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Angel Soft® v. Scott 1000®

Angel Soft® v. Scott 1000®

Scott 1000® Bathroom Tissue is the official toilet paper of my 2020 Pandemic.

You will know I have finally lost it if I actually hit “publish.”

Oops. Too late.

If I ever endure another pandemic or get stuck on a desert island, I hope to get stranded with a big pack of Scott 1000®.

My current household of four adults went through one Scott 12 pack in a month. Then we were on to the 9 pack of Angel Soft®. “9 MEGA = 36 REGULAR ROLLS*” the package proclaims!

At our current rate of consumption, we will be through 9 MEGA ROLLS in 9 measly days.

We had groceries delivered today via instacart. I absolutely do realize the enormous privilege it is to have someone risk their well being to do my dirty work. I gave the shopper a GIGANTIC tip and a home-sewn face mask to show my appreciation. Jon was a very polite and responsive shopper, and he made good replacements. But after he had gone, I realized we had been charged for toilet paper which had not been delivered.

I’m not terribly worried at this point. I had been pretty hard on Henry for not recycling that big stack of newspapers but now I am reconsidering my stance.

What toilet paper would you choose as the 2020 Pandemic Champion?

(I have not been paid to mention this product. I am merely odd and my filter has broken.)

“*based on number of sheets in Angel Soft® Regular Roll”

Photo: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=611402

A House Divided

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

I could have Mom or I could have Dad. I couldn’t have them both. At least not at the same time. But it never stopped me from trying.

I was kind of a double agent–except I wasn’t a spy. I tried thinking of myself as a mediator but that didn’t fit either. A mediator is a neutral party. No, I was a confused sort of ambassador. An ambassador is an emissary loyal to and invested in the well being of a specific country. Guess what? I was a dual citizen! Anxiety around matters of loyalty has tormented me throughout my life. After you read this piece, you will understand why.

You’ll need to understand a bit about my parents.

My father William was an odd fellow. He was a tall, bent, reed of a man who enjoyed oil painting, classical music, cooking, foreign language, and mystery novels. He loved to learn and experiment. He taught me how to plant a garden, check my oil, play chess, and knit. My Dad loved to travel, and he kept up with individuals all over the world using his ham radio. My father was respected at work, and he mentored many young men in their careers.

Lest you think him too cultured, it is important to note that he was also “Billy Boy,” the barefoot son of a quiet, uneducated carpenter and his domineering wife. My father relished his sweet iced tea and his corn bread with pinto beans. A times, he brewed alcoholic beverages in the laundry room and bathrooms. He thought it funny to sneak up behind my mother when she was washing dishes and her hands were occupied. He would nuzzle her neck, squeeze her love handles, and call her “Flabber,” a nickname which never failed to humiliate and incense her. I can still see him shaking with silent laughter at her impotent rage. I suppose you could say my father was a study in contrasts.

My mother Carol, being a more conventional soul and wishing for conventional happiness, found herself frustrated with the gulf between her husband’s prowess at work and his slovenliness and inconsideration at home. In some ways my mother was very much the archetypal warm, wholesome, cozy Mom. She was outgoing and social. She kept an orderly home, and she made gingerbread houses and chocolate chip cookies. Mom was the kindest and most wonderful nurse imaginable when we were ill. Unlike my father, she was an excellent athlete.

My father possessed little physical vigor, and he avoided joining us in any play but his own. His “play” involved the creation of prodigious messes which he left where they lay. He dirtied every dish in the kitchen to produce one batch of bread. He used our basement to build television sets for friends (for free!) while completely ignoring all chores. When invitations for neighborhood social functions arrived, my father was entirely uninterested. My mother responded by staying home to sulk or else attending alone and fabricating an excuse intended to protect them both from shame. She thought it an enormous and delicious act of rebellion when, many years later, she began to tell the truth: “William didn’t want to come.”

I suspect my mother might have been better able to tolerate my father’s eccentricities if he had left her alone to rule the household as she saw fit. Instead, he acted as overseer. He believed her somewhat lacking in brainpower and in need of supervision. My mother responded by using her “stupidity” to manage regular bank overdrafts and other ploys to make sure that we had tasty food and clothing which was not embarrassing.

