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April Fool and Beyond

Image courtesy of Shane Adams

Image courtesy of Shane Adams

My family loved dogs. We even involved them in our pranks.

One year while my family was having dinner at my mother’s house, the conversation drifted to the topic of her Chihuahua. Bella made it her habit to camp out under the table so as not to miss any falling goodies.

Bella was a licker. She was the smartest and most affectionate little dog, and this was how she showed love. Given the chance, Bella would more or less bathe you. Having grown up around dogs, this had never bothered me. In fact, it was kind of comforting.

Come to think of it, I could feel her starting on my right foot. How sweet! It was as if she had known I was talking about her.

I bent down to peek under the tablecloth only to see one daughter’s tiny face grinning back. I screamed without thinking and nearly fell backwards out of my chair. Victory!

Another time at that same table, I switched a different daughter’s eggroll for a rolled up piece of basted rawhide. It took her a few minutes of perplexity before she gave up with a scowl. Meanwhile, the rest of us were fighting back snorts. She was about as outraged as a four year old could be.

And so it goes. Some of the most embarrassing moments provide some of the best laughs later.

In keeping with the canine theme, I want to admit to you that not all of my tricks were so nice. Of course I chased my tail, begged, and rolled over. Those performances were expected and rewarded. But when the leash was off, I growled, menaced,  and bit. I fed Kendra Patrick cubes of Camay soap dipped in dark chocolate. I dumped a spade full of gravel into the mouth of my trusting sister after an inviting sing-song intro: “Close your eyes and open your mouth…” There were so many nasties over the years. So many.

Who was the fool here?

This dog.

Are you laughing?

I’m not.

After many years of returning to my own vomit, I made a decision. If I’m going to be a fool, I’m going to go for broke. I’d rather be a Fool than a Bitch.

I have given my life to Christ, and He is slowly reforming my shit-eating ways. I will be a fool for Him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18, NIV)

This is how I want to live—unashamed of the Gospel.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:18, NIV )

If I am honest, I must say: This is how I want to want to live. Sometimes I want it actively. Sometimes I work to want to want it. But in my heart, I know what Christ has done—and is doing—for me, and I can’t unknow it.

This is no joke.

Rule # 10: If There is a Problem, it Must Be Your Problem

Imago courtesy of geralt

Imago courtesy of geralt

My Dad had no problems. No, really. It’s true. I heard him say so myself.

When Mom attempted to ask for help or discuss problems she was having with us kids or, God forbid, her relationship with him, my father responded predictably.

“Is there a problem? Well, I don’t have any problems. So it must be your problem.”

And that was that.

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

Rule #7: Everything…

Here is my second to last segment about my family culture of Germany Worship.

I had a difficult reentry into suburban America after spending four years of my childhood in the ebb and flow of German city life. Over there I had been too American. On my return to the U.S., I was surprised to find how out of sync and foreign I felt. I clung to my German identity as best I could.

Awesome things about life in Germany included the following. And P. S.: I clearly love food but I swear this is not a food blog.

25. Walking

26. Walking

Photo courtesy of kelseyannvere

Photo courtesy of kelseyannvere

27. Did I mention Walking? It is basically a national pastime. I understand things have changed somewhat but when I was a kid, there were just not any overweight people to be found. Really. And along with the walking was the tradition of using a lightweight wooden hiking stick or cane. Each time you hiked at a new location, you had the option of buying a tiny colorful plaque to commemorate your visit. Yes, it is touristy. Yes, I have one. Yes, I still adore walking.

Photo courtesy of Faibel

Photo courtesy of Faibel

28. No waste. Or very little. I learned a lot about conservation. I witnessed one classmate saving money and trees by turning used notebook papers sideways and taking notes on top of and at a right angle to the original writing. Another example: Everyone had a single tiny water heater or a few tiny source heaters for their kitchen and bathroom. Some folks turned the water off after wetting themselves in the shower and then turned it back on to rinse off the soap.

I learned the hard way that long American showers were problematic. The first time I stayed at my German friend Hanna’s house, I used up the hot water supply for the entire apartment without realizing it. Oops! Everybody was too polite to correct me. Hanna’s Mom couldn’t stand me for years.

