Friday, November 30, 2012

The Little Voice

Last week, Sooby's kindergarten teacher asked her class the proverbial pre-Thanksgiving question.  "What are you thankful for?" she asked each child in turn, prompting them to share the objects of their gratitude with the class.

The answers were as predictable as the question.  "My family," some said.  "My home," said others.  These were the most common responses, with perhaps some "moms and dads" sprinkled into the mix. 

I have been around children enough to know that there is a lemming-off-the-cliff effect with questions like these.  More often than not, kids this age will take their cue from their peers and give the same or similar answers.  So I would guess this was a pretty ho-hum kind of exercise--until  Sooby's turn rolled around.

"And what are you thankful for?" the teacher asked Sooby, to which my oldest grandchild, in keeping with an infinite wisdom ranging far beyond her five short years, replied, "My conscience."

Her conscience?  Really?  Where did that come from?

Sooby's mama filled me in.  It seems that, not long ago, Sooby had gotten into some sort of trouble at home and was crying because she thought she would never be able to be good.  Cookie explained to her that, at age five, she was still learning what it means to behave correctly.

"When you don't know whether to do something or not," Cookie told her, "just listen to that little voice inside your head that tells you what's right and what's wrong.  That's called your conscience.  When you listen to your conscience, it will help you do the right thing."

Sooby's response to her teacher's question shows that she has been thinking about--and probably listening for--that little voice inside her head that helps her make sound choices regarding her behavior.  More importantly, I think, is her growing awareness that her little five-year-old failures are things to be understood and even expected by those of us who love and nurture her.

I am glad that Sooby is beginning to see, in her own way, that making mistakes can help her to learn.  Hopefully, the little voice has explained to her--using kindergarten vocabulary, of course--that parental (and grandparental) discipline is something administered out of love and with the goal of helping her to act more appropriately in a world she shares with others. 

So Ms. Kindergarten Teacher, in a couple weeks, when you ask the kids what they want most for Christmas, don't be caught off-guard if Sooby seems to pull another answer out of the blue.  After all, this is a child who not only knows what her conscience is, but is thankful for it.  So don't be surprised if she announces that she wants a microphone to make that little voice a little easier to hear.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stockpiling Doves

When you remodel an old farmhouse, you never know what you are going to find hidden behind the walls.  This is what my friend recently learned, and the story fascinates me.

First, some background.  For a long time she and her husband have enjoyed a glass of wine and Dove chocolates in the evening between supper and bedtime.  When this became a nightly ritual, they often left their opened bag of candy out on the coffee table.

Fast-forward to the recent remodeling.  When they removed the sheetrock in their entryway, which adjoins their living room, what do you think she found?  A stack of Dove chocolate squares piled neatly behind the wall.  Only one had been unwrapped and bore the marks of very small teeth.  Close scrutiny revealed the smallest of spaces where, on the living room side, the original baseboard had pulled away from the wall.

What happened here sinks in slowly, and then she realizes--as do we who hear or read her story--what had to have been going on for who knows how long.  In the dark of night, while our friends slept upstairs, furry little chocolate-loving critters were busily stocking their larder.

It is almost too much for the imagination to picture--a mouse, his jaws stretched open enough to accommodate a Dove chocolate, hopping down from the coffee table, scurrying across the floor, and virtually disappearing into the woodwork.

Oddly, the comparison that struck me as my friend pointed to the wall and told me this story involves my dad.  Not that he was mouse-like at all, oh no.  He was a towering hulk of a guy, and even now, fourteen months after his death, I cannot quite fathom that such a huge presence as his can actually be gone.  But the mouse's steady, quiet work routine and his attention to providing for the future are what make me think of Dad.

The past year has made me aware of Dad's diligent daily effort over sixty-six years to provide for my mother in the event of his death.  As I have cashed in life insurance policies, renewed CDs, and consolidated checking accounts, I can clearly see the tracks left by his forward thinking.

I can see that he had to do some squeezing to make things work as a garage mechanic, small business owner, and farmer.  But now, as we work to remodel our lives without him, we have found the stockpile of Doves behind the wall for Mom and, ultimately, for my brother and me.  Dad put them there by the work of his hands and the sweat of his brow, and I grow to admire his work ethic and philosophy more every day.

I originally had in mind to write this as a tribute to Dad on Nov. 11, which would have been his 88th birthday.  But life intervened, a senior moment occurred, and I couldn't remember what I was going to write when his birthday rolled around.  Although I racked my brain for several weeks, I didn't remember the mouse story until this morning.

So here I am, Dad, two weeks late with your birthday tribute.  Sorry about that.  I would do well to do a little stockpiling myself when it comes to those fleeting ideas that flash through my brain and sometimes hide behind a wall where my thought processes can't immediately retrieve them.

I think of you every day in a wistful and nostalgic sort of way. But now I will also smile every time I unwrap a Dove chocolate, and I will imagine a stack of them, left by you, piled neatly behind the closest wall. 


