Archive - Family RSS Feed

Jive Talker

The earliest memory I have of my Uncle Roger, I must have been around 5 years old. Grandma was babysitting me at her house. (I think Mom was at work.) But Grandma had to go somewhere and she couldn’t take me with her, so she called Uncle Roger to come pick me up. I never really spent much time around Uncle Roger, mainly just at holidays, so I was a little nervous having to go with him all by myself. But he was always kind and had a warm smile and an easy laugh, which reassured me. So when he got there, I made the climb up into his giant brown Chevy pickup. (Uncle Roger was a Chevy man, just like Grandpa.)

I remember I literally had to put my hands on the floorboard, about waist high, and throw a knee up to get in. And that was just the first step; I had to repeat the maneuver to make it up into the seat. I remember sitting there, my feet barely over the edge, on that plasticky tan bench seat, that kind of pre-vinyl, nowhere-near-leather they used to put in trucks to keep them cheap. (An added benefit Grandpa taught me once was that you could literally just rinse out the cab with a hose, so long as you kept it on low and you were careful not to spray any of the electronics or let the foam under the seats get wet.) Not only did I not ride in a car seat—they hadn’t been invented yet—but nobody even wore seatbelts back then. Like Jeff Foxworthy says, “That was in the days when the kids weren’t too good to go through the windshield with the rest of the family.”

Uncle Roger’s truck smelled like work: cigarette smoke, concrete dust, and Hai Karate. I don’t remember what was playing on the radio when we first left Grandma’s, but I vividly remember the Bee Gees’ magnificent “Jive Talkin’” came on, because when it did, Uncle Roger turned it up and sang along—falsetto and all. It was early summer, not too hot yet, a beautiful day to just drive with the windows down and sing along with the radio. I remember thinking he was being unintentionally funny.

Uncle Roger was a tower of a man, well over six feet tall, with big, cool glasses and a full head of hair, thick and bushy, bordering on a white man’s ‘fro. Of course that sounds funny now, but he was very handsome, certainly considered so in that day. I’d place the year at close to 1975, the summer that song would have first been on the radio. I think it was before he and Aunt Chuckie were married, but I honestly don’t remember. Uncle Roger was thick, not fat, but muscly. He had gone to the Navy after high school, and traveling the world had agreed with him, finished the job of making him a man. By all accounts, he was a stand-up guy, a friend to everybody, a gentle soul.

It’s just a snapshot, of course. I don’t remember where we went that day or what we did, just him picking me up and singing in the truck.

After that, I lose him.

Uncle Roger died suddenly when I was twelve. He was 30. Grandma was worried about him because she hadn’t heard from him in a while, so she asked his best friend to go check on him. Turns out he was really sick, essentially trapped in his apartment because he was so weak. When Uncle Roger wouldn’t answer his door, his buddy kicked it in, found him unconscious in his bed, and rushed him to the hospital. He was there for weeks, and he seemed to be getting better…but it just wasn’t meant to be. He never left Intensive Care.

Because I wasn’t old enough to go into ICU, I didn’t even get to see him then. So I’m really thankful that I have that memory of him. Every time I hear Jive Talkin’, it brings my Uncle Roger back to me, and I’m five, and the windows are down, and he’s singing.

What’s your favorite memory of someone you loved but lost? Is it just a snapshot, or are you lucky enough to have a whole album? Please share your picture. I’d love to “see” it.

Ghost Chaser

This is the fifth and final installment in an informal series, The Vermont Animal Diaries, about the pets Kendra and I tended when we lived for a year in Vermont. Part One was Fat Stella. Part Two was Dumb Andrew. Part Three was Crazy Oscar. Part Four was Evil Bala.

One night during our first week living in Vermont, Kendra and I were sitting quietly on the couch in the living room, watching television. Each of the animals was sprawled in his or her usual favorite comfy spots, just pleasantly lazing.

Now, they say that animals have a kind of “sixth sense,” that they can tell when something huge is going to go down, like a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a tsunami. They say also that most animals are in touch with a dimension that most humans can never feel—an afterlife, a parallel existence if you will, the spirit realms. So when animals start to freak out, smart people take notice. You can take full advantage of their highly attuned senses going off, leveraging that for your own survival.