Photo courtesy of sst via wikimedia commons

What else? Public transportation was abundant and efficient. Plenty of folks went without cars, and those who did own them bought tiny ones. I went into culture shock in the late 70s when I returned to the U.S. and the endless swaths of pavement swarming with gas guzzling behemoths. We’ve begun to use tiny cars here too but at the time, the contrast was extreme. And yes, by the way, this is a double standard since we drove a huge station wagon!

In Germany, I also learned that you can wear your clothing more than once before throwing it into the laundry bin for Mom to wash. On the down side, I also learned that deodorant was optional and that it is actually possible to wear your clothes so many times they stand up by themselves…

Photo courtesy of Frank Murmann

Photo courtesy of Frank Murmann

29. Füller. Fountain pens. Everybody used them. Even young kids, and even for math! That reminds me that I need to buy another pen, since my last one broke. I enjoy writing with them. I stick to Pelikan out of nostalgia, since that is the brand I used in German school.

30. Making up your own words. Yes, it’s allowed. Think of Fahrvergnügen = driving + pleasure. Schadenfreude = harm + glee. Let’s do one now for fun. I think I’ll invent Schokoladentherapie and use it in my counseling practice. Chocolate + therapy = happy clients.

Photo courtesy of Hans

Photo courtesy of Hans

31. Federbetten. Featherbeds. Americans have caught on. But I’m not sure they have the kind that are just one big bag of down without any stitches to hold the feathers in place. Using a Federbett is like sleeping under a giant marshmallow. It’s just a gigantic bag of down. People get really, really anal about the upkeep of their feather beds, so tread lightly. Not to be used in cases of profuse sweating. Must be gently beaten so as to fluff but not break the feathers. Should be aired regularly–you may see them hanging out of windows on nice days. And speaking of conservation—it is these featherbeds that allow the Germans to sleep with open windows in cool weather and keep some bedrooms unheated in the winter.

Photo courtesy of Paul Downey

Photo courtesy of Paul Downey

32. Whipped cream without sugar. Found this one out the hard way but eventually came to like it very much.

I remember the day my sister Gwen and I discovered it. We had begged my father to buy us ice cream. Uncharacteristically, he hesitated, and we figured we had a foot in the door. We then begged my father not only to buy us ice cream, but to pay the extra money for a big dollop of whipped cream on top. He assured us we would hate the whipped cream, and it would go to waste. We thought he was crazy and begged harder. We promised to like it. We promised to eat it. Against the odds, he caved in on both accounts: ice cream and topping. Our lucky day!

After he paid, he started to lope of ahead of us with his long grasshopper legs. He must have noticed we were not huffing and puffing, as usual, to keep up with him. He turned around a split second after the whipped cream had, uh, accidentally slipped off both Gwen’s and my ice cream onto the sidewalk with a puffy splat. We were appropriately mystified at our clumsiness. Mercifully he did not question us further.

Photo courtesy of EME

Photo courtesy of EME

33. Quark. We don’t have it. It’s a kind of fresh dairy product. We used to eat it with sliced fruit.

Photo courtesy of Gourmandise

Photo courtesy of Gourmandise

34. Vanillesoβe. A ubiquitous Dr. Oetker mix commonly used to make vanilla-flavored sauce for desserts. It is good but I’m not prepared to say it’s legendary. I think it was raised to the status of an exotic delight because my father brought several of the small packets home after work trips to Germany in the years before we went as a family. Also, I think my mother remembered it fondly from her own childhood when she spent time in the home of her best friend Luisa, a German girl.

Photo courtesy of Magnus Manske

Photo courtesy of Magnus Manske

35. Pommes Frites. I don’t care if they are supposedly French. If you want to die and go to heaven quickly, spend the day hoofing it around the city, working up an appetite, and then buy a big serving of Pomme Frites with ketchup and a Coke. The best fries ever!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

36. Italian ice. The real thing is amazing. It is nothing like the stuff you get in the freezer section of American grocery stores.  Once you have it, you will wonder why people aren’t jumping up and down in protest. Can you believe my classmates actually used to beg me to buy American ice cream in the commissary and bring it to their birthday parties??

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

Rule # 9: I Know You Better Than You Know Yourself

Photo courtesy of TMAB2003

Photo courtesy of TMAB2003

I think I was my father’s little boy.

I say this tentatively and with an apology to my younger brother Will. Both because I may have misunderstood–and that makes me sound queasily grandiose–and because it might sound like I am blaming him for not being chosen as heir. Maybe I should apologize to Gwen as well. If one daughter could be his son, why not the other? I believe it had little to do with our individual merits.

