A shared childhood

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A shared childhood is a hidden language made up of gestures, glances, raised eyebrows, isolated words and uncalled-for laughter and tears; spoken only by those initiated into the years when memory draws every event in primary colors outlined with thick, black lines. It is a language that can never be translated into another tongue or life; it is time enfleshed in the child.

 

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” may seem like an easy question to most people, but for me it is complicated and difficult. Mother had eight living children over a span of 25 years. I grew up knowing the oldest; she was 15 years older than me. I lived for a while with the youngest, my brother who is 10 years younger than me. And I shared my childhood with my sister, K, who is 18 months older.

 

 

 

She was the golden child, tall, pretty, and smart, who charmed the aunts and uncles. I was not.

 

We played together, sometimes peaceably. She carries small scars from times I scratched her; I suffer with writer’s limp because she broke my arm. She’ll deny it and say the earth broke my arm; she merely sent me aloft in a childish game of push-up. She has always had a problem with reasonableness.

 

When our father died, K was ten and I was eight. She left childhood then, although I didn’t know it at the time. K took responsibility for me while mother dealt with her grief. And once the grief passed, mother began barhopping in search of another man. All those years, I thought my sister was just being bossy, still pushing me, not up, but around.

 

We spent our growing years together parsing the world, trying to understand its meaning. And because our mother played the central role, our childhood is our mother tongue.

 

Just as we inflect words, or modify them, to express a change in tense or number, the stories we now tell are inflected with memories that signal to the hearer a change in mood or meaning, but only to those who learned the language with us.

 

The story of my broken arm is one I love to tell, but only if my sister is there to hear it or read it. In some other language of childhood, it could be parsed as blame, but in my own mother tongue, it is part of the grammar of love.

 

Happy Birthday, sister.

 

 

Frequently Not Asked Questions: One

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Frequently Not Asked Questions (FNAQ) is a new feature on this blog. This feature will appear infrequently, so I suggest that you frequently not expect it.

 

How did you get so old?

 

This is a great question. Thank you for asking.

 

First, let me say that it takes time. You cannot rush into it. I’ve discovered what I call the Seven Secrets to Growing Older. (It’s the title of my new book, soon to be launched on the Amazon.) I don’t want to give too much of it away, but I’ll let you in on the first secret: it’s called Monday. In the book, I explain how Monday and the six steps that follow are the key to getting older. I am confident that by practicing these steps over and over, anyone can grow older. In fact, I am so confident that my book comes with a lifetime guarantee!

 

Second, it helps if you start when you’re very young. I began at such a young age that I don’t have any recollection of when I started. Just as many writers can’t remember a time when they didn’t write, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t getting older. Please don’t think I’m bragging; I’m merely answering the question.

 

Third, you have to stay consistent. You can’t just stop and pick it up at a later date. Once you stop, you lose your chance to continue. This is probably the number one reason so many people fail to get old.

 

Fourth, you have to practice breathing. It’s related to the third point because it requires consistency. Some people find it tedious – in and out, in and out, all the livelong day – but I’ve found that once you do it enough, it becomes automatic. In fact, now I feel that I can’t live without it.

 

I credit time, an early start, consistency, and breathing with my ability to grow old. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my mother who not only encouraged me in my early efforts but also modeled the seven steps, soon to be revealed in my book. Of course, I don’t discount food and water any more than I discount my book.

 

(For more information about my book, stay here and read that first point again. For more information about the Amazon, go here.)

Some words

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Yesterday I interviewed the word “some.” Today you’ll see why I was impressed.

 

The Anglo-Saxons, those lovers of sturdy, compact words, spelled “some” with just three letters, sum. When you are a warrior, you can’t go into battle with extra gear, so you like your words spare and without extraneous letters. They bog you down. Anglo-Saxon warriors invaded and settled much of Britain, with simple spears, throwing them at their enemies until they got the point that this was more than a road trip. The ships the Anglo-Saxons came in weren’t going back. Those warriors also sent their words out to conquer hearts: read Beowulf and be prepared to submit. Today, when we want to make a point, we often grab some of those well-honed Anglo-Saxon words and throw them at our listener or reader.

 

First page of Beowulf manuscript from Wikipedia

 

Although “some” has been working for writers since the 9th century, including King Alfred the Great who translated of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, it still looks great. I think it’s because it gets so much exercise.

 

Some use it as a pronoun. As I just did. However, some people prefer it as an adjective. Like me, in that last sentence. Back when “some” was starting its career, it worked as both. Then in the late 1500s, it applied for a job as an adverb, pairing up with comparative adjectives, to say, “I’m feeling some better now.” Once it got used to being an adverb, some Americans asked it to work with verbs so they could say, “I think some about retiring from my job, so I can read blogs all day.” You might use it as an adverb, too, when you write your mother and say, “I’m sorry I haven’t written in the last six months, I now read some 200 blogs a day. I promise I’ll call at Christmas.”

