Friday, May 30, 2014

A Bosom Buddy for Beenie

Beenie is coming to spend the night with me tomorrow, and this time he won't be going home alone. There in his bag--tucked amid clean clothes and diapers, conspicuous among the animal cracker crumbs and random playthings--will be something old and brown and hairy and--yes--ugly.

Finally, after living here at Googie's over a quarter of a century, son Teebo's much-loved, much-mauled replica of the infamous Gordon Shumway is going home to be reunited with his original owner. Tired of sitting on the top shelf of Teebo's old bedroom closet, Gordon is striking out to seek the companionship of a new generation of little boys.

You may remember Gordon better by his nickname, ALF. With his name derived from the acronym for "Alien Life Form," Alf was an extraterrestrial from the planet Melmac in the NBC sitcom aired in the late 1980s.

Perhaps resembling an aardvark more than anything else, Alf was a wise-cracking, cat-eating creature taken in by the Tanners, a typical middle-class American family, when his spaceship crash-landed in their garage. Despite his cynical one-liners and voracious appetite, Alf managed to endear himself to his TV family--and to many kids growing up at the same time in real American families such as ours.

When Teebo got his 18"-tall Alf doll, the two of them were inseparable. It was not unusual for him to tell me things like, "Alf and I went for a wagon ride," or "Alf and I picked some strawberries."

I became quite accustomed to hearing from Teebo that he and Alf had done this or that, even when it came to a little boy's imaginings. "Alf and I went for a ride in his spaceship," Teebo would say, and I would smile, say "That's nice," and go on with my vacuuming.

In first grade, Alf would often accompany Teebo to school, and I heard about many of their adventures at recess. So I didn't think anything about it when, on the day school pictures were taken, Teebo came home and told me, "Alf and I had our picture taken today."  Once again, I just said, "That's nice" and smiled--that is, until I saw this:

Sure enough, Alf had stuck his long, hairy nose into Teebo's first-grade picture! Fast-forwarding to what this was going to mean come Christmas card time, my mind screamed that surely this was some kind of joke. I shuffled frantically through the envelope for the real pictures, but what I saw was what I got: "Merry Christmas, everyone, from our family--and Alf!"

Well, I managed to live through that Christmas, and "The Time Teebo Had His School Picture Taken With Alf'" lives permanently among our well-loved family stories. So much so that Alf, decked out in the pomp and circumstance of mortarboard, graciously served as centerpiece at Teebo's college graduation party.

That's why I was struck the other day when I saw Alf lying listlessly on the closet shelf. It was obvious that he again longs for the companionship of a special little boy, and I know just the one to fill the bill.

Beenie, Alf is going home with you. You guys have fun together, and be sure to take good care of him. Because in about four years, he needs to look his best for your first-grade picture.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Teddy Bear's Alphabet Tea

Last week my friend Faye set a kitchen timer for five minutes. "Freewrite until you hear the bell," she told us. "The subject is 'teddy bear.'"

Some twenty years ago or more, Faye was a student in my creative writing class. Now, with the tables turned, she instructs a group of writers who meet once a week at our local senior center.

The following children's poem exists as a result of that activity. I hope you will read it to a little person you love, and tell me how it went. (And thanks to Beanie Baby "Miami," who agreed to pose here for purposes of illustration.)

Teddy Bear 's Alphabet Tea

Teddy bear,
Find a chair.
Grab that one right over there.
Sit with me,
And have a cup of tea.

Teddy bear,
We're a pair!
How we love to sip and share!
This can be
Such fun, as you will see!

Teddy bear,
I don't care
If you just sit there still and stare.
We can play
This party game all day.

Teddy bear,
If there's a tear
Upon your head below your hair--
I can mend
The hole for you, my friend. 

Teddy bear,
Where oh where
Is heaven, and can we go there?
Can we go far
And wish upon a star?

Teddy bear,
Do you dare
To let me see inside your lair?
And will there be
Vast treasures hidden there?

Teddy Bear,
A lovely air
Is lilting 'round us everywhere.
I hear and see
Magic when you play with me.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Morel of the Story

Maybe some anonymous doorbell-ringer left a basket of flowers on your doorstep today in celebration of May Day. That is a nice enough tradition, I suppose.

But, truth be told, many of us here in mid-Missouri would gladly skip the flowers in favor of a mess of morel mushrooms. I get the whole thing about blooming and fertility and all that, and I can appreciate a colorful, aromatic bouquet of flowers as well as anyone.

But despite their noble effort to totally monopolize the five human senses, flowers score a three out of five at best. Granted, they get high marks for the senses of sight and smell, and maybe a C+ for touch, but that is about all they can realistically accomplish. We have no choice but to give them zeroes for the senses of taste (in the normal human diet, at least) and hearing.

Morels, on the other hand, are a five-ring sensory circus. It is a pleasure to search them out in the woods and watch them rise layer by layer in your bag or bucket. No other feeling rivals that spongy softness as you cradle them gently in one hand while slicing them off at the ground with the knife you are holding in the other.

A day or two later, after numerous salt-water soaks and rinses, you are still on a sensory high as you dip them in beaten egg, roll them in flour, and set them sizzling in a skillet of hot grease. At the end of it all comes the most divine taste ever experienced by man, civilized or otherwise.

We have had a rather cool spring so far, and morel season--which usually comes and goes within a week or two, depending on the weather--has run later than usual. For our family, the annual morel feast occurred last night, thanks to the keen hunting instincts and prowess of son Teebo.

Last night four generations of our family gathered to devour the circle of seasonal delicacies you see above. Mom, at age eighty-nine, was our oldest morel muncher, while two-year-old Beenie got his first taste of 'shrooms. (He called them "cookies.")

Morels are one of those carpe diem kinds of things that require us to live in the moment. When that special combination of wet weather and hot sun comes together for that all-too-brief week in April, you have to drop everything and do mushrooms, or you will miss the chance until next year. You have to abandon the diet, put the menu plan on hold, heat up the grease, and enjoy one of the truest culinary pleasures of this life.

Encouraging us to revel in life's temporal beauties, poet Robert Herrick says, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." That is okay if you like flowers. As for myself, I am happy to leave the rosebud-gathering to others and just sit here in this house where the faintest hint of fried morels still lingers.