Monthly Archives: June 2013

Generally Speaking

Maybe I’ve mentioned once or twice that my brother, Fred, was a wonderful big brother.  I really don’t exaggerate.  If  you could have made up the perfect big brother, it would have been Fred.  But you probably would have given him a better name.

Fred is 3 years older than me.  And he played with me all the time.  He didn’t beat me up.  He wasn’t mean.  He let me tag along wherever he went.

He actually seemed to enjoy my company, too.  Or at least, it never occurred to me that he might not be enjoying it.  Perhaps I was late in picking up some social clues.  Anyway, I can honestly not remember Fred ever hurting me, or setting me up to fail, or doing any mean big brother things to me.

He was my hero.  When we tucked towels into our jammies and jumped off the back of the couch, I was not just pretending Fred was Superman.  He was Superman.  Of course I also thought that our dog, Tip, was SuperDog when we called him “Kripto,” tucked a dishtowel into his collar and pushed him off the back of the couch.

It was during the late 1950s and early 60s; we saw Westerns on TV and in the movies — The Lone Ranger, Branded, How the West Was Won, and more.  There were a lot of shoot outs at our house, too, because that’s what we played most of the time.   Fred invented great games for us.  Cowboys and Indians, gun fights, sheriff and posse.

Fred was always the hero.  Me?

I was the bad guy who got outgunned and had to keel over and die.

I was the outlaw brought to justice by the handsome sheriff.

I was the squaw who had to skin and cook the deer.

I always lost.

I felt good that at least I had a better part than Tip.  Tip was the deer, and Fred and I would chase him around pretending to shoot him with arrows.  Fred and his friends once caught Tip and tied him onto our broom and carried him Indian-style, to roast over our pretend fire.  Tip escaped and didn’t want to play Indian for a week or so.  We did not eat him.

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason.  (Google Image)

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason. (Google Image)

Losing wasn’t a condition for Fred to play with me, but it was reality.  Fred always won.  He was always first, fastest, bravest.  He was always the hero.

Fred’s pretend horse, Thunder, was faster than my horse, Lightning, even after Fred discovered that in real life lightning comes first.  Fred showed me pictures of lightning in “the big dictionary” – a huge reference book we loved to look at.  It had the coolest pictures and lots of words we couldn’t read.  If something was in the big dictionary, it was fact.  Period.  “In real life,” Fred said, pointing to a picture of a scary bolt in a stormy sky, “Lightning is faster than thunder.  But not with horses.”

I really didn’t mind.  If Fred’s horse was slightly faster than mine, that was OK.  We were a team.

But one day when Fred wanted to play Cowboys and Indians, I’d had enough of losing.  Maybe I was growing up.

“I wanna be the cowboy,” I insisted.  “You always get to be the cowboy.  I always get shot.”

“OK,” Fred said.  He didn’t argue or try to convince me to be the Indian.  I should have been suspicious.  But I’ve always trusted Fred completely.  I knew he would never be mean to me.

“OK,” said Fred, again, thinking up a new game.  “You can be a General!  I’ll be an Indian, ummmm, I’ll be called Crazy Horse.”

“OK!” I said, excitedly.  A General!  I wasn’t just cowboy.  I was gonna be a general!

I blew my bugle, called my troops to arms.  My imaginary troops and I rode off on our stallions to fight the Injuns.

I blew my bugle again and my (pretend) troops surrounded me.  We heard Indian war whoops from Fred and his Indian braves.  Fred/Crazy Horse and his braves came at me, surrounding me and my men on all sides.  But I wasn’t worried.  I was a general.  And even at that age, I knew that the cowboys always win.

And then Fred shot me.

I did not flinch.  I did not fall.  I did not succumb to my wounds.  I screamed bloody murder:

“I’m the cowboy!  You can’t shoot me!


Fred calmed me down and took me by the hand over to the big dictionary.  He turned the pages and showed me a picture of a general in a cowboy hat with blond curls.  He looked just like me.  Except for the mustache (mine grew in many years later).

Thanks a lot, Google

Thanks a lot, Google

George Armstrong Custer.

“That’s General Custer,” Fred said.  “Crazy Horse killed him.  Or Sitting Bull did.  Some Indian killed him at the battle of Little Bighorn.  The Sioux Indians surrounded General Custer and his men and killed them.”

I didn't have a chance

I didn’t have a chance

If it was in a book, in the big dictionary, well then,  I had to die.  It was right there in black and white with a color picture.  It was my fate.

