The Family

There were seven kids in the Taber family.

Sonny was the oldest by a wide margin.  He was the child of the father Al’s first marriage.  After his first wife died, they moved to New Jersey.  There Al met and married Carrie.

The next oldest was Molly.  She appointed herself CEO of the children.  Molly was convinced she knew what was best for each and every member of the Taber brood.  She still does, but it always, always comes from a place of profound love.She married Bill, a boy who even at a young age had a black and white moral code that informed his life.  In many men this could make them insufferable prigs, but the young man’s belief system was based on humanity and compassion.  This made him one of the moral centers of the family he joined.

At one time or another almost every member of the family turned to Bill for guidance.  He pulled more than one relative from the edge of ethical or financial cliffs.

The next in line was Bobbie.  She married Bob at age 16, and they raised three boys.  A few years after Bob died, she passed away. It’s been nearly twenty years, but sitting around the dinner table, the family feels her absence. She was the cook of the family.  Her meals and desserts were legendary.  Her lemon meringue pie is still spoken of in the hushed tones one would use for black magic.

The next child was Tootie.  Her heart has always been so full of childlike joy that giggles regularly escape and erupt which fill others with that same happiness.  She married Dave, a young man in the Coast Guard.  They moved to North Carolina and started their family.  After Al and Carrie passed away, she chose to take in her younger brother and sister. Tootie, her husband, and children settled on the west coast.  And each and every day she lives her life full of the joy that continues to nourish her entire family, and everyone lucky enough to be around her.

The next child was a son, Tommy.  By this time, Sonny had his own family, so Tommy was both the baby and the only boy. This translated into a young man full of mischief, but fiercely protective of his family.  After serving in the Army, he married Sandy.

They had three children and Tommy, along with his bride, are still full of fun and mischief but also ready, at a moment’s notice, to throw down in defense of any member of the clan.The youngest daughter was Patty.  She was barely an adult when both parents died. She still lived at home with the youngest.  Vowing to keep her brother with her, she moved to North Carolina, where she met the man she would marry, Glen.  The couple had two children.

Despite the frequent moves that came with a military life, this unit became an enduring, stabilizing force of the Taber tribe.  They’re known for the consistent, thoughtful generosity shown to family–both traditional and the unofficial members acquired along the way.The youngest is Kenny.  The second half of his childhood was spent with Patty and husband.  He was uncle and older brother to their children.  He married Kathy, and joined the Coast Guard just like Glen.  They had two daughters and settled in the Northwest.  He lives thousands of miles away from his pseudo-siblings, but he’s only one phone call away from big brother detail.

This collection of souls may not seem all that much more special or interesting than millions of other families.  But I happen to know that they are, in fact, both unique and exceptional.

Because, Gentle Reader, they are my family.

Thanks for your time.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

In the henhouse of tough old birds, my grandmother was the dry, stringy chicken Scarlet and company dined on at Miss Pittypat’s house in Gone With The Wind.

Her name was Geraldine, and she was so formidable she could have beaten Flip Wilson’s alter ego Geraldine in arm wrestling or shot putting, or pulling an airplane with one’s teeth.

And she was scary.

She was tall and thin, and for most of her life wore a tight bun on her head, from which no hair ever dared escape.  She’d been a school teacher but had the demeanor of the most crotchety, strictest librarian.  She had five children and developed a thermonuclear mom-eye with a deadly laser component.She also had a spine-chilling collection of threats and reprimands that were as frightening as they were creative.

My father, who is the world’s sweetest, most tender-hearted man, utilizes a selection of her phrases, such as:

“You’re as full of ‘stuff’ as a Christmas turkey.”

“I know you’re sorry, now apologize.”

And our favorite, and the most colorful of all: “I’m going to rip off your arm, and beat you to death with a bloody stump.”

Please understand, my dad used these originally for shock value, but they’ve become family inside-jokes.  No children were ever harmed in the usage of these epithets.I asked Dad if there were any that Granny used on him and his siblings, that he didn’t employ.  He told me one, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

And I’ll bet she would have, too.

We’ve all heard this phrase, and it’s always struck a discordant note in my ear.  It is completely illogical; the fact that one is crying means that they already possess the catalyst for tears—nothing more is necessary.  But it’s also very unsympathetic, and pretty darn cold; especially for a mother.

