“I absolutely hate that music.”
“What do you mean, why?”
“Why do you hate that music.”
“I just hate it, that’s all.”
“Is it the style?”
“What do you mean, style?”
“Do you hate fast music?”
“Of course, I don’t hate fast music!”
“But that music is fast.”
“Yes, but that’s not why I hate it.”
“Do you hate the lyrics?”
“What do you mean, lyrics?”
“The words. Don’t you like their meaning?”
“What do you mean, meaning?”
“Sometimes people don’t like the message of a song.”
“I don’t even understand the lyrics so I couldn’t very well hate the message.”
“So you hate it because you couldn’t understand the words?”
“No, I like a lot of songs that don’t make sense to me.”
“But you hate that music.”
“And you don’t know why?”
“Can’t I hate something for no reason?”
“Sure. Do you often hate things for no reason?”
“Now you’re trying to say that I hate things for no reason?”
“But you’re the one who said you wanted to hate something for no reason.”
“I just hate that music, nothing else.”
“You want to know why I don’t hate anything else?”
“No. Why do you hate that music?”
“Why do you care?”
“Why do you think I care if you hated that music?”
“I didn’t think you’d care if I hated that music.”
“Then why did you tell me you hated that music?”
“You’re just mad because I hate a song you like.”
“I don’t care either way about it.”
“Then why are you asking me why I hate it?”
“Because you told me you hated it.”
“I have a right to make a simple statement.”
“I have a right to ask a simple question.”
“I never want to talk about this again!”
“That’s music to my ears.”
“Now I want all of you to eat every bite of this,” Mother said as she sat down at the table. “I had another one of my headaches today while I was cooking.”
“Well, I helped cook,” Betty replied, sticking out her lower lip in a pout, as she spooned the turnip greens on her plate. “But I do love turnip greens, with lots and lots of bacon grease.”
“I don’t want any greens” Royce said. “Bacon grease upsets my stomach.”
“Bacon grease is yummy.”
“That’s why you’re a fat pig. You eat too much bacon grease.”
“Royce, if Betty wants to enjoy her food, that’s her right,” Mother said, putting a small dollop of potatoes on her plate. “These potatoes are delicious, but I don’t want to gain any more weight.”
Dad grunted as he piled the food on his plate and kept his head down.
Donny, the youngest, took the last cutlet, emptied the bowl of potatoes and covered them both with gravy.
“You little pig,” Royce said. “You took all the food. What if Dad wanted more? At least he works. I might have wanted more. I have a paper route. You don’t work. You don’t deserve to eat.”
“I help mother around the house,” Betty said, stuffing potatoes into her mouth. “If that’s not work, then I don’t know what is.”
Donny pushed the plate away and looked down.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Mother asked. “After all I went through to put it on the table.”
“Royce said I didn’t deserve to eat.”
“You’ve got to learn to not pay attention to what Royce says. Eat up or you’ll give me another headache.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“One of these days I’m gonna bop you over the head,” Betty mumbled, glaring at Royce. “Always picking on the baby.”
“I’m not a baby.”
“Then stop acting like one,” Royce spat.
“Father, what are we going to do? Donny won’t eat because Royce said something.”
“Eat your damn supper.” Father let out a belch before cutting another slice of cutlet.
“Why do you always have to upset the baby at supper?” Betty was on the verge of hysteria. “I think you’re just not happy unless you stir up a little hell.”
“Betty, mind your own business.” Mother ate the last forkful of potatoes on her plate. “Those potatoes were so delicious. I’m glad they’re all gone so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat anymore.”
“You’d have enough potatoes, Mother,” Royce said, “if the pig hadn’t put them all on his plate.”
“Oh no, if Donny thinks he can eat all those potatoes I want him to have them.” Mother sighed. “Go ahead and eat your potatoes, Donny.”
“Yeah, you little pig,” Royce added with a growl.
“Don’t call the baby a pig!” Betty’s face turned red.
“It’s just not fair!” Royce had tears in his eyes. “He gets away with everything ‘cause he’s the baby!”
“Father, what are we going to do with these children?” Mother shook her head. “It seems we can’t have a moment’s peace without somebody getting upset.”
“Everybody shut the hell up. And you eat your damn potatoes.”
“Yes, Father.” Donny slowly raised a forkful of food to his mouth.
“I’m just going to stop trying to fix a good meal anymore. Nobody ever wants to eat.”
Half a century ago when I was a little boy in a rural Texas town, I heard that people who danced were going to hell.
Decent people didn’t dance, smoke, drink or vote Republican.
And if they did, they had the good manners not to let anyone know.