We went back over to the battlefield (the front hall) and started the battle again.  Again, I blew my bugle and rallied my troops into a circle around me.  Again, the Indians pressed forward, surrounded us.

Again, General Custer got shot.  And this time he/I was brave.  I clutched my heart, tossed my curls and fell dead.

*     *     *

I owe my devotion to the underdog and my tendency to look everything up to my big brother, who is still wonderful.

And I looked this up:  June 25th is the 137th Anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn.  And speaking once more as General Custer, I deserved exactly what I got.


Filed under Childhood Traumas, Family, Humor

Because You Never Can Tell With Some People

It wasn’t something John and I thought about right off the bat. Nope, there were other more obvious and urgent ways to protect that new baby we’d been lucky enough to adopt.

In fact, we didn’t actually worry about Jacob playing in a house with guns until he was, actually, playing in a house with guns and he was out of our sight.

It was a day or so before we were to leave Connecticut and move back to the DC area.  Our neighbors, the Planters, had us over for a good-bye dinner. It was John, me, Linda and Paul, their two grown daughters and their significant others. The eldest daughter, Jade, had a daughter Juniper, who was Jacob’s age.

All was well for a while. They were nice people. Linda had retired from an insurance company and and divided her time between cooking and playing classical piano.We could hear it whenever the windows were open, all summer long.   She was quite good. Paul was a upper end contractor.  He was also a hunter.

For some reason that I have conveniently forgotten and  for which John will never forgive me, I brought up guns and gun control at one point during dinner. It was then that I learned that our soon to be former neighbors believed that they needed an arsenal to fight off the ” black booted” thugs from the government. The US government. Black helicopters. They thought that the 2nd Amendment guaranteed that he could have any weapon that he government had. Including nukes.


It was at about that time that I realized that Jacob and Juniper were downstairs. They were being supervised by another relative, so I hadn’t been concerned.  But the discussion made me a little uneasy.

I knew there were guns in the house, but I no longer felt quite comfortable that these folks were reasonable. I didn’t know where the guns were, whether they were locked away, or left leaning against the wall somewhere accessible to my 4 year old son.

*     *     *

That was the last time for many years that I didn’t ask about guns in the home of anyone Jacob played with.  Even when the parents seemed like they didn’t fear the guv’ment.  Even when they seem like normal folks.  Liberals, even.

It is incredibly awkward to ask people if they have guns in their house — akin to saying “excuse me, are you an irresponsible parent who would endanger your own child(ren) as well as mine?”

Still, I had to ask. Every time Jacob went someplace new for many years.

I did it by lying through my teeth.  To new friends and acquaintances.  I shamelessly blamed my husband:

“I have the most overprotective husband” I would sigh.  He made me promise to ask everyone before letting Jacob go play … You don’t have guns in your house, do you?  Arsenic?  Nukes?” I’d laugh, and the other mother or father would laugh too.

And then they’d answer.

“No, of course not,” was generally the answer.  And then I was comfortable letting my son go to their house.

One time, though, I did get a “yes, we have guns in our house” answer.  I was surprised. You will be shocked to know that I kept an open mind.

That time, my friend Suzanne invited me and Jacob over, and took me down to her basement and showed me where her husband kept his hunting rifles. In a locked, secure gun safe.

If I had learned that the person had guns and did not secure them, their kid would have been welcome to play at our house any old time.  But my son would not have been allowed to play there.  Nope.  Not a chance.  It is simple common sense.


Naturally, I felt bad for blaming John.  Oh who am I kidding.  No I didn’t.  It was much less awkward, doing it that way — it made the other parents feel less threatened, less like I thought they were crazy, irresponsible, folks who wanted to kill children.  With my way, well, I had the comfortable knowledge that my kid wouldn’t become a statistic. It was worth sacrificing John’s pride for peace of mind. Especially because he still doesn’t know I did it.

Friday, June 21st is “Ask About Guns Day,” sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Because all too often pediatricians are called on to try to save children who are hurt by guns.  They know that asking can save lives.

ASK.  Because you don’t want your kid (or grandkid or really any kid) knockin’ on heaven’s door, do you?  I just had to ask.


Filed under Family, Gun control, Health and Medicine, Neighbors


In case you haven’t seen this video, I thought I’d post it.


Filed under Childhood Traumas

It’s Dad’s Fault

It was August of 2002 when I realized that I was, in fact, my father’s daughter.  I’m exactly like him, dammit.

