One of my favorite childhood memories is of listening to my Aunt Marian’s bedtime stories when my sisters and I spent the night at The Girls’ house.
“The Girls” was what everyone called my father’s four unmarried sisters. They lived at home with their widowed mother until her death, and then continued to live together until the last remaining sister went into a nursing home in her nineties. Since there were four of them and three of us, it meant that each one of us had the full and undivided attention of at least one adult at any given time. All the time. It was pretty creepy when we were teenagers, but we loved it as kids.
Especially at bed time.
Marian was the youngest of the four, and she loved to tell stories about her childhood – particularly about her family’s pet goat, Lindy. She also talked about Chippy the dog and TB the cat, but Lindy was the star of our favorite tales.
At bedtime, Marian would come into the room with us and sit down on the edge of the bed to wind up her big old-fashioned alarm clock. The little bells on top of it would chime as she turned it back and forth in her hands to crank the dial on the back, and the noise would make all of us shiver in anticipation of what was coming next. Crank. . . bong! . . . crank . . . Bong! . . . Chunk, as she plunked it down on the dresser.
Marian would then stretch and yawn theatrically, give us a sleepy smile, and head for the doorway, wishing us all “sweet dreams.”
“Tell us a bedtime story!” We clamored. “Tell us stories about when you were a little girl! Tell a story about Lindy!”
She would heave an aggrieved sigh, roll her eyes and begin: “When I was a little girl,” she always started, “I always went right to bed and right to sleep. So did Lindy. We were both good kids. Now go to sleep.”
“Marian!” we wailed. “Tell us a real story!”
And she was off. It didn’t matter that we had heard the stories hundreds of times or that we knew how each was going to end. We knew each tale by heart. Lindy was a little black and white goat, a runt whose ears “hung down like pigtails” because my Uncle Lawrence’s bigger, meaner goats used to chew on her ears. She followed Marian and The Twins (Dad and Uncle Don) everywhere they went.
Lindy was more like a dog than a goat. She followed her masters to school and feasted with them on leftover popcorn from the neighbor’s popcorn wagon. She once hung herself from the porch railing and had to be rescued in the nick of time. But the most-requested Lindy story was the one that told of her untimely end.
Lindy Stories took place during the Depression in a small, poverty-stricken town in Southwest Michigan. Like most Americans at the time, the family was poor and hungry, barely managing to eke out a living. One of the most crucial elements of their survival was the gas ration sticker on the bumper of my grandfather’s truck. Without that sticker, he couldn’t buy gas for his vehicle; without gas, he couldn’t drive to any of his random odd jobs to earn those few pennies that meant the difference between feeding his family and letting them go hungry.
So of course Lindy ate the gas ration sticker off my grandfather’s truck.
I don’t know how to do this.
For nearly eighteen years, I’ve been part of a team. We bought a house together, paid our bills together, made three babies together. We shared holidays and we carpooled when the roads were bad. We held hands and dried each other’s tears at funerals; we leaned on each other in tough times and laughed together in good times.
It’s time for both of us to sink or swim on our own.
It would be easier if I could hate him. I want to hate him. I want to rage and shriek with fury. I want to be Anne Bancroft in “How to Make an American Quilt”, hurling porcelain dolls at him and turning the broken shards into a lasting work of art so I can revisit my anger for years.
But I can’t hate him. We never stopped loving each other. We stopped liking each other. We stopped talking. We stopped being a couple. We stopped telling the truth, and we stopped being in love.
I am making plans for a future without him: I am trying to buy my own home, and I have a job interview next week. We are being cordial—friendly, actually – and making decisions about who gets which car and how we’re going to share custody of the kids. But in the end, I’m going to be alone.
I’m going to be a single mom.
I can’t call my mom for advice. She’s been gone for almost thirty years. I can read books on coping with divorce, and I can ask others for advice, but when it comes right down to it, I am going to be alone. Sinking or swimming, all by myself.
It’s going to be all right. I never sink, no matter how choppy the water gets.
In the past month, I have cried a lot. Talked a lot. Thought a lot. Haven’t slept much. Thrown up more than I care to admit. But I’ve also talked to my husband – really talked, actually communicated on a level we haven’t reached in years. I’ve seen a spark of the man I married, a hint of his old smile, and I remember why I fell in love with him.
And I’ve seen the old me, too.
