Category Archives: memoir

My Mother, Queen of the Euphemism

Recently, I spent a few hours with my family at the wedding of my cousin. I don’t see my family often, other than a holiday here and there, so it was nice to connect with my brothers, sister and mother on a more personal level than, let’s say, a Facebook exchange over a photo of our horses (or, as is the case with my mother, a photo of her standing barefoot in her driveway with a dead wild turkey [not the beverage] in her hands, never-ending grin on her face, blood spatter staining the concrete). It’s not every time, but sometimes when we get together my brothers and I, my sister and my mother sync together just right: we share in the same inflection, context, direction in which we target our wit.

Wild Turkey Death Match

Doris Day Meets Calamity Jane Meets Rambo

My mother participates differently, though. While my brothers and I poke fun, she laughs and routinely unearths some rare gem, usually in the form of a euphemism. She is the very best at this. If Euphemism* Creation were an Olympic sport, she would win the gold. I would feel bad for the competition, as they would be eating her metaphorical stuff.

I think of this and I wonder if her knack for the most general of description played a role in my own development. It may have not on the level that her lack of spelling prowess did, but it surely had something to say—and I took notice; if not consciously, mental notes were gathered in wispy snippets.

And so, it is without further adieu I give you: Mom, The Amazing Euphemism Builder Thingy**

Our word: Greenhouse

Her word: Plant home box

Our word: Dining table

Her word: Big food platform

Our word: Remote control

Her word: Clicker thing

Our word: Fortune cookie

Her word: Fake sweet triangle

Our word: Fireplace

Her word: Burn den

Our word: Consequence

Her word: Take that!

You get the idea. I love her for it. I think I prefer her words. It came to a point where she could simply say thing, and I knew what she was referring to. It’s swell. And by that I mean super awesome.

*I am using the loose definition of euphemism to make an artistic point. All right? Stop. It’ll be okay.
**You should also know that I am using a bit of exaggeration. Mom, you know I sentiment you.

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Creating The Villain

They tell me I simply need to let it be; to pay no mind. But how is such a thing possible? The anguish that was caused; the heartache; the grief; these are attributes of my character, in the sense that they have shaped my emotional, intellectual and mental understanding of the world, of people, and the way in which these things interact with one another.

Wait, scratch that. I know it’s possible to let it be. After all, if I don’t, then he’s winning.

But, what if I don’t want to? What if I need him to play the role of the tormentor? What if I need to relegate him to evil, dictatorial villain?

What if I need to know that a person like that will struggle, experience hardship?

Don’t I have some say as to how he does this? Am I not part of the social barometer that demonizes infidelity, abuse, hypocrisy? If not, then who? Not, quite assuredly, god; the latter of which I find to be especially frustrating. To live forever, after this? Really?

Presumably psychologists would say that I was losing it; that I, to some degree, am failing to see the picture. I beg to differ. It’s really quite simple.

A is evil.

A causes B pain.

B’s pain surfaces when A’s damaging effects are witnessed within context of familial structure.

In order to absolve pain, B must do one of two things:

B can steer clear of the rest of family.

B can implement the “A as villain” approach.

If option 1 occurs, B suffers.

If option 2 occurs, B finds solace.

Or perhaps B needs to get over it.

Trying.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 2

When his parents were gone on those church trips, the boys were usually left in the capable hands of any one of the four teenage girls that lived in the neighborhood. But to be capable in his parents’ eyes is to keep Spencer and his two brothers from bleeding from their eyeballs or some such injury that would land them in the hospital. To be capable in Spencer’s eyes was different, though. It was everything.

It meant he didn’t have to scrub the toilet. It meant he didn’t have to find clever ways to avoid his father. It meant he didn’t have to do as Jesus would do. Wine from stone aside, it just wasn’t that appealing.

Miah and Marcus reacted as most kids would. They went crazy. And as long as the messes were cleaned up before the parents’ arrival, and they kept it within the confines of their bedroom, they were free to do what they wanted.