It wasn’t my best moment as a parent.  I still feel guilty about it.  And Jacob, my only child, makes sure I do.  He still glares at me when he recalls that day.  But it wasn’t my fault.  Really.  I blame Dad.  The fact that he’d died nearly two years earlier did not absolve him one little bit.

John, Jacob and I had just moved back from Europe in July, and Jacob would start his new school in September.

That August afternoon, I held in my hand the most important envelope of every child’s year — the one that told us what class he would be in for the entire school year.  It had just arrived.  Each year since Jacob had been in kindergarten, we opened that envelope together the minute it arrived.

Naturally, Jacob was nervous.  He wanted more than anything to be in class with his brand new best friend ever, Joe.  Jacob wasn’t concerned that he might not like his teacher.  Or that the work would be too hard for him.  No, he worried that he’d be in a class of entirely new kids.  Ones he hadn’t known, like, for a month.

We stood at the kitchen counter and slit open the envelope.  I read it aloud:

“Jacob K has been assigned to Mrs. Smith’s 1st Grade class.”

Assigned to Mrs. Smith’s FIRST GRADE class?  Jacob was 11.  He was supposed to be going into 5th Grade, not 1st.  WTF?

Jacob looked at the letter, and looked up at me with panic in his eyes.

That’s when my late father rose up and spoke out of my mouth.

“Well,” I said to Jacob, philosophically, “I guess you’ll have to start again with 1st Grade.”

Jacob’s eyes bulged, his mouth fell open in a silent moan, and tears started forming behind his eyeballs.

Of course I couldn’t hold it for long, I burst out laughing and quickly followed up my sarcastic comment with “I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding,” and a big hug.  “They just made a mistake.  We’ll go to the school tomorrow morning when school opens and they’ll correct it.  And if you want, you can ask them to put you in Joe’s class.”

Somehow, Jacob slept that night, and the next day we went to the school, where they apologized profusely for their error and did, indeed, put Jacob into Joe’s class.  It made Jacob feel like the folks at his new school were on his side.

But what made me torture my son like that?

Dad.  He made me do it.  Because I’d bet my life that that’s exactly what Dad would have said to a terrified boy who feared he had to restart school at the beginning.  In fact, I’m sure of it.  That’s exactly what my Dad would have done.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I adored my Dad.  We were close from the moment of conception, I’m pretty sure.  I was the last of five kids, and the acknowledged favorite, well before any of my elder siblings were even born.  Dad was just waiting for me.  Because I was the one who would “get” him.  He made me laugh.  Everybody else was terrified of Dad.  And with good reason.  Most people couldn’t tell when he was joking.

My first memory of Dad is not exactly a happy one.

I was three years old, and had gotten my head caught between the legs of my horse, Lightening. And Dad laughed at me.  Seriously!  Can you believe his cruelty?

Now before you start assuming that that’s where my brain damage came from, I have to confess that Lightening was a pretty special horse.  Lightening was usually a black stallion, although sometimes, when the mood struck, he was a white one.  Lightening  was also the second fastest horse in the West.  He was regularly beaten by Thunder, my brother Fred’s horse.  Fred named our horses before he learned that lightening is faster than thunder.

To other people, what we rode on weren’t “real” horses.  They were the railings surrounding our staircase landing.  Their legs were made of pickets that were thin at the top and widened at the bottom.  I’d stuck my head through the pickets at the top, slid down, and was unable to pull it out at the bottom.

Google, of course

Google, of course.
As close as I could come, but ours were thin at the top and thick at the bottom. Really. How else would there be a story here?

I was not a happy child at that particular moment.  I was uncomfortable.  I was stuck.  I’m sure I was thinking that my whole family would be laughing at that moment for years.  I was right.

Nobody could calm me down enough to lift my head up and get me out of there.  In kid years, which are just like dog years,  I was there for days and days.  I was there forever.

When Mom couldn’t get me out, she told me that she’d get Dad who would.  I started calming immediately.  Dad could fix anything.   Absolutely anything.  He would get me out from underneath Lightening.  He’d do it like he did everything, with a cigarette hanging out of one side of his mouth, and a carpenter’s rule and pencil in his pocket.  With those three things, Dad could rule the world.

Dad came up from the basement  and quickly sized up the situation.  I’m sure he took a drag from his cigarette when he said, “Hmmmm.”

His presence alone calmed me, stopped my crying.  I knew he’d get me out, somehow.  I knew I didn’t have to worry.  I knew that soon everything would be OK.

“Hmmmm,” said Dad again.  “I guess we’re just gonna have to cut your head off.”