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Yellow Friday

I don't think I like the phrase, "Black Friday," and I like the idea of it even less.  When I was growing up, you never heard the Friday after Thanksgiving called "black" or anything else for that matter.  It was just a nice, lazy day that gave us an extra reprieve from school and a menu of delectable leftovers.

As I teen, I might've enjoyed some limited shopping with my friends on that day, but it was never like it is now.  The stores, many of them hometown merchants instead of today's retail chains, didn't open at some insane hour of the morning, and no one got trampled in their bid for the ubiquitous bargain.

I guarantee you that when our Friday rolls around tomorrow, it will not be in any way black.  It works out that we will be having our family Thanksgiving at Googie's a day late this year.  Both kids observed the holiday with their in-laws today, so I have used the time to get a jump on tomorrow's festivities. It is the first Thanksgiving since we have been married that Pa-pa and I have not spent with some manner of family--and that's OK.  I still find much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for good friends.  We shared lunch at a local restaurant with friends whose children celebrated Thanksgiving with them last weekend.  It was laid-back and leisurely and entirely enjoyable.  The fact that we ran into another good friend from high school that we had not seen in nearly twenty years made it even better.  For the first time in my life, I had pancakes for lunch on Thanksgiving.  I am not complaining.

Meanwhile, at home, my turkey for tomorrow was roasting in the oven.  I am thankful that I won this turkey in a recent Halloween costume contest, for which the prize was a "dead body."  I love the quirky humor in that.  Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch? 

I am especially thankful for my mother, who turned eighty-eight years old today.  She has had a tough go of it since my Dad died in September 2011, but she is a trooper.  She will be here tomorrow bearing homemade noodles and leftover birthday cake.  I suspect we will probably have to light a candle or two for the grandkids to blow out.  (We always try to look the other way and not think about the shower of germs raining down on a perfectly good cake.)

So--since I have rejected the notion of "Black Friday," I am declaring that our Friday will be yellow. That is the color of sunshine and daffodils and coconut cream pie. That is a happy color, and it makes me happy to have all the people I love most under my roof all at once.

Yellow Friday will mean a hectic morning.  There are rolls to thaw, dressing to mix up, iced tea to brew, and a pumpkin dump cake to bake.  When everyone arrives about noon, the house will overflow with that wonderful, crazy chaos that I have grown to love.

I hope that you have had a blessed Thanksgiving Day.  And, if your Friday should happen to be yellow like the one I am anticipating, then may you continue to enjoy this season of gratitude like a gift to be unwrapped slowly and savored to the fullest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Finally! I Know Why Giraffes Are Selfish!

I was born on Andy Griffith's birthday. 

When I first learned this from a celebrity newspaper feature years ago, I took note.  You never know when little informational tidbits like this will come in handy.  And, besides that, I was proud to share a birthday with Andy, undoubtedly my all-time favorite show-business personality.

As it turned out, knowing Andy's birthday won me a a free CD titled Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin' at the Missouri State Fair summer before last.  I was clappin' and tappin' at a free concert performed by the Grascals, a bluegrass band with a penchant for Andy Griffith trivia.

In fact, they were so confident in their knowledge of the episodes and music from The Andy Griffith Show that they invited members of the audience to literally "stump the band."  Anyone who asked a show-related question they couldn't answer correctly would win the free CD.  So my hand shot up, and before I knew it, I was asking them if they knew Andy Griffith's birthday.

The Grascals knew Andy's birthday was in June.  They knew how old he was at that time.  But they missed their guess on the exact date, and I went home with a new CD.

This is not just any ordinary CD, no siree.  It features some of the timeless tunes performed by the ever-memorable Darlings, the hill folk who often made their way into Mayberry for some pickin' and grinnin' with Sheriff Taylor.  It also features several songs written by the Grascals themselves about Mayberry and its unforgettable citizenry.

One of those songs, titled "Boy, Giraffes Are Selfish," always puzzled me.  The words--something about dogs and jail and lightning--just didn't make any sense.  One time, Sooby even took exception to it as we listened to it in my van.  "Giraffes are not selfish," she asserted, as though she had been personally insulted.  "They're nice."

I offer you this background so that you can share my epiphany of a couple days ago.  I was in the family room playing with Beenie, who, by the way, is eight months old today, and stays with me three days a week.  Two episodes of Andy Griffith are always on our morning agenda.

In this particular episode, Opie is distressed because some stray dogs his pa wouldn't let him adopt had been returned outdoors to fend for themselves in a terrible thunderstorm.  Opie was worried particularly about the lightning, and Barney was trying to reassure him. 

Dogs are low to the ground, Barney told Opie, and they take care of their own.  Then, in typical Barney fashion, he goes on to compare dogs to giraffes.  If they were giraffes instead of dogs, Barney said, then there would be trouble.  Their long necks make them tall and thus susceptible to lightning strikes.  They don't take care of one another like dogs do, Barney said; instead, they are just worried about "Number 1."  And then came the line that set the bells off in my head:  "Boy, giraffes are selfish."