But, one Saturday evening in August of ’92, things turned out differently.

“Alright kids. I need to make a phone call. Keep it down,” Tiffany, the first-year college student from three houses over, said to Spencer, Miah and Marcus shortly after the Grum parents pulled out of the driveway.

“Who are you calling?” Marcus asked.

“Yah, who ya call…”

“Guys, stop it,” Spencer interrupted. “Lets go to the bedroom.”

“But I want to know who she’s calling.” Miah responded.

“It’s none of your business. Let’s go. Who wants to play Monopoly?” Spencer said.

“I do!” Miah exclaimed.

“I get to be the boot!” Marcus replied.

“I’m the race car!” Miah said.

“I’ll be the thimble, okay? Let’s go.”

Monopoly always seemed to work. It was the one board game they owned that still had enough pieces to make it playable. They had a checkers set that was once used as ammunition for the boys’ grossly inaccurate, and mildly racist reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The checker pieces that found their way up to the roof never were retrieved.

For the next two hours, the Grum boys sat cross-legged on the floor in their bedroom and played Monopoly. The structure of which typically went something like this:

  1. Game opens with delight, fervor
  2. 30 minutes pass without much change
  3. Miah expresses desire to make his one procured property a “super duper,” that has the power to burn its unwanted occupants with molten lava
  4. Marcus and Spencer roll their eyes and deny the request
  5. Another 30 minutes pass by with a handful of houses purchased, mostly by Marcus and Spencer
  6. Marcus is distracted by Miah’s constant fidgeting and promptly–and throughout the remainder of game–complains
  7. Miah expresses delight at having once again annoyed his older brother. He does so by making “neener neener” faces
  8. Spencer waits patiently
  9. Spencer places mansion on Boardwalk
  10. Miah and Marcus charge Spencer with cheating
  11. Spencer laughs at his brothers’ inability to handle time consumption
  12. Miah calls Marcus and Spencer a “poop eater” and quits
  13. 10 minutes later, Marcus quits for lack of money
  14. Spencer puts the game back in its box, happy to have distracted his brothers for the two hours

For Spencer, the time spent post-Monopoly matches was undoubtedly the best. His brothers, annoyed and pouting, kept mostly to themselves. The babysitter found solace in her phone calls. And he was met with a calming respite from the pressure.

Mostly, he didn’t have to keep up appearances. He wasn’t his father’s little soldier.

He was himself. His own self.

His own self.

His own self.

These are the words that played again and again as he fell to sleep on the floor in the dining room that evening in August of ’92.

When he woke hours later, with a hand around his ankle, the words seemed so far away, so distant and foreign and never to be reached again.

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Perception. Not In That Way.

I read Stick, a book from Andrew Smith. It’s incredibly powerful and relevant. So much so that I felt compelled to email him, tell him how much the book and its characters meant to me. I haven’t felt that way about a book in quite some time. Not since Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing. Not since Wilson Rawls’ Where The Red Fern Grows (Andrew, I am so with you on this. I’ve read this book at least a dozen times).

The book brought up all sorts of different emotions and memories. But there is one particular memory. One having to do with what my sister and I had to wear for church growing up. It wasn’t just that we had to wear nicer clothing than the typical garb, but that we had to wear it a certain way.

To him, we had to show the others at church that we were dressed up. They had to see it. And a t-shirt or a pair of shorts spoke of carelessness and non-conformity and being not too serious about the reasons for being at church.

To him, it was about the image we presented–to friends, to acquaintances, to strangers.

We had to (were often forced to) look like a tight-knit, well-oiled machine; perfectly happy and cohesive and strong.

And I think we were in certain ways. Certain, and small, yet meaningful ways. But not in the way he wanted it.

Not in that way.