I could think of no other way to affect conciliation than to hold the confidences of both Mom and Dad while trying to help each understand the other’s point of view. I have intentionally avoided the word reconciliation because they didn’t learn to enjoy and cooperate with one another until I was grown and out of the house.

My father frequently asked me to accompany him on weekend errands. During our times in the car, he entrusted me with adult concerns: “I love your mother but you have to understand that she is like a child.” He implied that she wasn’t very bright. His manner communicated that we had a special bond and that I was able to understand things my mother couldn’t. I listened quietly or else I tried to help him understand my Mom. I felt special. Surely I must be a very mature and smart girl! At the same time my father’s confidences were tainted. I was ushered into a realm of emotional intimacy which should have been reserved for my mother.

My father’s attentions were never sexual but they had a quality of intimacy which confused me and which I still find difficult to describe. Perhaps an example will clarify: Several times, immediately after flying into a rage and administering corporal punishment for minor misdeeds, my father came to me as I cried on my bed and calmly rubbed my back. He sought comfort and empathy. He wanted my reassurance that I understood him: He had been compelled to punish me this way because of his love for me. It had been done for my own good. Now that his rage had achieved release, I probably should have offered him a cigarette.

My mother found in me a convenient outlet for expressions of frustration involving my father. Having been influenced by my father’s assessment of her defects, I found Mom’s confidences less satisfying. I was torn between my desire to be her friend and ally and the guilt I felt when I failed to remain loyal to Dad’s agendas. I explained my father to my mother as best I could, hoping to win her compliance and bring about harmony. I was drawn to her by a child’s need for closeness, yet I was repelled by the contempt I felt. Her loyalty was two-sided as well. On occasions when we children misbehaved a bit more than she could manage, my mother appealed to my father to discipline us the moment he arrived home from work. When he was stressed, he lost his temper and raised welts on our thighs while my mom, once again in the role of good guy and advocate, begged him to stop.

My parents were either unaware of their nauseous dance or else too deeply entrenched in their power struggle to resist childish misbehavior. I tried to stand between them and connect them. I recall one very painful incident in which my father gleefully offered to take us kids out for ice cream. The offer followed directly on the heels of a heated argument between the two of them.

Going out for ice cream was a rare and valued treat. We excitedly hopped in the car, relieved that safety had been restored. We waited for my father to pull out of the driveway but he did not. After a moment, he declared that he wouldn’t take us unless my mother came too. I ran into the house and asked her to come. Still furious and hurt from the confrontation, she refused. My father innocently responded that my mother was the one with the power to decide whether or not we would get the ice cream. I reasoned (and pleaded) back and forth with my father and my mother while my siblings looked on, begging and sobbing loudly. Finally my mother changed her clothes and slipped into the car. She looked straight ahead and didn’t utter a word. My father was positively giddy. I had somehow chosen my father and betrayed my mother for an ice cream cone.

Keeping the peace was a task far beyond my reach as my family culture made it difficult to befriend more than one member at a time. To be close to Dad, I had to snub Mom. If I allied myself with Mom, I had to defy Dad. If Dad’s mercurial anger threatened to alight upon me, I had more complicated choices to make. I became an expert at reading the family tea leaves so that I would know just how to respond. Should I turn off my emotions and try the cool, logical appeal he favored? Should I feign submission and ask for mercy? Should I play dumb and implicate my mother or siblings? Should I inconspicuously ease my way out of the room? Should I run like hell? When push came to shove, I looked out for myself.

My writing is replete with dichotomies, and that is as it should be. I felt divided then, and I feel divided still. This is the kind of confusion wrought by emotional incest and manipulation. Loyalty and betrayal continue to be fraught concepts. Sometimes the line between being a good “ambassador” and being a flagrant codependent or a weasel is finer than one might think. I’ve developed a good professional understanding of how this works. (Would it surprise you to know that I have a specialty in couples therapy?) The summer of 2011 drove the lesson home in a personal way.

I’ve been sitting on this piece for two days. Clicking “publish” is hard sometimes. One betrayal per click. Family Rules breaking left and right. I can feel my stomach churning. But this is my story, and I’m going to tell it. I’m going to sell out my parents for the possibility of a “like.” Think carefully. Do you really want to be complicit?