 

Even though “some” likes being its own word and going out alone, it’s not a loner. In fact, it likes nothing better than going places with other words. After years of appearing in public with words like “one,” “body,” “where,” and “time,” it agreed to give up its autonomy and become one word, with the stipulation that its name appear first. It’s the only evidence of self-promotion that I discovered about “some.”

 

Since “some” rarely calls attention to itself, I’m inclined to look kindly on its desire to appear first because I admire its willingness to serve a suffix. As you well know if you read this blog, a suffix is like a dog’s tail. Had you bought my Dog and a Half kit (now marked down 85%!), which you didn’t, you would have been able to create a lot of words with the suffix –some. That should give you pause.

 

Back in the early 900s, “some” joined hands with “love” and produced that most lovable word, one of my favorites, called “lovesome.” Around the same time, it joined up with the word wyn, which meant “pleasant” or “agreeable” and gave us the word we now spell as “winsome.” It worked as a suffix for several hundred years, but for some reason, words like “whosome,” “whatsome,” and “wheresome” never caught on. I like them and think we should try to revive them.

 

In the middle of the 1400s, “some” became interested in numbers. Writers could now speak of a “twosome” or a “threesome.” Today, we have dozens of words – nouns,  adjectives, and verbs –  that end in the suffix –some. Some are regional, but they belong to all of us who love words. Here are some of my favorites:

 

  • Blithesome – cheery
  • Bunglesome – troublesome
  • Chucklesome – amusing
  • Delightsome – pleasing
  • Fulsome – abundant; plenteous
  • Fretsome – given to fretting
  • Irksome – wearisome
  • Meddlesome – given to meddling
  • Toothsome – pleasant to the taste
  • Ugsome – loathsome
  • Woesome – woeful

I could go on, but that would be tiresome and boresome. Have a heartsome day – one full of gladness and cheer.

 

An extract from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle © The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS Laud Misc. 636, fol. 62v.

I pick my nose

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Even if the world isn't, my nose is straight.

I am a small woman, no taller than 5’3″, of slight build but wide in the hips. At the end of my torso, as you would expect, I have two legs, each one divided by an odd, lumpy knee.

My hair always liked being brown, until recently. My forehead needs a lot of space to think and furrow, so it told my hair quite emphatically, “Thus far, and no more.” Because so much skin is showing and I am modest, I wear bangs. Along the edges of my ears and forehead, the hair is experimenting with gray.

My eyes wear green, flecked with gold and brown. They don’t like make up because when they cry, they don’t like to make a mess on my cheeks. I admire anyone who considers those around them and tries to keep things tidy. No one has shown me as much of the world as they have, so I try to be kind to them and wipe their tears when they are having a bad day.

My jaw looks determined because it is. It has a lot to say if people would just listen. They don’t, so it is determined to keep shut unless someone really wants to know. We’ve enjoyed a lot of chocolate together.

My two front teeth are close, even though one is almost a year older. Some of the others arrived later and never learned to stand straight in a line. I’ve never held it against them. I’m attached to all of them and had a hard time two years ago when one them cracked under pressure. We couldn’t save it.

But my best feature is my small, straight nose. It is the leader of my face, breaking through the air like the prow of a small ship, the first to feel the cold, the first to bear the heat of the sun, and willing to help hold my sunglasses, all day if need be. My nose always gets there first, but it’s never proud. Day after day it brings me gifts; just yesterday it was the aroma of roses. And when I least expect it, it surprises me with brightly wrapped memories of my days as a child when I came home to the smell of freshly baked bread or broke through the surface of the water to see my mother beside the pool, lathering on lotion under the hot, summer sun.

I like all the parts of me, but if I had to choose my favorite, you can understand why I would say, “I pick my nose.”

World domination: Not for rats

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Rodents are on my mind. Not literally, although if they were, that would mean my brain was cheese. And if I had a cheese brain, it would surely be Swiss: not very sharp and full of holes. That in turn would give new meaning to the term “Cheesehead,” which refers to a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Which reminds me: We are the World Champions!

 

Did I mention that I had caffeine this morning?

Okay, back to rodents. I had two epiphanies this week related to them.

The last name is Burger. Why do you ask?

First, a confession. Up until now, I have been unable to describe myself in one word. In interviews and team-building exercises, I shyly stutter and stammer something about being slightly silly, but sentient. (I tend to alliterate when I’m nervous or upset.) But on Thursday, the word I’ve been searching for my entire life was revealed to me; it is “mouseburger.” Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that no one cared enough to tell me about it. It’s been around since at least 1971. But then, I’m used to that sort of thing. That’s what happens when you are “a drab, timid, or unexceptional woman.”

The song Nat sang that wasn't about me

If I had to describe myself with a song, it would be Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” except that I would have to remove the prefix –un and replace it with the word “so.” Ironically, no one usually remembers Irving Gordon, the man who wrote the song.

As proof of my forgettability, I offer the following. A number of times, I have been introduced to someone (let’s call him Nat and let’s say he has an incredible silky baritone voice and should really be a singer, but he’s not because he’s at the kind of gathering I attend). We chat a bit, say goodbye, and then I run into him later at another gathering. On being re-introduced, Nat will invariably say, “Hi, I don’t believe we’ve met.”

