Monthly Archives: April 2017

Doesn’t Count

When I married into my neighborhood, The Fountain had been in existence for nearly thirty years, and was a local landmark. I directed people to our home (the ones who didn’t already know where we lived along with our collective lineage for eight preceding generations) with, “If you pass The Fountain on your right, it’s the next farm lane.”

Just in the last couple of years, it’s started a new life as a counseling center with beautiful gardens, but for four decades it was the place where everybody had their family reunions (if they could get on the schedule; you had to ask for the same time next year as you were paying for the day or you’d lose your place), the home to a thousand pickup baseball games, and the local swimming hole. It was named for a little natural spring in the front yard, but the manmade pond was the real draw. The big wooden deck out into the swimming side of the pond seemed sturdy enough to withstand an earthquake, and had a diving board. Posted rules allowed only one on the board at a time, and enforcement came from any grownup who happened to turn an eye that way when someone was in violation. Half of the pond was roped off for fishing, but if the float (an AstroTurf-covered platform floating on 55-gallon drums) bumped the rope, you just shoved off toward the deck again. When the pond was open for swimming, it was open for anyone. You couldn’t reserve it like you did the building. A summer pass for a single person was something ridiculous like $15, so literally anyone could afford it.

My sister really liked to swim up there. There was a lot on the pro side for her. It was cheap. It was relaxed; no one trained for a triathlon at The Fountain. There were usually enough people around that no one paid her any particular attention. Weighing heavily on the con side was that it was such a local fixture that she almost always knew someone, and she might have to talk to them.

You may have cottoned on to this given the last few sentences, but my sister is very shy**. She has a public-facing job and that’s just fine, but if you’ve ever had even a twinge of social anxiety yourself, you know that that’s different. If you looked up “hell” in my sister’s personal dictionary, standing dripping wet in a swimsuit making polite conversation with a friendly acquaintance is probably somewhere in the top three definitions. (And really, who besides Giselle does like standing around dripping wet in a swimsuit? Stack it on top of other anxieties and you have the Tower of Doom.) But the pros outweighed the con, just, and so she made do with covert entrances and exits whenever possible, and a lot of friendly waves executed while scurrying off in the opposite direction. Sunday in the early afternoon, though, was usually dead quiet, with everyone still at church or feasting with family after.

Having built a house more or less right on our property line bordering The Fountain, we saw a lot of her when she swam. She’d stop by before or after, or both, to say hi. (She likes us fine, but if the frequency surprises you, remember that the boys were babies then and ever so squishable.) Sometimes she even parked at our house and took one of the boys with her.

When she burst in through the back porch door one Sunday afternoon, it was immediately clear that today was not a normal day. Mom was in the kitchen with me, and we both stared at my sister. Her hair was sopping wet — it didn’t look like she’d even patted it with a towel — and she looked like she might burst into tears.

“What happened?!?” my mother said.

My sister took in a long breath, and said, in the fiercest whisper I have ever heard, “I. cannot. talk. about it. yet.”

She wrapped a towel around her head and one around her waist and took off her water shoes and went and sat in the living room. Mom and I stayed in the kitchen and conducted a conversation of frantic looks and shrugs, mostly translating to, “What on earth could have happened?” and “Why are you asking ME? I don’t know any more than you do!”

After a while, my sister summoned us into the living room. She didn’t have to whisper anymore, which was a good sign. Mom sat in my huge chair-and-a-half and I perched on the ottoman, facing my sister across the room.

Another deep breath.

“I can’t laugh yet,” she said. “But I know that it is really funny, and you may laugh.”

We nodded, wide-eyed.

The Sunday afternoon swim started like all the Sunday afternoon swims before it. Quiet. She did some laps. Maybe some underwater planks. Stuff like that. She’d been out there a long time and was just starting to think about getting out and drying off when cars started to pull in to the parking lot. A lot of cars.

This was not particularly alarming. Remember all the family reunions? It was a little unusual that people were pulling lawn chairs out of their cars and setting them up right by the water, but not everybody eats inside. Probably, she thought, they were setting up the chairs and then they’d go inside and get started on the food. She could exit safely when they went in and be gone by the time they’d filled their plates and ambled outside.

But more cars kept coming, and more people kept lugging chairs out of them and some of them had started to sit down. Suddenly, in a horrible flash of insight, she realized that the chairs were not set up in chatty little groups meant for socializing over picnic food. They were all facing the water, in rows.

It was far, far too late to make a covert escape. People were settling in for the show, whatever that show might be. And so she did the only thing she could think to do. She swam, very slowly so as not to make any noise, to the very farthest corner of the roped-off swimming area, and tried to slide in behind the float. The float, though, was not embarrassed by the audience at all, and drifted happily wherever it pleased, paying no heed to the mortified woman begging silently for cover.

Not my sister. But I didn’t have a picture of her that day so you’re stuck with me.

More people had gathered. She discovered that the dead man’s float works well even for those who only wish they were dead. Someone rose to speak. Her ears were mostly underwater, but she peeked periodically to see when the farce would end.

The speaking continued. Finally, there was some movement, and she turned enough to see two people walking out into the pond, about to waist level. The penny finally dropped.

And so my sister floated there, in the sun-warmed water and a sea of mortification, during a ceremony of Christian baptism.

“I said you could laugh,” she said again at this point, but I shook my head furiously, jaw aching and eyes wide. I wasn’t laughing, I insisted, between clenched teeth.

