Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mr. Bumpy Man

One night, over the Memorial Day weekend just past, I was tucking Sooby and Pooh in for the night when Sooby began to knock on the wall by her bed.  "Don't bump," I said.  I was afraid she would wake her little sister, who was already asleep in the adjoining room.  "The noise might scare her," I explained, to which Pooh replied, "Yeah.  She might think Mr. Bumpy Man is coming."

And so, "Mr. Bumpy Man" has been incubating in my head for a couple days now.  I figured it would hatch as a children's verse, but was worried that it might come out scary.  After all, I remember quite well some scary nights from my own childhood, when I was convinced a witch was living in my bedroom closet.  So the poem turns out with a repeated, empowering line that I hope gives kids a little courage when they hear those things that go bump in the night.

          Mr. Bumpy Man

Mr. Bumpy Man, Mr. Bumpy Man,
I hear your bumpy, thumpy hand
Tap on my wall and windows, and
You don't scare me at all.

Sometimes at night when there's no light
You try to give me quite a fright
First on my left, then on my right--
But you don't scare me at all.

Mr. Bumpy Man, with your wild red hair,
I hear you clumping up my stair,
But let me tell you, "I don't care!"
You don't scare me at all.

Mr. Bumpy Man, you're a jumpy man.
You hop atop my ceiling fan
And rattle everything you can,
But you don't scare me at all.

Mr. Bumpy Man, all night, all day
You try in every thumpy way
To scare me, but I have to say,
"You don't scare me at all!"

Mr. Bumpy Man, if you should steal
Into my room to make me feel
Afraid, I'll know that YOU'RE NOT REAL!
And you won't scare me at all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thoughts on Averting World Tragedy

It was just before Halloween last year that I first became suspicious.  Had the little fun-size Almond Joys and Kit Kats cost this much last year, or had I simply forgotten? 

Then, on the day after Easter--the day when I gloat as dastardly as a villain in a melodrama at the thought of bringing the chocolate industry to its knees by buying up all its leftover bunnies at half price--I could no longer deny that something serious was afoot.   Clearly, I was paying 25-50% more than I had just a year ago.  I swallowed hard and tried not to panic.

That is, until I went online to find headlines like "Chocolate and Candy Prices Going Up" and "Chocolate: Worth Its Weight in Gold?" But here is the one that sank my heart like the Titanic impaled on a pair of frozen bunny ears--"In Twenty Years Chocolate Will be a Rare Delicacy."  Holy Hershey, Batman!  What is going on?

Chocolate, it seems, is suffering the fate of many agricultural commodities.  Simply put, demand is exceeding supply and driving prices up.  Anthea Gerrie of The Independent reports that the cost of cocoa has at least doubled since 2004.  There are a multitude of reasons for this.  Cacao farmers in the prime growing regions of the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia get so little return on their crop that they can't afford to replenish old and dying plants.  Consequently, the younger generation is abandoning farming for more lucrative city employment.

As if those things weren't bad enough, cacao now competes for diminishing agricultural space with other food products needed to sustain a growing world population and with much-needed biofuel materials like palm oil.  Add the universal farming challenges of pest control, plant disease, and the variable of the weather, and suddenly Gerrie's prediction that "[t]he world could run out of affordable chocolate within 20 years" doesn't seen so far-fetched.  I will be honest with you.  This scares me.

No trick-or-treat candy bars for the grandkids and other neighborhood goblins?  Unthinkable.  No Easter baskets overflowing with bargain chocolate?  Unfathomable.  But I paint myself far too nobly here.  I must face the truth.  I am not so much worried about the lack of chocolate for my progeny as I am about living out my own senior years in a world devoid of the sweet balm of chocolate.  There--I have come clean.  After all, isn't chocolate a food group?  What else am I going to use to fill that empty one-fourth of my plate?  Eggplant?  I don't think so.

I suppose, in view of the other serious economic and humanitarian issues facing us as a nation, it would not be realistic to expect a presidential candidate to build a campaign on the issue of sustainable chocolate.  So I guess I should not be obsessing about it.  After all, in twenty years, I will be getting close to eighty and may not have any teeth anyway.

In the meanwhile, just in case disaster strikes, maybe I should learn to supplement my diet with the likes of Smarties and Airheads.  And, in my spare time, maybe I will do some research on how long next year's chocolate bunnies will last in the deep freeze.     





Monday, May 21, 2012

I Am Not the Only Googie

A little over a year ago, when I was contemplating a name for my new grandparent blog, I went online to see if anyone anywhere was already using the name "Googie's Attic."  For my blog title, "Googie" was a must, since that is what my grandkids call me. Further, I liked the connotation of the word "attic," because it suggests a place to store things--in my case, word pictures of the perspectives and experiences that were coming fast and furiously with my relatively new promotion to grandparenthood.