I miss the sweet and funny guy that I married. I miss the strong, independent person I used to be. I miss our naiveté, and I am mourning the loss of everything that could have been. Should have been, if only we had learned to communicate like this a long, long time ago. As much as it hurts to admit, we can never be at our best as long as we are together.
The thing I miss the most is sleeping with him. I don’t mean having sex; I mean sleeping. On our left side, a pair of spoons. His arm around my waist, our fingers twined together, his breath in my hair. Even after all those years, even after the worst fights, we always slept like that. Close together, drawing warmth from each other. He was my cocoon. My security blanket. My protector.
He took care of me when I broke my neck. He cried with me when I lost my father. And he held me in his arms the night we broke each other’s hearts and spoke the word aloud for the first time.
I don’t hate him. But we are sinking together, and we both need to swim.
On our own.
When I think of the word Pilgrim, I think of John Wayne. To be more precise, I think of all of the imitators trying to sound like John Wayne by drawling out the word. And because my ADHD mind has a tendency to wander off on some strange tangents when I least expect it, I start wondering about things.
Things like I wonder if John Wayne ever really called anyone “Pilgrim”? Which made me think about William Shakespeare, Lost in Space, and Kevin Bacon.
Stay with me for a moment. I promise it will make sense after a brief tour of my thought processes.
Wondering whether or not the Duke ever said “pilgrim” reminded me of my twelfth grade AP English teacher, who always took it as a personal offense if one of his students misquoted anything. Mr. Nemitz, who spent his spare time directing community theater and bellowing “React, damn it! React!” at unsuspecting actors, had been known to become absolutely livid if he heard anyone say “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well!” Because, apparently, the line is supposed to say “Alas, Poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest.”
Which made me think Damn you, Mr. Nemitz; I can’t remember my own social security number, but I can still remember “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest.”
Which made me think about Mr. Nemitz’s daughter Julie, losing her petticoat onstage while dancing to “Food Glorious Food” during Oliver.
Which made me go, Ah, Charles Dickens! There was an episode of Bonanza that featured Jonathan Harris as Charles Dickens. I love watching Jonathan Harris in reruns of Lost in Space. That show was so kitschy and downright silly, but it used to scare the heck out of me. Even if the villains were dancing carrots or giant air-breathing bluegills with visible zippers on their costumes, they were just so freaky.
Thinking of Lost in Space made me think of Billy Mumy, which reminded me that his daughter Liliana was in the Santa Clause movies with Tim Allen.
Which made me ask my family out loud whether or not they knew that Tim Allen went to Western Michigan University, which is where my sister works.
And that was my mistake.
I have a fifteen year-old son who is a born smartass. I believe his first full sentence contained sarcasm; I know for a fact that 90% of all of his sentences from that point forward contained it. His greatest dream in life is to defeat me at the game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Over the years, I have learned to avoid mentioning any celebrities in front of him.
So his eyes lit up when I mentioned Tim Allen.
“Connect Tim Allen to Kevin Bacon!” my son howled at that point.
It did me no good whatsoever to mutter “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest.” The child doesn’t give a damn whether or not I can quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. He just wants to find a celebrity I can’t connect to Kevin Bacon in six moves or less.
All right. Tim Allen. I could have done it in two moves (Allen to Tom Hanks in Toy Story and Hanks to Bacon in Apollo 13) but for some reason that I don’t remember, I don’t think voice-acting in animated movies is allowed in this game.
No, I am a purist.
Also somewhat anal-retentive at times.
I cracked my knuckles, rolled my neck, and met the challenge head-on. “Tim Allen to Lolita Davidovitch in Jungle to Jungle.”
“Lolita Da-who-da-witch? You’re making that up.”
“Lolita Davidovitch to John Lithgow in Raising Cain.”
“Never heard of it.”
“John Lithgow to Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Ba-bam! Three moves!”
“Kevin Bacon wasn’t in Footloose.”
And that was the moment I realized the sad truth about my life. I am old, and I remember stupid, useless things about Lolita Davidovitch, Kevin Bacon, and the fact that there have been two versions of the movie Footloose.
And of course, that line from Hamlet about poor Yorick.
When I was a little kid, I thought my mom was the world’s best cook. She always seemed to just know how to put things together. Oh, she had cookbooks, but I never saw her use them. She would stand at the stove and throw in a pinch of this and a scoop of that; she’d take a dainty little taste off the edge of the spoon, make a face, and toss in something else.