Like I said, Granny was a tough old bird. And because the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, I have come up with my own phrase that I use when feigning outrage with my own little nut, The Kid.  And a couple I keep in reserve.

Again, these are one-liners and not threats.  The cost of doing business when your mom is a peddler of homemade comedy.

There’s a classic line I’ve been using since I judged my offspring old enough to understand that while Mommy is kinda loony, she ain’t violent: Give me your cell phone, and show me how to use it…I’m calling the adoption bus to come make a pickup! Never having owned or operated a cell makes my threat something less than viable.

The next one has never actually been used on a real human.  I developed it one night when a young man driving by let loose with a particularly hurtful catcall.  And right on schedule, fifteen minutes after the event this menacing little line popped into my head: How’d you like to eat your Thanksgiving dinner through a straw?Intimidating, no?

The last one has never been used on a human either.  It was the result of chasing our puppy Crowley, around the house after he absconded with some clean socks from the laundry basket.  I’m afraid that as a dog, he didn’t appreciate the humor or the danger in my statement, but it made me feel a lot better:

How’d you like a shiny new near-death experience?

Growing up there was no physical punishment in our house, but my folks were expert-level verbal disciplinarians.

My mom was in charge of volume, and my dad dealt in colorful comic relief.

Thanks for your time.

What a Twist!

This basically, was Carolyn.

We lived in San Diego when I was in junior high.  One of my best friends was Carolyn.  She was a tall, willowy California blond.  I loved her, but she was a little spoiled and could be kinda shallow.

One afternoon we were wandering around Sea World, where we had season tickets.Sitting on a bench was a little boy, about eight-years-old.  It looked like he’d gotten separated from his family, and he was having a meltdown.  But I’d never seen a meltdown like this; he had his arms wrapped around himself, and was rocking back and forth, and making a sound that sounded like something halfway between a moan and a wail.

I had no idea what was wrong with him, and absolutely no idea what to do.Then I noticed Carolyn.  She kneeled in front of the distraught child, and without touching him, she began speaking to him, slowly and calmly.  She looked over her shoulder at me.

“Grab an employee, tell them we found an autistic boy alone.”

Practically tripping on my jaw, which had fallen to the ground, I did as my surprising friend bid me.

By the time the kid’s frantic mother ran up, Carolyn was gently teasing a smile out of the boy, whose anxiety had almost dissipated.  I had oh, so many questions.Carolyn informed me that autism is a disorder where information isn’t collected, processed, and responded to in the same way as most people.  Change and the unexpected can cause them to shut down.  My friend was able to stop the emotional escalation, and even begin calming him.

She learned this as a volunteer working with autistic children.  I was proud of my friend, and from that day on, looked at her with respect and a touch of admiration.

Carolyn had what I’d call a secret superpower; an impressive unusual skill that you’d never expect.  And if you look enough, it’s a safe bet you’ll that find most people have at least one.  Maybe not as shocking and altruistic as Carolyn’s, but everybody’s got something.Last Saturday I learned something shocking about my own child.  Although not a make-up wearer, The Kid can draw cat eyeliner on others perfectly, and in the blink of a gorgeous, dramatic eye.  It’s a skill picked up in theater classes.

My father can braid hair.  It either comes from having three sisters, or spending time in the Coast Guard, but Dad can do it.

My mother can build you a radio.  When she was young she worked in a factory where she learned to solder transistors onto one of those electronic boards and before you know it, you’re grooving out to Kasey Kasem’s top 40s.Petey hasn’t done it in years, and even then not often, and he’d probably deny it, but the man is a really good dancer.  And as a bonus, he does a spot-on impression of Eddie Murphy’s version of Gumby, “I’m Gumby, damn it!”.

And, I have a weird talent.  I experience numbers and sounds in a kind of rhythm.  Once I hear a phone number, it’s memorized, and long after it happens, I know the number of times somebody knocked on the door.  I can almost hear it in my head.  Unfortunately, I’ve not yet figured out a way to profit from this bizarre, savant-like ability.

So Gentle Reader, drop me a line and share with me the crazy, hidden, superpowers that you and/or your loved ones may have.  If I get enough, I’ll share them with the class in a future column.Thanks for your time.