I suppose it would be surprising if Jack didn’t have a gift for the humorous observation, growing up as he did among a family of wits. With his parents setting the pace, and genetics reinforcing the proclivity, Jack and his two brothers started early tossing out quips and pithy observations. His ten-months-younger brother Paul was the sly trickster of the group while little Terry, six years behind, carried his own weight into the bantering arena. I would love to have tape recordings of some of their youthful dinner table wordplay.
The next best thing to an audio soundtrack? Discovering among their mother’s effects written documentation of some of her sons’ most fondly remembered, and mostly intentional, early witticisms – just plain old cute anecdotes, which flowed from the mouths of her babes.
I’m reprinting them here, lightly edited, in the same order in which my mother-in-law laid them down on the quarter-folded, yellow-edged sheet she had tucked away with other mementos. After all, we are her posterity. They were saved, I presume, for us to savor. So, bon appétit to all who choose to partake.
- “I’m not foolin’, I’m realin’,” a four-year-old Jack replies to the comment, “Aw, you’re foolin’.”
And when someone instructs him, “Don’t argue,” he replies, “Don’t you arg!”
- “I like that song the choir sang, The Lord is Exhausted,” observes Paul upon hearing the hymn The Lord is Exalted.
-Brother Terry, at around three years of age, to their balding father: “Dad, bend down and let me see the hole in your head.”
And a teenaged Terry, to the humorless surgeon who has just announced the need for an appendectomy: “Well, you can take my appendix, but please don’t touch my table of contents.”
-A very young Paul, watching his aunt nurse her first-born, as she shifts the infant from one side to the other: “That tank is empty, huh?”
And on a family road trip, as his parents remark on the pleasant grouping of individual motel cabins, Paul offers, eyes a-twinkle, “I like the way Mom is grouped.”
-When Jack returns from a day of kindergarten and recounts that a girl classmate was conversing with him while he was sitting on the toilet, his parents express alarm over that scenario. Jack replies, “Oh, it was alright. She was just washing her paint brushes.”
-”Dad, can I have a two-handed bike?” says Terry, apparently thinking that, in quantitative terms, those second-hand conveyances certainly must be better than the mere first-hand ones.
-While helping to count contributions from Sunday school offering boxes, Paul notices that one box contains a single coin, a quarter, instead of all those nice big piles of pennies in the other boxes, and declares, “Jesus sure got gypped on this one.”
Then, two weeks before Easter he drags home a dead rabbit he found in the woods, asking if his medical technologist father won’t operate on the carcass to see if there are Easter eggs inside.
-Jack, young enough to still be called Jackie by his parents, responds to a girl school mate who has complimented his mother on her appearance: “She sure doesn’t look that way at home.”
-Having been raised to honor the virtue of frugality, Jack and Paul boldly announce, as their Grandfather unwraps his Christmas tie, “It was the cheapest one we could find!”
-Generous Terry, sizing up a new acquaintance to his pensive and cautious big brother Jack, “She’s a nice girl, isn’t she.” Jackie: “Hmm, can’t tell yet.”
-Paul, rushing through the back door with an accidentally sliced angleworm, shouts, “Mom, quick! A little tiny piece of tape!”
Again, a very young Paul, observing as his mother lay on the floor, playfully jostling his teddy bear on her chest: “Ted thinks he’s riding a camel.”
And finally, the holy grail of K family lore, an account of ultimate boyhood cunning versus a trusting, philosophic soul.
-Five-year-old Jack and four-year-old Paul are receiving a gift of toy race cars from their grandparents. Unbeknownst to anyone, the bag containing the friction-powered miniature vehicles has been dropped at some point, cracking off part of the roof on one. Paul peers eagerly into the package and immediately proclaims, “Aw, Jack; yours got broken!”
Quick-thinking Dad comes to the rescue here: “That’s okay Jack. Yours can be a jalopy!”
I think most of us have a collection of family stories that bring a grin to the face. We would love to hear your “tales from the crib” – from yesteryear or yesterday – so please do leave comments below. You’ll be passing along a few smiles.
I was all set to sit down and indulge in another clichéd mini-rant about Minnesota, The Land of 10,000 Extremes. A self-indulgent ramble about how, one Wednesday, most of the state is suffering through a 105 degree heat index, and the next Wednesday, record-breaking lows have us all flipping our thermostat switches from “Cool” to “Heat” at night. The Ides of July, I was going to title it.
When I realized how much effort was required to make that topic interesting, again, even as a segue into the more stimulating subject of Minnesota’s weird political climate, I abandoned the idea. My critic’s eye has noted too many published articles that read as if the author were motivated to crank out something, anything, just to get some quick cash coming in for the month. There is no passion or depth to them. Don’t particularly want to join that club, even if there isn’t a paycheck involved.