Pretty much all at once, everybody (and by everybody, I mean all the cats and the dog) scrambled first to their feet and then to the floor, and then all stampeded as a unit for the front hall and directly up the stairs. (This still being early in our stay, we had not yet blocked the stairs with the baby gate to contain Oscar.) There was no barking, no growling, no meowing—just a cacophony of desperate panting, claws, and a herd of little footpads slipping and sliding across the wood floor, then clacking up the wooden stairs.

Kendra and I just sat there dumbly, still on the couch, spellbound, blinking at each other, our mouths gaping. “What was that all abou…?”

And then just as suddenly, there was a loud BANG! somewhere over our heads, and the entire crash of beasts came thrashing down the stairs just as quickly, just as frantically as they had gone up. From our spot still on the couch, we could hear them piling up on top of each other in the front entry hall, and then we witnessed one of the most bizarre images ever etched in my memory: Some freakish, giant, dark butterfly-like thing fluttered across the living room, herding our entire cowardly cavalry in front of it, pretty much directly in front of us. They were falling all over each other, trying desperately to escape the demon beast, scrambling into the kitchen and cowering into various hiding spots. And the entity vanished into the dark behind them, just as quickly as it had materialized.

This entire event, from the first moment everybody leapt up to the run up the stairs, the crash, the falling back down, and the running into the kitchen to hide, all took place in the span of literally less than two minutes. I got up to investigate, flipping on every light within reach. And I found…absolutely nothing.

After several minutes, having gathered her courage, and no doubt discouraged with my own obvious lack of progress, Kendra joined in the hunt. And she found it. There, perched inelegantly, dangling from a knitted white blanket hanging over the back of a chair, was…a bat. And it was a cuh-reepy son of a gun, no bigger than a small mouse.

And then ensued a comedy of errors involving a broom and a bucket. Have you ever heard the phrase “hysterical laughter”? That’s a real thing. For the next ten minutes or so, Kendra flailed around on the couch, with her feet drawn up, mingling terror with shame, trying to contain her bladder, cackling as I tried first to smack the vile beast to the floor, then to beat it to death, then to get it into the bucket. Once the deed was done, I took the body unceremoniously outside to the compost heap, where I disposed of it.

The very next evening, Jean and Dan, whose pets and home we were to be caring for over the next ten months, called to check in on us. They were staying at Jean’s parents, and they were leaving the very next morning, bound for India. I told them the story of what had just happened the night before. Silence on their end. My mind raced. Do they think we’re crazy? ARE we crazy? Did that really even happen? Was it a pet, and I killed it?

And then Jean said to Dan (who was on another phone): “Can you believe that? That’s crazy!”

And Dan said, “Yeah, I would never have believed it. There was no reason even to tell them about that.”

And then Jean proceeded to explain that they had lived in that house for several years, and one evening during the first week they lived in the house, essentially the same thing had happened to them. A bat had gotten in and terrorized all the pets, they had searched for it and finally found it hanging on the back of a chair, killed it, and gotten rid of it. It didn’t occur to them to warn us about such an eventuality, because it had only happened the one time, and it had been years before.

When my own turn came, I’m just glad I was man enough to rise to the occasion.

Have you ever had a bat in your house? How did it turn out? What about some other freaky devil beast that scared your pets? Why do bats even exist? I mean… really.

Evil Bala

This is the fourth in an informal series, The Vermont Animal Diaries, about the pets Kendra and I tended when we lived for a year in Vermont. Part One was Fat Stella. Part Two was Dumb Andrew. Part Three was Crazy Oscar. Monday will be the final installment, a wild story about everybody.

If Evil were a cat, it would embody Bala. On our first day in Vermont, as the animals’ people were introducing us to everybody, Jean (the wife) referred to Bala using terms like “regal old lady” and “sophisticated” and “intelligent.” What Jean neglected to mention were important tips like “sprays pillows with urine” and “claws and bites if approached” and “God help you if you fall asleep in the same room she’s in.”

She did say that Bala was “particular” and “picky.” Bala had been Jean’s first cat, and they had been together for a long time. Because she was older and had already endured all of the family’s changes (adding a husband, moving, adding a dog, two cats, and eventually a baby), Bala had a tendency to act “stressed” when her routine changed. You know, like your family leaving the country for a year and abandoning you in the care of two young strangers who smell like dirt from the South. Because of her longstanding girl-bonding with Jean, Jean fully expected Bala to eventually warm up to Kendra and become “her” cat. That turned out to be wishful thinking at best.

