Tag 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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Mom, Dyslexia and How I Came to Perceive Words

My mother is dyslexic. Really dyslexic. Needless to say, this is by no means meant to belittle her. Dyslexia is something she didn’t choose, so I don’t hold it against her. It is, quite simply, a part of her, something she was born with, akin to her penchant for breaking out in song and dance a la Gene Kelly, as I’ve written about before, in a story that I never seem to finish:

It was that way once. Long ago. Lampposts, then, were not just the large candy cane flashlights they appear to be. Then, so very long ago, with a smile on my face and my cheeks as the rosy red warriors they so often seem to be, I swung from those metal cylinders, like Gene Kelly in Singin’ In the Rain. And I reckon, the response is in fact instinctual; or rather, to be more specific, it’s genetic.

I can thank my mother for that. She had a penchant for Mr. Kelly. He danced like one should dance, she had always said.

Anyhow, I bring this bit of information up for one reason: it is through her dyslexia (she struggles mostly with spelling) I learned to look at words in a way I had never experienced before. It was unique. Life-altering. But, of course, I didn’t really know it then. Sure, I recognized that I was learning how to spell. And not just the simple words (although she had trouble with those as well). But the more challenging words too; the ones with the “silent” non-emphasis and the ones that seemed to go on forever and ever without the loving respite of a vowel insertion.

I think fondly of the chores, handwritten, on the sad, yellow legal pad she would give us every morning. Letters traded places with one another, or were never found. But it didn’t matter. For the most part, I could figure out what she was trying to say.

And after a while, I didn’t really see the spelling mishaps. The jumbled letters were (still are) simply a result of a broken filter between her thoughts (always quite clearly articulated orally) and the paper upon which she was writing.

So I became her own personal spelling machine.

And yes, even though the spelling machine poked fun at the dyslexic from time to time, it mostly helped remedy the filter of a mother he loved (still loves!) dearly.

Thank you, mom.

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Spencer’s Story: Volume 3

“What are you doing?” Mr. Grum commanded.

Groggy, Spencer took a moment to answer, to get his bearings. “I was just resting. Just resting.”

“Well get up. Now. We have company.”

A tall man in a v-neck sweater of green stood behind his father, smiling, waiting for Spencer to react.

“Spencer, this is Mr. Blankenship. He’s with the church.”

“Nice to meet you,” Spencer said.

“Very nice to meet you, Spencer.”

Spencer smiled, looking Mr. Blankenship in the eyes. This was how it went with company. Smile politely, make eye contact, don’t step out of line. That line had been drawn in impenetrable stone for as long as Spencer could remember. As much as he tried to forget, his evolutionary mechanism aptly reminded him of its presence in times like these.

“We’re going to be using the dining room. I don’t want any interruptions. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

With the church, Spencer mused. It’s always with the church. He had wondered why the church took precedence over family. Why the way the family dressed for church worship services was important enough to scream about, fight over. Why Spencer and his brothers had to be so gosh darn quiet in their company. It was as though, as Spencer had thought before, their Christian development wasn’t matured, or brainwashed enough to fit in.

Frankly, he was sick of it. And he went to bed that evening with a sour taste in his mouth.

The next morning, Spencer woke before the sun came to visit. This was par for the course in the Grum household. Early to rise for chores of cleaning and dusting and organizing. While his brothers still had it in them to whine about it, Spencer had grown to realize that it was how it went. And it wasn’t so bad, he had thought. It usually gave him more time during the day to play outdoors: his most favorite place on the planet.

Later that day, after he had finished his chores, Spencer was given permission to invite his friend Garrett over. And that day, Spencer found adventure in a place hadn’t ever before.

*    *    *    *

Beyond the hill behind the Grum house, horses ran, unsaddled and free. Or at least that’s what Spencer liked to think. He didn’t know much about horses–other than what he gleaned from episodes of Have Gun Will Travel–but he did like to lean up against the fence and watch them as they galloped to and fro chasing jackrabbits and chomped on wild lemon grass in between yearnings to scratch their backs with the crust of the earth.

