste
and protective headgear.I was certain
the shampoo bottles were nearly full, too.
I have yet to solve that one.I put the helmet away, and if it turns up in
the bathtub again, then I will have to ask.
The mystery of the junk drawer remains the biggest unsolved
case in the kitchen.Seven years ago, I
started out with one junk drawer.Its
contents have now multiplied and migrated into two other drawers.Things I didn’t even know I had seem to
I could be wrong, but it is my suspicion that the junk
drawer is plotting to take over the entire kitchen.I have found screwdrivers, nails, receipts,
and hard candy mingling with the spoons and forks.
Laundry seems to be a universal perplexity, and it is
something I question more than anything else in this house.I put clothes into the washer, transfer them
to dryer, and as soon as I turn my back, the unexplainable happens.
I was matching socks when I came across one that would fit a
toddler.How did it get in my
basket?The kids had cleaned out from
under their bed earlier that week hauling four armloads of dirty clothes to the
utility room.I know it hadn’t been that
long since they had last cleaned under their beds.
Not only this tiny sock made me raise an eyebrow,
though.I found a pair of size 3T
underwear in the wash.It has been years
and years since either child wore something so small.Yet, there they were looking brand new.The same day, my favorite black shirt came up
missing and has yet to turn up anywhere.
The greatest quandary without any explanation is missing
objects that turn up months later in a desk drawer.Although closely related to the junk drawer
in the kitchen, the desk seems to be a refuge for things I need but cannot
find.Mysteriously, these items turn up
later when I am scrounging for something else.
Right now, the left desk drawer contains some strange
things: a Christmas ornament my son made in 1998, a hairbrush that I’ve had
since I was ten, three rocks, assorted batteries, and literature for a computer
we used to have.
Why these items reside in the right drawer is beyond me:
blueprints for a garden shed, pain pills for a dog that is now dead, the leg of
a broken plastic horse that is on the kitchen shelf, a sample bottle of Ortho
Weed-B-Gon, dental floss, a baby spoon, fifteen pen lids, and a thermometer.
I can bet anything when I need to take someone’s
temperature, or we finally are ready to build that garden shed, both will
I’m not exactly Sherlock Holmes, but logic tells me I might
just find them both in the bathtub months later.
...that I'd either tell a daughter if I had one or lessons that I've learned being 40something.
1. Actions speak louder than words, so put your middle finger down and be a class act.
2. Don't pride yourself on being a bitch. Of course, you're probably going to be called one at one time or another in your life, but don't label yourself as one. Be strong. Independent. Headstrong. Stand up for what you believe in. Look out for your friends, family, and children, but don't make those qualities equate a derogatory term.
3. Kids are going to do stupid things. It's what they do. They're learning. They don't know the things you know despite the time invested in trying to teach them to learn from your mistakes. Try to set a good example. Even the best parents in the world have kids that occasionally screw up. It's all part of the process. Remember how tough it was to be a kid at times? It's not always a reflection on your parenting skills. Well, not unless you handed the kid the scissors and told them to run with them. In that case, then yes, your kid's stupidity is because of you.
4. It's probably always going to bring you a small amount of pleasure when you see someone who used to be incredibly thin get fat. As we get older, a whole lot of things impact our bodies beyond just having babies. Your time just might come, too, so be careful feeling too much amusement over the high school cheerleader seriously needing a Weight Watchers membership.
5. Sometimes, people do get what they deserve, but if you're flinging around that word "Karma" and hoping that someone gets their just reward, you might get yours too putting out that kind of vindictiveness into the universe.
6. For the sake of humor and entertainment, being a vodka-swilling mother probably isn't as funny as you think it is. Yeah, we all could use a drink every now and then after a kid has plugged the toilet, stuck a fork in an outlet, or announced in the grocery store check-out that the guy in front of you smells like poop. But, if you carry a flask in your purse to make it through a day of parenting, well, it's probably more concerning than endearing as far as motherhood goes. Yes, kids will drive you to drink on occasion. That's a fact.
7. Cuss like a drunken sailor on shore leave or string together expletives like a trucker, but when it's appropriate. Like you're actually on shore leave or sitting at the wheel of a big rig or at a tractor pull. As with everything, there's a time and place. Some of the funniest, most engaging people I know have a knack of adding a small amount of profanity that brings a little something to conversation. Otherwise, you appear as though you have no manners, and believe it or not, that matters to some people.
