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Maybonne and Earl

Pumpins on Phone

Photo info at bottom.

Fall of 2013

Several times now, my husband and I have grown pumpkins in the long flower bed which runs along the front of our house. The southwestern exposure makes it the perfect location! We did it again this summer. Don’t you envy our green thumbs? Don’t you think we are the coolest people ever? Not only did we defy tradition and plant them in the front yard, we strategically threaded the lush leaves and brilliant orange blossoms between the blue and pink perennials to create a work of art. Close your eyes and picture it!

Can you see it? Good! Now let me admit my deceit.

Each year we buy (or grow!) at least one pumpkin to put on the front stoop for Halloween. We usually forget to carve it. That isn’t a problem. It’s so cheerful sitting there that it doesn’t really matter. But then we just forget it’s there at all. Until a putrid stench brings to our attention the fact that it has liquefied into a skin-covered bag of slime pudding. The solution: Kick it into the flower bed…and forget about it.

One warm day several months ago, I noticed a darling little tendril creeping out of the flower bed and onto the sun-warmed sidewalk. At this moment, I understood Wilbur’s excitement at the hatching of Charlotte’s babies. I tenderly turned it and pointed it back into the flower bed. It continued to grow steadily.

At some point, my husband began making diplomatic comments about the difficulty of mowing around the vine. My (notice I have become possessive) little runner was picking up speed. It had sent its suckering tentacles out onto the lawn in a reconnaissance mission which was soon followed by a full-blown invasion. Not wanting to cause a fuss but unwilling to sacrifice the vine, I repositioned the growth so that it fit within the footprint of the flower bed.

My devotion was starting to resemble a gambling addiction. I checked for baby pumpkins daily. I rationalized the smothering death of our perennials with the thought that the next time I looked, I would surely find the start of a pumpkin.

My husband is a patient man; however, it was clear that my project was starting to kill off large swaths of lawn. I had been reshaping this explosion so that it followed the contours of the bed, but it had long since billowed out of bounds. Mature and understanding couples’ therapist that I am, I admitted my burgeoning affair. The vine had to go! Just as I was poised to start yanking, I discovered my Beloved had given birth to two darling offspring.

I compromised. I removed parts of the plant “downstream” from the pumpkins. Would this buy me enough time to harvest them? I knew I needed counseling when I started neglecting my hygiene in order to spend more time searching for new buds. I dispatched them in short order. I had to save the plant’s vital energies for my wards! My husband has had years to figure out he married a madwoman, so I guess my compromise was sufficient. He didn’t say anything further.

Soon we had a couple of vibrant orange pumpkins sitting on our kitchen table. Please understand “couple” in the literal sense. I sent my husband and daughters a wedding invitation with a photo of the happy pair posed side by side in front of a pale turquoise wall. What a lovely color combination. I swooned!

The groom was taller and thinner with a slim, curving stem. I called him Earl. A few weeks younger, the bride was short and round with a thicker, stubbier nub. I named her Maybonne. I conducted the ceremony and pronounced them man and wife.

When I went to rip out the vine a few days later, I found a surprise addition to the family. I christened him Junior and placed him by his parents. Day after day, I sat at the kitchen table enjoying their companionship.

At about the time the table started to feel a bit cramped, the weather began to show the first inklings of Fall. I decided to put Junior out to decorate the front stoop. He looks great out there! Unfortunately for him, history foretells a rotten end.

The chill in the air got me started thinking about chili, stews, and squash. Squash…

I surveyed Earl and Maybonne with glassy eyes as I recalled the delicious oven-roasted Kabocha we had eaten a few years back.

Earl ended up on the dinner table, wearing olive oil and herbs. He also volunteered for a mighty fine pie. Maybonne watched, traumatized, but otherwise intact. Until the arrival of the power company newsletter. Which just happened to feature a recipe for chicken pumpkin stew.

I wanted to remember the happy pair so I saved their engagement photo and made it my phone wallpaper. Here they are on our kitchen table in 2013.