This one time, however, when he was eight, Spencer and his friend Garrett did just a bit more than simply watch the horses.

It was another one of those sunny weekend days in Southern California: perfect for romping around the neighborhood, exploring new trees to build forts upon, finding new ways to lend credence to the title of hooligan or scoundrel or whippersnapper, terms he heard regularly delivered by Mrs. Walden (for skateboarding “too fast” down the hill near their houses, or throwing water balloons at passing bicyclists).

“Let’s go watch the horses,” Garret said. Garrett lived in a stucco box of an apartment next to other stucco boxes, and didn’t often have the chance to be around animals. Small pets weren’t allowed in his apartment complex. Not even miniature horses.

Spencer wanted to get out of the house anyhow. Miah and Marcus were fighting over the integrity of one another’s building block castle: Miah’s being replete with moat, and imaginary crocodiles for the strict purpose of chomping on intruders, or Marcus’ wandering fingers; Marcus’ castle being the one with the highest towers, or the “better angle to shoot things in the face.” The parents were, as was the routine for Sundays, arguing over bills in their bedroom. They jabbed at each other in exasperated exclamations.

“Okay,” Spencer replied. “Let’s go.”

When they both reached the fence at the top of the hill, they leaned against it and looked out upon the roaming beasts.

“Who’s are they?” Garret asked.

“I don’t know. They’re just here.”

“But who owns them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe no one does. I think they’re just wild.”

A few moments pass before the two exchange grins. The grins, translated, amounted to: They’re wild. We’re wild. Let’s be wild together.

That, at the least, was their collective vision. However naive, it was still theirs. No rules. No parents. No brothers or sisters. Only them, and the wild beasts of the field beyond the Grum house.

Stepping through the barbed wire fence, Garrett looks up, noticing one of the horses trot towards them, only twenty paces off or so. “They’re not going to eat us, are they?”

“Um, no. No, they’re herbivores…I think.”

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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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Books, Movies, Cereal for Dinner

Sometimes I’d rather spend money on books and movies than eat. It’s true. And I suspect that this desire would be much more pronounced if I were, let’s say, a hermit. Oh man. I would be starving, yet my home would be made of books. Literally. But only those big, throwaway hardcover John Grisham novels. Yes, I’d eat cereal for dinner three times a week, but I’d have so much money to spend on books and DVDs and all of the finest relevant accoutrements: cozy reading chairs, library ladders, decadent decanters, entertainment centers, special/limited/for-one-time-only blu-ray/dvd movie packages.

Thank goodness for Jessica. While we may eat cereal for dinner every once in a while, it’s not on par with hermit-hood. And I am especially thankful that she loves movies and books too. We can immerse ourselves and still find a good meal, here and there.

But we will have our Beauty and the Beast library, so help me Santa Claus.

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Blood is Blood

“Well, they are blood, so you got to love them.”

I heard someone say this the other day. They were speaking to the concept that if one is related to you by blood, then you must share with that person a certain level of love, care and respect. I think this argument is somewhat irrational. For instance, I love my brothers. They are related, by blood. But it isn’t their blood which keeps me close, or inspires me to express gratitude or care or respect or love. It is their actions, their intents. Not the fact that we are related by blood. That doesn’t mean anything.

If, for example, a brother of mine chose to act in a way that was expressive of disrespect, lack of care or concern in keeping in touch, I wouldn’t be obligated to mend such a relationship by the simple fact that we are related. I could, however, choose to mend to discover if the lack of care was disingenuous, or shadowed by some protective facade. If I found out it was genuine, I’d surely be upset, but I wouldn’t be moved or persuaded by their relation.

You have to give me a reason to care for you, to love you. Blood, by itself, is not enough. Or, more accurately put, blood doesn’t amount to much at all, if anything.

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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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