This is where Family Rules and The Story of Hanna Intersect. For the prior installment of Family Rules, click here. For the next installment of Family Rules, click here. For the prior installment of the story of Hanna, click here. For the next installment of The Story of Hanna, click here.

Rule #15: Words Without Deeds

Purplesmoke Macluskie

My father left for work each day in Betsy, our anthropomorphized station wagon, leaving my mother stranded at home with three busy children and a lot of housework.

Of course, my father regretted not being able to help out more at home. Of course, he wanted to show his support. My mother felt weary and somewhat isolated. My father racked his brain.

“Hmmm…what would be most helpful? A second car? A nice evening out on the town? A listening ear? A few bucks for a mother’s helper now and then?” Then it hit him:

Words! By George, my bride needs Rules and some good, strong Words!”

He wrapped them and presented them to her. First he gave her Rules to use with us children. These are self explanatory.

Then he gave her Words.

“Do!”
“Don’t!”
“Stop!”
“Come!”
“Go!”

These mighty Words were to provide the active ingredients in many powerful incantations. Carefully combined with ordinary words, their potential was limitless. Here are just a few of the spells they created:

“Do your chores!”
“Don’t talk to me that way!”
“Stop kicking your sister!”
“Come back here right now!”
“Go to your room!”

These spells, properly cast, would do the same thing as the magical comb and towel in the story of Baba Yaga. Thrown to the ground, the comb burst into a dense and impassable forest; the towel into and unfordable river. The Words would create a barrier to bad behavior and protect my mother from inconvenience and exhaustion.

What neither my father nor my mother realized was that the power of Words grows weaker and weaker with use unless they receive a regular application of  Deeds. Deeds are prescriptions which prevent Words from vaporizing before they strike their target. In case you are unfamiliar with the language of magic, the word “Deeds” is frequently translated into English as “discipline.”

Unfortunately, Dad was weak on Deeds. Maybe he had figured Words would be enough. Maybe he was lazy. Mom was better at Deeds but was afraid to use them without Dad’s support. Deeds can be difficult to wield alone.

Within a few days, the Words had no effect at all. My mother was outnumbered. Desperate, she reached for the Unspeakable Words. Yes, she did.

“Wait ‘til your father gets home!”

Dad approached the house, tired after a long day at work. An introvert, he had long exhausted his bank of words and Words and was feeling desperate for a little peace and quiet. Exasperated, Mom waited by the door, wringing her hands and holding up her own empty jar of Words.

The use of so many Words in the absence of Deeds had created a buildup of flammable vapor. The metallic click of Dad’s key in the lock was all that was needed.

I think I’ll stop the story there.

Parents: Punishment and discipline are not the same. Please remember this.

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

Photo credit here.

Aunt Mimi

Image courtesy of Cath

Image courtesy of Cath

I had to tell you more about Aunt MiMi because I’ve been thinking about her so much.

My Uncle Stanly’s position as a bigwig in the MVA of major city had afforded my aunt plenty of opportunities to indulge in her favorite pastimes: shopping, going to parties, and making friends! Aunt MiMi was both flashy peacock and hardworking pragmatist. She had worked a full-time secretarial job downtown and earned every inch of her big, fat Cadillac and every ounce of flounce in her ample closets. She could easily have become pretentious and jaded. She never did. Aunt MiMi maintained a girlish enthusiasm for life until her last day on this earth.

Aunt MiMi was as vivacious as Uncle Stanly was stern. We kids were instructed to keep our voices low and tiptoe around him. He never really talked to or acknowledged children; in fact, he rarely spoke at all. I don’t think I ever heard him laugh. He usually sat like a statue, his pipe clamped between thin lips. I do have one warm memory of him, however. One Thanksgiving he sat to my right. As he passed me the next dish, his lips curled five degrees heavenward, and he spoke: “I bet you don’t love lima beans as much as I do.” That was it.