What then seeped into my mind were thoughts on a very personal undertaking I’ve tackled this week: Operation Saving Mom. Sounds a bit grandiose, I suppose, but I am only ashamed that I didn’t catch on sooner that the lady who lives downstairs, and happens to be my mother-in-law, wasn’t just being her usual “the glass is half-empty,” headstrong little German self about things, she was sinking into depression.
I’ve skidded down that muddy slope in the past myself; it’s the reason I’m so committed to vigorous physical activity to keep my personal supply of endorphins pumped up throughout the day. As soon as Mom K quit watching the news or doing her laundry, I should have recognized the symptoms. But I was too busy being angry with her for rejecting the helpful advice of the savvy, caring geriatrician we finally hooked her up with. For always being back in bed when I went down with the mail or a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies; for not showing any interest in using a prescribed walker to get back on her feet; for nibbling on sweets rather than devouring the juicy turkey meatloaf patty, made just to her tastes.
So she sank, deeper and deeper, into that sickness of spirit that leaves a person not wanting to move and wondering why God is taking so long to call you home. I still can’t believe that I was so blind to the emerging clues. But as I said, I was too busy analyzing the situation, and how I felt about it.
Still, I did invest a lot of prayer in her plight. And as usual, the answer I got was not the one I expected. After a particularly trying day, which had my husband and me racked with frustration over Mom’s surrender to negative thinking, I woke up the next morning to a “duh” moment: She had missed meals and was acting confused. She was probably so weak that she had nothing left to draw on. She needed an intervention, and I had my nose up so close to the window of her life that I couldn’t see it.
You have to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I remember that irrational state of mind very well. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself, if there’s nothing pulling you into the day ahead, why greet morning? Why eat breakfast? Why get dressed? And the less you move around and the more malnourished you are, the faster the downward spiral.
Starting this week, I go down right about when breakfast should take place, and then again to set up lunch, and with the day’s mail, and with dinner. And her beloved son visits and checks her pill dispenser every evening, after he gets home from work.
She is getting out of bed now, because she knows I’ll be knocking on her door. And she is eating the protein-heavy meals I cook and put on a tray in front of her. Scrambled egg and a whole grain waffle square. Open-faced Tuna melt sandwich with grapes on the side. French toast and extra crisp bacon for brunch one lazy, sleep-in day. Pork loin with roasted potatoes and fresh green beans. And whole-grain fresh peach cobbler with salted caramel ice cream to satisfy that sweet tooth of hers. While I’m there, I read to her, humorous articles or excerpts from recollections written by her peers, and she relates and discusses them with some interest.
She’s feeling a little better after only a few days of this intensive “TLC therapy.” So am I.
Mom had tried a daily mantra of, “Every day in every way, I’m getting better and stronger.” It’s not, we had to tell her, a magical incantation. It doesn’t work of your heart and will aren’t behind it. A few weeks before the flash of enlightenment that got the belated intervention rolling, I had started regular deliveries of affirmations to replace her limp recitations of the old standby chant. She tells me these little blurbs mean a lot to her, and I think it’s the idea that someone takes the time, as much as it is the messages. But I’m also front-loading those affirmations with gentle nudgings to not shrink from the challenge of keeping life meaningful at 90, and beyond.
So, six days a week, a neon orange half-sheet of text goes down with the daily mail, with the heading, “Every day in every way, God has a purpose for my life,” followed by a few lines of encouragement:
“Each day, I bring glory to God through my example of living my faith.”
“I have children who love me and a church family that cares about me. They look to me for hope and inspiration for their own later years.”
“This world is not my home. But it is a temporary assignment that God wants me to take seriously right up to its very last day.”
The next phase of our Saving Mom project? It’s a quirk of human physiology that expending energy generates more energy. It may take a while for the fire to ignite, but a daily walk that first seems wearying eventually becomes the pilot light that keeps your burners firing throughout the day. The more you do, the more you feel like doing. A human body in motion truly wants to stay in motion. This is a hard sell for Mom, who has been sitting in a chair for months, waiting to feel “better” enough to start moving again. But resort to a cane for stability? Never.
Meanwhile, her muscles atrophy and her gate becomes more and more unsteady. My husband’s mission is to convince her that, with his help, she can get up and about – maybe even out of the house – and regain some mobility. So we snuck out and bought her a walker. Please pray for us!
As for my own attitude adjustment strategy, this is my new daily mantra:
Every day, in every way, God has a purpose for my life….
“And it’s not about me. Everything originated in Him and finds its purpose in Him.”