When I married my husband and met his family, I realized that my mom wasn’t quite the cook I had always believed her to be. Compared to the food prepared by my in-laws, my mother’s cooking was rather bland. She made a lot of baked chicken and boiled potatoes, very few sauces or gravies. It was plain, but it kept our bellies full.
Holidays were the only time she really ventured into fancier dishes. Thanksgiving was her particular favorite, and she would wake up at some ungodly pre-dawn hour to start cooking while she sipped away at bottomless glasses of cheap wine. By the time my sisters and I woke up, the house smelled divine and the kitchen table was at near-collapse under the weight of all of the food.
Mom was usually fairly well bombed by that point, but we pretended not to notice. That early in the day, she was still a jovial drunk. Later, my sisters and I would start placing our bets on which family member would be the lucky one chosen for the annual Thanksgiving Day Fight. By the time we sat down to eat dessert, it was a given that someone would be crying, someone would be shouting, and I would be shoveling in mouthfuls of pie in a frantic attempt at tasting them all before Mom declared the holiday over.
Her specialty was lemon merengue pie. Tart and sweet, with creamy merenge that had nice crispy peaks, it was the perfect finish to any holiday dinner. When anyone asked for her recipe, she shook her head and told us it was a “family secret”.
I never understood why she didn’t consider her own daughters “family” enough to share the recipe with us.
Before she died, I asked her for the recipe one last time. She agreed that her lemon merengue pie was mighty fine and took the recipe with her to the grave.
I missed mom when I got married and she wasn’t at my wedding. I missed her when each of my children was born, and I missed her at odd times of the day or night when I thought of all the things I wanted to ask her. But I never missed her as much as I did on Thanksgiving, when I craved a slice of her lemon merengue pie. I tried countless recipes, and my in-laws tried their own recipes, but nothing was quite right.
I had almost forgotten about Mom’s pie nearly twenty years later, when a small box on the grocery store shelf caught my eye. My*T* Fine lemon pudding and pie filling.
No freaking way.
When I now make that pie at Thanksgiving every year, I tell my kids that it’s an old family secret. And then I show them them the empty box of My*T*Fine and we all laugh.
And I keep the real family secret from them. The one that made my mom get drunk and pick fights on her favorite holiday year after year. The same one that keeps me in my pajamas some days, and sometimes makes me cry for no reason.
Because Depression tastes a lot like lemon merengue pie.
Okay, Boys and Girls, it’s time for Mama A.J.’s list of Top Ten Halloween Dos and Don’ts.
- If you want to give a nasty note to chubby kids while giving candy to the skinny ones, DON’T. Just shut your door and skip Halloween. Maybe even enjoy a quiet evening of extracting your head from your ass.
- If you think Halloween is the work of Satan and feel that it’s your job to tell innocent children they are going to burn in Hell for celebrating, DO join #1 in the head-extraction process.
- On a similar note, DON’T hand out Biblical pamphlets about the evils of Halloween.
- If you think it’s actually called “Whore-o-ween” and want to dress like a porn star, please DO so at an appropriate venue. Which is NOT the elementary school costume party.
- If you think it’s okay to dress your 13-yr old in a costume from Fredrick’s of Hollywood, DO seek help for yourself immediately. People shouldn’t wonder whether she is trick-or-treating or turning tricks.
- When decorating your home, DO try to recognize the line between scary and horrifying. Hint: Making your driveway look like a murder scene two weeks before the big night is horrifying. And not funny.
- Part two of that? When decorating your home, DO remember that trick-or-treaters are children. A little scare is fun, but there’s no need to make them want to go home early and have nightmares for months. Halloween for a five year-old should NOT cause PTSD or require years of psychotherapy.
- If you have a negative opinion about a child’s costume, DO keep it to yourself. Nobody cares that you think it’s wrong for a boy to dress as a princess.
- When choosing costumes for yourself, DO try not to be offensive. Seriously, nobody thinks blackface is funny. Nobody.
- DON’T take everything so seriously on Halloween! If a little girl dresses like an Indian, maybe it’s about a girl wanting to be Pocahontas and not about disrespecting an entire race. If a child dresses like a devil, it doesn’t mean he has sold his soul in exchange for a Zagnut. And the afore-mentioned idiot in the offensive costume is exactly that: an idiot. Not necessarily a racist or a bad person. Just a stupid one.