Okay, maybe that’s happened to you once or twice. But don’t start feeling smug yet. When my children were in high school, I met a woman I’ll call Lethe. The school was small, so we’re not talking about thousands of parents. We met at a school concert and talked a bit. The next time I saw her, someone asked her if she knew me. No, she didn’t believe we had ever met. Then it happened again. And again. Yes, three meetings after the initial introduction. She seemed to remember everyone but me. So, don’t try to tell me you are more forgettable. I am drabber, more timid, and more unexceptional than you. So there. I win. Mouseburgers don’t usually win, so this totally makes my day.

This makes me want to rename my blog “Mouseburger” with the tagline “The tale of a mousy woman.”

The second epiphany came while listening to a story on NPR about rats working to free a fellow rat trapped in a cage. You can read or listen to it here. When a rat hears a caged rat in distress, it tries to help it get out. I know what you are thinking. Yes, Lassie could have been played by a rat. “Jimmy, help Lassie out of that rat trap, I think he’s trying to tell you something.”

Rats are sympathetic or empathetic – no one knows for sure because no one can clearly define the difference between the two. So, are they going to rise up in solidarity, form unions, and bring down this great nation of ours while corporations are left with nothing but boxes and boxes of greenbacks to dry their tears? I think not. Read the following and you’ll understand why.

Not only will rats frantically work to free their trapped cage mates; they will do so even when there’s a tempting little pile of chocolate chips nearby, the study reveals. Instead of leaving their pal in the trap and selfishly gobbling the candy all by themselves, rats will free their cage mate and share the chocolate.

Rats are all heart and no brain. World domination belongs to those of us who know the value of chocolate. In other words, Blogmate, suppose you are trapped in your blog and you can’t get out. So you whine about it. I will try to help you. Why? Because I am a sentient being with empathy and/or sympathy for other whining sentient beings. But, I will not share my chocolate. Why? Because I’m not a rat.

It’s been a good week. I can now describe myself in one word, and more importantly,  I can explain why I cannot share my chocolate with you.

Investors, forget blue chips. World dominators invest in chocolate chips!

The night I didn’t hear Pink Floyd’s music

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A couple of months ago, a good friend at work invited me to a concert. She had planned to go with her husband; in fact, he was the one who bought the tickets. However, he was delayed on a business trip and couldn’t get back in time. He is a huge fan of Pink Floyd, and the concert was a tribute band playing all their songs.

 

If I had a list of least liked types of music, the genre that includes Pink Floyd would be at the top, but I decided to go for three reasons. First, I like my friend, and I like spending time with her. Second, the invitation included dinner. Yes, free food. It’s amazing the things I will do for a free meal. I only put this as the second reason because I thought it would look bad as the first. And third, the city orchestra would be playing with the band. So, how bad could it be?

 

After a lovely Chinese meal, we headed over to the local performing arts center. It looked like Woodstock but for fluffy people with less hair, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. I, on the other hand, dressed up because the orchestra was playing. One wears a dress and heels to such events.

 

We had good seats in the middle of the aisle in the middle of the auditorium. We had to skooch past an older couple who were also dressed up. When I say “older,” I mean older than me. Ancient to some of you. They were probably in their eighties. I suspect they were season ticket holders and were lured in, thinking the orchestra would be doing Pink Floyd light. They sat to my left.

 

The first song was introduced by the soft sound of stringed instruments, which always makes my heart sing. So with happy heart and full belly, I settled down into my seat for an evening of delight.

 

Then wouldn’t you know it, the minute the band began to play, someone turned on a whole array of power tools. I could hear an electric drill, a jack hammer, and, oddly, a leaf blower, or maybe it was just someone banging on the furnace. And it happened every single time the band began to play! Every. Single. Time. I couldn’t hear their music because of all the noise.

 

The concert also included a light show. In other words, they showed lights. Flashing lights with grainy videos behind and around the band. Just for fun, they would suddenly turn the lights on the audience, temporarily blinding us. The people in charge of the lights were having a lot of fun because they did this repeatedly. Sometimes they’d leave the lights shining in our eyes for a long time. I kept waiting for a voice to boom out, “And where were you on the night of August 15th?” But, of course, that didn’t happen, or if it did, we couldn’t hear it because of the power tools.

 

I felt sorry for all the people who paid good money to hear Pink Floyd’s music and missed it because some selfish people needed to do repairs in and around the concert hall that very night. Everyone put on a happy face (this is the Midwest), and I didn’t hear any complaints. The dear couple to my left spent a lot of time looking at the concert brochure and whispering to each other.

 

I had a really good time that night because I was with my friend. Also, we had a good meal together and got to hear the orchestra play bits of music. And I absolutely loved the ending. The repairs were apparently done and they turned the power tools off. I stood up and clapped for that like everybody else.

Floyd's pink power toolkit