8. "Don't say anything you wouldn't want written on the wall beside you for all of eternity for anyone to read." I heard that a couple decades ago, and it's something I'll always struggle with. Think before you speak badly of someone else and realize not many people are capable of keeping secrets.
9. There's a fine line between being opinionated and being an overbearing ass. Don't tell people what they should think. Don't try to change someone's mind even if it's something you're passionate about. People don't like subjects forced down their throats, and most times, they've made up their minds and you're not going to sway an opinion on more sensitive subjects. Appreciate diversity and listen to what someone else has to say. You might learn something.
10. Be genuinely happy for the success of others. If you want your own success, at whatever you're doing, get busy and work for it.
There was something mystical
and magical about all the talk of our St Patrick’s Day celebration in second
grade.Not only did the two teachers
deck out the classrooms in green and all things shamrocks and leprechauns, it
would be a weeklong celebration to build up to the holiday on Friday.
It wasn’t just St. Patrick’s
Day.It was St. Patrick’s Week.Wearing green to avoid a pinch played just a
small part in the lineup.On one day, we
planted “shamrock seeds” by gluing a seed onto a piece of 8 x 10 construction
paper, and drew what we thought would grow out of it.“Anything you want.Anything you think might grow from this magic
seed,” the teacher instructed.
She probably also told us to
use our imagination.I wasn’t the only
kid who drew a green shamrock growing out of the seed.The boy who dipped his wand into the tub of
paste and then licked it drew one, too.Mine was better in comparison, but only by a little bit.Hey, I grew up on a farm, and if you planted
a kernel of corn, you got a corn stalk.A green bean seed yielded a green bean plant.Logic told me that if you planted a “shamrock
seed,” a shamrock would grow from it.Say
what they might, the seeds looked suspiciously like the little round things
that floated with the pickles my grandma canned.If I’d known it was a mustard seed, and what
a mustard plant looked like then, I would have drawn that.
It’s not that I didn’t love a
class party.Even better, was a class
party that took a week to prepare for.While the whole shamrock seed thing mystified me because it seemed so
silly, I became more and more apprehensive about what was going to go down in
the gym on Friday.
On another day after noon
recess, our two second grade classes converged on the carpet in the back of one
of the classrooms to hear a story.Not
just any story, but a story about a leprechaun and his magical pot of gold that
could be found at the end of every rainbow.I don’t recall the name of the story, but the gist of it was that
leprechauns might possibly be a little less than trustworthy.They didn’t like to be tricked because they
loved to do the tricking.They were wiry
little characters that darted all over the place, appearing here, disappearing,
and reappearing.The one thing I took
away from that storytime on the rug was that leprechauns quite possibly were
evil and perhaps something to be feared.
Next thing I know, a
leprechaun was going to be on the loose at the school.The teacher said he would leave us a treasure
map, and by following it, we could find the little green guy’s hidden stash,
just like at the end of the rainbow.A
pot of gold, maybe?We were all going to
be rich, and I couldn’t wait to spend my share of the ante.I soon came back to reality, and the thoughts
of great riches were heavily outweighed by the notion that some little green dude
was going to be roaming around and possibly ticked off like he was in the story
we’d just heard.The teachers assured us
that we’d be safe – paste boy was apprehensive, too.We were on some strange St. Patrick’s Day
wavelength, and I only hoped it didn’t mean that we’d grow up to get
married.I’d be the wife of the boy who
licked paste, and even at that age, I had enough problems.I struggled to tell time and was told if I
didn’t learn, I’d have to take second grade over again.See?I
had enough on my plate without mind melding with a paste eater.
After being convinced that
the leprechaun would drop off the map and leave the premises, I could relax and
make plans with what to do with my riches.Toys and lots of candy probably.I couldn’t get enough of those candy necklaces or pixie sticks.Candy cigarettes were good, too, and with
that kind of money, I could afford to throw away the ones that didn’t have good
cherries on them.
