As a child, I tried to practice safe smoking

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When I grow up, I want to smoke like that.

The first time I smoked a cigarette, I inhaled. After I stopped coughing and wiped the tears from my eyes, I inhaled again. That’s what seven-year-old children do. Or at least, that’s what my seven-year-old self did. I have a strong compulsion to finish what I start; something I learned at the dinner table. (See here for that story.) Some people think I am persistent; some think I am stupid. I try to see both sides of an issue, so I agree with both.

Although I received a 25-cent weekly allowance, it didn’t usually last very long. To feed our addiction to chocolate, my best friend, Terry B., and I collected coke bottles to redeem for cash. At one or two cents a bottle, we needed just a few to buy a five-cent candy bar. That’s why I cannot speak too highly of chocolate; it made me the recycler that I am today. Persistent, with fluffy hips.

Terry and I were regulars at the local convenience store. I think it was a 7-Eleven, but it could have been a Circle-K. (Ask my sister, she’s the keeper of memories in the family.) At some point, we decided to buy some cigarettes. As impossible as it sounds today, back then children could run to the store to buy cigarettes for their folks. We either pooled our allowances or saved up coke bottle money because we had enough money for a pack. At that time, probably around 25 cents.

One of us lied to the clerk and said the cigarettes were for a parent. I think it was Terry because this is my side of the story and she’s not here to contradict me. She brought the matches and we headed straight for the ditch.

In mid-century America, everyone smoked cigarettes. Movie stars inhaled and exhaled their glamour, neighborhood gossip flamed up as their small fires burned on women’s lips, and their smoke rings floated above our heads like forgotten halos. What was not to like about smoking?

At some point in that ditch, however, I stopped inhaling and put the cigarette out. I much preferred chocolate and still do.

Unprompted, I confessed to my mother that I had tried smoking. The business about how we got the cigarettes was left unmentioned. She seemed unfazed and only smiled when I said, “Don’t worry. It was mentholated.” In my muddled mind, I thought it made a difference.

At 17, I began my five-year smoking career. My father was long dead by then, and mother said she would rather have me smoke in front of her than behind her back. In mother’s muddled mind, she thought that made a difference.

For several years in a row, I got a carton of Winston cigarettes in my Christmas stocking: my reward for being an honest child. Had I shown an honest interest in bank robbery, she probably would have included a stocking cap and possibly a small revolver.

Mother was muddled but she meant well. Like me. And maybe, like you.

(picture on loan from:  http://www.mimifroufrou.com/scentedsalamander/)

The six-year-old criminal

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An early run-in with the law ruined my smile. I'm the sullen one on the right.

When I was a child, I had a knack for getting caught. It never held me back, though. Trouble interested me and punishment was the price I paid for pursuing it.

 

Terry B., who lived on the corner of our block, was my best friend because we shared this same interest. In the summer, we were just this side of feral, in the sense that we played outside from morning until just past dark almost every single day. During the day, we found food where we could; everyone’s screen door was unlocked and every mother had large jars of peanut butter and jelly to spread on white bread. And Kool-Aid. Always a pitcher of Kool-Aid.

 

Where I grew up, children were expected to play outside. My mother, like every other mother on the block, never posed “Why don’t you kids go outside and play” as a question. They meant it as a command, one that we were happy to obey. While they made coffee cake and wandered back and forth to each other’s house to drink coffee, smoke, play cards, or gossip, the kids had the whole wide outside world to themselves. Our moms had to holler us back for dinner, but as soon as that was done, we joined our tribes outside until the darkness came and one of our parents hollered us back for good.

 

In my sixth summer of freedom, Terry and I decided it would be fun to switch people’s mail. We knew all of the neighbors, knew which houses we could go in, and which to avoid. Our next-door neighbors, the Coles, were an older couple. We were fond of Grandma Cole and her delicious cookies, but we had to eat them on the porch. Her husband liked to hold little girls on his lap, and even though our mothers never spelled it out, we understood and stayed away from him.

