Three time’s a charm

I am not superstitious but my mother always said things come in threes. If Mama broke a glass or spilled the clothespins, she might say “That’s once!” or “That’s twice!” followed by a deep sigh and “What next?” And something always was next, if you were looking for it. My formative years I watched her looking for it.

In the last few weeks, we’ve escaped the Grim Reaper twice — slipped right through his boney fingers.

Lord preserve us from #3.

The first time we gave him the slip, we were out in our all-around-great “new” car. We were just coming into an intersection when a solid wall of metal and glass materialized in front of us. BAM! The next thing I remember was opening the car door to let out the white smoke. Exploded air bags, it turns out, stink like burning plastic.

You could say, as our daughter did, that government regulation saved our lives — the mandatory seat belts and air bags. And the two nice young men (17) in the other car were also unhurt, though the responding police officer could not convince the driver that a blinking yellow light did not grant him the right-of-way. (“I’ll let the judge explain it to you,” he had to tell him.)

After the initial shock, we were simply thrilled to be alive and whole and find each other also still alive and whole beside us. Every shining leaf on every tree and bush was a miracle. Life was glorious!

In a few days, though, we were sad about the loss of our good car. And, of course, dealing with tight-fisted insurance companies is enough to dampen anyone’s mood.

Two weeks after that accident (“That’s once!” SIGH), my husband came down with flu and sciatica, self-diagnosed as many of us will do in these situations. After five days of worsening symptoms, I dragged the man to a doc-in-the-box where we were quickly sent on to the ER. The “flu and sciatica” was bacteria in the blood from an infected abscess in his back. My big, strong, healthy husband was under the scythe — but the hospital pulled him back  before The Reaper could swing his blade. It was a near thing.

He’s recovering at home now. He has a PICC line for six weeks of intravenous antibiotics and also a wound vac for the incision at the base of his spine. Everywhere he goes, he is accompanied by one erratically gurgling medical device and another occasionally beeping device, each enclosed in its own personal black shoulder bag.* My husband is pretty much himself again, except he tires easily. He is a little stronger each day. And, once again, we are relieved to both be still alive and together.

Whew!

But: “That’s twice.” SIGH!

My mother also used to say that new shoes on the table were bad luck. We don’t have any new shoes to put on the table so we can’t stop putting them on the table to prevent bad luck. Garlic is supposed to deter vampires but I’ve never heard anyone claim it works on Old Man Death. Eventually, the Grim Reaper calls on us all.

There might be another way to look at this. Maybe I can finagle this 1-2-3- into infections of paperwork? The car accident generated it’s own paperwork: reports and claims and counter claims (we are still working to get fair compensation for our car). The life-threatening illness itself is spontaneously generating paperwork and there are sure to be mess-ups in the insurance filings creating even more paperwork. And — Behold! Number #3! — deadlines for income taxes are coming up fast! (We haven’t started yet.)

Death and Taxes! That old duo!

Taxes roll around each year and the Grim Reaper is always waiting in the wings. I’ll try to keep up with the paperwork and I hope I have time enough to take care of it all. As we were just so clearly reminded — twice! — we aren’t guaranteed another day.

But –please! —  if you don’t mind, we’ll happily pass on another glimpse of that fellow in the black robes. We don’t want to see him again for a good long time!

 

*(At first, these esoteric, computerized devices upset us. What if we pressed the wrong button? What if we tied a knot in the tubing? But now that we’ve become better acquainted with them, we can sleep through their usual noises though they aren’t the kind of  friends we can take to Quaker meeting. They gurgle and chirp 24/7.)

 

Caught up in Catch-Phrases

My brother has had a Facebook page for years. His son set it up for him, and, as far as I could tell, he never looked at it. But now, suddenly, he is appearing live on Facebook. So he chats with me:

  • “Hey, Julie! Do you remember the phrase When Lou gets his organ?
  • “Remember it? I still USE it!”
  • “Seriously?”
  • “Do you remember Keep those elephants moving?
  • “No. What was that about?”

Does every family have certain catch-phrases particular to that household? In our house on West Main Street, back in Shelby, Ohio, we tossed out catch-phrases as shorthand to sum up a situation, or as the punch line, or just for silliness.

When Lou gets his organ began life as a straight line. My brother’s first rock band was a sketchy proposition. He had a guitar, his friend had a bass guitar, and another friend had some drums. Lou, who didn’t have an organ — yet — was part of the band. Lou would sit by as they practiced, attentive, listening for the places where his instrument should join  in. After every song, one or another of the band would say “That will sound great when Lou gets his organ.” Lou never got the money together to buy an organ and the statement remained stuck forever in future tense.

In our family, we could be talking about something we were going to do or wanted to do, or something someone else said they wanted to do. The chances of you pulling it off? Yeah, right. When Lou gets his organ! 