Vermont Cats

Of all of the cats, Bala had the thickest coat, and she really needed regular brushing to keep from getting mats in her fur. We tried more than once to approach her, figuring she’d welcome the attention and grooming. Turns out it was more like trying to safety-pin a bell to a dragon’s tail. We gave up time after time.

Finally, when the knots all over Bala’s body were too far gone for us to pretend it was okay anymore, Kendra hatched a foolproof plan. We would follow her into the bathroom where the litterbox was, close the door, let her finish her business, throw a beach towel over her like a net to trap her, and then work together to cut the knots out of her coat with scissors. Astonishingly, it went down almost exactly like that.

Unfortunately, from Bala’s perspective, it was probably something more akin to the sort of shenanigans that once took place at Gitmo. I got the towel over her head and managed to pin each of her legs, keeping her ominous claws contained. I let her face out and tried to make her as comfortable as possible, while Kendra patted her down for knots. When we’d find one, we’d work the towel to expose just that spot, and Kendra would snip it off with scissors and then brush it out. Complicating the proceedings was that Kendra was laughing maniacally pretty much the entire time—equally unsettling for both me and the cat. It took about 45 minutes, but we got her all fixed up.

Our most terrifying experience with Bala was one morning when Kendra was asleep in our bed, wearing not much clothing. Kendra woke me, which ordinarily under such circumstances would be a good thing. In this case, not so much. She was poking me under the covers, trembling. I opened one eye, only to see Bala seated cozily on Kendra’s chest, face to face with her. I covered myself with blankets, just certain this was how they were going to find our bodies. Bala purred softly. After several minutes, Kendra worked up enough courage to slip a hand out and tried stroking her. Bala purred more urgently. Kendra pet her some more. After about ten minutes or so, Bala was satisfied, and she hopped up and left. Crisis averted.

That turnaround was in 1996, the same year we left Vermont, and Bala was already old then. We went back for a visit several years later, and Jean reported (sadly) that Bala had passed on. And I imagined that hell was just a little warmer, a little furrier, a little clawier.

Did you ever have a pet that you were just certain was demon-spawn? What about someone else’s evil pet? What’s the craziest thing you ever had to do to an animal?(—For its own good, of course.)

Crazy Oscar

This is the third in an informal series, The Vermont Animal Diaries, about the pets Kendra and I tended when we lived for a year in Vermont. Part One, Fat Stella, is here. Part Two, Dumb Andrew, is here.

Each of the pets left in our care had unique annoyances, but Oscar was the hands-down winner. Some kind of godforsaken rat-based terrier, Oscar was like a half-blind, crack-addicted, ADHD, jack rabbit on a speedball bender (to put it nicely).  Oscar would occasionally take time out of his busy schedule—digging in the couch, licking the baseboards, sniffing the corners of the rugs and blankets, rubbing the sides of his body against the kitchen trashcans, lifting his hind legs and tail and using his forepaws to drag his rear end across the carpet, begging to be taken outside so he could chase random birds, insects, and leaves in the yard, and leaving Christmas-tree dog-piles in the front entry—to do some really annoying junk.

For example, Oscar loved to watch television. At first, it seemed almost endearing…until we learned what was actually going on inside his odd little melon: He was stalking. Oscar watched television expectantly, in tense anticipation, waiting for any moment that an animal—any animal—would appear onscreen. Why? Well, so he could attack it, of course. Why else would anyone with any sense want to watch television? (It was a foolish question, and you should have known better than to ask it.) In the picture below, Oscar is actually attacking a video that features himself running around in the backyard.

Crazy OscarWe brought our own cat, Beatrix, with us when we moved to Vermont. When we first moved in and were still learning about Oscar, he took special delight in randomly leaping on Beatrix’s back and pinning her to the floor. (I imagine he was thinking simply, “New smell! New smell!”) Regardless, she was an only pet, unaccustomed to having to deal with such atrocious behavior, and understandably appalled. This was why we had no choice but to banish Oscar to the downstairs by applying a baby gate at the foot of the stairs—so that Beatrix (and honestly, the other cats, too) would have a safe haven where they could go for asylum.