Once I mentioned to a church lady on a Sunday morning that I had bought a cupcake from the high school student council. I didn’t really want it but the two girls selling the tray of cupcakes were really cute and kinda flirted with me so I gave up a couple of quarters and enjoyed the cupcake.
“That was supporting dancing!” the woman declared. “Which is the same as supporting the devil!”
When I asked why she said the only thing high school student councils do was organize dances so when I bought that cupcake for fifty cents I was supporting dancing.
Well, that took the sweet memory off that cupcake.
Once I had the audacity to ask the preacher why dancing was sinful since it wasn’t one of the Ten Commandments nor one of the abominations listed in Chronicles Chapter 12. The next Sunday night he preached an entire sermon about how the Bible didn’t specifically say dancing was a sin, it did record that every time some one danced, something bad happened to people.
When the Israelites got bored waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments they danced around and they got smote down and good. When David danced naked in front of the Ark of the Covenant as it came into Jerusalem, he was denied the privilege of building the Temple. When Salome danced in front of King Herod, John the Baptist lost his head.
Well, I think all the fornicating before, during and after the dancing was what got the Israelites in trouble with God and not specifically the dancing. Also, David put Bathsheba’s husband on the front lines of battle to kill him off so he could marry her. That probably kept David from building the Temple more than the dancing. Finally, King Herod was just plain crazy. He didn’t need a dancing girl to give him an excuse to kill anyone.
Anyway, I kept all those thoughts to myself while I was growing up. Besides, I had this terrible suspicion that if I did try to dance I wouldn’t be very good at it. I had two left feet.
Fortunately, I married a woman with two right feet and we just have fun on the dance floor and don’t care if anyone notices. The nice thing about people who like to dance is that they’re having too much fun to judge anyone else’s abilities. I keep telling my wife that we need to get a video from the public library about easy ball room dancing steps but we never get around to it.
Now that we are old people we occasionally go to events that feature orchestras that play the Big Band sound. All around us are people who have rhythm in their feet and smiles on their faces as they dance to jazz, doo wop, Latin to Frank Sinatra. For three hours the world goes away and everyone is happy.
I have a sneaking suspicion that church lady didn’t know what she was talking about.
Blessed is the person who recognizes when happy memories are being born.
In the summer of 1960 my father, mother, brothers, a friend and I went to Devil’s Den, a rock formation park outside of Tishomingo, Oklahoma. It was privately owned and consisted of huge boulders in weird positions. They either looked like something or had a historical significance. Belle Star, among other notorious characters, used to hide out from the law there.
We had the brochure with the numbered formations and a brief explanation of their significance. My dad, who for some reason had my mother’s purse hanging in the crook of his elbow, stood in front of us staring at two huge rocks pressed together. Mom had the brochure and was trying to figure out what its title meant.
“You Name It” was what the brochure called it with no further details.
Suddenly she burst out laughing.
“I get it!” she shouted, looking first at my father’s backside and then at the two rocks squashed together. “It’s an old man’s fat behind!”
Even my father had to laugh at that one.
I was twelve years old and all of a sudden time grasped this was a moment to remember. It was the last time the entire family went some place for fun together. In a couple of years Mom would be dead of cancer, I drifted away from my friend because we had different interests, and my brothers and Dad just drifted away.
In 1985, my wife, son, daughter, mother-in-law and I went to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The day was nice, but what struck me as a memory I should keep was when we were walking out. I held my year-old daughter with one arm on my hip and held my 11-year-old son’s hand with the other. Instinctively I knew this would never happen again exactly this way. As my daughter grew up we held hands a lot when we left amusement parks, walking ahead of the slow pokes, my wife and son. Now she’s all grown up and living in New York. My son is an old hairy-legged prison guard. It would not be the same holding hands with him today as it was back when he was eleven.
A few years ago, my wife, son, daughter, her husband and my grand-nephew went to Disney Hollywood at Christmas. Again at the end of a long day of having fun I stopped a moment to look back up the street at the fire works going off over the park with all its decorations. First I knelt down with my grand-nephew who was six and told him to take a hard look at all the sounds and colors so he could remember this as one of the good times.
Then I took each of the others to the middle of the street and said the same thing to them. The two guys smiled and went along with the old man’s odd moment. My wife gave me a nice kiss, but my daughter looked at me and blurted out, “Oh my God! You’re going to die.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on it, at least not anytime soon.”
“But that’s the type of thing someone says just before they die,” she insisted.
It was still a nice moment to remember.
The point of all this is to remind you that no matter how busy you are and how tight the family budget is this year, make sure you do something fun with your family. You’ll be glad to have the memories later.
“Mademoiselle Belle, I am pleased you came back for a second visit. So, are you still laboring under this delusion that this beast who kidnapped you and held you captive has turned into a handsome prince?”