Unburdened by angst, Aunt MiMi kept things simple. She didn’t introspect or ruminate. Her world was populated by Good People and Bad People. She had it on good authority that Bad People existed, but she had never actually met one herself. She was the kind of woman I could imagine disarming a burglar with a frying pan and then serving him a side of ice cream and cookies to go with his ice pack. He’d end up thanking her and swearing off a life of crime. She probably had such faith in people because of her childlike faith in God. She was childlike but not childish. She attended Mass weekly, prayed faithfully, cast her burdens upon the Lord and didn’t look back. She believed. She had God to do the heavy lifting, so why should she?

Aunt MiMi was fiercely loyal. Loyal to friends, family, brands, traditions, and institutions. Make no mistake about it: those cookies would have been Chips Ahoy; the ice cream, Breyers Natural Vanilla. And both would have been purchased at the same family-run grocery store she had been patronizing since it opened its doors in 1946. Aunt MiMi couldn’t help but make fast friends everywhere she went.

Incredibly, she genuinely doted on dour old Uncle Stanly. Aunt MiMi even doted on her mother, the formidable Odessa A. Tilghman. Once known as “The Belle of Georgia Avenue” (said she), and pursued by the entire male sex (of course), she had become a jowly tyrant in a flower-print house dress.

Though it may seem at odds with her mischievous nature, Aunt MiMi was not a fan of change. She managed to make it work for her without ever seeming stuffy. The style and color of Aunt Mimi’s teased hair never changed throughout my lifetime, and I never saw her without coral-painted nails. She never seemed to change size, either. As far as I could tell, she stopped buying clothes at some point and just rotated through her two-million-and-fourteen outfits and their matching accessories.

Aunt MiMi’s house got the same treatment she did. I don’t recall Aunt MiMi’s ever changing a stick of furniture or a stitch of upholstery. She and Uncle Stanly had never been able to have children, so I guess nothing ever wore out. Her blue velvet armchairs fascinated us kids during our more formal Sunday visits. If we rubbed the fabric in one direction, the color lightened. If we rubbed it the other, it darkened. The chair cushions were another matter. Sitting for decades with scarcely a warm bottom for comfort, they had petrified disconcertingly.

My aunt often said that if you could just hang on to things long enough, they’d come back into fashion. And she walked her talk. Her house was a magical museum of exotic tchotchkes, fine china, and 1940’s Americana. Her kitchen never changed. Not one iota. It was a delicious study in strawberries, one of her favorite foods. Her downstairs bathroom was amazing too. My sister Gwen and I could scarcely stay out of it. It had sparkly butterfly wallpaper and a crystal dish of scented soaps shaped like tiny roses and other lovelies! Her attic and basement were chock full of treasures, and I lived for the day she’d invite me to rummage through them. I sneaked into her basement for a quick peek whenever I could. The attic sang to me like a siren and promised Ali Baba’s Cave of Wonders but I didn’t dare chance it. I would have had to sneak upstairs, through the master bedroom and then up another flight to reach it.

Sadly, I never made it to Aunt MiMi’s attic until after her death when my mother and I helped our cousin sort some of her belongings. It did not disappoint.

On January 27, 2005, at one hundred years of age, the fabulous Aunt MiMi slipped peacefully out of this world and into the next. She fell asleep while waiting for her bowl of strawberries and woke up in the arms of Jesus.

Does He tango? Because I’m pretty sure there’s a party in the house.

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

Photo credit here

Rule # 14: Aunt MiMi’s Famous Dip!

Aunt Cookie's Famous Dip

Aunt MiMi was a party in a pale blue pantsuit.

Aunt MiMi had been quite the social butterfly in her younger years, and age hadn’t made much of a dent in her sparkle. Oh, how she loved entertaining! I remember many a holiday dinner around her dining room table. In warm weather, she and Uncle Stanly strung lanterns above their flagstone patio. While the adults drank martinis under the shade of giant oaks and poplars, we children explored the tiny paths among her shrubs and ferns, looking for pixies and blue jay feathers. A large mirrored ball peeked mysteriously from a dense clump of azaleas in the middle of her back yard—a sure sign that magic was at hand.