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Critter Bugs in the Bed

I don’t sleep well without the Critter Bug. I’ve gotten used to her bunchy face blankets that encroach upon my territory, my sleep number. I’ve gotten used to her body blocking Scooby from nuzzling me to death in my sleep. I’ve gotten used to her manic sleep talking, or “night terrors,” that leave me only mildly annoyed and mostly intrigued by their inherent craziness. I’ve gotten used to retrieving her coffee and Trader Joe’s O’s in the morning, while she sits up in bed with both of our pillows cushioning her back. Generally, I’ve just gotten used to her presence. And when she’s not there, I don’t like it.

Jessica, no more overnight shifts for you. I mean it.

Does anyone want a peanut?

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I Married Into an Animal Explosion

I was a dog person before I met Jessica. Well, in a sense. I say ‘in a sense’ because when I compare my life and its relationship with animals to Jessica’s life with animals, mine is incredibly tame. And by tame, I undoubtedly mean that Jessica and her family would classify me as an ‘animal abuser.’ But, allow me to explain.

When we met, she had a horse, a rabbit, two dogs, and lived with a bird. And she did say, on more than a few occasions during our initial ‘dating’ period, that she wished to be a horse. She even did the whole neigh sound and mimicked the gallop in a quick semi-circle around me. I told her that I loved dogs, and I suspect, in retrospect, that I was exaggerating. Perchance I even fabricated a story or two about time spent volunteering at the animal shelter, or saving the neighbor’s pot belly pig from drowning one wet winter season.

I learned quickly that the Dobson family was one that didn’t abide by–or agree with–the concept of ‘outside pet.’ Although, I must say, I was relieved that they didn’t go so far as agreeing to the concept of ‘indoor horse.’ When I was growing up, we had dogs. Well, we had a dog, and then we had another dog. His name was Montana, and he was a Golden Retriever. A wonderful dog. But he was an ‘outdoor dog.’ My brothers and I played with him in the big yard out front; we took him on hikes down to the creek; we wrestled with him; on occasions he would be allowed inside to hang out while we watched a movie, or played Monopoly. But he slept outside in his Dogloo (awesome, by the way).

In the Dobson house, the dogs slept inside, they meandered around the dinner table and were (cover your ears, Mom) allowed up on the couch. This was all foreign to me. And has taken some time getting used to. But in the end, it hasn’t been so bad. Sure, my allergies go a bit haywire at times, and despite my body’s aversion to dander, I’ve grown quite fond of their constant presence.

Jessica, like her mom and dad and sisters, is an animal lover. I’m glad of it. I like that Scooby sleeps near the bed, and that he can wake me up with a cold, wet nose to my back. I like that we have horses (yes, we have two now) and that I can pretend to be The Man From Snowy River. I like that mom and pop Dobson are near, and their penchant for picking up strays is as strong as it ever was. I like that we rent a space that gives us the opportunity to care for dogs when the owner is away.

I love that I met Jessica. The true 4-h babe. The galloping (critter bug) Mustang, or Percheron.

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Scooby Finds His Wee Wee

So, we have a dog. His name is Scooby and he’s a black Labrador. At four and a half, he’s still very much a puppy, at least in his excitability and playful mannerisms. When I met Jessica, Scooby hadn’t yet reached the age of one. With that said, I can rationally say that I know Scooby well.

I know what he likes and dislikes. I know that he loves to chase rabbits with the sole intention of playing patty cake, or some such innocent tete-a-tete. I know that he loves to retrieve the tennis ball, and then keep the ball in his mouth until he’s certain that the other dogs aren’t cherry picking to get to the next toss first. I know that he was once scared to jump into the Dobson pool, but has since shed that fear, thanks to my patient instruction. Now, he’ll jump, but not before he crouches to ensure he’s propelling himself into the pool with the least amount of air time possible. I know that he loves to get as close to the bed with Jessica and I as possible without actually laying on the bed (a rule mandated by myself; but a rule, mind you, that is often broken in moments of weakness, or moments in which Jessica chooses Adorable over Non’s Allergy Monster). This usually results in half of his body laying on the bed, with his lower half on the floor beside the bed.