In this same way, Mama might tell us to Keep those elephants moving!  This line jumped out of a scene in a bad movie* where Hannibal is crossing the Alps to take Rome by surprise. I mv5bmjaymtgzodk2of5bml5banbnxkftztywmjgxmjg5-_v1_mean, who would even try to cross the alps with elephants, right? That’s a surprise right there, let alone the horses, legions, chariots, and everything else.

The tension in the scene is that there’s a blizzard and if the elephants stop they will freeze to death. So over and over we hear someone ordering someone else to Keep those elephants moving! It was an awful movie. We watched it over and over on our black and white TV. The same movies got played on rotation late at night like they were re-runs or something. Or anyway, that’s how I remember it.

For us, Keep those elephants moving! morphed into an admonition  to get the dishes washed or get our butts out the door. A very useful string of words, Keep those elephants moving! Nagging without the sting. You might want to adopt it yourself, even if you haven’t watched the movie. (I’d advise against it.)

Then there’s He’s got trunks of them in the attic. This comes from a joke so simple even I can (usually) tell it though it will lose a lot in translation to text. So here’s a summary.

  • Patient:  Doctor, my friends think I’m crazy!
  • Dr. stroking his goatee:  Do they now?
  • Patient:  Yes! They tell me I’m crazy because I like pancakes.
  • Dr.:  You like pancakes?
  • Patient:  Yes. I like pancakes.
  • Doctor:  There’s nothing wrong with liking pancakes. I like pancakes myself?
  • Patient:  You do? You like pancakes?
  • Doctor:  Yes, I do. I like pancakes.
  • Patient:  Doctor, you must come home with me. I have trunks of them in my attic!

9259134bfeb5865131c3d4b10b82928cThis joke made a big impression on my family. Even my father liked it. It sums up an aspect of human nature we are all familiar with in one form or another.

She’s got trunks of them in her attic applies to those quilters who whisper SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy) to themselves when they see their own face in a mirror. Anything –even beautiful cotton fabric, or gorgeous yarn, or blank canvases — accumulated in excess is a sign of trunks in the attic.

Overworked and put-upon? Or you think you are? We had a phrase for that, too. And then I had to feed the guppies. SIGH!

This was from my Gram, who, it seemed to us, had had an easy life. She’d grown up with servants and a summer cottage bigger than any home I’ve ever lived in. Her married life began comfortably, too — bridge, bonbons, furs, cook, gardener, maid.  But these privileges gradually fell by the wayside until she was doing the housework herself. Her letters included lists of slights suffered and onerous tasks, culminating in  and then I had to feed the guppies. (We tacked on the SIGH! )

I think Gram projected her many disappointments onto those innocent guppies. My uncle left a few guppies behind when he got married and moved out and those few guppies guppysdevelohondatolimacolombia__8445c8_4multiplied as my Gram overfed them. Their descendents filled the big tanks in the sun room. I can imagine poor Gram, overwhelmed with unwelcome changes to her life, and on top of everything else, standing by helplessly as there were more and more hungry guppies to feed.

I don’t know what ever really became of those swishing swarms of little fish. There was some story about one huge guppy per tank. But all I know for sure is they weren’t there when Gram and Gramps moved out of that house and into an apartment near the Norristown zoo. After that, Gram sometimes complained about the screeching of the  peacocks, but she never took it personally.

The whole world is MUD! was often the final pronouncement of my three-year-old daughter as she collapsed into sudden sleep, naked atop a bare mattress, with the pillows, books, toys, blankets, sheets and pajamas strewn about on the floor where she’d thrown them. My husband and I can’t load this phrase with the indignant certainty our daughter did, but  we sometimes use it to convey a more subtle sentiment than the mundane Oh, shit! The girl had a way with words, even at three.

Once, when two of our young sons lay on the floor with legs tangled together, neither boy could get up off the floor when asked because, they each explained, He’s holding me down. I call up this phrase when my husbands asks me to do something that requires me to stand up. I might indicate my reluctance with He’s holding me down.

Since we are a book-loving family, we quote classic literature, too. My husband might be looking for his keys or phone or hat and he might say to himself; Look on the chair, Teddy Bear! (I didn’t say we quoted high-brow literature.)

Go! Dog, Go! was a big favorite with our children. When I first got sick with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia and we had just moved to a strange city, I often got lost. As I would 225x225bbdrive over the same bridge in Dayton, Ohio, for the second — or third — time, one of the boys in the back seat was sure to recite Go around again! from the page where the dogs are riding a ferris wheel. Later, Go around again! fit the circular reasoning of the teenage boys of the household, trying to wheedle their way out of something. And it still works when I get lost, which still happens.

Do you have words or phrases that your family members understand but which make outsiders scratch their heads?

Do you know the stories behind them?

 

*Perhaps “escaped from” is more accurate. That movie was really bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who, Me?

I was mincing fresh rosemary at the kitchen table when my daughter said, “I met a woman who reminded me of you.”