I mentioned one of Oscar’s annoying habits was relieving himself on the wood floor in the front hall. In his defense, this was due mainly to the fact that often he would come to the foot of the stairs when the rest of us were upstairs, and whimper, lonely because nobody liked him. And it was difficult for us to discern his “Hey losers, feel sorry for me” whine from his, “Hey humans, I’ve got some waste on deck and could really use a visit to the little terrier’s room.” Our bad. However, even our disdain at taking him outside was his own fault. He wasn’t a normal dog, one you could just let out, he’d do his business, and then come back in. No, you had to go out with him and keep him focused and on task, or he’d forget why he was outside, run off, and get lost.

To his credit, Oscar was really fun to play with, at least for me (a dog person at heart). He had this Nylabone frisbee that he’d chase, literally as long as you’d throw it. Kendra even enjoyed throwing snowballs for him, because he’d dig and dig and dig in the deep snow, frantically looking for each snowball where it landed.

After his owners came back and we returned home, we spoke to them a few months later on the phone, and they remarked how odd it was that he refused to go upstairs anymore. “Do you know what that’s about?” one of them asked.

“Hm,” I said. “That’s really strange. No, no idea.”

Are you a dog person or a cat person? If you gravitate toward one or the other, why? What’s the craziest behavior you’ve ever witnessed in a pet? Does anybody else think the word “Nylabone” is as funny as I do?

Addictive Chemicals

TONY: So who’s in this Pentaverate?
STUART: The Queen, The Vatican, The Gettys, The Rothschilds… AND Colonel Sanders before he went tets up. Oh, I hated the Colonel! With ‘is wee beady eyes, and that smug look on ‘is face: “Ewww, you’re gonna buy my chicken! Ohhhhh!”
CHARLIE: Dad, how can you hate… the Colonel?
STUART: Because he puts an addictive chemical in his chicken that makes ya crave it fortnightly, smart@$$!

From So I Married an Axe Murderer, probably one of the  most underrated comedies ever. Starring Phil Hartman as “Vicky,” and Mike Myers as both Charlie and Stuart (Charlie’s dad).

KFC’s Double DownAnd I know exactly how Stuart feels. I myself have had a love/hate relationship with KFC for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t even begin to estimate how many pounds of their Original Recipe and Extra Crispy pieces I’ve succumbed to over the years. My earliest fond memories are of the chain way back in the day, when it was still actually called “Kentucky Fried Chicken” (the way God and the Colonel intended), sharing Mother’s Day festivities with our extended family—along with about half of Oklahoma City—at Stars and Stripes Park.

Now, I can’t say exactly when our relationship soured, but it was sometime in adulthood. Something changed in the magic formula. Oh, it still tastes like the chicken from my memories, but it affects my digestive system in a profoundly negative way. Even so, I pressed on, just not quite ready to break up and move on.

You see, for all the joy that KFC has brought me, it treats me like it’s my abusive girlfriend. She seems all beautiful and shiny and glistening at first, promising wonderful things. It’s even fun hanging out with her…at least for a while. Everything will be going well, and everybody’s happy. And then…KFC’s recipe has one of her crazy (although by now completely predictable) mood swings, bipolar-like, roughing me up with mindless violence.

Kendra and I will be sleeping in our bed, and hours later, here KFC will come, kicking the door down, waking me up and dragging me off to the bathroom, where she’ll just start whaling on me for an hour or so. I’ll still be pretty jacked-up the next day, too, washing my face over and over to try to de-emphasize the bags she left under my eyes, keeping me awake till the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes the day after, concerned friends will ask, “Hey man, are you okay?”

And I’ll answer weakly, “Rough night. We had KFC.”

And that’s all I have to say…because everybody knows about her.

After a few weeks, the injuries heal up, and you start to forget a little. We’ll see her when we’re out driving around, and she’ll promise she’s a new woman: “Hey, baby! I’m business partners with Long John’s now! I’m all cleaned up. We’re best buds. Why don’t you come add a piece of fish, get some crumbs…maybe have a piece of chicken?” Or, “Look what *I* have…” and she’ll hold out those two succulent fried patties with cheese and bacon sandwiched inside. She’s the devil.

I look to Kendra for strength. She reminds me that she loves me, that she wants only the best for me, and that KFC’s just no good for me. But the longer we’re away from each other, the more her siren song beckons to me. And I know: It’s just a matter of time.

What food do you love/hate? Have you SEEN the “nutritional” information for the Double Down? Seriously? Have you ever had one? (I haven’t.) If so, is it really as delectably lascivious as it looks? Do you like it when chains partner and have both menus (or even more) all in the same building?

Page 2 of 5«12345»