And there it is, my little bit of sunshine and happiness to spread in the aftermath of Halloween. You’ll have to forgive me for being cranky. But I am alone in a house with two overflowing trick-or-treat bags that don’t belong to me, and the chocolate is talking to me.
I know there’s a Toblerone in there somewhere, darn it.
Well, the time has come for me to be honest about some things. A few weeks ago, I announced that I had entered Harlequin’s annual So You Think You Can Write contest. Those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis may have noticed that I have been conspicuously silent about my progress in the competition.
I washed out. Bombed. Crashed and burned. Didn’t even make the first cut.
It was, however, a great experience. It forced me to really buckle down on this novel that has consumed so much of my life for so long. It made me get excited about Her House Divided again when I had begun to lose faith in my own work, and it made me dig up enough courage to actually submit my first chapter to Harlequin’s Special Edition imprint.
Because of my participation in this contest, I have doubled the number of people I interact with on Twitter. I have chatted with editors and published authors, and I have learned so much about writing and publishing that my brain is working on a serious overload right now.
I am okay with not making the Top 50. After all, there were more than 650 entries. Pretty stiff competition, especially for my first try.
Then, a few days after the Top 50 were announced, there came another announcement: Some of those finalists had been disqualified or unable to finish their manuscript in time. A second round of names would be announced over the following days.
And all hell broke loose. All of a sudden, it seemed as though everyone I had been talking to on Twitter got “the magic email”. Other writers left and right started posting things like “I made Top 50!” and “I’m in!” And I was happy for them. Really.
Okay, I was happy for most of them.
As one of the other competitors has dubbed it, I am suffering from Bridesmaid Syndrome. I am happy for the other writers and I truly wish them all the best in the competition, but I’m also feeling a bit . . . well, not exactly jealous, but pretty darn close. It’s not that I’m asking Why them? It’s more a matter of my asking Why not me?
Still, I could deal with my feelings on this. Get up, shake it off, try to look at my work with a more critical eye, and focus on how much I have benefited from this experience. Give me a few days and a heavy dose of Toblerone. A week, at the most, I’ll move on and bounce back as a better writer.
But. . .
With me, there’s always a “But”, and this is the part that’s probably going to get me in trouble. It’s going to make me sound like I’ve got a bad case of Sour Grapes.
Writers were told from the outset that we would be expected to submit a completed manuscript if we made the Top 50, Some were not prepared and spent those weeks scrambling to get it finished just in case. I was still doing some major edits at that point myself. After getting the Magic Email, some of those authors took to Twitter about the difficulties of finishing their work in time.
Mild annoyance began to kick in. But hold on; it gets better
When the second round of contacts went out to replace the ones who dropped out, there were writers who bombarded us with constant updates. 30K words to go in two days! Eeek! And No sleep, living on caffeine, gotta create another 20K by morning.
You know how that comes across to those of us who didn’t make it? I am such a good writer that my rush-ass, slap-together, hurried writing is still better than your completed, polished, and prepared manuscript.
This is all a joke to me, and I still beat you.
I am sure these ladies don’t really feel that way. I know they are all as thrilled and excited as I would be in their place. But constantly whining about the difficulties of meeting this deadline is hurtful to those of us who never got the chance. It’s like rubbing salt in our wounds.
It’s like the woman I know who lost over 100 pounds through weight loss surgery and now spends her every waking moment complaining to fat people about how hard life is now that she;s so skinny. Wah, I’m cold because I have no body fat. Boo-hoo, it hurts to get shots in my butt now because I have no body fat.
Honey, I think but don’t say, you still have plenty of body fat. It’s all between your ears. Now eat a damn cheeseburger and quit your bitching.
Just like I’d like to announce to those sytycw finalists who can’t stop complaining: if it’s such a hardship for you to finish your manuscript, then step down and make room for someone who who will appreciate it.
There are plenty of writers who would give anything to have the opportunity to submit a full manuscript for the next level of competition, but we weren’t good enough. So forgive me if I sound like a Poor Sport, but I am sick and tired of hearing all of the whining about how difficult it is to handle being giving the chance that I didn’t get.
I’m supposed to feel sorry for someone who is unhappy about beating me?
No, I just don’t have that in me. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it. I’m a bad person. But I just can’t dig down deep enough to find one ounce of sympathy for anyone who has the chutzpah to complain about how hard it is to win.
