Thursday, January 19, 2012

Family "Characters"

My parents divorced when I was in the sixth grade and a year or two later my father married a woman who had an adopted son and was caring for an infant girl, also not born to her. My father adopted the boy, Ryan, and he and his new wife, Pru, adopted the girl, Kat.

Kat was the first (and only) girl for my father, and he set about making her an idiot. At meal times she would be in her high chair and he would clown around with her, hunching his shoulders, rolling his eyes, making faces and strange noises, etc. She, of course, responded, and the two of them had a grand old time amusing each other.

Pru expressed a little concern about this, saying "You know, she's going to do all this when she's older." Dad was otherwise convinced and continued the march.

As Kat's very first day at school ended, Pru got a call from the teacher.

Teacher: "What is wrong with this child?"

Pru: "What do you mean?"

Teacher: "She squirms at her desk, she rolls her eyes, she laughs at inappropriate places, she falls out of her chair . . . ."

Pru: "I don't know. You'll have to ask her father."

Even today, Kat loves to laugh more than anyone else in the family. She is also odd in various ways. For example, she can't stand the sight of her own blood. If she cuts a finger she holds it with the other hand and walks with a limp.

On the plus side, she does a very convincing imitation of an ostrich.


Pru had her own quirks. When the kids were in high school she and my father stayed together for them, I think, in a marriage more of convenience and accommodation than anything else.

Pru was involved in local activities - 4-H, that kind of thing - and Dad worked during the day and moonlighted a couple of nights a week playing an electric organ in a restaurant lounge, so they mostly went their own separate ways.

They lived in the boondocks in New Hampshire, in an area where newspapers were not delivered and people picked up their mail at a local Post Office branch in a general store.

One Sunday morning Dad got up ahead of Pru, put the coffee on and left the house for a quick drive to the store for the Sunday newspaper. When Pru got up he asked her "What happened to your truck?"

Pru: "What do you mean?"

Dad: "There are parallel scratches all along the hood and the top of the cab, and the windshield has so many cracks you can't see through it. I'm surprised it hasn't fallen out."

Pru: "I don't know. Someone must have backed into me in the parking lot."

And there the matter rested, but *that* line is a family classic.

Pru didn't drink at all, so family speculation is that she nodded off driving home and drifted off the road into the woods, acquiring the scratches from tree branches. But she must have driven the rest of the way home with her head out the window, because the windshield was absolutely opaque.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

One New Year's Eve

A couple of minor incidents from around 1977 or 1978 have popped into my mind because of the holidays.

I had just moved to Revere, Massachusetts and spent a small fortune completely furnishing an apartment. Dee Dee and I were on the outs and I had no plans for New Year's Eve, so I decided to host a small family gathering.

Brother Billy was in the Navy and had returned to duty after Christmas, so the party consisted of my father and Carla, sister Kat and husband Peter, brother Ryan and wife Denise, and yours truly with Liz, a WAVE from the Portsmouth (NH) Navy Yard.

Everyone there smoked grass occasionally, so along with a fully stocked bar we were in the midst of a ton of snacks and a bag of grass, with rolling papers, a pipe, and a bong.

We had several hours of sitting around chatting, listening to music, having drinks, and having the occasional toke.

As midnight approached, someone suggested that we watch the Times Square ball being dropped and that *everyone* had to be stoned for that.

I turned the TV on and found the program, turned out the lights and lit some candles, and we passed the grass around. I had turned my father on the year before. To his dying day he insisted that marijuana had no effect on him. He probably believed it, but no one who had seen him smoke believed it. This night he agreed to try again, "Just to be sociable. It really doesn't do anything for me." Soon, however, he got his tang all tongueled up and was backing talkwards.

As the countdown at Times Square began, I ostentatiously looked at my watch and said "Now let's see if they're right."

Post-midnight everyone had the munchies again. WAVE Liz had baked and brought some oatmeal butterscotch cookies, and at some point brother Ryan bit into one.

Ryan: "Who made these?"

Liz: "I did. They're oatmeal butterscotch. Aren't they good?"

Ryan: "Gosh. Things with butterscotch sure are hard, aren't they?"

And Liz threw one at him.


The "let's see if they're right" line above is one of the approaches I sometimes use to tease people, and I am reminded now that it is possible to overdo that.

Somewhere around that time my Assistant at work, David, and I went to Jacksonville, Florida on business. We stayed at the Hilton and met for breakfast. There were sugar shakers on the table and when coffee arrived I poured some sugar into mine. Setting the shaker down I said "Exactly two teaspoons."

David went berserk. "You don't know that! "You can't possibly know that that was exactly two teaspoons!"

Donnie: "David, I know that I can't be that precise. And I know that you know it. Why are you so upset that I said that?"

David: "It's not that you said that. It's the cumulative effect of all the things you have said before."