Maybe birth order is to blame since both my siblings are loveable and gifted individuals. Looking through my adult vantage point and my therapist goggles, I see that my father was prone to bending logic when it suited him. It is deforming to spoil, provoke, or ignore a child into brazenness, neediness, or despair and then point at that child’s behavior to justify your concerns about his or her goodness or stability.

The fact that I learned to negotiate the shifting shoals is both an achievement and a source of shame and guilt. I rarely ran aground in any obvious way. While I was astute enough to figure out and operate within the rules of engagement, I did not save or defend my siblings when I might have. Instead, I stood quietly by and watched as they were branded with various labels and then punished for bearing them. Older and stronger, I sometimes even threw them under the bus.

I know, I know. I was just a kid. But it still feels bad sometimes. Back and forth, back and forth I go. Was I a victim or an accomplice? This is how I wear my damage. They wear theirs differently.

Allowing myself to contemplate my brokenness brings self loathing. If I claim I am damaged, I selfishly compete for balm at the expense of those who need it more. I have shown I can manage. If I claim I am undamaged, I smell superior and condescending. There is no way out. Thankfully, the reverberations have become dampened over time. I don’t spend a lot of time or tears on this matter. It generally stays in the back of my mind, held comfortably in check by God’s cleansing and my adult logic.

Occasionally old feelings still build and threaten. Writing this–right in this moment–I feel the edges of madness pressing in. That slow sinking. Eyelids falling shut. Bad Jane, bad Jane. Time to take a break…

…The brands I received were different but no less constricting. Though I never struggled with sexual preference or identity, being Junior and being entrusted with my father’s inside views on my mother’s shortcomings caused me to associate my womanly emotional makeup with weakness and disown it as inferior. I was just as uncomfortable with my body.

I got to be the Good Student, the Responsible One, the Dutiful One. Whoop dee do. These labels came with the designations Stoic One and Stick In The Mud. I think in time I also got Sneaky One, and sometimes that one fit.

Gwen got to be the Feminine One, the Cute One, and the Artistic One. Sigh. Sadly, those were padlocked to the brands Dramatic One (never to be taken seriously, even in extremis) and Messy One (“She can’t help herself. It’s because of her artistic temperament.”). How would you like to labor under those prophetic burdens? And what do you think happens when two girls, so differently regarded and so close in age, have to share a single small room? This was not a recipe to cultivate sibling love.

Will had other brands but those escape me now. The comparison between me and Gwen was sharpest given our 18-month age difference.

Dad labeled me because he knew he knew me and what I was about. Looking at me was looking in the mirror. It was a Fun House mirror–wavy and distorted–but only one of us seemed to realize it. I was supposed to be an engineer like him. He knew it was a fit for me. I knew I would never, ever, do it. Even the thought of it made me clammy.

I stood up to him about the engineering major but compromised by giving in to his expectation that I enroll in 21 credits my first semester in college. He had done it. No problem! Never mind that I was participating as a scholarship athlete on a Division I sports team. I lasted a few weeks before quietly adjusting my schedule and doing my own thing. To his credit, he was entirely supportive. This marked the start of a better phase in our relationship. On the cusp of my adulthood, I began to understand him differently. I came to view his behavior as motivated more by a lack of insight than a spoiling for malice. More on that soon.

I ended up studying Bio and German. I said I might try for medical school though I knew I never would.

In retrospect, this may have been the most Jane I was able to be at this time in my life. The finding of Jane has been a molasses-slow and ongoing process. Bio was not my thing. German, I love, but not as a profession. Years later, I ended up in counseling and then in grad school for counseling. It’s a great fit.

As for writing? Too artistic for me to even contemplate.

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

 

Rule # 8: A Lie is a Spank

Photo courtesy of PicFreak

Photo courtesy of PicFreak

Dad coined this rule and actually called it “A Lie is a Spank.”

What he said was: A lie is a spank. If you tell the truth, I may not be happy but I will not punish you. If you lie, you will be punished. Don’t try to lie to me because I can tell if you are lying by looking into your eyes.

I believed Dad might indeed have some special power to detect lies, so I rarely lied outright. Instead I became sneaky and good at diversion and omission. I had to, really, because punishment was erratic and inconsistent. Behavior that got me grounded one day might elicit a good natured admonition and wink the next.