I would definitely go buy a
new bicycle because it was downright embarrassing to be riding around on my
yellow and green one, complete with the less than complementing black and white
seat. Our dog Toby had made lunch of my
original seat one day when I supposedly left it lying on its side and didn’t
use the kickstand.I say he knocked down
the bike and munched on the once flowered seat that matched, but my mom said
there was no way he would knock down a bike.
I said if he would eat a
bicycle seat, he had the power to knock down a bike, and it obviously proved he
didn’t think clearly, anyway.So, a new
bike was in order.If I had some money
leftover, maybe I’d buy something for my brother and sister.That was a big maybe.A leprechaun was visiting MY class, after
Friday arrived, and not
before my obsession grew with what I’d do with my gold and what I would do if I
spied the leprechaun roaming the halls.The
teacher produced the map, which guided us around the gym, through the cafeteria,
and to the playground while we took such and such amount of steps – baby steps
– giant steps, until we arrived at our destination.
One girl ran up and snatched
the bag that was our treasure for following the leprechaun’s instructions on
the map.The teacher took it away from
her, and announced, “Well, let’s see what the leprechaun left us,” as she
slowly opened the bag building up the suspense.I didn’t know what a piece of gold could buy, but I’d seen the episode
of “Brady Bunch” where the old gold miner seemed convinced gold was worth the
big bucks.I didn’t think that show
would mislead.I could hardly contain my
excitement even though I still felt oddly distracted by scanning the distance
for any little dudes dressed in green with buckles on their hats and
Pot of gold, huh? The teacher produced a piece of green candy
for each kid in second grade.One of
those little wrapped Brach’s candies like they sold at the Dime Store.One piece each for all 35 of us, at the
most.What a rip off.One measly piece of candy.
That dang leprechaun.Had he tricked us?The teachers didn’t seem to be surprised that
we didn’t find his pot of gold.The
disappointment felt somehow collective among my classmates.All that excitement over the week for
this?Some kids popped the candy into
their mouths.I took mine home and fed
it to the dog.I didn’t want anything
that evil, cheapskate leprechaun had touched, and if my dog would eat a
flowered bicycle seat, he’d eat a piece of deceit-laden candy.
I am now a grandma. Pardon me while that human tendency overtakes me, making me think I'm the only one who has ever experienced this. You know. Like people get when they first fall in love or have a baby, and all the newness and wonderfulness of it all makes other people want to dry heave. There's little more annoying to others, I know. I'll try to curtail it.
My oldest son got married, and not only did I gain a wonderful daughter-in-law, but I also got a 4 1/2 year old granddaughter who sweetened the deal. We met her for the first time this past weekend. While some grandmothers dote on the little ones, almost taking credit for how beautiful, smart, and funny their grandbabies are, I have nothing to do with how beautiful, smart, and funny she is. But believe me, she's all of those things.
She warmed right up to us, and upon the second day of knowing her Grandma Kelly and Papa John, she wanted to spend the night with us. Papa John was relegated to the couch, and the footie pajamaed sweetheart crawled into bed with me. As we lay there, it occurred to me that I'd spent many a night in that very bedroom with my own grandma. I practically grew up in the house we live in because it'd once belonged to my grandparents. My grandpa died when I was in first grade. My grandma welcomed my company, and my parents were more than willing to drop me off for weekend stays. There's never been a more perfect definition of a "win-win" situation.
"Hey," I said to her, trying my best to get my point across to a little girl who'd been inundated by meeting a boatload of new grandmas and grandpas in less than 24 hours. "When I was a little girl, my grandma lived in this house. I used to spend the night with her, and we slept in this bedroom. Now, I'm lucky that I'm your grandma and we're having a sleepover, too."
I think it probably went over her head just how special this was to me, but I told her about spending the night with my grandma, and about all the silly stories she used to tell me and all the fun we used to have.
If you had asked me when I was a little girl, I would have
told you that my grandma was the greatest storyteller alive. I guess if you asked me now, I’d say that she
still was the best.I loved to hear a
good story, but not from a book.That
was somehow cheating in my opinion.What
I liked best was to listen to her tell her stories, whether they were ones she
made up to appease me or stories about her childhood.
“Tell me again about the hobos,” I’d beg.She knew which story.She’d start out telling me about the hobos
who rode the rails, stopping in Bluffton.She grew up a few blocks from the train tracks, and her two aunts
lived in the house next door.