Aunt MiMi, who lived happily to the age of 100, is remembered for many things. Here are just a few of them chosen random:
-her love of every type of shiny bling and bauble
-her “Kiss My Grits!” apron
-the way she did handstands and leg-wrestled nieces and nephews until she was in her 70’s
-her refusal to get rid of her original black bakelite rotary phone with the fabric cord up until she was forced to move into a nursing home in the late 90’s
-her habit of feeding peanuts (Planters or bust!) to the squirrels from her back steps
-the fact that she was able to convince my father to let me and Gwen pierce our ears after he had proclaimed it “bodily mutilation”

But today I’d like to draw your attention to an Aunt MiMi achievement and Family Rule she modestly referred to as “My Famous Dip.” She served it at every one of her gatherings.

When Aunt MiMi got to the point that hosting became too arduous, she upped her game. She came to every gather bearing—in her own words—“a tractor-trailer load” of this manna. At some point, my mother had developed a love-hate relationship with this dip. For us kids, the dip was the meal. The relationship was all love. Ruffles made great shovels, and shovel we did. By the time dinner was ready, we burped our way to the table in a queasy daze and declined all offerings until dessert.

I’m pretty sure the dip originated as someone else’s proprietary recipe but the trail has long since grown cold. I’m passing the recipe along to you, so please forgive me if the culinary equivalent of the mattress tag police come knocking at your door.

Aunt MiMi’s Famous Dip
(Best when made the day ahead. Can be frozen.)
One 8 oz. pkg. Philadelphia cream cheese
1/2 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped
2 TB onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
dash of pepper
Mix well. Refrigerate.

Enjoy!

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

Rule #13: Dig It In & Pile It On

Photo courtesy of Roger Smith

Photo courtesy of Roger Smith

One of my daughters and I coined a term for a family rule which I learned from my father and attempted to pass down to my progeny. In recent years, transmission of this rule has been slowed and nearly halted, with the unfortunate consequence that I have been unable to properly imbue my daughters with a deep-seated belief in their own defectiveness.

You win some, you lose some.

The rule we now refer to as Dig It In dictated that if someone had made an error or in some way fallen short, you were obligated to inform her of this failure. With Olympic strength and endurance. The offender needed to fully comprehend 1. the inconvenience, 2. the irreparable damage (or at minimum, the potential for irreparable damage), 3. the mortification, 4. the danger, 5. the hurt, 6. the disappointment, and 7. the loss of face caused through her action or inaction.

Am I forgetting anything?

As you might guess, Dig It In led to a few sub rules, such as Not Me and Pile It On.

Think of Not Me as a game of dodge ball. See, my family did know how to have fun! “Who broke the lamp?!” “Not me!” Get the idea?

Once the perp had been fingered, it was time for Pile It On, which takes its name from football, another super fun game. While the accuser dug it in, any innocent bystanders, relieved to have been spared and wanting to make sure the tide didn’t suddenly turn against them, made sure the person who had been taken down stayed down.

If the person who had made the mistake came away thinking it was possible to be sorry enough–or ever fully remediate the error–the rule had obviously not been properly executed. A proper digging-in infuses the recipient with the knowledge that her very person is shameful.

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

Photo credit here

Rule #7…

As previously mentioned, this Family Rule is called Everything German is Better. German, I say.

When my mother remarried after my father’s death, she mutinied abruptly and shamelessly. And she has never looked back.

Mom married a third-generation Irish-American and became an overnight evangelist for all things Irish. She eats soda bread. She reads Maeve Binchy and Frank McCourt. Mom reads up on Irish folklore and history. She named her puppy Finn McCool, for the love of God. My Mom started buying shamrocks and Beleek china and became more Irish than my stepfather’s entire family combined. Before the marriage, while drunk on romance, she visited Ireland and kissed the Blarney Stone. She came home bearing gifts to soften us up: wool sweaters for us and kilts for the children. Mom tried hard to convert us but we weren’t buying. Nope.

There are many fine things about Ireland but that is not the point! The family rule is GERMAN is better, Mom, GERMAN.  Get with the program. Ach du liebes Bißchen! So eine Scheiße! I don’t really need to translate that, do I?

So on that happy note, I offer you the last in a series of four pieces on what exactly IS better. Or at least what we enjoyed when we lived in 1970s Germany. We hated to return home to such a young and uncouth country, and we lamented it in a stage whisper every chance we got. This way we got a lot of attention, which was, of course, the point. Right? Yes–we were just that cool. By the way, don’t trip over my Dachshund and my authentic German Birkenstocks in your rush to escape….