Suck it up, Buttercup.
I am not a Dance Mom.
I am a mom, and I have a beautiful daughter who has been dancing for twelve years, but I am not a Dance Mom.
We are not on the competition team. We have not won awards or trophies. We do not do anything. She is the dancer. I pay the bills, drive her around, and wish she had a cheaper hobby. But dancing is her thing, not ours.
My daughter has danced at the same studio for most of her life, and I have watched the other girls (and two boys) grow up with her. The studio owner is the teacher; I couldn’t have chosen a better person to be my daughter’s role model. They are a tightly-knit group, but I am not a part of that group.
I know the other mothers, and for the most part I like them. We all want what’s best for our kids, right?
But lately, things have changed. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve been watching Dance Moms and think this is the way they are supposed to act or if it’s always been like this and I just never noticed until I had to step back from helping backstage after my car accident. But there is a different attitude now that makes me want to cry.
There is a mom who refuses to applaud for anyone but her own daughter. Because this mom has a problem with me, she also crosses her arms and scowls whenever my kid is on stage. What a great lesson to teach her own daughter.
There’s a mom who stands backstage and scolds the girls for their mistakes after a competition number is less than stellar. Or the mom who pats the girls on the tummy or behind and comments on their eating habits, warning them about getting fat. There are moms who sit in the audience and make jokes about the boys’ sexual orientation or mock a girl who is a bit bustier than some of the others. There are even some who try to take control and attempt to tell the teacher which girls to feature or which ones to kick off the team.
These moms say things like, “We should have gotten First Place” or “We really could have done better.” They talk about judges being unfair to “us” and tell their friends how hard “we’ve” been working. They wear jackets emblazoned with the studio name so they can be dressed just like their daughters, and they announce to the world that “we” practice so many times per week.
It’s not just the moms from the studio my daughter attends. I see it at the competitions all the time. Yes, there are moms who actually boo when another studio wins. Who does that? Who boos someone else’s child onstage?
At one competition, I sat behind a couple of moms in the audience who were having a wonderful time at the expense of a rather heavyset girl who was part of a group on stage. The poor girl’s outfit was unflattering and far too revealing, but I had to give her kudos for going onstage like that. She kicked higher, whirled better, danced more enthusiastically than the rest of her team. But those moms couldn’t see her skill or her joy of dancing.
All they saw was a fat girl. They laughed and mocked and made mooing sounds while their young daughters joined in on the fun.
I lost it.
I leaned forward and told them that she was my daughter.
The backpedaling was great. They stammered and apologized and turned beet red and I relished every second of their discomfort. And then I delivered the punch.
“Ten years from now,” I told them, “when your little girls are in the hospital dying of Anorexia and you are asking God why this is happening to your family, I want you to remember this moment and know that it is all your fault.”
Yup, it was mean. Yup, I crossed the line. And yup, I’d do it again.
A few weeks ago, I watched my daughter and her friends do a street performance at a local festival. They had so much fun, and the crowd loved it. And for me, there was a moment, a split second when I understood those kids, understood why they continue to dance and work so hard even when we mothers are making asses of ourselves.
There is a little girl named Jennica on the Junior team. Jennica is a spunky, funny little girl with some genetic quirks that sometimes set her apart from the other girls. She has danced from the moment she first started walking, and she doesn’t hear the nasty things people sometimes say about her. At the festival, she and her brother danced to the song “Dance with Me”.
I saw a look on her face that took me back thirty-odd years, to the days when my family used to climb the 300 wooden steps to the top of Mount Baldy in Saugatuck. My aunts would let my sisters and me run down the sandy incline on other side. It was so steep that our legs would start churning faster than we could keep up; we would squeal in terror and flail our arms and wonder which of us was going to lose control first.
And then, just for an instant, in that flash between controlling the descent and losing out to gravity, we flew. Free, airborne, totally in God’s hands. We didn’t just feel joyous; we were joy. Exultant in our bodies, in being young and strong and invincible.
That’s what I saw on Jennica’s face that day. Pure joy.
That should be why our daughters dance. Not for the trophies or ribbons. Not for the applause or the spotlight or the attention, but for the pure joy of moving their bodies to the music. For the power and the freedom coursing through their bodies as they move.
They should love every minute of it.
And we should love them enough to let them dance.
We should love them enough to let dancing be theirs, not ours.