 

One afternoon, after the mailman made his delivery, Terry and I went to several houses and took the mail. We couldn’t get everyone’s mail because many of the mailboxes were too high to reach. In spite of the inconvenience, which seemed a marked lack of consideration on the part of our neighbors, we mixed up the letters and re-delivered them. Then we were off to our next adventure. Probably something involving matches.

 

Not once did we consider that we were doing all of this in plain sight, that most mothers were at home with the curtains and the front door open. Terry and I lived in a world of our own choosing, and all those adults with their watching eyes weren’t a part of it. Once the sun went down, we returned to their world, but daylight belonged to us.

 

We had telephones back then, the kind that were tied to the wall. Neighbors called my mom and told her what we were doing. She called my daddy and he called the police.

 

Yes, the police.

 

They arrived at our house right around suppertime. I don’t know if my empty stomach led me back home or someone was hollering about dinner, all I remember is the police car in front of our house. My daddy walked out of the house to greet the officer, and then called me over and made me confess what I had done.

 

I don’t remember a single word of what was said that summer evening. I probably cried, and if I did, my daddy held me.

 

Daddy just wanted to teach me a lesson or two. He did. I never messed with people’s mail again. It took me longer to learn the other lesson: the same broad daylight that made it so easy for me to find trouble was what made it so easy for grownups to find troublemakers like me. We roamed the neighborhood creating kingdoms, fighting wars, lighting fires, and creating as much mayhem as we could get away with, but the grownups were there, invisible, ever-present, and, it seemed at the time, ever-seeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From slug to superhero

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Thank you for dinner, dear. I think I'll just crawl over to my rocking recliner if you don't mind.

At night I often try to write something for the blog, but there’s something in the food I eat at dinner that turns me into a slug. A rocking slug, who sits in her rocking recliner reading blogs and growing more and more sluggish.

 

I trust that when I awake I will be able to crawl to the coffee pot for some of that magic potion that transforms me from slug to the little known super hero called The Texan WordSlinger. That’s what all my imaginary fans call me. Armed with a dictionary and a thesaurus, I go through the day slinging words at the less fortunate. Very much like Robin Hood, except that I merely borrow words from the treasures of the OED, and I always put them back. And yes, sometimes they get mangled in the process, but I mean well.

 

And since we are on the subject of hoods, I am reminded of the unnamed girl who had a red one for riding. And since we’re on that subject, here’s a revised version, good for raising genius children or grandchildren. It has big words and a lot of awesome and almost aimless alliteration.

 

(Note to reader: My morning brain tells me what to write each day, and I always listen to it because it’s very loud. Today, it gave me a choice, this story or some of my poems. Be glad I chose this. And remember, people in China are counting on you to read it all the way through.)

 

SMALL SCARLET STEERING SHROUD

         One time before this time, there was a little lass with the nickname of Small Scarlet Steering Shroud. She domiciled with her female human parent in a habitation hard by a heavily wooded area. One out of every seven solar days, Small Scarlet Steering Shroud would traipse through the timberland to tend to the mate of her mother’s male human parent.

During a certain twenty-four hour period, Small Scarlet Steering Shroud’s primary care giver solicited her to tote some tasty treats to the moldering matriarch.  Shouldering the sweets and swaddling her own person in her scarlet steering shroud, she sallied forth.

At the selfsame second, a large predatory mammal of the genus Canis lupus was masticating the mother’s mother that Small Scarlet Steering Shroud was meaning to meet!  After digesting her, he donned her duds, placed her spectacles on his proboscis, simulated her smile, and awaited the arrival of Small Scarlet Steering Shroud.

When she appeared at the abode, she announced her advent.

“Oh, issue forth Small Scarlet Steering Shroud,” the pretending pettifogger peeped forth.

