Eddie and Annie

It was a Thanksgiving unlike any other. Joining our family were two people from the soup kitchen where my mom volunteered.

My mother had decorated the table just as she would for any holiday: a linen tablecloth, her best dishes, lit candles and fancy napkins. Soft music played in the background. However, this year extended family did not surround the table. Instead, sitting at the table were Annie and Eddie.

Eddie wasn’t homeless, but I strongly doubted his home had running water. He wreaked of unwashed skin and filthy clothes. His fingernails were caked with dirt. Eddie had cerebral palsy and needed a cane to walk. His speech was slow and slurred, and often his words were so garbled they were unintelligible. Eddie was also fond of collecting items he found on the streets on his way to the soup kitchen. He would proudly display these trinkets. For example, when he visited our home, he wore a belt covered with bottle caps. People always knew when Eddie was approaching because they could hear his knickknacks jingling and jangling from afar.

Annie sat to Eddie’s right. Annie resided in a government subsidized motel. Even though Annie’s motel room had running water, she chose to douse herself with what smelled like gallons of inexpensive perfume – as though she were attempting to mask an unpleasant odor. Annie would also paint layers of makeup on her face, giving herself a clown-like appearance. Annie was also a scowler. If she enjoyed having Thanksgiving at our house, you would never have known.

The meal proceeded like any other, except for my trying to chew and swallow while holding my breath. At six years old, I knew Eddie was a kind man and I could tell he was absolutely thrilled to be having dinner in our home, but his body odor was overpowering. Annie’s perfume did nothing to mask Eddie’s smell. Instead, it made a rather nauseating combination.

Dinner conversation consisted of Eddie telling stories at painstakingly long lengths as he struggled to pronounce words. When he reached the the end of a story, Eddie would burst out laughing. My  parents, brother and I would exchange glances that read, “Did you understand that?” “No. I was hoping you did.” We would smile and laugh with Eddie, hoping he would never suspect our ignorance. Annie glowered and poked at her turkey.

After dessert it was time to bring Annie and Eddie back to their homes. I climbed into my parent’s Datsun, squished between Eddie and Annie in the backseat. The smell of Eddie’s unwashed clothes and body and Annie’s perfume was overwhelming, and I couldn’t wait for this Thanksgiving to end. I couldn’t understand why my mother would want Annie and Eddie at our Thanksgiving dinner. As far as I was concerned, the meal had been ruined by Eddie’s stench and dirty fingernails. Annie’s grumpiness hadn’t help much either.

Looking back, I now understand how my mom was able to see past Eddie’s unwashed body and soiled clothes. She saw a kind man who had no one to share Thanksgiving with, and if it weren’t for my mom, he would have spent Thanksgiving alone. For my mom, it was an honor to provide Eddie with a Thanksgiving meal and company.

As for Annie, my mom treated her unhappiness with love and warmth. My mom suspected Annie’s past was not an easy one, so she did not begrudge Annie’s lack of gratefulness. My mom didn’t need Annie to say the food was delicious or that she was thankful to be invited. Watching Annie (who was dressed in costume jewelry and her usual layers of makeup) eat meant more to my mom than any thanks Annie could have given.

We dropped Annie off at her motel room before driving deep into the woods to Eddie’s home. The night sky was brilliant, filled with stars brighter than any I had ever seen. Eddie’s house was at the end of a dirt road. It looked like something I would have seen drawn in a children’s Halloween book. There was no electricity and the front steps were leaning precariously to the side. They were also coated with ice. I sat in the car, watching Eddie slowly climb his front stairs poking the ice with his cane before cautiously taking a step. My father – who was following Eddie – paused to chip some of the ice off the steps before he and my mom made sure Eddie was safely inside.

When my parents returned, we immediately rolled down all of the windows to air out the car. Eddie’s smell and Annie’s perfume seemed to have permeated our noses and the vinyl seats.  We drove home silent and thoughtful – the brisk November air bathing our faces. While I couldn’t wait for that Thanksgiving to end, I still think about it thirty years later.

Bumper Stickers and Vanity Plates: They’re a Commitment

The Underground Writer

A friend of mine said, “Bumper stickers are a commitment.”  She has a valid point.  I mean, you’re really putting yourself out there with bumper stickers. Similar to road rage (when you can flip someone the bird and then drive off knowing there will be no consequences), you’re not held accountable for whatever you plaster on your car. Generally, people don’t retaliate based on what your bumper stickers say.

But what if they did?

Take the bumper sticker I recently saw: My Other Car is a 747. Clearly this person must be a pilot.  Now, what if I had pulled alongside the pilot’s car, rolled down my window and started frantically waving my arms while shouting, “Hey you! Yes, you!  You’re a pilot? What airline do you fly for? It better not be US Air!  They lost my luggage and then left it out in the rain.  Oh! And my…

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New Awareness Months

Awareness months are all the rage. For every month of the year, it seems like one organization or another wants us of to be mindful of a certain illness, social problem, or hobby. Take the month of September, for example. The ninth month of the year is host to prostate, thyroid, and ovarian cancer awareness. August is motorsports, cataract and psoriasis (patches of red, flaky skin) awareness month. October is breast cancer, cholesterol, disability employment, vegetarian and influenza awareness month. Meanwhile November makes us aware of lung cancer, long term care, veganism and Alzheimer’s disease. (Click HERE and HERE for proof.)