Image courtesy of Hebi65

Image courtesy of Hebi65

36. Scrubbing your front steps: pastime of German grannies everywhere. If I can stereotype for a moment: Germans can be super clean and orderly. It was common in my childhood to see old women scrubbing down the front steps of their houses as part of their morning chores.

Imago courtesy of JaBB

Imago courtesy of JaBB

37. Spätzele. Small, lumpy egg noodles. You can buy them ready to cook but my friend Margarete makes them by dropping a blob of the thick batter on a small board and using a knife or wooden blade to scrape it off into boiling water one tiny bit at a time. She is a real pro and moves like lightning!

Image courtesy of Gerbil

Image courtesy of Gerbil

38. Lighted candles on the Christmas tree. Yes, I suspect some are still doing it. Beautiful. Magical. And probably the stuff of VFD nightmares.

Image courtesy of traude

Image courtesy of traude

39. Logic. As a whole, the Volk is not warm and fuzzy. But it works for them.

Image courtesy of OpenClips

Image courtesy of OpenClips

40. Punctuality. No ifs, no ands–or you got your butt handed to you.

Image courtesy of geralt

Image courtesy of geralt

41. Order (Ordnung!) This, logic, and punctuality fit in well with my Dad’s worldview. The word trinity comes to mind. But this emphasis didn’t always sit so well with the rest of us. See a pattern here? If not, please see this Family Rule and then treat yourself to a good stiff drink on me. I don’t think I have ever known my father so happy or our family life so calm and orderly as when we lived in Deutschland!

Apfelwein_Geripptes_Bembel copy Eva K.

Image courtesy of Eva K.

42. Apple wine. Pucker up! You might have to be a Frankfurter to appreciate it fully. Drink it ice cold or your brain will implode. Great with Schnitzel. Shown above in the mandatory Bembel (pitcher).

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

43. Shower gel. We were using it in Germany waaaay before the U.S. even thought of it.

Image courtesy of Kuchen

Image courtesy of Kuchen

44. Clogs. So what if they were not strictly German? We adored them and how we click-clacked around town. I proudly wore my white Swedish clogs my entire 9th grade year after returning to the US. People gave up heckling me because I wore them with such confidence (read: oblivion to fashion). Ha, ha! Clogs became popular in the U.S. when I was in about 11th grade but mine were better. Nanny, nanny, boo boo.

Image courtesy of sechtem

Image courtesy of sechtem

45. Daily shopping. No need to clutter up the kitchen with a month’s worth of hermetically sealed foods. If you shop each day for fresh food, you only need a dorm-sized box. Also cool–many small, family-run stores. This is changing but back then there were many, many of these shops, each of which handled only a small niche: baker, butcher, coffee shop, etc.

Image courtesy of lheofacker

Image courtesy of lheofacker

46. Mittagspause (afternoon rest). This is probably changing too but most people, including those working in little family-run shops, dropped everything each afternoon from 1-3 for a hot meal and a break. Makes sense since the midday meal is the big meal of the day. Dinner is the time for light fare.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

47. Plums. Italian plums were the only plums I knew there. So mouth-wateringly scrumptious.

Image courtesy of Томасина

Image courtesy of Томасина

48. Dogs. Germans love their dogs, and the stereotype of the Dachshund is accurate. You can probably still see the little hounds sitting under restaurant tables where they wait obediently for their masters to finish a leisurely meal. Restaurant meals could last a long time. Once you sat down at table, it was yours until you choose to leave–even if you closed the place out. Restaurants weren’t just a place to fill your belly. They became your living room. I don’t know if it is still the same way now. Anybody?

I think that is more than enough data from my informal study of German, well, supercalifragilisticexpialadocious…ness? Thanks for hanging in there with me. I may devote a future post to the stuff which was not so savory.

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

Rule # 12: The Perfect Gift Is Something You Would Like For Yourself

gift FutUndBeidl

Image courtesy of FutUndBeidl

Again, a rule my father actually articulated. The problems with this rule should be immediately apparent. I am ashamed to admit how old I was before I realized this probably wasn’t the best guideline for gift giving.