“Why, mate of my mother’s male authority figure,” she marveled, “what huge hearing organs you have!”

“Most preferable for perceiving your parlance, my pretty peach,” he proffered.

“And what whopping winkers you have!” Small Scarlet Steering Shroud spoke, as she sauntered within spitting distance.

‘An advantageous assistance in appraising your appearance,” he

announced.

Nudging near the nefarious no-good, the chary child chimed in, “What monumental molars you have!”

“The more desirable for devouring darlings like you,” he declared, diving out of bed to dine on the dainty dear.

Unexpectedly, upturned the underbrush and timber trimmer, who heeded the hollering he heard rising from the residence. Availing himself of his axe, the feller of forests proceeded through the portal and cracked the crown of the miserable miscreant. The delighted damsel arranged her upper appendages around the area of the Adam’s apple of the axe applier and asserted her affection and appreciation.

After a few rotations of the earth around the sun, Small Scarlet Steering Shroud marched through maturation into matrimony with that male mower of green growth.  And they existed endlessly enjoying each other.

THE END

Bonkers

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After exhaustive research on the web, which is to say, several hours, I have been unable to find any reference to what my mother called bonking. Yes, I know it’s a euphemism for sex and that’s not what she meant. People, including me, use it to describe colliding into another object, something my head does when it goes in search of open cupboards. It was also used during World War I to refer to shelling with artillery fire.

The manic metronome illustrates what mother meant by bonking. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

But not a single reference to how my mother used it. When I was little, my favorite method of comforting myself was to rock my body back and forth, as if every chair, couch, or car backseat were a rocking chair. I would start with a gentle rocking motion, and slowly build up speed until I reached competition-level rocking. Thud, thud, thud, back and forth, like a manic metronome, I pounded out the rhythm of whatever music was playing in my head. This is what mother called bonking. I broke the springs in one of our couches because I could not sit on the couch to watch TV without bonking the entire time.

I also bonked across state lines. We used to drive from Texas to Arizona to visit my grandma, and I remember asking my mom once when we were going to get there. She said, “If you hadn’t been bonking so hard, we’d have already been there.” I guess the force of me bonking so hard in the backseat cancelled out the force of her foot on the gas pedal. One mile forward, half a mile backward.

Rocking is fairly common in babies. It soothes them. The rhythmic movement is calming, and most stop doing it around the age of three. I obviously needed a lot of self-soothing and comfort because I bonked passionately until I was at least eight years old.

I don’t remember anyone ever talking to me about it or trying to discover what compelled me to do it. My parents just accepted that I was a weird kid and that I’d probably grow out of. I did, kind of. I still love a rocking chair better than other kind of seating arrangement. And I still do some gentle rocking at times when I’m standing and waiting. And who doesn’t rock while listening to the blues?

Caption #1: Yearstricken rocks! Caption #2: Apple rocks! Caption #3: Yearstricken is off her rocker!

If I were a child now, I’d probably  have to see a shrink once a week, be on medication, have two or three psychological labels sewn to my psyche, and attend special classes for children who bonk.

Sometimes children have behaviors that require intervention, sometimes not. Sometimes kids are just weird. That, after all, is where all the weird adults come from.

 

This post was written from a rocking recliner.

One chance, one opportunity

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Yesterday I drank a cup of green tea while I did my Japanese calligraphy. The smell of green tea calms me so that I can focus on the ink, the brush, and the strokes. I enjoy it hot or cold, and loved drinking matcha-flavored soy milk or matcha frappacinos when I lived in Japan. Matcha is a kind of powdered green tea that is used in the tea ceremony.

I experienced the tea ceremony only twice. It is a highly ritualized event that gives meaning to the mundane. What could be more prosaic than making and drinking a cup of tea? Yet, in the tea ceremony each and every act is filled with meaning and purpose. The simplest act of stirring the tea, pulling the sleeve of the kimono away, or turning the teacup is noticed and appreciated. For a brief period of time, all that exists is this exquisite act of making and drinking tea.