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Rule # 4: Visiting Behavior, Acts II & III

Rule # 4: Visiting Behavior, Acts II & III

Act II: The Performance

Dad wasn’t kidding when he laid down the rules. We were even held to rules we didn’t know–but should have. If we transgressed and were lucky, we got “The Look.” If we were unlucky, we got a furtive pinch. I am not talking about a love pinch.

My younger sister Gwen, God bless her, was more spirited and less cautious than I; and she often got the brunt of Dad’s ministrations. My little brother was largely immune due to age, cuteness, and, quite possibly, maleness. He might have been too young to understand we weren’t supposed to say, “Ouch!” when swatted, pinched, or kicked under the table; and that could have been risky.

But Gwen seized the day. Oh, how I envied her! Whether due to intransigent joie de vivre or a failure to learn from the past, my sis lived large. Since visits were miserable anyway; since The Review (Act III) and punishment loomed inexorably; why not enjoy life instead of sitting there like a flat tire? Apparently she had decided that fun now was worth punishment later.

Gwen loved water, and wherever water was to be found, she managed to accidentally fall in. Then she proceeded to have fun. How dare she!

Gwen loved makeup. She found all kinds of interesting cosmetics in Mom’s purse and, even better, in the bathrooms of the homes we visited. After putting on her face, she’d emerge, composed and cool, in a cloud of fragrance, behaving as though she didn’t know she had lipstick all over her face and couldn’t imagine how on earth it could have gotten there.

Gwen loved animals. After being explicitly told not to go anywhere near the puppies at one house, she emerged from the dog pen with the bitch’s tooth marks in her left buttock.

During a period in the 70’s, we lived in Germany. I remember one Sunday visit to friends in Pfungstadt especially well.

It was horrible.

It was wonderful!

In the car, my father prepped us. The lecture went something like this:

Unlike rambunctious American children, German children do not guzzle juice. Furthermore, juice is expensive in Germany, and you should not burden our hosts by asking for more than the one small glass you are sure to receive with your meal. Furtherfurthermore, Germans do not drink tap water, and so a request for any drink is a request for a bottled liquid purchased with their hard-earned money.

After drinking our one tiny glass of Saft at lunch, we kids were high and dry. Unable to stand it any longer, Gwen asked for more juice. Her request was immediately followed by a loud shriek.

Hilde, our concerned and startled hostess, asked my sister what was wrong. Gwen answered evenly, “My father pinched me.” Thinking she had misheard, Hilde asked again. Gwen obligingly clarified, “My father told me I could only have one glass of juice. I asked for more. So he pinched me under the table.”

Dad tried to play dumb but he wasn’t very convincing. Gwen got her juice. We all got our juice. We got all the juice we wanted.

Gwen had just bought us a few hours of power and freedom, and we set out to make the most of them. There was no time to waste since our coup would be repaid with interest once we left the sanctuary of Hilde’s modest home.

Act III: The Review

During the ride home and beyond, we were treated to a blow-by-blow recitation of our misbehaviors and the world-altering consequences thereof.

I probably became a therapist in self defense.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule # 3: Friends Before Family

Rule # 3: Friends Before Family

This rule has been a particularly difficult one for me. Both as victim and perpetrator. I am hopeful that having outed this rule, I am well on my way to being a better mother, wife, and friend…

When my father passed away from cancer in 1990, a swarm of people came to his funeral. Of particular note was a passel of tearful young men whom he had taken under his wing in recent years and mentored on the job. It had been his pattern throughout his career to guide the young professionals whose interests he shared and in whom he saw promise or an earnest sincerity. In addition to the grief which accompanied my loss, I felt both pride and sorrow at the best parts of my father so generously bestowed on others.

Our yard was somewhat of an eyesore. My father enjoyed organic gardening when it suited his whim but he was never big on shrub trimming, tree pruning, dandelion removal or other basics of suburban yard care. He was largely spared the censure of our neighbors, however. Though eccentric, he was in many ways generous. Much to the chagrin of my mother, who was periodically found lopping limbs high in the boughs of the fruit trees, on her knees doing surgery on the dogwoods or muscling the push mower over our uneven yard; my father spent his spare time having fun.