My aunts used to tell a really bad joke about a man who goes to prison. On his first night, several of the other inmates begin shouting numbers.
“Seventy-four!” one yells, and the others all laugh heartily.
“Eighty-nine!” another bellows, and is rewarded with wild laughter and applause.
The new prisoner is mystified until his cellmate explains that the men have all told the same jokes so many times that they have assigned a number to each joke, and they now simply shout out the numbers instead of taking the time to tell the entire joke.
“I see,” says the new inmate. He clears his throat and then roars, “Forty-two!”
When his attempt is greeted with silence, his cellmate shrugs and tells him that “some can tell ‘em and some can’t.”
Dumb, right? But to this day, members of my family will giggle any time we hear the number forty-two. That’s right, the Hyde family recognized the humorous potential of that number long before Douglas Adams decided that it was the Answer the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.
I was reminded of the joke the other night when I cracked myself up by making a Monty Python reference. My kids didn’t catch it, of course. They stared at me, wide-eyed, and wondered why I had suddenly cried out, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”
Being a modern mother, I later talked about it on Facebook, only to realize that many of my friends have never heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Oh, my God.
Somehow, I got old. Old and out of touch. And, apparently, a failure when it comes to teaching my kids about humor.
But then a strange thing happened. Some of my older friends started commiserating, making comments like “Dead Parrot!” and “Crunchy Frog!” And I realized that my generation has become those prison inmates from my aunts’ joke: we no longer have to tell the entire joke or watch the entire comedy routine. We just shout out a line or a few words from a Monty Python bit and collapse into giggles.
For those of you too young to remember the Pythons, it is impossible to convey just what was so great about them. They were hilarious, irreverent, naughty, and oh-so-smart. But watching the show was more than just watching the show. It was an experience. For my generation, being a fan of Monty Python was like being part of an elite, secret club. Joking about killer rabbits or migratory coconuts made us feel so very smart, so cool.
And daring. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that our parents definitely did not approve. Not of the Pythons or Benny Hill or any of the other British comedians that we watched on fuzzy PBS stations late at night while wrapping foil around a battered set of rabbit ears just to get the channel to come in. Our parents didn’t get them, man. They couldn’t understand why we laughed so hard about a pet store clerk refusing to admit that he has just sold a dead parrot; they didn’t see what was so funny about Spam or the word “Abatross!”
It was like a secret code. The Pythons were ours. Terry Gilliam’s manic animation and inability to keep a straight face, John Cleese’s constant air of affronted British dignity and Terry Jones’ apparent willingness to do anything for a laugh. Graham Chapman’s ability to look utterly serious no matter what kind of insanity was spinning out of control around him. There was Eric Idle’s versatility and gift for accents, and Michael Palin’s rubber-faced, wide-eyed cheekiness.
The Pythons have gotten old, and so have I. I sit here and shake my head as I lament that there is just nothing today that matches the humor my generation saw in the Pythons. Okay, I laugh at the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, and Rodney Carrington can make me laugh so hard that I physically ache afterward. Jeff Dunham has made Diet Coke come out my nose on more than one occasion, and I’ve been known to laugh so hard that I have to pause the show before I end up peeing.
But it’s just not the same thing.
Oh, sure, the kids and I will snicker if one of us ends a sentence with “ . . . on a stick” or “Here’s your sign.” I love it when the Big Guy sings about “Titties and Beer”. But we’re enjoying the jokes, not fully reliving the moments.
Children of the 70’s and 80’s do more than just enjoy the jokes. We relive the moments of watching the Monty Python show and movies. All we have to do is shout out “It’s just a flesh wound!” or sing “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay” and the Python fans will let us know who they are by singing along or laughing.
Even Margaret Thatcher got into the act once.
The Pythons taught us that comedy could be smart and stupid at the same time. They made fun of everyone and everything, from Hitler to Catholicism (oh come on, you know you laughed at “Every Sperm is Sacred”). They dressed in drag and made garters funny, poked fun at the Olympics and pretention. They could bounce from the most low-brow fart jokes to smart humor about ancient philosophers (sing along with me now: “Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable. . . ).
Crunchy Frog. Dead Parrot. The Lumberjack Song. Sit on my Face and Tell Me That You Love Me. Ministry of Silly Walks. Confuse A Cat.
I’ve got to stop now, before I pee.