The rule wasn’t a great protector of truth in any case. If you were telling the truth and hadn’t done anything dishonest or unkind but Dad thought you were lying, your goose was still cooked. He was so persuasive in his disbelief that you began to doubt your goodness, if not your sanity. Apparently the corollary to “A Lie is a Spank” was “I Know You Better than You Know Yourself.” But I’ll tell you about that variation another day.

Once when playing in the yard, I did a cartwheel and ended up kicking my little sister Gwen in the nose. Granted, we were not the best of friends, but I had not intended to touch her, let alone harm her. A moment after she ran into the house crying, I knew I was in Big Trouble.

I claimed innocence when questioned by Dad. He responded by giving me a sly, conspiratorial smile: “Come on, Jane, I know it wasn’t an accident. You can tell me.” Again, I protested. But he insisted. And then he punished me.

My brain knew I hadn’t done intentional harm but my heart remained troubled. Was there an evil in me which I couldn’t see? I still have moments when that feeling engulfs me.

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

Rule # 7: Everything German…

Here she goes again….

Can I help it if my family had a serious crush on Germany??

More of the things we hated to leave behind:

Lakritz Schnecken wikipedia de copy

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.de

13. Licorice. I loved Lakritz Schnecken, which are delectable black licorice strings rolled up like snails. Black licorice, in general, was a spiritual experience. In a similar category were Veilchen Pastillen (violet pastilles). They actually tasted like flowers. In addition to being addictive, they were pleasantly aromatic and chewy.

Igel by Gibe wikimedia commons

Photo courtesy of Gibe

14. Igel–those cute little hedgehogs that look like prickly chestnuts.

Red squirrel by Ray eye wikimedia commons copy

Photo courtesy of Ray eye

15. Red squirrels. Look at his cute, fringed ears! XO

Orange sluge by Guilaume Brocker copy

Photo courtesy of Guillaume Brocker

16. Giant orange slugs. Fabulous! Especially to a nerd like me.

17. Mainzelmännchen (tiny little mischievous cartoon guys). We thought the Germans were brilliant. Instead of annoying viewers with a commercial every few minutes, they’d save them up and show them all at one time, interspersed with these clever cartoons. We loved commercials! Hope you enjoy this selection from the 70’s.

Smurf Asrar Makrani

Photo courtesy of Asrar Makrani

18. Schlümpfe (Smurfs). We had them waaaaay back when. Pretty much every kid watched them on TV and collected the little plastic figures.

19. Kickers. These were actually Italian shoes. Germans are very serious about their footwear since they do so much walking. They were a fad at my school, and I begged and begged for Kickers until I finally got some. They always looked so cute on my friends. I quickly realized the effect was not so brilliant on a tall skinny girl with ginormous feet. Couldn’t find a photo. Sorry!

wooden sled

Photo courtesy of EME/Pixabay

20. Sleds. Made all of wood with fixed runners covered in a thin strip of metal. We kids used put them on our shoulders like backpacks before squeezing ourselves into the streetcar to head out to the best sledding grounds. IMHO, the lighter weight and wider runners made my German sled superior to my Flexible Flyer. Steering was no problem—you just had to gently drag one foot or arm on the side to which you wished to turn.

Mohrenkopf by Clément Dominik copy

Photo courtesy of Clément Dominik

21. Schaumküsse–known as Mohrenköpfe or Negerküsse in my youth. You probably don’t have to be a German speaker to intuit why those names had to go.

A Schaumkuss is hard to describe because we have nothing like it. It is a very large, moist and creamy white marshmallow sitting on a baked wafer (not unlike a large corrugated communion wafer) and dipped in dark chocolate. We used to eat them as dessert, obviously, but there was another method for the starved hordes exiting the XXXXXXX School after class. We’d stampede into Modero (a Mom and Pop store across from school) and order one served on a Brötchen (crispy roll) so we’d have something to eat on the way home. Open roll, insert Schaumkuss, squash, eat. Mmmmm.

Photo courtesy of Washington and Jefferson College

Photo courtesy of Washington and Jefferson College

22. Beer. Not being a delinquent (much), I took my parents’ word for it. (Note the cardboard coaster. Every single brand had its own, and there were zillions. We kids collected them and played with them like trading cards or used them to build card houses.)

