JEANNETTE! I STEPPED IN CAT SHIT!
My father's voice rang out in the middle of the hot summer night, windows wide open, awakening not only us giggling in our respective beds but certainly some neighbors who couldn't afford air conditioning either. We could hear my mother groan from down the hall, the whirr of oscillating fans everywhere giving a weird vibrato effect. "Howdjado that, Donald?' She was clearly half asleep and confused but was so accustomed to his dramatic performances she openly called him Gloria Swanson. I had yet to see Sunset Boulevard at that age but I figured it was apt.
'I JUST PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER...........(he paused for full effect, we waited, sheets over our heads, tittering).... AND THERE IT WAS!
He didn't mean to be hilarious. He just naturally was. He was in fact, completely serious which is probably why it was so funny. What came out of his mouth at time was so ludicrous and said with such conviction and authority that even we, infants, toddlers and tweens allllllmost but not quite believed him.
Okay, there was the time he had us going with the story about there being a secret staircase in the boiler room. I'm not quite sure if it was a boiler or furnace but I knew that over the 24 years we lived in that house it was replaced at least once and each time technology was making them smaller to the degree where when the house was originally built cinder blocks were built around it to cordon it off from the rest of the semi-finished basement and by the time the house was sold, the room was spacious to become my grandmother's secret sewing tea-room where she would also stash her purchases whenever she went on a shopping spree.
By the time the room had seemed that much more well, roomy, not to mention less creepy-shadowy (I never knew there was a window in there) I searched high and low for a secret trap door remembering the tall tales my dad and grandfather and even Uncle John would tell watching my eyes get larger and larger as they described what could have been a skeleton and it might have been human...who knows? and never found one. It was just a story they made up to entertain themselves and spook me.
When I asked my dad what the pulp was in orange juice, he told me with a completely straight face that they were horse feathers. When I argued that horses were not that small, he said they were tiny magical fairy horses and I was very lucky to have them so drink it or else so I drank it. He also called me a Philadelphia lawyer for always arguing my case and anyone else's because I was a regular miniature ACLU.
David was not so lucky. David wouldn't drink it and turned his nose up at dinner too. At our house the menu was as follows: You eat what's put in front of you or go to bed hungry. There were no choices, no kid's options. In fact on the rare occasion that we did accompany my parents to a restaurant and there was a kid's menu I read it in wonderment not believing my own eyes. They make food just for us? Why didn't anyone tell us that? I asked and got The Look and the subject was dropped. We ate from my mother's plate and that was it.
But David was a fussy eater. There were lots of things he didn't like and looking back on it now one can definitely see he was pushing boundaries and figuring out his own autonomy but with my parents' budget, there was no room for luxury or child psychology so it was a battle of wills nearly every night. Mostly he pushed around what he didn't like and ate what he did. One night he wouldn't budge and my father told him to go to bed then, and no TV and he threw a fit and screamed for dessert at least dessert. I don't know why he was indulged especially since he hadn't eaten dinner like the rest of us good soldiers but everyone was tired, it was a hot and sticky summer night and David was crying pitifully so he got dessert. A nice bowl of applesauce with cinnamon sugar. It was cold and delicious and after Donny and I scarfed ours down, we licked our lips and looked up and David had that face on. That 'I don't wanna' face and Donny and I looked at each other and recoiled. It would not be pretty.
When it came to discipline, my parent were not at all against using a belt or hairbrush to spank us. Many a wooden spoon were broken on us and my sister received her only (but unforgettable) spanking with my mother's shoe after behaving like a wild beast in a supermarket. This was before cell phone cameras and child protective services discouraged such practices but back then it was commonplace and even expected. So we knew and David knew something was going to happen and he wasn't going to like it.
My father said to him, 'David, eat your applesauce.' 'David said smugly, crossing his arms, 'NO'. My father repeated himself. David repeated himself. Donny and I slid under the table.
The final ultimatum. 'Eat it or wear it.' David looked at my father hatefully and shook his head and my father calmly reached over and plopped David's dessert on his head.
Then he let David literally stew in his juices for half an hour while Donny and I sat there with him like mourners at a wake. My father finished eating his dinner and cleaned off the table and washed the dishes (Mom must have been out on an errand with my sister) and everything in the kitchen was tidied up. Then he turned to David almost as an afterthought and picked him up and dumped him in the shower and that was the end of that. The weird thing is ALL the things David hated to eat back then, he loves now. And he loves to tell the applesauce story.