My Dad spent his evenings and weekends building enormous Heathkit televisions in the family room downstairs. Dad insisted on commandeering muffin tins and other containers to hold the tiny electronic parts, and he was loath to relinquish them no matter the inconvenience to others. Touching his stuff was punishable, and it was difficult to avoid.

The smell of solder is forever in my nostrils. I can still see the hard, colorful plastic blobs with the little wires sticking out of them. Some of their coverings were slightly chewy. Diodes? Cathodes? Oh, what were they called?! I’m sorry, Dad, I did not inherit your gift for technology, and blobs are blobs. Yes, of course I played with them when you were at work. And it’s a wonder I can write at all given my amusement with the properties of lead solder.

My Dad might have looked like a real martyr if you didn’t know better. His labor could have been a noble or even sacrificial undertaking if it had been part his effort to keep food on the table or save for our college tuition. But in my house, nobody was fooled. We all knew he was having a grand time. He relished tinkering alone after a long day at work. He built the TVs for free and then gave them to our neighbors for the cost of the kit alone. I am not joking. He didn’t clean up after himself either.

My Dad was amazing, really. What he lacked physical strength, he more than made up in intellect, curiosity and confidence. He fixed cars; he fixed wiring; he fixed plumbing. He fixed it all. But only when he wanted to. Which was usually on weekends. And infrequently for us. Our household was boring and routine, and he needed a new challenge. Or perhaps a more appreciative audience.

The “Friends First” rule had other unfortunate variations, as you will see in time.

But I think that is enough serious stuff for the moment. How about I break things up with something lighter next time?

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post click here. For the next post click here.

Don’t Tell Your Father

Don’t Tell Your Father

This rule was a non-starter, and I’m surprised that someone as intelligent as Mom would even try it.

Dad earned the money, and he determined how it was spent. He had a budget for everything, and he expected Mom to keep all expenditures within the limits he had designated. I’m not sure his expectations were always realistic. For one thing, he wasn’t generally the one doing the shopping, so he may not have been aware of what things cost. Secondly, his idea of “need” versus “want” didn’t overlap too well with Mom’s.

If my Dad said the grocery budget was $X for the week, God forbid Mom should go over it. If she couldn’t make ends meet, she was just not being frugal enough, gosh darn it! My Dad had grown up shoeless in Texas on cornbread and beans, and he just didn’t understand her frustration. My Mom claims that we did not, in fact, have chicken and dumplings for dinner ALL. THE. TIME. but that’s how I remember it. Budget food. Blobby homemade flour dumplings swimming in chicken broth with celery, carrot slices, and chicken bits. Gross! I might have grown to like it in time if it hadn’t been such a staple.

Culinary matters were usually not too terribly contentious. Where things got a bit hairy was when it came to clothing. My brother was the youngest child, and he remained completely content with utilitarian items for many years. But my sister and I started realizing that our wardrobe of Sears Toughskins high waters, striped turtlenecks and Keds left a lot to be desired. Other girls had maxis, minis, and go go boots! And then there were halter tops, bell bottoms, and, sigh… Avon!

Mom understood the seriousness of the matter. A girl from the suburbs of D.C., she knew we needed to have a little “something” now and then to make us feel pretty and keep us from feeling like oddballs. Periodically she’d give in to her impulse to buy us some coveted item which had caught our eye. “Don’t tell your father,” she’d say conspiratorially, “It’s our little secret.” We were thrilled! Mom was our heroine! Yay!

Everything was great until Dad went to balance the checkbook and take care of the bills. What was Mom thinking?! Did she really think he wouldn’t notice?

“Carol!”

“Yes?”

“You’ve gone over budget again!”

“Oh my! How could that have happened? I was being so careful!”

And so it went. Dad puffed out like a rooster and Mom eating crow.

Dad used to confide in me that Mom needed his close supervision because she was like a child, and she just might not be bright enough to balance a checkbook. I knew Mom was dumb like a fox.

In her way, my mom was a very powerful woman. She still is. I give her credit. But in time, the words, “Don’t tell your father” caused me to decline the treat. The price was just too high.

This post is part of a series called Family Rules. The prior post is here. The next post is here.

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