One Christmas I had my eye on a small brandy snifter. It was a clever gag gift—exactly the kind of thing I loved during my tween years. The “brandy” was sandwiched between thin layers of glass. From the side, it looked like a glass of brandy but if you tried to drink it, of course, nothing came out. I bought it for myself but convinced myself I was buying it for my father. It sat on a shelf in our living room until it disappeared one day.

In my early 20’s, I gave my mother a navy blue Nike sweatshirt. I got it when she decided it wasn’t for her.

Dad was the kind of husband who might use Mom’s birthday as a good excuse to replace a major household appliance. On the other hand, he was not the kind of Dad who would ruin a perfectly good birthday or holiday with clothing. When I was little, my heart would sink when my grandparents presented Gwen and me with those lightweight boxes which indicated right up front we’d be getting something “useless.” Whatever small element of surprise remained was quickly dashed since we generally got the same item in different colors.

I guess Dad did not follow the rule 100%. One time I begged and begged for a Cub Scout pocketknife and actually got it—even before I reached the age of majority. This was a real stretch for my father. He tended to anticipate danger at every turn. My mother swears my first word was “dangerous.” I thanked him by not slicing off any body parts. Another time I got the Barbie Camper and accessories I thought I wanted but didn’t. They just sat there stupidly. Something about them annoyed me.

My father was a true nerd, pocket protector and all. Some of his nerd gifts were right up my alley. He gave me a super cool Audubon bird call. He bought me experiments and kits from Edmund Scientifics. I made noise and messes! I wrote secret notes on dissolvable paper! I learned how metal expands and contracts with heat! An electronics buff, Dad gave me a small white transistor radio. It even had a wrist strap! I took it outside and hid in my favorite spots listening to Simon and Garfunkel.

Dad wasn’t one to martyr himself. He did not spend his energy on matters which didn’t interest him. He had a very active mind and was quick to become bored and impatient. My father was definitely not the kind of parent who liked spending time on the floor playing games or on the couch reading the same stories again and again. All I can say is Thank God for Mom.

Instead, Dad showed me how to build a solenoid radio, make rock candy, knit, crochet, garden organically, and program in BASIC. I wonder how many of my interests started as a way to connect with my father.

I hope the times he spent with me were gifts he wanted for himself.

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

Good Friday Gone Bad

rainy night stadium lights Grant Frederiksen

Image courtesy of Grant Frederiksen

I went to Jesus’ funeral last night. He was the best man I had ever known, and now I’d never see Him again.

Good Friday is the one day in the year when I sit quietly next to His lifeless body and weep. I weep because I miss Him. I weep because He suffered. I cry hot tears because He is dead, dead, dead, and now the unfinished business between us can never be put right.

I know how the story ends but I need to feel the loss of my Lord and reflect upon His pain. Pain I should rightfully have borne were justice served. Feeling the loss of Him prepares me to feel the joy of His resurrection. Not only is He not dead, He still likes me and is glad to see me even though I helped to kill Him.

I went to Jesus’ funeral last night and discovered that someone had scheduled seven other funerals at the same time. One funeral for each of the Last Seven Words of Jesus. Services were held for the victims of ISIS and Ebola; Robin Williams; Brittany Maynard; and Eric Garner. There were others I cannot now recall, and that is a shame because all of those mourned last night deserve to be recognized, grieved, and laid properly to rest. The daily news is full of sadness, injustice and horror, and we are called to hear and act.

But I went to Jesus’ funeral last night.

I could not get to Him to say goodbye. One after another, the funeral processions crowded by, forming a continuous throng of mourners through which I was unable to pass. Here and there, I caught a glimpse of Him before He was eclipsed. Finally the crowds began to dwindle, and I began my trembling approach.

The service ended before I made it to Him. The music stopped. It was time to go. The man in front of me began talking about a movie he had seen. There were bright lights and friendly chatter.

I sobbed it out in the car on the way home. My husband was lovely to me.

The sermon had been thoughtfully crafted and intended for good. I knew that. But it had gone terribly awry, and I felt cheated and bereft.

Now that my tears have dried, I wonder: Maybe I got the point after all.