Daughter told us she’d been in Jo-Ann Fabric buying pillow forms for the cushion covers she’d tie-dyed as gifts.* Those of you who shop at that store will remember how the registers are at the end of a u-shaped corrider formed by shelves stocked with candy, magazines, and other enticing items. On this particular day, just a few days before Christmas, the line was long. Daughter suspects a store policy of under-manning  registers to keep customers in line longer, right next to the enticing items, and thus more likely to make impulse purchases. Which is what she did: she stood in line long enough to notice attractive wrapping paper displayed right next to her and decided to buy a roll.

We all have heartbreak in our lives. Your heartbreak may not look exactly like mine but if you shared yours I would know what it felt like. I’ve felt it, too. One heartbreak of mine is that my daughter got sick at about the same age I did. Some of her symptoms differ from mine, and her doctors haven’t told her she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or SEIDS. Her doctors have a number of titles for her set of symptoms. But the end result is the same: deep and utter fatigue, unrelieved by rest. It’s a life changing condition, as, sadly, some of you know from personal experience. I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy. It breaks my heart to see my daughter struggle with the limitations imposed by this disease, whatever the doctors decide to call it.

And she was struggling that day in JoAnn Fabric. She was dead on her feet as she waited in that long check-out line with the two pillow forms she’d gone in for and the long roll of attractive gift-wrap clutched in her arms.

Then the woman in line in front of her turned around, looked at the gift wrap, and said, “Oh! I thought that was a cane! I thought you had a cane decorated for the holidays.”

My daughter said, “No, it’s not a holiday cane, but that’s a good idea.”

“I use a cane sometimes. I’d buy a decorated one,” the shopper said. “And I bet lots of other people would, too.”  And the woman was off and running with one suggestion after another for decorating canes for the holidays.

Daughter, in the meantime, is zoned out, so tired she wonders if she won’t fall right over.

But the woman goes on with even more ideas for holiday canes, culminating in a suggestion she acted out, right there in the check-out line, as if she were striking an imaginary someone with her imaginary holiday cane. “And you could use a holiday cane to wish someone Happy (thwack) Holidays (thwack) to (thwack) you (thwack)!”

Finally, my daughter reached the check-out counter where the clerk completed the transaction and asked “Would you like a receipt?” My daughter said yes and the clerk waved her arms at the register, intoning, “Come to me! Come to me!” as the paper spooled out of the machine.

There in my kitchen, we all laughed. (There were four of us. The main cooking was being handled by my son and daughter-in-law.)

In defense of the clerk, my daughter said she might have been punch drunk after too many days of too many customers too close to Christmas. Daughter had no explanation for the fellow customer wielding the imaginary cane.

“And she reminded you of me?” I asked.

“Yes. You are always talking to people.”

“Like that?”

And everybody laughed again.

It’s moments like this that make me miss my mother. She always appreciated my jokes, which was understandable because they are cut from the same cloth hers were. For example, when a couple of turkey buzzards were stalking around in the side yard, I called up the steps to Mama, “Hey! You aren’t dead yet are you?” And she riffed off of it. (This was before her diagnosis of terminal cancer. Too bad, in a way. That would have made for even better material than just being 80+ years old. We shared a kind of dark sense of humor.)

When we were kids, my brother made our joke-fest a trio. These days, my brother and I don’t exchange gifts. But sometime in the fall, I came across the perfect present for him: A Three Stooges figurine.three_stooges_figurine

My brother loved the Three Stooges. He could make all the noises that went with their eye-pokes and hair pulling. He had memorized his favorite Stooges routines. Who could forget Moe splitting dollar bills with Larry and Curly? Moe sat in the middle and dealt to both sides. “One for you, and one for me, and one for you, and one for me, and one for you, and one for me . . ” When we were kids, I couldn’t forget this routine because my brother tried to use it every time he dealt cards.

And for reasons lost in the mists of time, the Three Wise Monkeys were a family joke, too. See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil. This figurine I found was the Three Stooges version of the Three Wise Monkeys. So it should be a perfect gift for my brother.

I wrapped the box ten times, in ten different wrapping papers. I wrote out a tag saying something like “Ben and I hope you will like this wonderful goat milk soap as much as we do. It is so smooth and creamy. It is hand-crafted by a local artisan who milks her own free range goats and plucks her own organically grown herbs.” This tag was to deflate his expectations. I didn’t want him to get his hopes up.

Of course, he opened the gift the day it arrived. He left me voice mail complaining about unwrapping ten packages for only one gift. And I’m not sure he liked it, but he did say he’d put it on top of his TV, so that’s a good sign, right?

Oh well, I probably won’t send him a gift next year. Where would I ever find another gift as perfect for him as this one?

Maybe I’ll spot something while I’m waiting in that winding check-out line at Jo-Ann Fabric. Maybe — in that first set of shelves funneling customers toward the registers — maybe the perfect gift for my brother will be in plain sight — right between the Santa Pez dispensers and the selection of festive holiday canes.

 

610c7ifpzul-_sy679_

 

*A perfect heart in a lovely, pure red sits in the center of each design on the cushions. My daughter is really good at tie-dye!