Mostly, I know that he is fond of me, as I am fond of him. But the other day, my perception changed.

Scooby and His Ball

I was in the house, and the dogs (Scooby, Scooby’s mom Lilly, Schein, Gamble and Watson) were outside. I looked through the window to see what they were up to, only to find the most revolting thing I’ve ever seen. Before I get to that, I’ll say this. As a young lad, I had to initiate a conversation with my mother for the purpose of asking her to keep the noise level down in the–ahem, cough, shudder–bedroom. It was traumatic, and may have been a repressed memory if she hadn’t laughed and told me that my “grandfather was having sex all the time; and he’s an old man!”

And so, as I peered out into the backyard, I found Scooby humping (I use this term in an attempt to propel the act to some elementary, perhaps easily forgotten level; sadly, it’s already failed) Schein. I must point out that Schein is Scooby’s aunt. His aunt! Okay, incestuous relations aside, the image was still very much awful. But allow me to explain further.

You see, in this moment, we parents (yes, he’s my boy dammit) get a bit irrational, emotional, exaggerating in our interpretation of events. To others, it’s simply a dog humping another dog. That is, they say, what dogs do. But no, I say! Not Scooby! Not the innocent playful pup that I know so well! In that moment, Scooby was not responding to boredom. He was raping his aunt. With his incisors showing and everything. In that moment, Scooby was an aggressor. And, to make matters worse, my mind filled with all these sick thoughts of Scooby doing this regularly, like he’s trying to hide it from me, like he knows that it’s wrong but he just can’t stop his sexual urges.

But I say, it can’t be! Scooby is fixed. He doesn’t even know what’s going on down there! And yet, in my head, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Scooby is his name no longer. Scooby the Rapist, forever he will be.

Shudders.

I love you Scooby. I always will. Even if I know now that you recognize your wee wee.

*Note: While I am surely exaggerating this experience (yes, I know that dogs hump), there is truth to the irrational, emotional reaction that I had.

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My Children, the Troll Fighting, Bloody-Kneed Individualists

I want my children to grow up in a world that provides them with a choice. I want them to weigh options and learn from their mistakes. I want them to grow up and discover what is best for them as individuals. I want them to learn that they alone know what is best for their needs. I want them to choose, without the philosophical meddling of their parents.

I want them to get dirty and break bones. I want them to use their imagination, build forts, fight trolls in the backyard.

But I suppose I’m simply meddling. Yearning for something that is mostly out of my control. As is just and moral. I want my children to be individuals first. Family members second, if they so choose.

Mostly, I want for them to want that too. And so I sit here wanting and wishing, in realization that I am already meddling; in realization that I am romanticizing the entire notion. I admit it. I have a weak spot for troll fighting, bloody-kneed individualists.

*Note: we do not have children. Not yet anyhow. And I am fairly certain Jessica hopes that they wait to brandish swords. You know, at least until the breach the surface.

Wonder King Wiki - Courtesy of Wiki Commons

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Crusty Ovals of Cough Syrup-y Goodness

I have a fondness for jelly beans. But not the Jelly Belly brand jelly beans. I like the ones that are about three times the size of those. The ones with the mildly crusty shell that may or may not be the result of old age, having sat on the store shelf for Easters past. The ones with the purples that taste of cough syrup and the white ones that taste of a mix between the “mystery” AirHead flavor and coconut.

You see, I have what one could claim as an old-fashioned sense of taste in sweets. I adore black licorice. Hard candies. Peppermints. Horehound. And I often joke that I pay young neighborhood kids in lemon drops for mowing the lawn and pulling weeds in the yard.

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I Want For Safety

I want for safety, but in the violence of its self-preservation, I find only the eggshells and the discomfort of a foreign mania.

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