Spoiler Alert!  He did not cut off my head.

Once I stopped screaming, Dad was able to lift my head up a bit to where the railing was thin at the top, and got my head out.

For as long as she lived, my mother shook her head whenever she thought of that day.  “I still can’t believe he said that to you,” she’d say with a laugh.  “Right after he’d calmed you down!”

Clearly, I take after my Dad.  Jacob was (and is) never quite sure whether to take something I say seriously.  (Duh! Never!)

But you know what?  I think that’s a good lesson in life.  That you have to find the humor, no matter how terrified you might be.  Even at the scariest times.

Dad taught me something important that day when I was stuck underneath Lightening.  That if you can laugh at whatever’s holding you back, you’re gonna be just fine.  Unless of course you’re stuck underneath the second fastest horse in the west.  Then screaming bloody murder is the way to go.

Thanks Dad for getting me out of that jam and a million others.  I miss you.


Filed under Family, History, Humor

Wedding Poo-poo

Men really don’t understand the importance women put on their wedding day.  I mean, we can’t help it.  From the moment we are born, everyone is telling us that our wedding day will be the happiest day of our lives.  And since we tend to do it at a relatively young age, well, then that means life is all down from there.

So since there really is nothing left to live for, we should be excused from being a little bit weird in the planning.

For our wedding, we tried to be low key and keep craziness to a relative minimum.   John really didn’t care about anything except for the fact that he did not, I repeat, did not want those sappy “LOVE” stamps on our wedding invitations.  So we picked stamps that we both liked:

Arctic explorer stamps

Yes, we had pictures of Arctic Explorers on our wedding invitations.  Surprisingly, I did not hear a single joke about my being or becoming frigid.  Nope, nobody, not a soul commented on it.  [Had I gotten an invitation with that stamp on it, I would still be making jokes about it, 26 years later.  Our friends and family are way nicer than I am.]

There are a few things surrounding my wedding that I do feel bad about, though.

John and I got married in 1986 in September.  I feel guilty about the fact that it was really hot out that day.  John had wanted to get married in October, but that coincided with a big work project of mine, so I said no, we’ll do it in late September.  It’ll be very cool by September 20, I assured him.  It was approximately 180 degrees “cool.”  In many of our pictures, John is sweating bullets and I’m pretty sure he was not terrified of marrying me.  I don’t think.  Although it never occurred to me to ask him.

I also feel guilty about the fact that our church and our reception hall were in different states.  You see, we got married in the church where John’s parents had been married 41 years earlier.  It seemed like a good omen.  Plus it is a beautiful stone church.  I was game.  But it was a long way in between the two places.


wedding map

It was a loooooonnnnnggg way from A to B

Our reception was also in a really beautiful place.  Plus we could afford to rent it out on our tight budget.  It didn’t occur to us that the fact that the two places were a zillion miles apart might be a problem.  But we have good friends and they made the trek.  Family did too, but they had to.  They were family.

If it had been up to me, I also probably would have had regular music, but, remember, John and I have different tastes, and he chose the music.


Yes, we had a bagpiper, although not this one.  And John, who went to college in Scotland threatened to wear a kilt.  Having a piper was OK, though.  We didn’t know anybody in the neighborhood.

But we didn’t really demand much of our guests.  We wanted them to share our day, have a good time, and enjoy themselves and each other.

Isn’t that what most people want from their wedding guests?  Isn’t that why we invite them?

It would never have occurred to me to make other, more, well, personal requests.

Today I had lunch with my old friend Keily, who was one of my bridesmaids.  Her son recently got married in Brazil and she was showing me pictures of the festivities.  So it got me thinking about weddings, naturally, and about mine.

And then I happened upon this article about a bride who is asking way more of her guests than I certainly would have asked.  She want’s them to do a three-week colon cleanse before her wedding day so that they will all look their best.

“Health guru” to the stars Rainbeau Mars will soon tie the knot with Hollywood business manager Michael Karlin, and she’s making one huge request: Each of her guests must do a three-week cleanse before her Big Day.

According to an email from her publicist, “Rainbeau hopes that by requesting her guests try out a vegan, and subsequently live food diet for 21 days, everyone will look and feel their best for HER big day.”

So I’m going to stop feeling bad about making people drive so far and about the heat and the piper.  Because I stopped short of requiring bowel cleansing in my guests.  I was, apparently, the perfect bride.


Filed under Childhood Traumas, Conspicuous consumption, Family, Humor, Music