“How did they know which houses to go to?”I’d ask after she noted that her aunts always
treated them to a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
“They talked to each other,” she explained they also often
left marks, signs that only the hobos understood telling other where to go.“They knew where to go to get a free
My great-great aunts were Christianly school teachers, and fully
believed in helping the less fortunate.
I think they both married at the last minute just before the term spinster might be applied. One had a child late
in life, a menopause baby if you will.He earned the nickname “Hatchet Jack” and became something of an urban
legend in our area.You might imagine my surprise
when I learned that Hatchet Jack, who chased necking teens away from the
cemetery when I was in high school, purportedly with a hatchet, was my third
cousin.I’m told he can tell you what
the weather was like on any day in the past fifty years. I'd heard stories of him escaping from the psych ward in the local hospital, walking down main street in a hospital gown when he'd decided he wanted to go back home.
That element of crazy is the one thing that made my
grandma’s stories the best.She was
tight lipped about a lot of things, but told just enough to pique my interest.
Her grandfather committed suicide by blowing his head off because his wife was
mean to him, or so the suicide note said.Her sister, my great-aunt who did a tour of the state mental institution
along with their own mother for having “nervous breakdowns,” tried to throw
herself out of a moving car a few weeks before successfully parking her car in
the garage and going to sleep, never to awake.There was the cousin whose mom gave him three baths a day and wouldn’t
let him play in the dirt.He was quite
sickly looking and pale.Germs didn’t
ultimately kill him, but the wreck where alcohol might have been a factor did.Oh, and one of the most scandalous was
Grandma’s cousin who lived in Kentucky who went swimming in the creek when she
had her period.
I ate up our messed up family history.The hobo story, though, was complete in the telling because
no one really went batshit crazy in it. The other stories left a lot to my imagination.
“One day,” she’d say, the anticipation almost killing me to
get to the best part of the story, “this bum showed up on the porch.Now, they wouldn’t let them inside.They’d make them wait while they fixed them a
bite to eat.”
They wouldn’t have dreamed of turning away one of God’s
hungry creatures, but they had their limits, I guess – Christian or not, they
had standards - no hobos allowed in the house.
“And the coffee was too hot, right?”
“Oh goodness, yes,” she’d laugh.“That guy took a bite of his sandwich, and
then a big swig of coffee, and he burned his tongue.”
I knew what was coming next, and it made me giddy.“So he got up, mumbling about the coffee, and
stumbled off down the sidewalk, muttering to himself that the coffee was too
“Hot!Hot!The coffee’s too hot!Hot!Hot!The coffee’s too hot,” I
chanted.At my insistence, sometimes she
would demonstrate how the hobo staggered if the story was a bedtime one.
“Why did he walk that way?”I asked even though I knew that the bum was “tighter than a new boot,”
which meant he was drunk.But since it
was one story that I felt like I was getting an entirely accurate account of
what happened, and not the “G” version, I loved to see how he swaggered and
staggered, tripping over his own feet down the sidewalk because that bum was
drunk as a skunk.
Grandma was an all around good gal besides being a great
storyteller.She tolerated me in a way
that most other adults did not when I was a youngin’.When I got bored with sitting still, she let
me dig through her countless pairs of shoes, and rummage through her jewelry
boxes.I was never finished until I
tried on the blue pumps with the tiny bow or the last pair of clip-on earrings,
and heard all the stories that went with them. While she didn’t own expensive pieces of
jewelry, she had a few pieces that meant something because they were a gift
from a family member, or had belonged to someone who’d since passed away.
When I ran out of things to model for her, we’d flip through
her photo albums and scrapbooks while she told me about her friends while
growing up.One of them had gone to Las
Vegas to dance in a cage.I never
understood why someone would want to be in a cage, let alone how you could
dance in one, but I admired the postcards with Las Vegas in big, block
letters.Anna Louise had dated Johnny,
and they double dated with Grandma and Grandpa before they were married. She
showed me ticket stubs and told me about the dances they went to on the
lake.I pictured them dancing in the
sand in the dark, where men as big as giants played music because they were in
a “big band.”
(I now have these albums and scrapbooks in my possession, and I'll thumb through them and drown in nostalgia that's a mix of hers and mine.)