Photo courtesy of frankieleon

Photo courtesy of frankieleon

23. Wine. Here are the typical glasses. I have what is left of my parents’ set and use them every weekend.

Photo courtesy of Saxo

Photo courtesy of Saxo

24. Johannesbeersaft. Current juice. Ahhhhh, dark, sweet-sour, strong. I could not get enough of the stuff.

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

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 # 4: Visiting Behavior, Act I

Rule # 4: Visiting Behavior, Act I

When it came to visiting behavior, my Dad imposed a predictable set of norms. This goes for visiting and being visited but for the sake of time, I’ll just tell you about our adventures outside the home. The visiting process is best explained to outsiders as a play in three acts: The Rehearsal, The Performance, and The Review. Dad worked overtime as director, star, and critic.

Act I: The Rehearsal

The rehearsal occurred on the car ride to our destination. We were instructed in depth on all behaviors in which we were NOT to engage. Most normal child behaviors were barred as “rude.” The idea was to help us to behave civilly but the clear message was “Don’t. Make. Me. Look. Bad.” Beyond the obvious (no boogers, farts, running, spilling, breaking, or loud noises) Dad’s admonitions to his three active young children invariably included

1.  “You may only have one small beverage. If offered more you are to say, ‘No, thank you.’

2.  “If you are offered ice cream, you are to say, ‘No, thank you.’

3.  “If you are offered cookies, you are to say, ‘No, thank you.’

4.  “If someone asks you if I told you to say, ‘No, thank you,’ you are to say, ‘No.’

     “Thank you.”

This last order was necessitated by our Great Aunt MiMi’s ability to see past our polite protestations. Upon our arrival, she promptly ushered us into her kitchen and served up massive quantities of both cookies and ice cream. Caught in the act, she claimed we had declined, and she had force-fed us. We always told her the truth after that. A coiffed and jewel-bedecked grande dame of the Martini Age, she was one of the few who could wind my father around her pinky, pummel him into submission, and elicit an adoring, school-boy grin without even breaking a sweat. Dad was fierce, but Aunt MiMi could dispatch him with one languid wave of her coral-painted fingertips, daahling.

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 Betty

Don’t Tell Betty

(Poor Betty! She was and is a great person, and she isn’t a gossip. This isn’t even about her. Sorry, Betty! This rule should actually be called “What Happens in the Family Stays in the Family.”)

I knew it was going to be a long evening whenever my mother started a conversation with, “Betty says….”

“BETTY says?! BETTY says?!” my Dad would spit contemptuously.

“Betty says,” translated to “MOM BLABBED.” Everything was considered blabbing. You part your lips, you blab. We’re not talking about topics such as sex or family finances. Even seemingly ordinary topics could earn Mom the reputation of having loose lips. Breathing = Conversing = Blabbing in my Dad’s way of thinking.

Dad guarded his privacy. Maybe it made him uncomfortable that many of the husbands in the neighborhood, including Betty’s husband Wilbur, worked with my Dad at a secure government facility. Maybe Dad’s job made him paranoid. Or maybe the neighborhood felt unpleasantly like a small town in which everyone knew everyone else’s business. Perhaps he was living out a family rule from his own childhood. I’m trying to understand his logic.

Truth be told, there was no bona fide dirt available on either Mom or Dad. No addictions, no crimes, no affairs, no financial crises. Just garden-variety family dysfunctions and eccentricities. My Dad’s biggest offense at this point might have been the way he walked around the yard in warm weather. This was nothing new. I’m sure the neighbors had all observed him turning the family garden plot shoeless, in his saggy v-neck undershirt, slacks, and black dress socks. Worst were the truly hot days when he kept the long dress socks but swapped his slacks for white cotton shorts. The retinas (retinae??) of the unsuspecting viewer were burned by the sight of his long, transparent legs, which sported a sparse covering of long black hair and were dappled with moles of varying shades and topographies. OK, that probably WAS a crime.

But I digress. The point is that my Dad did not want to know what Betty thought about the price of eggs or anything else. This is because he felt violated and exposed by the knowledge that my mother had gone as far as to discuss a matter as titillating as the price of eggs.

Probably Mom HAD at some point discussed something personal in nature but everybody needs trustworthy friends in whom they can confide. I don’t know where I’d be without my girlfriends. Besides, being home alone all day with no car and three young children could really make a person nuts, especially someone social like Mom.

Maybe her real mistake was letting it slip that she was not as silent as a sphinx. Or maybe it was as simple as having friends.

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

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