One week into official summer, and it is such a lovely Thursday morning. Our non-functioning air conditioner becomes a non-factor, as heat and humidity give way to moderated temperatures and cool breezes. I feel especially well, and especially eager to dive into the day ahead. With a prayer of thanks for the ability, the agility, and the opportunity to put in several miles of brisk skip-walking before breakfast, I head outside with my loyal pup, into the verdigris lushness left behind by our remarkably rainy non-spring.
Above us, long, narrow, horizontal stretches of cloud, stacked six-high with spaces in between, like schmears of marshmallow cream. A sort of frothy stairway to heaven. As close to the poet Lowell’s earthly “perfection” as it gets.
Next, a leisurely breakfast of whole grain cereal, almond milk, fresh blueberries, and a bite or two of tender grilled tilapia for protein – another blessing I try very hard not to take for granted. Sighs of satisfied gratitude, and it’s time to get some work done in the office.
Soon comes the daily postal delivery, dropped with a thud into our locking mail box and loudly announced to me by a highly indignant pooch who cannot, for the life of her, understand why that uniformed marauder insists on attempting to break into our home day after day after day.
Pulled from my work at the keyboard, I soothe the dog, retrieve the mail, and sort through a huge pile of unsolicited solicitations. Plop, plop, plop, piece after piece gets deposited directly into the recycling bin. But wait. There’s a window envelope. Better have a look at that one. And wait, again. This one comes from the IRS. That’s hardly ever good news, at least not to the guy who actually pays his taxes in this land of the payers-in and the takers-out.
By the time I round up a letter opener, my heart is lodged in my throat. As an isolated moment of terror, something seems terribly wrong about this. The Internal Revenue Service is a huge, enormously powerful arm of a huge, enormously powerful central government, in a country once proudly defined as “a new nation, conceived in liberty.” Authority administered “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it seems to me, should not strike such shock, dread, and horror in the hearts of its law-abiding citizens.
But clear the head, shake it off; expect not the worst until you know what you’re dealing with. I rip into the envelope marked POSTAGE AND FESS PAID IRS PERMIT NO. G-48, grumbling, “We paid that postage, not the IRS,” whip out the seven pages of inserts printed on both sides, take a deep breath, and peek with one open eye at the Proposed changes to your Form 1040 of Notice CP2000 for Tax Year 2011.
“Amount due: $18,157.00.” Gasp and choke. Probably more like gasp, gasp, gasp; choke, choke, choke.
In general, I am not a swearing woman. I think I probably had a lapse of that resolution in those first stunning seconds after my whiplashed sense of reason finally concluded, “No; it doesn’t read ‘$181.57′…” I can’t recall exactly; the moment is a blank in my memory. But I suspect it was a very bad lapse. Forgive me.
Now, I know my household leans strongly and consistently to the conservative side of things. And I know the IRS has hit lists for groups with such leanings. But surely we are small potatoes in that boiling pot. And where in the world did this figure possibly come from, in a household living on Home Depot wages, prematurely-tapped Social Security benefits, and quickly dissipating retirement savings?
Get a cold glass of water. Drink it slowly. Breathe deeply. Let your mind regroup and your vision clear. Has to be a mistake.
Did I say “mistake”? Make that a desperately indebted, massively out of control federal regime-sized blunder. Fortunately, I am too many miles away to inflict on the sloppy data-enterer at 5045 East Butler Avenue in Fresno, California, the punishment my screaming brain envisions at this moment of realization. Fortunate for both of us. But then I should be careful, too, what I say here. If you’re listening in Big Bro: Just kidding, heh, heh.
What appears to have happened is this: When my father’s estate got settled a few years ago, my husband and I paid off some long-term debts and invested the remainder of the non-taxable inheritance amount as a promissory note with our church body – a safe, sound, financial move based on their need for capitol to make much-needed improvements to deteriorating structures at their synod-sponsored college and seminary in Eau Clair, Wisconsin.
According to the very human drones in the IRS beehive, this entire amount got reported to them on form 1099INT. Even I know that form 1099INT is for reporting interest. If the entire amount of our investment is being called “interest” by the Infernal Revenuers, then yes, I’m sure it looks to them like we underpaid. But it ain’t so, and I sure do resent all the time and energy I am going to have put into trying to convince them of that. Then there’s the ruination of this idyllic day, and at least one anxiety-ridden weekend until I hear back from the Church’s financial secretary.
I am a duck. Let it roll it off my back. Flip through the Yahoo news for a little light distraction. Watermelon Oreos. What is this world coming to? Kardashian baby name top news? Pul-leeze.