So now we have a new generation of one, my nephew Tristan. Since he was a baby he's heard ALL the stories, applesauce, cat-shit, skeletons in basement and loves the family lore. He was one of us, but if he were to TRULY be one of us, he'd have to undergo initiation and it was really sooooo easy.....it was too easy.
Everyone was at my house for Christmas. It is the exact midway point between Bayonne and Scranton so that's where we gather and it'd always been my dream to entertain all the family and friends, cook a big traditional spread and here we were lying around, pants undone, my father has the game on the big screen and we start telling the stories.
Lisa told the story of when my mother had let her go too long with her shenanigans for so long because she was the youngest and they were frankly, exhausted, but one day she pushed Mom too far and Mom took her shoe off in Shop-Rite and beat the snot out of her and she said she deserved it which shocked the hell out of me. Tristan's never had a spanking in his life so his eyes were bugging out. Tristan's an only child and the apple of his parents' eye as he should be so perhaps he never did anything to earn one, who knows but it made the gory stories even better and we loved nothing better than details and hyperbole and laughed ourselves silly to the point where we couldn't be understood and someone else had to finish the story, all of us laughing so hard we were hiccuping and rolling and holding our sides.
Tristan heard the applesauce story a hundred times from his own dad so I sat up and said, 'David, did you ever tell Tris about his little birth defect?' David's left eyebrow raised. Thankfully, Sherry wasn't in the room because she was never amused by these discussions. Tristan sat up and dropped his Nintendo DS. He looked from his dad to me and demanded nervously, 'What birth defect?" I said, 'Oh, Tris, it's nothing..and they removed it as soon as you were born.'
'Huh?' *glance at his father* 'WHAT did they remove??'
'David you never told Tristan he was born with a tail?' David successfully hid his guffaw behind the National Geographic I knew he was planning to pocket and take home. Dave is the family klepto. Every family has one.
"Ohhhh yeah. That. Well....' He drifted off for full vague affect.
"Wait. WHAT? Was I born with a tail? WAS I? or is this like the horse feathers thing?"
"Tristan, it's not as uncommon as you think. Why do you think I've called you Monkeyboy since you were born? Your dad keeps it in a cigar box in the back of the closet.' We both look over to his father. David nodded solemnly.
"I forgot all about it. You were only a few hours old. You don't even have a scar. It was just a little tail. Really small."
"Do you STILL have it?'
'Yeah. It's in the bedroom closet.'
'I don't believe you.'
'Suit yourself, son.' David picked up the Nat Geo and giggles behind it. Tristan was too overwhelmed to notice. It began to snow outside and his mother came in and told us and he bundled up and ran down the porch steps. I told him Christmas snow is magic snow especially since it's the first snow of the year and he danced and twirled around in the big fat flakes and we took pictures. It was coming down fast and they'd have to leave soon if they wanted to get safely down the hill.
I leaned in to David, 'Get a Slim Jim and rip it in half and unwrap it so it'll look a little dessicated and wrap it up in old newspaper and stick it in a box in the back of the closet. He's going to look for it.'
He nods and laughs, 'I know. We're so evil.'
' 'Nah..it's good for him. It'll be one of HIS stories.'
Leftovers filled into storage containers and foil packets and presents stuffed into cars, we hug and kiss and say our goodbyes and call-when-you-get-home's and I grab Tris who is shy and say, 'I love you, Monkeyboy.' and he says, like he always says, 'I know.'
A week later David and I are just checking in and I ask him about it and he says he's deliberately keeping Tris out of the master bedroom because he keeps forgetting to get a Slim Jim but he'll do it soon and the following night I get the call. "Oh ELAINE. <laughter> OH.MY.GOD. It was so awesome.' He's laughing so hard he's weeping. He says in a high screechy voice, 'It was exquisite'.
I start to giggle, 'Tell me."
'I got it, put it in the newspaper, then found one of dad's old cigar boxes and threw it in the back of the closet. I got on my hands and knees in the closet and called Tris and he comes in and I'm throwing shoes over my shoulder and he's asking me if I finally found it and I whip out the box and we sit on the floor and open it and I open the newspaper and there it is but it didn't look old because I just bought it today so just as Tristan reached for it I took a bite out of it and he ran screaming out of here OH MY GOD it was awesome!'
Sherry is yelling in the background, 'THAT WASN'T NICE YOU TWO!'
I say to David, 'Put him on the phone.'
'I love you, Monkeyboy'
He giggles. 'I know. I love you too.'