The actual baptism at least signaled that the worst was over. The newly damp Christian and the minister went inside to get cleaned up, and the crowd drifted slowly toward the front of the building. After a bit, only a few older men remained in the chairs, talking quietly, right by the shallows where she needed to exit.

She gave them a few minutes, but they clearly weren’t vacating, and she decided this was a good as it was going to get. Gathering her courage and the remains of her dignity, she swam toward the deck, standing up and walking when she could. Streaming water, she walked up to the men and said, “I am SO sorry. I did not mean to be disrespectful. I did not know this was happening.” Because while not a Church Person, my sister is very much a Polite Person, and she wouldn’t purposely interrupt a wedding or a funeral, either.

No, no, they said gently. No need for apology. Fine, everything’s fine. And would you like to come in for some food? You’d be welcome.

And that did her in. She fled. It was half their kindness, I think, and half the vision of walking into the building in her swimsuit and helping herself to the potluck buffet cooked by strangers.

As she neared the end of the story, she was visibly recovering, and my mom had given up all pretense and was giggling hysterically.

I knew, though, that my sister was definitely going to be fine when she turned to me and said, “You know, it WAS a baptism. And I WAS submerged.”

“No,” I said. “It doesn’t count.”




** Please note that I am telling this story with her explicit permission and publishing it after her review. There are at least two people that now follow everything they say in my presence with, “Don’t put that on the blog!” but I’m not actually out to embarrass anyone. Except maybe the kids, when they’re teenagers.

Behind the Times 

This has been my special friend for the past little while. For those of you lucky enough not to recognize it, it is a donut pillow, and it is for those who are having trouble sitting comfortably.

About three weeks ago, I slipped stepping out of the shower and went down hard. Right on my tailbone. It is possible that I did not accept this bump in the road with total equanimity and instead shrieked like a banshee. It hurt quite a lot.

It kept hurting, and sitting down was especially objectionable. My sister brought me a donut to sit on. I lost it somewhere (best guess: Millersburg) and immediately went to Rite Aid and got another one.

I finally saw a doctor last week – I don’t have anything against doctors except the copay we get charged – for a regular appointment and she confirmed my belief that she really couldn’t do anything about the, uh, problem area. She did, however, give me something that slowed down the spasms I was having and let me sleep at night. Things have improved enough that when I went to my brother’s house for Easter dinner tonight, I didn’t take my donut with me. (That was a touch optimistic.)

The boys have been intrigued by this injury, not least because it provides them opportunities to bring into conversation a part of the human anatomy that I generally encourage them not to discuss at length or in detail. In fact, last Monday, Levi’s Sunday School teacher (also my co-worker) informed me that I came up during prayer time. She swears he used polite words, but my problem was explained to his teachers and classmates at some length.

I experienced an initial flash of embarrassment – Does anyone other than a Kardashian really like having their hindparts discussed in public? – but recovered quickly. Because this is the best thing, seriously. It has been making me laugh all week long.

At one point, a week ago, there was a classroom full of second-graders praying for my behind. Bless their sweet hearts, and their delightful teachers. I guess when you ask second-graders what they need to pray for, you really, really never know what you’re going to get.

Hope Springs Eternal

In a triumph of hope over experience, I bought a plant today. 

In a victory of practicality over naïveté … it was a baby cactus. 

If I can keep this alive, perhaps I will find something else that thrives under benign neglect and double my collection. 

Stay tuned. 

Here We Are

I am told that it is National Siblings Day, though who puts together this calendar of daily can’t-miss events I will never know.

And so here we are, all five of us in the same frame, and I cannot tell you how rare that was.

1980- F Bert Lucy Carol Chris B Alan ML Lee

I think the dial had just flipped over to 1980, but we are rocking the shades of 70s brown, even Dad. And that tab collar my brother is wearing. It is a work of art.

Home, Robert Frost said, is the place where when you have to go there, they have to let you in. Perhaps siblings are the people who, when you have to call them, have to pick up the phone.

And if you’re lucky, most of the time they even want to.

All Clear

I’m guessing most of you have heard of a neti pot, although many of you likely can’t get past the idea of forcing warm water up your nose. My sister, on seeing me prepare for it, sometimes asks if I’m going to waterboard myself again. I admit it’s a little gross, but being a parent for a week – honestly, a day – introduced me to far worse, and doing it daily means that I rarely have to take any allergy medication.

Levi has a lot of mucus, so we started doing it for him, too, as soon as he could figure out what to do. 

We use the squeeze bottle version instead of a pot, but it’s a staple around our house. 

Maybe a year ago, Paul asked me to start the “nose hose” for Levi. I stuck the bottle full of water in the microwave for the prescribed amount of time and set it on the counter. Paul made his way over and got Levi. 

As soon as the first blast went into Levi’s nose, he started yelling. “It’s poison!! Stop! Stop, it’s poison!”

Paul stopped, but we could not figure out what was going on. After some confusion and accusation (the latter mostly but not entirely from Levi), we discovered that Paul  and I have different processes. He adds the saline packet to the water before he heats it. I add it after. So … it was never added. We shot plain water up Levi’s nose.

I admit, I thought he was being a drama queen. I mean, I knew you were supposed to add the stuff, but how bad could it be? 

This morning, I got my own nose hose ready and shot the first blast, and discovered that Levi had been perhaps a little restrained. 

I’d forgotten to add the saline packet. My eyes did not stop watering for two full minutes. (On the positive side, my sinuses feel VERY CLEAR.)

It’s not a lesson I will soon forget. And I’ll have to add it to the list of apologies I owe my children. 

Let’s not talk about how long that list is …