“Doctor Fulaybeans, I tell you he is not a beast! Merely misunderstood!
“He is a hideous, hairy monster with claws and fangs. The sooner you realize this, mademoiselle, the sooner you will be cured.”
“If loving him is a disease, then I never want to be cured.”
“Not so much a disease as a syndrome. When I write my paper to the medical society of Paris, I should give it a name. Perhaps the Paris Syndrome. No, no. They would be insulted. Better name it after a city that doesn’t mind being associated with a filthy, disgusting mental condition. Maybe Stockholm. Sordid Swedes. Who cares what they think?”
“I will not stand for you talking about my love in such a degrading manner. I don’t know why you are torturing me like this.”
“Because your father is paying me good money, that’s way.”
“Money he received from my lover. He did not tell you that, did he?”
“If your lover—as you call him—is so generous to your father, why would your father hate him so much?”
“The horse is missing. It was old. Probably wandered off to die.”
“Why was there blood in the barn? And bones, mane and tail? And did not your father see blood stains on the beast’s cummerbund?”
“He nicked himself shaving, that’s all.”
“He does not shave, Mademoiselle Belle.”
“Of course he shaves! He has beautiful fair cheeks and a clear complexion upon his strong jaw. Tender blue eyes. Pearly straight teeth. An aquiline nose.”
“I must make a note to myself to have your vision checked also.”
“It’s the villagers. They have turned my father against him.”
“And why would the villagers hate him if he is the kind handsome prince you say he is?”
“A few missing chickens, that’s all. Maybe some pigs, cows and sheep. Who knows what stories they will come up with next?”
“If you are so certain your lover is innocent of all charges, why did you return to my office?”
Belle stood to sweep across the room to the doctor. “I need your help to make others see him the way I see him.”
“My dear mademoiselle, I am a doctor, not a magician.”
At that moment the door opened, and the beast entered, wearing a purple satin top coat over his hairy body. Belle ran to him and planted a kiss upon his lips. When she pulled away, her lips were smeared with blood.
“Oh, darling, how sweet of you to accompany me home.”
The beast shook the doctor’s hand with his cloven hoof.
“I owe you an apology, doctor. I didn’t realize until after I ate the dog outside that it must have been your pet. Rest assured, I will recompense you handsomely for it.”
The photographer was late coming to mother’s birthday party, and she was not pleased.
The smallest of things always displeased mother so the use of the word party in connection with any event which involved her became a misnomer. The last people to walk this earth who could please her were her mother and father, and they had passed on years ago to their reward for carefully molding and leaving on humanity’s doorstep such a spoiled brat.
Grandfather had made his money selling shoes that fell apart after a five-mile march during the Civil War. When asked why he would sell such a shoddy product to the United States government he said they were meant for the Cavalry. Grandmother’s family came over on one of the early boats, not the Mayflower but one that came when Massachusetts became more suitable for habitation.
Mother made it a custom to have a photographer to come to her home in the Concord countryside to record for posterity all family gatherings, birthdays, weddings, wakes, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and Fourth of July. Of course, she complained that no one remained straight and still enough for the portrait. She was as stiff as her freshly starched blouses. The only person not criticized for being stiff enough was the guest of honor in the casket at a wake.
“This is inexcusable,” she muttered as she sipped on her lemonade. “I have never had a photographer be this late at one of our events. We can’t cut the cake until the photographer arrives.”
“We just had a horrific summer thunderstorm, Mother dear,” I told her.
“No excuse,” she cut me off briskly. “Anyone of true breeding would have allowed time for such atmospheric disruptions.”
“No one else seems to mind. They’re having a good time talking among themselves.”
“That’s another thing,” she snapped. “They should at least be talking to me about how the photographer has ruined my birthday.”
“The only person who can ruin your birthday is you,” I said, immediately ruing the words that just came out of my mouth.
“I beg your pardon!” She bolted out of her chair and glared at me, all without spilling a single drop of her lemonade.
Fortunately, the telephone rang at that moment and I excused myself to answer it. Everyone in the parlor became silent and stared at me as I spoke into the receiver.
“Yes, yes. This is the Van Horne residence. I am Mrs. Van Horne’s son. Yes, we were expecting his arrival at any moment. Oh. I see. Thank you very much.”
I hung up and turned toward mother, who had already sat down. All the aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins and grandchildren parted like the Red Sea as I walked back to her.
“I don’t care what his excuse is,” she said, pursing her lips. “I shall never hire him again.”
“Mother, the photographer had a car accident on the way over to the house during the thunderstorm. He’s dead.”
“Well, that’s just another good reason never to hire him again.”