I don’t talk about my husband in my blog very often, other than the occasional mention of him as just a part of a story or commentary. He is a very private individual who is uncomfortable with some of the things that I talk about here, so I respect his wishes and try not to shine the spotlight on him. Besides, most of the times that I really want to talk about him are times when I really shouldn’t say the things I am thinking. Especially not in writing.
However, we had an experience yesterday that I really feel the need to share because it shows a side of the man that people don’t usually see.
It started with a Trail Cam. This is a motion-activated camera that he got for Christmas a few years ago, ostensibly for use in identifying the best hunting spots on our forty wooded acres. In theory, he is supposed to hang it in different places on our property for several days at a time so that he can get pictures of deer traffic, day or night.
I say “in theory” because he has used it for so much more. He set it up to find out what kind of animal was messing with our bird feeders (raccoons) and put it near the mailbox to see who was disturbing our mail. He has also had far too much fun hiding it in random spots around the house and then showing me pictures of myself in all kinds of unflattering nose-picking or butt-scratching shots.
Yeah, think about that for a moment. Think about the things you do when you’re alone in your house, and let your mind wander about what kinds of pictures a hidden Trail Cam might get of you.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Yesterday, he sent me an interesting email from work. Apparently, he took the camera’s memory card into work with him and was looking at the pictures on his lunch hour, and he found some pictures that he thought I should see.
I brought my trail cam card to work to look at pictures. There are some crazy things that go on in our woods at night.
Picture one made me go, “well, all right.” Nice to know there’s at least one nice-looking buck out there.
Then I looked at picture two.
You know those little tiny hairs on the back of the neck? Mine stood straight on end. Goosebumps started popping up all over the place.
Then I looked at picture three and immediately felt a very strong urge to pee my pants.
That poor baby! Was my first thought. Was she still out there? There had been a news story the previous night about a missing two year-old child in Grand Rapids; I wondered if she had somehow been transported to our area.
Then I looked at the date and time on the pictures: August 22, 4:02 a.m.
My goose bumps gave birth to goose bumps. My lungs went on strike and utterly refused to take in one more breath. My eyes started watering. My teeth chattered.
There is absolutely no way a little girl like that was roaming free in our woods at four in the morning two months ago. We live in the middle of nowhere and there are coyotes and other wild animals out there that would not have left her unharmed.
Our nearest neighbor is close to a half-mile away. They are weekend neighbors from Chicago, what the locals refer to as FIPs, and most FIPs are generally too busy looking down their noses at the locals to actually mingle with us. It is highly doubtful that people of their elevated social status and self-importance would ever allow a child to wander in our dirty woods, day or night.
That left one other option, and my mind absolutely refused to wrap itself around it.
You see, we have a ghost in our house. This house belonged to her aunt and uncle, and she spent a great deal of time here when she was growing up. Her brief and troubled life was torn apart by drug use and bad relationships, and local rumor says that she had four children taken away from her by Protective Services shortly before she died of an overdose.
I have seen the ghost several times, usually during my pregnancies or when one of my kids has been sick. She stands over my husband’s side of the bed and gives me a sad smile before she vanishes. Sometimes, she randomly turns on lights or the TV or some other such mischief. She never does any harm. She is just very, very sad and I think she stays at our house because she was happy here during her lifetime.
Looking at the pictures of that tiny girl in our woods, I just knew it was a childhood incarnation of our ghost. Or perhaps it was one of her children that is no longer among the living, doomed to forever search our woods at night, looking for her mommy.
I was terrified. Mind-numbing, pants-pissing, teeth-chattering terrified. There it was, visual confirmation that we have more than one ghost. After all, the times when I have seen the ghost in our bedroom have been times when I was just waking up, just coming out of a deep sleep; there is always a tiny possibility that those sightings are just very realistic dreams. But an actual digital photograph of a ghostly little girl was just too much to comprehend.
I sent the pictures to my big sister and to one of my best friends. And I started feeling less fear and more sadness for that poor baby. That poor, tiny, lost soul, wandering our woods. I found myself wiping away a few tears as I thought about her.
Hubby and I continued to exchange emails as the day went on. We exchanged theories about her identity and tried to find ways to explain who she could be and how she could have ended up in the woods, but we always came back to the fact that she just couldn’t have been a real flesh-and-blood little girl.
Near the end of the work day, I asked
You think the FIPs and their kids wander the woods at night, or do you really think it’s a ghost?