There are even months dedicated for animal awareness, with September being National Chicken Month, and March Adopt-A-Rescued-Guinea Pig month. Because February is Pet Dental Health month, we will remember to check our cat and dog’s chompers. (Don’t believe me? CLICK HERE.)

While I understand the calendar is getting full of our need to be aware of so many diseases (and animals), I can’t help but feel that some issues have been neglected. Take Delusions of Grandeur for example. This is the belief that you are more wonderful and powerful than you really are. Meaning, you think you’re great, but others do not. Perhaps if there was a delusions of grandeur month, people would understand why that guy in the office is so obnoxious and self-centered.

April should help make us aware of Asymmetriphobia. This is the pervasive fear of lopsided, uneven things. People who suffer from assymmetriphobia will never be caught wearing mismatched socks. They may also spend a painstakingly long time hanging a picture frame to make sure it’s just right. Asymmetriphobia month would help us be a tad more patient with the family member who spends nine hours decorating a Christmas tree because the ornaments have to be evenly distributed. It might just help one of us to pause a moment and think, “Now wait a second. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep knowing the dishes in my cabinets aren’t evenly stacked!”

Napkin On The Lap month would be huge. Placing your napkin on your lap while eating is not only proper, it saves people from having to see whatever schmutz you just wiped off your face. Putting napkins on laps during meals seems to be a lost etiquette. Let’s make people aware it exists and bring it back, shall we?

Having lived in a neighborhood with dog owners, I know first hand the intense frustration of finding dog doo on my lawn when I don’t even own a dog. Hence, a Pick-Up After Your Dog awareness month is an absolute must. Pet stores could seize this moment by offering discounts on pooper scoopers and waste bags. Additionally, very creative bumper stickers could be designed to inform others this important month exists. (Perhaps, instead of awareness ribbons, there would be awareness dog … well, you know.)

Lastly, the month of February could be Shopping Cart In The Middle Of The Aisle awareness month. What better to pair with Valentines Day than to be mindful of leaving your grocery cart smack dab in the middle of the aisle so it blocks everyone? For twenty-eight days (except for leap year, where it would be a blissful twenty-nine days) we wouldn’t have to say,

“Excuse me? Um … excuse me? But I can’t get by. Would you mind moving your cart over just a bit?”

to the shopper who is ruminating over the prices of competing pasta brands.  (I’ll be honest here – I am one of those really annoying shoppers who gets easily distracted and drifts down the aisle, leaving my cart in everyone’s way.)

Since there is Stress Awareness Month (April), National Asparagus Month (May) and Get To Know an Independent Realtor Month (February), I think Shopping Cart In The Middle Of The Aisle, Delusions of Grandeur, Asymmetriphobia, Pick Up After Your Dog and Napkin On The Lap awareness months could very well be a success.

Your Memoir

If you were to write a memoir, what would it contain? First, let me define “memoir.” The Oxford Dictionary states that a memoir is, “a biography written from personal knowledge.” O“an essay on a learned subject.”

When I think of a memoir, I envision a thick book just filled with pages upon pages of life events written by someone notable. (Think Bill Clinton’s My Life or Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.) Since I haven’t turned forty yet, it seems premature to write a biographical memoir.

But an essay on a learned subject? Well! Now that is doable.

Yet, there are a multitude of learned subjects I would love to discuss in my memoir. I can’t help but feel limiting it to only one subject would be withholding crucial life lessons that could aid my readers. What if the below tidbits dramatically change your life? So, at risk of breaking all literary convention, I present you with The Underground Writer’s Memoir.

Baking powder and baking soda are two entirely different things. Ask my family. They learned this brutal truth several Sundays ago when I tried to make pancakes from scratch. The recipe called for baking powder. In my hasty, caffeine infused rush, I accidentally used baking soda. Twice. (Since I tossed the first batch after my husband and daughter said the pancakes tasted acidic … and resembled amoebas.)

Don’t be fooled by the song, “Send In The Clowns” by Judy Collins. You may think this is a peppy tune since the word “clown” is in the title. Trust me, it’s not peppy. There is no circus music, as one might expect. In fact, it just might be the most depressing song in the history of music. Whatever you do, DON’T put this song in the music queue for your child’s birthday. Unless you want to curl up into a ball and sob your eyes out, I recommend staying away from the song altogether.

Not everyone finds the surgery you had as fascinating as you do. When I was fourteen, my parents invited friends over for dinner. The man brought the video of his recent cataract surgery. He really thought we wanted to watch it. Out of kindness we did, but it was such an awkward moment: sitting in the living room, the taste of dessert still fresh on our tongues, as we watched this guy’s eyeball get stitched back together.

No one can prepare you for how insanely difficult it is to be a parent. I’m not referring to such incidents as your teenager having an attitude, or your eight your old who still refuses to eat anything green. I am talking about that deep, penetrating ache you feel when your child comes home from school and says they spent recess alone, again. Or that suffocating panic when the pediatrician calls with test results they find concerning. As Erma Bombeck so eloquently stated, “Having children is forever deciding to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

While these life lessons aren’t exactly groundbreaking or revelational, if they help a part of your day be a bit easier, then my memoir of lessons learned was an (unpublished) success .