I look for other distraction. A 17-minute kick boxing workout releases some pent-up steam. Then, warm corn tortillas topped with a pile of seasoned, sautéed shrimp and a few dollops of guacamole; some homemade refried black beans on the side. And for desert, my own fruity innovation: overripe watermelon whipped to a pulp in the food processor, then frozen to slush stage. Nice and cool and refreshing, as outdoor temps climb to a humid 85+ and the indoor fans have trouble keeping up.
Meanwhile, the A/C repair guy comes out. Costs us $89.99 to have him push the reset button on the outside unit. Pass me some more watermelon slush, and let us pray that this IRS mess isn’t just another outrageous money-gathering scheme which counts on terrified tax payers simply writing out a check rather than risking the infamous wrath of our nation’s Chief Financial Ogres. Hey, John Locke: You go, guy.
“Whenever the power that is put in any hands for the government of the people…is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny.”
So here we are. Day One of Week One. I’ve shopped for the requisite lemons, limes, pineapple, oranges, mangos, and other fresh fruits; stocked up on lentils, vegetables, nuts, and seeds; indulged in an array of fresh herbs and a bottle of dried turmeric. I tentatively accept the proposition that combinations of these foods will “tune up the liver by supplying it with the things it needs most.” Now I look forward to the promised result of increased energy and sounder sleep.
The plan directs me to skip weight training and focus on stretching for ten minutes, five days this week, with 30 minutes of mellow cardio on three days. I will increase that to daily half-hour elliptical workouts on six days. I know my well-being requires this. I’ll also expand the stretching sessions to 20-30 minutes each, and add a 20 minute midday yoga session every day but Sunday.
My meals for days one through seven are tasty, if sparser than the mounded platters I usually dish up. French lentil salad, creamy broccoli soup, cauliflower “rice” stir-fry, roasted portabellas with kale, red lentil and sweet potato stew, roasted beets on greens.
Breakfasts this week are smoothies. Rejecting juicers because they waste so much nutritious fiber, I’ve printed out alternative blender recipes from wholeliving.com, and soon learn that puréed green apple and kale gives no comfort on a frigid winter morning. But the mango-tahini blend is luscious, the blueberry-mint refreshing, and the carrot-beet-pear combination gives my taste buds a happy surprise.
I enjoy an evening snack every day but Tuesday, when I ironically fall into bed too hungry to schlep my bod back into the kitchen and whip something up. End of the day munchables include strawberry-coconut-banana smoothies, sweet potato chips, raisins and pumpkin seeds, or an apple with homemade cashew cream.
With all the initial food prep required, some days I don’t eat lunch until 2:30 or 3:00, and am stunned to be neither swooning with hunger nor shaky and irritable from dips in my blood sugar. Bottom line: mood and energy levels, a-okay, and tummy just empty enough to really appreciate the good stuff coming its way. “When you know you’re locked in to a prescribed menu, you are freed to focus on other things,” I write in my journal.
My usual sleep patterns are pretty good, but I find that I’m sleeping well and long consistently, rather than sporadically. It’s just plain easier to get out of bed in the morning. By Wednesday, I have a distinct sense of benefit from the stretching and yoga. My mind doesn’t race as much, with thoughts tumbling and tripping over each other and bouncing off the walls of my cranium. And by Thursday, I feel reprogrammed somehow. Softer around the edges, but not weak or depleted. I fully expected to be hallucinating by now, instead of enjoying a sense of calm and well-being.
Except for that one night. I haven’t had a handful of Lay’s or Pringles in years, but my subconscious must be totally confused by what’s happening inside the body cavities below because I awaken in a panic from a gustatory nightmare: I dreamt I’d eaten a whole, family-size bag of cool ranch potato chips, ruined the whole effort, and had to start all over again. Maybe losing a quick three or four pounds from these radical alterations to my diet is doing weird things to the brain.
Getting ready to enter week two, I am astounded at how fabulous I feel. My energy levels remain high and this sense of peace is an unexpected gift. When our (new) computer crashes and I have to recreate an entire blog piece plus three laboriously produced pages of the memoir I’m working on, it is unfortunate, but not devastating. My temper never even flirts with a meltdown. At this point, I decide that my rage center has put up the “Gone Fishing” sign. Let’s make that an extended vacation, please.
If my senses are being distorted by chemical changes in my system, then the transformation must be for the good. Sitting across from my nacho-noshing husband at Taco Bell, as I nibble on the sugar snap peas I bagged up and brought along from home, something sinks in hard: Boldly embracing the discarded concept of will power and reconnecting with one’s sense of self-control feels pretty darned good.
I’ll put my halo away for now, and get this posted. Notes on weeks two and three will follow shortly. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you about this whole subject of cleanses, detoxing, or simply revamping and tweaking your routine. What has worked for you?