She taught me the words to songs that drove my parents up
the walls.I’d sing “The Thousand Legged
Worm” over and over again, never really being sure when the song was supposed
to end, so when I got to the chorus of “walk around, walk around, on the other
999, if it can’t be found, I’ll just have to walk around…” I’d take it from the
top, never knowing when to stop, but it was usually when someone said enough
I learned about my history – those I came from, and some who
went long before me.I reveled in the
stories of the family secrets of suicide and those who were a little off their
rockers.When I asked too many questions
she’d change the subject.“When your
daddy was a little boy…”
I grew up, though, as kids do.I had bigger fish to fry than spending the
night with Grandma and hearing made up stories about Harry the monkey, who got
into all sorts of trouble wearing ladies dresses and make-up after escaping
from the zoo.
Many years have passed since I begged to hear about her
friend Babe Fox (how cool of a name is that?) or the time my dad tried to get my uncle to go down the laundry
chute. I remember the stories, though.My grandma passed away in December 2005, and if you asked me now, I’d
still tell you that she was the best storyteller ever.
And that's exactly what I told my granddaughter - that my grandma was the best. As we snuggled up and went to sleep, I hoped that I'll be the kind of grandma that would make my grandma proud.
Remember Kidd Video on Saturday morning cartoons? Cousin Oliver, Robbie Rist, from the "Brady Bunch" was on it. You can watch a video clip here.
There's nothing more to do with that. I just happened to think of it while I was aye, yi, yiing.
Sometimes, I like reading things I wrote when my kids were younger. I miss them. Sometimes. They're both in the Navy now, stationed away from their momma. After 22 years of being a hands-on, round-the-clock stay-at-home-mom, the silence is almost deafening. Of course, I focus on writing more than I ever did when they were underfoot, but I do miss them. I'll often sit here in the evening and it almost feels like someone should come barreling through the front door, full of life with an empty stomach, telling me about their day and asking what there is to eat. Don't get me wrong - I'm proud. So very, very proud of them. It's just that the empty nest isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Some days, it's absolutely heavenly to hear myself think and not pick up dirty drawers and dishes off the living room floor. Other days, well, I miss their presence.
This happened about five and a half years ago, and it's the kind of thing I miss. The unexpected humor and interaction with my kiddos:
My 15 year old walked in yesterday after football practice and presented me with a folded up piece of paper.
"What did you do now?" I asked, sure that he'd gotten in trouble already for doing something senseless and utterly teenage-boyish. Undoubtedly, it was something that required my signature acknowledging that the school knows that I know what a heathen child I have raised.
"Look what I drew," he sniggered.
Now, it's been years since my baby has come home from school and presented me with artwork. As a matter of fact, he never brought his masterpieces home from art class. He'd throw them in the trash when he got back to the classroom, or stuff them in the bottom of his locker. Whenever the teacher deemed his locker as a health or fire hazard, he'd come home with a grocery sack full of crumpled construction paper.
How sweet, I thought. He's giving me something. A bonding moment, perhaps. I was touched by the sentiment, but I can guarantee it was short-lived.
I unfolded the paper, very unsure of what I might find.
The kids went through a period of time where they loved to draw pictures of each other, typically doing something gross. The both had a penchant for doodling scenes of the other one farting. No, I never really got what was so funny about that either.
Then they drew each other's socks, with vapors emitting and big holes, sometimes a big toe sticking out with a very nasty toenail.
After that, it was funny to draw each other holding hands with a fat woman. They'd mark the woman as so-and-so's girlfriend.
I don't understand boys. Never did, really. And, I guess it's fair to say I don't understand most men, but that's a whole 'nother rant.
So, anyway, no idea what his crafty little self is offering me.
There on the page is an elephant. I must say it was a decent drawing. A whole lot better than what I could do.
I noticed the elephant is drinking something. Looks sort of like a paint can. I held it up and out from my face because well, you know, I'm seriously considering getting myself a pair of those reading glasses because my vision sure isn't what it used to be.
I squinted a bit and read the label of the bucket, "ANTI-FREEZE."
"Umm, why is the elephant drinking anti-freeze, or do I want to know?" I questioned.
He laughed and said he didn't know.
"Okay, then. Great. This will come in handy one day when the psychiatrist asks if there were ever any signs of you being mentally disturbed," I said.