At the time, I took quick note of a place on New York City's lower east side named "Googie's Lounge."  Since there was no "Googie's Attic," I took that as a green light to proceed as planned with the blog and didn't give the matter much more thought until recently.  The other day, just for fun, I decided to check the web for more information about Googie's Lounge and any other uses of the name "Googie."  In so doing, I ran into some interesting information that you too might get a kick out of.

First, Googie's Lounge opened in 2006 in the upstairs space above a singer-songwriter venue called "The Living Room."  According to the website, it provides new artists a place "to perform, perfect, and practice their craft."  With its calendar fairly solidly booked through June, Googie's opens every night to host a variety of performers in mostly one- to two-hour sets.  Put Googie's on my bucket list; any visit I make to the Big Apple definitely calls for an evening whiled away in this intimate, folksy atmosphere.  Googie at Googie's:  now that has a ring to it.

However, if I thought "Googie" referred only to a small musicians' venue in New York City, I thought way too small.  To my surprise, I learned that the word is used to refer to a whole school of architecture.  I could not believe this.  Originally the design of a now nonexistent coffee shop in West Hollywood, Googie style embodies a futuristic look that includes upswept curves, lots of windows, and bold neon signage.

Popular from the '40s to the '60s, Googie architecture was so dubbed because it was the nickname of the coffee shop owner's wife.  The name stuck when a journalist picked up on it in a popular architectural magazine in the 1950s.  Googie style was most evident in Southern California motels, coffee houses, and filling stations, but other examples include the Seattle Space Needle and the original McDonald's.

Just when I thought I had about exhausted all the web references to the word I was researching, lo and behold, I ran into a British actress named Googie Withers.  Georgette Lizette Withers, or "Googie," as was her preferred (and less complicated) nickname, amassed quite a list of stage and screen credentials before she died last July at age 94. notes that Googie had six grandchildren (I will have five, come July), and that her  nickname, bestowed on her by her Hindi nurse, translates into English as "dove," or, alternately, "crazy."  I think we will stick with "dove" here, as the other may hit a little too close to home.  If your curiosity about Googie has been piqued, Dennis Barker published a thorough obituary listing her many impressive accomplishments in the 15 July 2011 edition of  The Guardian, accessible online.

So what am I to make of all this?  Well, for one thing, I guess I need to acknowledge that I am not, after all, the first or only Googie, and that the word itself was coined in the decade before I was born.   I can only conclude, then, that I am in good company, with "Googie" representing a plethora of artistic talent embracing stage and screen, architecture, and musicianship alike. 

These are hard acts to measure up to for a comparatively insignificant little grandma blogger from the Midwest.  But since I have taken on the name, I guess I will have to try.  Muse, don't fail me now.  I need all the help I can get.            

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Animal Crack-ups

If a bobcat bounces on your bed,
You'd better cover up your head,
Or maybe sleep elsewhere instead
If a bobcat bounces on your bed.

If a camel climbs the ivy vine
That twines between your roof and mine,
We'll say to him, "It is NOT fine
For you to climb our ivy vine!"

If a cheetah chews your cheddar cheese
And chomps your chips to taunt and tease,
Then tell him just to "Stop it, please!"
If a cheetah chews your cheddar cheese.

If a dromedary dares to drink
The water from your kitchen sink,
His hump will be quite full, I think,
If a dromedary dares to drink.

If an emu eats your scrambled eggs
While balanced on his scrawny legs,
Ignore him when he sits and begs
And say there's no more scrambled eggs.

If a furry fox knocks down your blocks
And tries on all your shoes and socks,
You just might get the chickenpox
If a furry fox knocks down your blocks.

If a gnu should gnaw your gnocchi soup,
Just ladle up another scoop
While whirling with a hula hoop
If a gnu should gnaw your gnocchi soup.

If a grizzly growls right in your face,
You'd better go some other place
Like maybe first or second base
If a grizzly growls right in your face.

If a hippo tiptoes through your house,
His huge feet quicker than a mouse,
He'll get applause and take his bows
If a hippo tiptoes through your house.

If a mountain lion licks your lunch
And giant molars start to crunch,
Just give him candy corn to munch
So he will leave alone your lunch.

If a parrot perches on your porch,
Then light a tiny tiki torch.
But oh! Be careful not to scorch
That parrot perching on your porch.

If a platypus should play
Piano on a holiday,
His F sharp might be flat, I'd say,
When webby feet get in the way.

If a sheep is shorn too short to shave
And hides, embarrased, in a cave,
He won't know quite how to behave
With fleece that's shorn too short to shave.

If a zebra zips your zither shut,
There'll be no music in your hut.
You could unzip the zither, but
The zebra likes it better shut.

