Tag Archives: Memoir Writing

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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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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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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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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Father’s Day, Now and Then

In my childhood, Father’s Day was just like every other Sunday. Singing to the great big man upstairs at church where the teacher with her colorful spotted smock pranced from corner to corner of the room trying to get us all to concentrate on the to and fro of “he’s got the whole world in his hands”; dressed up in our “Sunday best,” a sort of masochistic exemplification of my father’s ability to yell and scream and tell us all that our image matters, that we need to look sharp, and that our non-collared, non-ironed t-shirts were just another means to curse our holy father; and rendered mute and cowering as the monumental martyr explained to us that Jesus would be doing quite the opposite of what we were doing.

In retrospect, this is all a bit dramatic and saddening, but that doesn’t really matter much anymore. Today, I have a Father-In-Law.

And his name is Rich Dobson.

He isn’t spiteful. He isn’t angry. He isn’t a cheat or a liar or a bigot.

He is wonderful, and I am thankful to have him in my life.

Even if, at times, it’s difficult for me to show it.

Love you dude.

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Investments in Anguish, In Hope

There have been times I have wondered if I would’ve been better off without him. If things would have been easier, or happier. If the lack of anger would have calmed the household. If the lack of money would have kept us on the ranch, or in the house with the bars on the windows. If I would have found myself between combative enemies, or if, quite simply, I would have existed without a father.

I wonder if the scars, once healed, will stop itching. I wonder if the itch will remain as long as he exists, on some levels, as “part” of my life. I wonder if I need to curb the itch, put an end to it – to find a more thoroughly calming peace.

“It’s not about you,” a friend once said. I remember being annoyed by this, and asked her: “how can it not be?” I was living it. Invested to the extent that I wished for my mother to live a life with some semblance of peace and joy. Invested to the extent that I yearned for my father to recognize the pain he had caused.

I was invested in anguish, in heartache, and in the hopeful consequent newness  that just wouldn’t come.

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It Was All Just Forgetting

In the end, it was all just forgetting. Purposeful, conscious forgetting. Forgetting the abuse, the anger, verbal lashes, the 2 by 4 and the time I made that one mistake. It was about forgetting the combativeness; the jarring highs and lows between enemies, the parental pairing that was “god’s” will. It was forgetting the other women, their presence contradicting the so-called truths he had professed, over and over and over again.

And yet, in this world, forgetting is living. Wholly conscious and relevant as the guide to my “how not to.”

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Alasdair’s First Taste: An Excerpt

My first demon I found the first time I heard about my father’s adultery. And then, even though, at the time, I wasn’t entirely aware of it, at the bottom of a bottle of warm chardonnay. Thirteen at the time, a journey commenced into after school binges, slurping tepid reds and whites atop our roof, and in the woods behind our house; dabbling in the gateway which- as they, the government and all the other collective thinking types, say- led me to branch out into those smelly mushrooms and, on a few occasions, tripping the light fantastic with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Those latter activities were more or less short-lived dead ends. Alcohol was my drug of choice.

And choose it I did. Without a care in the world, and I thought of my father with another woman. I take gulps of Stoli and try to blank it out, an eraser to some crinkled notepad scribbled in permanent ink. But I cannot. It will always be. I thought it then, and I think it now- this demon will either bring me to the door that leads to another path- a path detached, untainted, anew- or it will destroy me.

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