I listened to the song again, and it is obviously based on this particular episode of Andy Griffith.  Suddenly, it all made sense.  Apparently, this was an episode I had either never seen or else long forgotten.  It was like a light came on somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind and, suddenly, I knew why giraffes are selfish.

You can google "giraffes are selfish" and find Barney's insightful lecture on YouTube.  You may also find a link to Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin'.  I highly recommend it if you have a bluegrass fan or Andy aficionado on your Christmas list. 


Friday, November 9, 2012

The Mean Cook

"You see that door?" I said to my daughter Cookie as we sat in a corner booth near the kitchen at our local Mexican restaurant sometime in 1984.  "There is a mean cook who works here, and if you don't sit down and behave yourself, he is going to come out here, and you are going to be in big trouble!"

Not the best parenting strategy, I will admit, but I was desperate.  Pa-pa (who was just Daddy then) and I were trying to enjoy a rare opportunity to eat out in public. Quite unfairly, our almost-two-year-old daughter was the only one having a good time.  She was jumping on the cushions.  She was crawling under the table.  She was knocking stuff around.  I was at my wit's end.

I don't know where the story came from, but it worked.  Cookie sat down, fascinated by the thought that a mean cook lurked somewhere on the other side of that door.  She had a million questions:  "What does he look like?  What will he say?  Does he like kids?"

"Not kids who act up," I told her sternly, and every time the door swung open to reveal a waitress with a tray of food, Cookie's eyes got big in anticipation.  For the rest of the evening, she was one very good little girl sitting very still, trying to get the smallest glimpse into the inner recesses of the kitchen where a monster-like being wielded a spatula or maybe a huge butcher knife and barked mercilessly at anyone who dared to cross his path.

Over the years we have laughed many times together over the story of the mean cook.  All the time my kids were growing up, it was not at all unusual to invoke the story for our amusement as we waited for our food in some restaurant somewhere.

And now, the most unusual thing has happened.  It seems that Sooby and Pooh love the story of the mean cook.  Recently, they both shinnied up onto my lap to hear it yet again.  They are fascinated by the fact that their mama was once two years old and that she (and not one of them) was the one misbehaving and causing her mother grief.  That their disciplinarian was once an ornery kid just like they are seems almost beyond belief--and, for some reason, very, very funny.

Of course, I embellish the story a little more every time they ask me to tell it.  I drag it out just a little more and build the suspense.  I mimic the voice of their mother at age two.  I really lay it on when I describe all the bad things she was doing at the restaurant.  They clap and giggle every time, and then ask to hear it again.  And again.  And again.

Cookie just smiles.  She is a good sport.  She knows she was ornery and that it is payback time for her.  For the kids and me, though, it is just pure delight.  They love the story, and I will never tire of hearing those stereophonic fits of the sweetest laughter I have ever known.  


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bootsie's Morning Haiku

Besides "granddaughter," there are many words to describe two-year-old Bootsie, among them "big sister," "little sister," "tease"--and poet.  I knew about those first three descriptors, of course, but Bootsie's penchant for poetry was revealed to me only yesterday, in the form of a Facebook status update posted by her mama.

Titled "[Bootsie's] Morning Haiku," the post reads as follows:

My feet cold.  Eat food.
Me have a little freckle.
Blue sky, blue window.

Now I ask you, is that not genius?  I wish I could be so insightful and prolific myself first thing in the morning.

Notice first how the poet accomplishes the traditional haiku format.  The poem is three lines long, with a total of seventeen syllables arranged 5-7-5.  Amazingly, the three lines are approximately equal in their number of characters, and thus, their length.  Since this evenness is not so typical of haiku, it makes this one all the more remarkable.

Like any self-respecting haiku, this one is rich in imagery, that is, words suggestive of the senses.  Here, Bootsie cleverly includes three of the five senses--touch ("cold"), taste ("eat food"), and sight ("blue").  These, of course, are the three main senses with which the typical two-year-old experiences her world. 

If you were to read this piece aloud, you couldn't help but notice the sound patterns.  Line 1 contains internal rhyme with the words "feet" and "Eat."  There is consonance, or the repetition of end sounds, in the words "cold" and "food."  Alliteration is apparent in the repeated /m/ and /f/ sounds in the first two lines, and the repetition of the word "blue" in Line 3 leaves the poem and thus the reader with a pleasing color image.

Finally, the three lines also mirror the physical act of waking up.  Bootsie notices first that her feet are cold and she is hungry--internal sensations.  Then, she moves on to her external appearance with the notation of the "little freckle."  Finally, she looks beyond her two-year-old egocentrism toward the world outside of herself to catch a glimpse of blue sky, which, to her, also makes the window through which she looks appear "blue." She perceives herself as a part of this larger world and is ready to get up and start her day.

When Cookie posted this haiku yesterday, she asked her Facebook friends for analyses, and here is mine.  Am I amazed?  Yes.  Am I just a bit biased?  Most certainly.  But that is the prerogative of a literary critic who also happens to be the poet's "Googie." 

Keep 'em coming, Baby Girl, and Cookie--whatever you do, keep writing them down.