Footnote:  Just a quick note here to explain how this fun, silly verse came about.  Last week I spent a night with Sooby and Pooh, and, as often happens, they both hopped in bed with me the next morning.  Also joining us was a stuffed elephant named "Ellie," that Pa-pa and I got as a baby shower gift in 1982 shortly before the kids' mother was born.  Handmade by one of Pa-pa's secretaries, a lovely, grandmotherly lady named Lucille, Ellie has survived the years quite well, and he is now a beloved staple in the lives of this new generation of children.

In the course of our play, one of the kids was making Ellie "dance," and I just randomly said, "If an elephant dances on your bed, you'd better cover up your head."  Throughout the morning, we kept brainstorming other rhyming "if-then" constructions involving various animals doing silly things.

I negotiated the late-night drive home with my mind pretty well stuck in this format.  As the poem evolved, I decided to use as much alliteration, assonance, and wordplay as possible; thus, the bouncing animal of the initial stanza morphed from an elephant into a bobcat in order to repeat the /b/ sound and preserve the basically iambic meter.  The other stanzas followed suit, and the rest is history.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Grandpa Truck

In 1985, the year daughter Cookie was three and son Teebo was born, my father-in-law bought a brand new Chevy Scottsdale pickup.  In its heyday the truck was a handsome two-toned brown, only slightly the worse for wear when Grandpa W accidentally let a falling tree dent the tailgate.  When Grandpa W's health began to worsen in the early '90s, he sold the truck to my dad.  Ever since, we  have affectionately thought of it as "The Grandpa Truck."

Although Dad had made a living for our family as a mechanic, he was too frugal to invest much money as he and the truck got older.  When one of the two gas tanks began to leak, he used only the other one.  When a belt squealed mercilessly every time the truck was started, well, not to worry.  It would quit in just a few seconds.

Eventually, the years took their toll on both of them.  The truck acquired a bent passenger-side running board, and the bed looked like it had fought with a hailstorm and lost.  Patches of rust replaced the brown paint and pretty well ate up the toolbox.  Late last summer, shortly before Dad passed away at age 86, we acquired the grandpa truck for Pa-pa to use on the farm in an effort to save some wear and tear on his nicer pickup.

This past week, Pa-pa's newer pickup has spent some time getting a face lift, so I have glanced out the window many times to see the grandpa truck parked in front of our house.  It makes me sad to see it there, and for the longest time I couldn't figure out why.

In the eight months since Dad's passing, I have come to terms with his death.  Every day, I pass an 11" x 14" picture of him and Mom as I go out the door to the garage, and that doesn't bother me.  Just last week, Mom and I made our first trip back to the cemetery to check out the newly set gravestone, and I wasn't emotional about that either.  What, then, was the deal with this truck?  Why the twinge of melancholy at the sight of an old clunker out by the curb?

It is this:  Every time I look up to see the truck, it catches me offguard.  There is a split second when I actually think that my dad has come to see me.  I imagine him tottering slowly up the front steps and pulling his 6' 4'' frame up onto the porch by the handrail.  I expect him to open the front door and walk in.  For that one brief instant, I actually forget that he is gone.

Soon after Pa-pa leaves the house in the morning, I hear that familiar belt squeal and watch the grandpa truck head down the street and out of the neighborhood.  "So long," I think again, and oh my God, Daddy, how I miss you.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What Mister Rogers Says to Grandparents

I can't say that I am a regular reader of The Elks Magazine.  That is generally Pa-pa's territory.  But when I saw this month's cover featuring a picture of Mister Rogers wearing one of his trademark sweaters,  my curiosity led me to the cover story on pp. 26-30.

In many ways, Victor Parachin's article, "America's Favorite Neighbor," is another wonderful tribute to this great man we all know for the gentle, affirming manner he used to impart self-esteem and basic values to generations of children.  Most of us know that his PBS career in children's programming spanned "[t]hree decades and nearly 1,000 episodes" (29). 

We marvel at the talent, the drive, and the diversity that garnered him a B.A. in music composition, a master's in child development, and a seminary degree.  We have seen the picture of him smiling and kneeling by his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and may be aware that his awards include four Emmys and two George Foster Peabodys.  We are not surprised to learn that one of his sweaters is in the Smithsonian.  We can see why, the year before his death on February 27, 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And yet, despite the importance of the late, great Fred Rogers' compassionate, respectful message to his impressionable young viewers, what impresses me about this article is not so much what he said to those children as what he has to say to us as grandparents. 

First--and I find this awesome--Rogers' TV personality and philosophy had their roots in something his own grandfather once said to him:  "You know, you made this day a really special day, just by being yourself.  There's only one person in the world like you.  And I happen to like you just the way you are" (29).   It is obvious that those words stayed with Rogers and inspired in him a new kind of attitude toward children's programming.  He proved that you don't have to be a clown or a cowboy to appeal to kids; you just need to be yourself. 