When else do we make time to marvel at the ability of the body to kneel or enjoy the incredible ability of the wrist to rotate so delicately? During the tea ceremony, this moment, this bending, this pouring, this stirring becomes the sole focus of life. No thought is given to what happened before or what will happen next. What matters is what is happening now.

And it is a communal moment – the shared cup of tea, bitter but lovingly and tenderly made and offered, along with a small sweet. So like life itself. During the ceremony, time is tamed. Tea brings the participants together, and in that moment they belong to the tea and to one another.

Children understand these things so much better than adults. They love rituals. They do something over and over without tiring. The way the page is turned, the voice is modulated, the neck is kissed,  the pillow fluffed, and the last goodnight said – all to be done without variance. And loved for that very reason. The child leads the parent into the ritual – to share the moment, to be together in time, or better, outside of time as the parent usually experiences it. The parent may try to cheat, but the child will rarely allow it, or if the child does, it will be reluctantly and out of obedience or resignation. The moment will be lost.

Although I need time to look both backward and forward to understand this path I am on, I don’t want to miss this moment. There is still much I want to see, do, read, and experience, but the tea yesterday reminded me that I also need time to enter the familiar dance of ritual that brings me into the moment and gives meaning to the mundane. One of the phrases associated with the tea ceremony is “ichi go ichi e” ( 一期一会 ), which means one chance, one opportunity. That’s all we get. Now is our only chance to live, to see, to love, and to share. Let’s not lose the opportunity.

How to play “Push Up”

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About yesterday’s blog. Some people apparently never played “Push Up” as children.

Here’s how it works. You lie down in the grass, bend your knees, and then pull them toward your chest with the bottoms of your bare feet at an angle. After your playmate places her hiney on the soles of your feet, you give a push and propel her forward in a nice little arc.

One day, my sister, who is older and wiser, said that instead of propelling me forward, she was going to propel me upward. Who was I to disagree? She was the tall, photogenic one who was smart enough to skip a grade. I was the short, not-so photogenic one, who was smart enough to skip a rope. If she said it was up, then up it was.

But, of course, every up has its down.

Which is how she broke my arm. Which is why I write with a limp to this day.

The leading cause of writer's limp

Potty Humor

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In spite of the post title, this is a family-friendly blog. Of course, I’m not talking about my family; I’m talking about yours. Families where older sisters don’t break the arms of little sisters who trust those older sisters. In those families, when the older sister lies down in the grass, bends her legs, and then tells the little sister to sit on her feet, the older sister pushes the little one forward. In a nice arc. And the little sister lands on her feet. Can you imagine a family in which the older sister tells the little sister to sit and then pushes straight up so that the little sister, bless her gullible little heart, lands on her arm, and it, along with her tender little heart, gets broken? I thought not.

I can almost hear the click, click, click of someone’s fingers typing a not very nice comment below.

Be that as she will, I wish I worked for the company in the photo below.

Hiney Hiders: We've got something to hide! So do you.

Internet friend: So, what you do?

Yearstricken: I  hide hineys for a living.

Internet friend: Pardon me?

Yearstricken: (face flushed with pride) I work for Hiny Hiders, and we’ve got your back covered! We are your #1 and #2 go-to place if you need to hide your hiney. And we are quick: we do not stall around and make you wait. Would you sit down on this little white stool while I go get a business card? Stop, internet friend, where are you going? Not there!

And finally, have you have ever wandered into a room and asked yourself, “What did I come in here for?” I do that all the time. Thankfully, whoever designed the bathrooms at my school put in this sign in case I get in the stall and forget what I came to do.

Helpful reminders: In case you forgot what you came into the room to do.

Please note: I realize this is a very low and somewhat crass level of humor, but my therapist says I shouldn’t worry about it since  I am still working through some very traumatic experiences I went through as a child with you-know-who.