Rule # 11: Logic Rules (unless we are talking about me)

“Trollveggen 2002 June” by Ximonic

As an engineer, Dad was governed by logic. Feelings were annoying gnats which had to be tolerated if one was not able to swat them away. Best to ignore them altogether. If you treated them as real, these sirens could get you into real trouble. Dad didn’t say this outright, but we knew. The so-called “human element” was just a cop out for weak people who couldn’t get from Point A to Point B—literally and metaphorically—in the most efficient manner.

When he planned vacations, Dad calculated ahead of time how far we’d drive each day and mapped out the exact route and stopping points. He generally booked our lodging in advance, so he was reluctant to deviate from the plan due to silly inconveniences such as traffic backups, hunger, or wanting to stretch. And God forbid you should have to pee before the designated pull-over time. More than once, my brother was offered a coke-can urinal. I have a memory of standing up in the back seat, holding the seat back in front of me, so I could dry my soaked shorts in the wind rushing through the open windows. Worst was the time I was required to relieve myself (number two) hurriedly on the pavement in a truck rest area–beside the open car door and in full view of my family and passing highway traffic. I learned in my professional training that most children have few memories before the age of five. I guess I remember this so clearly because I was at least six and a half.

We traveled everywhere in our gargantuan Ford station wagon. Back in 1970’s Germany, this Straβenkreuzer (roughly translated “one helluva big-ass set of wheels) named Betsy caused the natives’ eyes to bug as we narrowly escaped becoming irretrievably wedged between the houses lining the Rhine Valley’s ancient cobblestone streets. I swear, I could have reached through the open window and snatched a Brőtchen from the breakfast table of one gaping Frau. We were so close I could see the hairs of her mustache.

While touring Scandinavia, Dad quickly discovered that his calculations would not hold up on the mountain roads of Norway. But it was ok. We could make it to our hotels. And really, what choice did we have considering there were few places to stay, and it was high season? We just had to drive up to 16 hours a day. Let me mention again how generous my father was. He had invited our three remaining grandparents to accompany us on this adventure. One grandmother was a chain smoker who couldn’t tolerate open windows. But more importantly: You do the math. There were 6 seats, 8 people, and no luggage carrier for a two-week trip. Two of us had to ride with the luggage in a space the size of a postage stamp.…My sister Gwen and I “volunteered.” We pinched and slapped each other to pass the time. Or we stuffed oranges up our shirts and waved suggestively to passing motorists.

ANYway…we found ourselves daily cheating death as we crawled along narrow switchbacks with intimate and utterly unprotected views of the fate which awaited us should Betsy’s wheels stray an inch in the wrong direction. We prayed to God we would not to encounter a tour bus. We prayed even harder each time we did. We tested the limits of our deodorant as we we waited to see which vehicle would win at the game of Chicken. We gave heartfelt thanks when we had to back up less than a quarter of a mile to a pull-off so a bus could pass. I would probably show promise at deep sea diving based on the fact that I was too nervous to breathe more than 8 times a day.

On a side note, there were fun aspects of the trip. We saw beautiful sights. We also had the adventure of overnighting on a ferry during a fjord crossing during rough weather. I recall my excitement as the rows of glasses lined up in the bar slid across the shelves and over their barriers, crashing to the floor in style. I snickered as the pretentious man in the white linen suit, the one who had been flirting with my Mom, spilled Coke down his front. I had lox for the first time and have loved it ever since. One of the strangest moments, however, came when my ladylike and somewhat prim maternal grandmother discovered an empty whiskey bottle under her mattress and a brimming chamber pot under her bed. This provided some levity. Or maybe it was an outlet for the building hysteria. But she laughed as hard as the rest of us.

Oh, I am so easily distracted! Back to the feelings part.

Here are a few very secret secrets: My Dad cried during every Hallmark commercial. Every single schmaltzy one. He never admitted it, even when we caught him. My Dad was deeply moved by music. I have two musician daughters and often wonder if part of their joy came down through him. He adored and became week-kneed and pliant in the presence of bossy old ladies. My Dad preached against non-essential spending but he had a lot of cool cameras and a super duper hi-fi set. Just sayin’.

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

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