I think those were tampered with pictures and I am messing with you. LOL.
I don’t usually like being scared. I have enough fear in my life, fear of really, really stupid things. I hate slasher flicks and gore. Even though the movies are about fictional people, I end up feeling so sad about the lives ending so suddenly at the hands of Freddy or Jason or whoever.
But I have a secret: I love a good supernatural scare. I adore movies that make me jump and scream. I don’t want to watch “The Conjuring” or “Amityville Horror”, but sit down at a Ouija Board with me and just watch me shiver. I’m talking about that delicious kind of shiver that starts at my gray roots and picks up speed on its way to my toes, only to meet itself coming back up.
I love the kind of scare that can truly be described as the “heebie-jeebies” because I am unable to utter anything other than noises that sound like “heebie” and “jeebie”.
You know, the kind of noises I made yesterday while looking at those pictures and pissing myself.
The best/worst part of this is knowing that my husband got me. He pranked me good, and I fell for it. Beneath the flannel and Carrharts, buried deeply under the aw-shucks country boy exterior and let’s-take-care-of-business attitude toward work, there lurks the heart of the world’s best prankster.
He reigns undefeated.
I want revenge. I want to get back at him. But really, let’s be honest here. I can’t top this one. He wins.
Daily Prompt: Tell us about a time when everything seemed to be going wrong – and then, suddenly, you knew it would be all right.
I thought my world was ending the night of my car accident. After a stranger hauled my kids out of the wreck, I couldn’t see or hear them anywhere. I kept begging the EMS workers to tell me where my kids were, but all they would tell me was “they’re fine.” But where are they? “They’re fine.” Are you lying to me? “They’re fine.”
The guys wouldn’t look me in the eye. Now I understand that it was because I had no idea just how bad the situation was, and that most of them thought I wouldn’t survive the night. But at the time, I assumed they were covering up some dire information about my babies.
The youngest was okay; he’d been home with his father at the time of the accident. My daughter was shaken up but unharmed. But my oldest son had some minor injuries – lots of glass in his left shin and hand, and a small gash on his right shoulder that needed a few stitches. I never got to see him at the hospital, and I just couldn’t get rid of the nagging suspicion that they were lying to me about him. I couldn’t convince myself that he was okay.
Then the doctor came back in with the results of my CT scan and dropped the bomb: My neck was broken. It was bad. He couldn’t help me at our very small hospital. “I have never seen an injury like this on someone who was still alive,” he told us.
They had to send me to a bigger hospital, but my son was already being treated at the local one. They had to separate us, and there was just no way for my husband to be with both of us.
My boy was twelve years old. He needed his father more than I needed my husband at that moment, and I had to go alone.
I was afraid to be alone. Afraid to leave my kids. Afraid of dying. Afraid of being paralyzed.
When they wheeled me into that tiny room at Bronson Hospital and I couldn’t see anything other than the ceiling above me, I felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips. I wanted to be unconscious. If I hadn’t been strapped down and restrained at every extremity, I would have leaped from that bed and run screaming through the halls.
They kept asking, “Is anyone coming to be with you? Is there anyone I can call?” and I would tell them no. Husband couldn’t be there. There was no one else. I’d tell them it was okay, not to worry. But it wasn’t okay.
Then I heard my sister’s voice.
Now, I have to digress here for a moment. My oldest sister is only four years older than I am, and she has set the rule that I am not to refer to her as big sister, older sister, oldest sister, or any variation of those terms. Once I hit thirty, she made it very clear that we are all three the same age from here on out. We are all three adults, and she will not tolerate any comments that make reference to the fact that she is older than I am.
I don’t usually think of her in terms of age. We are equals, and she has become one of my best friends. But when I heard her voice in the hospital room that night, she wasn’t my equal. She was my Big Sister, and everything was going to be okay.
I could break it down and point out all the reasons why her presence made everything better. But it came down to one important fact: She is my Big Sister.
And I knew everything was going to be okay.
There were so many people who stepped in; I couldn’t have gotten through all of it without my Mother-in-Law, Brother-in-Law and his wife, the neighbors and friends who brought food and helped carpool the kids around, etc. But that one single moment that turned it all around, that let me know things were going to get better, was the moment when my big sister showed up to take care of me.
Now, if only she’ll forgive me for telling the world which one of us is older.