In fact, Parachin tells us that Rogers turned down an offer to move from educational to network TV because an executive there insisted that he wear a costume in order to entertain his audience.  In response to this, Rogers replied, "The greatest gift you can give anyone is your honest self.  It's the only unique gift anyone can give" (29).  That observation, in its simplicity, is profound.

Parachin points out that, at the final taping of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, there were many tears among audience and crew.  However, Rogers himself was not so sad as he was thankful, telling a reporter, "My overriding sense was . . . just enormous gratitude for having been able to do this work" (30).  The utter selflessness reflected by that remark is hard to imagine.

A sidebar to this article, the writer of which is identified only by the initials "PH," gives us one last Fred Rogers quote to ponder:  "It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives" (28).  This brings me to what I want to say about the relevance this fine piece has for me as a grandparent of young children--and perhaps for you as well.

Give those babies your honest self--that is a great, great thing.  That is all they need from you.  You are not in a contest for their attention.  You don't have to be extravagant.  All you have to do to is play, and, in so doing, affirm them for who they are.  Most of all, be grateful for them, and for your time together.  This is a wonderful and miraculous gift. 

No one understood that better than the unassuming Mister Rogers, who, every day, would enter his living room, zip up his cardigan, and tie his sneakers while we looked on.  It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood of grandparents, and he would want to make sure we know that.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Knock-Knock--Who's There?

Sooby and Pooh have discovered the joke.  By that, I mean they know there is a such thing as a joke and that its telling is supposed to make people laugh hysterically.  What they don't quite understand is how the whole thing works.  This became abundantly clear to me during our last Skype session, when there was a lot of knock-knocking going on.

Most of us, even we Boomers, cut our teeth on knock-knock jokes.  And, it would seem, most knock-knock jokes have been around at least as long as we have.  Take this one, for instance:
     Who's there?
     Boo who?
     Aw, gee.  I didn't mean to make you cry.

Or, consider Pa-Pa's old standard:

     Who's there?
     Jimmy who?
     Jimmy a kiss and I'll Joe home.
(As an aside, let me point out that this is not necessarily true, as I once gave Pa-Pa a kiss and he is still hanging around.)

Anyway, you can see that these, like all jokes in the knock-knock category, depend on three things in order to work:  (1) the fact that the jokee must be familiar enough with the format to execute scripted lines 2 and 4; (2) the ability of the jokee to understand the concept of pun, on which virtually every knock-knock joke is based, and (3) the condition that the jokee has never heard that particular joke before (familiarity breeds contempt and all that). 

If you think about it, you will see that, indeed, every such joke depends on wordplay involving either homophones (two words that sound alike but are spelled differently, such as the spoken "Boo who" and the understood "Boo hoo" from the example above) or two words that at least sound very similar (such as the spoken "Jimmy" and the understood "gimme" from Pa-pa's prize specimen).

Sooby and Poo understand none of this; therefore, our Skype session was fraught with totally nonsensical, non-sequitur, tirelessly repeated "jokes," if you can even call them that.  No matter.  The kids never failed to laugh hysterically when one of them delivered the punch line.  (I use the term punch line loosely here; it would be more accurate to call it a weak, barely discernible tap.)

As a result, the typical exchange went something like this:
     Sooby:  Knock-knock.
     Googie:  Who's there?
     Sooby:  (Looks around wildly in an effort to pull something--anything--to say out of the air; then, when her eyes finally land on her sippy cup . . . )  Lid.    
     Googie:  Lid who?
     Sooby:  The lid ON MY CUP!  (Kids erupt in seemingly insatiable paroxysms of laughter.)

I remember going through this with every child I have ever lived with, beginning with my younger brother--that stage where kids are aware that jokes exist but can't quite wrap their little preoperational minds around the more abstract language concepts inherent in them.  They are aware only that jokes make people laugh and, in so doing, lavish vast attention and approval upon the jokester.  It is a laughter that they naturally want to participate in and even to be a catalyst for.

I close with my last attempt to tell the kids a knock-knock joke that I think they might understand, the widely known one in which the jokee asks, "Old lady who?" and the jokester counters with "I didn't know you could yodel."  Here is how it went down:

     Googie:  Knock-knock.
     Sooby:  Who's there?
     Googie:  Old lady.
     Sooby:  Old lady?
     Googie:  You're supposed to say, "Old lady who?"  Let's try it again.  Knock-knock.
     Sooby:  Who's there?
     Googie:  Old lady.
     Sooby:  Googie, why are you an old lady?

Well, sometimes I wonder myself just how and when that happened.  I will have to think up a good answer for that one, but I think I will give up on jokes for the time being, renew my AARP membership, and go sprinkle some fiber powder into my applesauce.