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It’s amazing how two people can grow up in the same house with the same parents and end up being such different people.
Take my nieces for example.
I recall when Callie, the oldest, was learning to swim. I took her swimming at my aunt’s pool. My sister ensconced my niece in plastic inflatables: there was an inner tube that covered her midsection from armpits to thighs and her arms were invisible beneath bright blue plastic tubes.
She wouldn’t have sunk if she’d struck an iceberg.
In spite of the inner tube and swimmies, Callie was terrified. She only agreed to be in the pool if I held on to her with both hands.
After roughly two hours of a small, clingy, inflated child grasping my neck, I decided to pry her off and let her discover for herself that she was in no danger of sinking. I wriggled free of her clutch and let her bob in the shallow end a foot and a half from the steps.
Callie screamed loud enough to set off two car alarms and send the police by on a wellness check. I didn’t take her swimming again for three years.
Callie’s younger sister, Nicole, turned four last month and is now learning to swim. She wanted to join me, my sister and Callie in the hot tub recently but was a bit unsure. Now a swimming pro, Callie coaxed her sister Nicole to join us in the warm bubbling water.
There were no blow up rings around Nicole’s waist or arms, no way of preventing sinking. If she went under it was up to Aunt Nora to fish her out.
After a few minutes adjusting to the temperature and sound, Nicole began to relax and enjoy the water.
“Have you learned to put your face in the water yet,” I asked Nicole.
“No,” she told me but that didn’t stop her from trying. She leaned her face toward the water and dipped her chin in.
Suddenly, her feet slipped and she plunged face first into the water. She was completely submerged. I grabbed her, pulled her to the surface and braced for screaming.
She didn’t make a peep.
Then she grinned, flung her arms over her head and announced, “I did it,” in the singsong voice of one who has won a board game or found a lost penny.
I glanced at my own sister shrugged who shrugged, “They’re as different as you and I.”
It made perfect sense.
It was 1987. I was nine that summer. My parents took my sister and I on our annual camping trip.
We were camping pros. We had pitched more tents than a Boy Scout troupe but nothing could have prepared us for what happened that summer.
It started with a noise, a low hum like heavy equipment. The sound was out of place in the forest. It grew ever louder as we drove deeper into the woods.
Then, we saw it: a giant ungainly bug with garish red and green markings. It had enormous, bulging eyes, paper-thin wings and was bigger than my hand.
It was a cicada and it wasn’t alone.
Millions of the grasshopper-like creatures crawled from the earth. Their constant droning buzzed in our ears and the top of our tent sagged with the weight of hundreds of bodies.
Cicadas come out only once every seven years and we had the misfortune of timing a camping trip with their arrival.
In true outdoor spirit, my family persevered, determined to have a campout in spite of the creatures. They were harmless after all. What could go wrong?
We slept through the night in relative peace. It was the next morning when disaster struck.
My mother suddenly clutched her leg. Her eyes wide and her body rigid. She looked like she was suffering from a sudden and major medical condition.
“What’s wrong,” my dad asked concerned.
“One crawled up my pants leg,” my mother said in a strangled voice.
“What,” my dad asked.
“A cicada! It crawled up my pants leg,” my mother screamed. “Ahhh! It’s going higher!” She desperately pressed her hands against her thigh to stop the cicada from continuing its upward journey.
“Pull your pants off,” Dad suggested.
“No,” my mother screamed back, “what if someone sees me?”
“I know,” Dad said, “I’ll squish it.”
He started toward Mom with his hand raised ready to swat.
“No,” Mom shrieked! She began hopping away from him. “Don’t you dare squish that bug on my leg!”
She hopped some more.
“I think it’s going down,” she said with some relief.
She leapt up and down vigorously shaking the uninvited guest down her leg and onto the ground.
“Aww,” Dad said in mock disappointment. “I wanted to squish it.”
Mom shot him a nasty look.
“Pack up,” she said. “We’re leaving! We’ll come back next year when these things are gone!”
We never went camping again. Some scars take a lifetime to heal.
“Guess what!” I bounced up and down waving a sheet of paper. My husband Brian raised an eyebrow in askance. “I just did the budget and we can afford to go on vacation this year!”
“That’s great,” he exclaimed. “What are you thinking: Bermuda, Jamaica, Europe?”
“Oh, no we can’t afford that kind of vacation,” I told him.
“What kind of vacation can we afford,” he asked.
“We can afford to go camping or we can go to your basic all amenities excluded motel if we limit our stay to two nights and switch from two-ply toilet paper to single ply for the rest of the year.” He sighed.
“Not much of a choice is it,” I conceded. “Still camping or a motel beats staying here.”
“True,” he said, “let’s go to a motel. Camping is uncomfortable. Mosquitoes eat you alive, I toss and turn trying to sleep on rocks and there’s never enough hot water in the showers.”
We booked a hotel and set off on our vacation. The room wasn’t luxurious but my expectations weren’t high. I knew how much, or how little rather, we’d paid to stay there.
That night we snuggled under the covers. Every few moments Brian would wriggle and readjust his position.
“What’s wrong,” I asked.
“The bed is lumpy,” he replied. Finally, he stopped moving. After a few moments though, I felt a tickling on my foot.
“What’s the matter now,” I snapped in irritation.
“I’m not doing anything,” he said.
“Well if you’re not then what’s on my foot?” I tossed back the covers and shrieked. “A roach! A roach is on my foot!”
We flew out of bed shaking our hands and feet doing the cootie dance. The roach ran toward Brian. He snatched a book of the bed stand and squashed the killer roach flat.
“All better,” he said.
“Maybe for you. It didn’t touch you! I’m going to boil myself in a shower.” I climbed off the dresser and stormed to the bathroom. However, I was unable to “boil” myself since at its hottest the shower was approximately as warm as gazpacho.
Unable to return to the roach bed we curled together on the room’s love seat. Brian held me close and whispered in my ear, “Honey, next year, let’s go camping.”
Recently, I’ve had two friends who have family members struggling with ALS. My friend Stefanie recently lost her mother to ALS and my friend Trish’s husband has it.
I confess, I didn’t know a thing about it until Stef’s mom was diagnosed.
I do not have the skills, knowledge and training to do anything about ALS. That’s someone else’s role to play.
What I lack in medical skill, I hope I make up for by being a supportive and loving friend to those who are going through illness or struggle of any kind.
To that end, here is my friend Trish’s husband Steve taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!
Steve has ALS and hopes this video will go viral. I challenge you to share it!
My father-in-law loves dogs almost as much as dogs love him. With some unseen skill, he can win over even the most bloodthirsty hound or shy pup.
He has two dogs of his own, Bullet and Ginger, a German Shepherd and Lab respectively. They roam his spacious country property and keep the house safe from the terrors of such animals as squirrels and white tailed deer.
When my mother-in-law decided she wanted a dog of her own, she choose a dog as different from her husband’s as possible. Instead of a large, active canine, she wanted a dainty lap dog to cuddle. She adopted a terrier mix who tops the scales at ten pounds and named her Darlin’.
She determined that Darlin’ would be her dog, not her husband’s. Knowing his gift for instant rapport with dogs, she refused to let him pet or talk to Darlin’ for fear the dog would abandon her in favor of him.
Because the large dogs can roam, they sometimes venture into trouble. Ginger in particular has caused some trouble with their few neighbors by bringing home shoes or other loose items that fit in her mouth. My mother-in-law likes to boast that it’s her husband’s dog who cause the trouble.
Ginger’s antics recently took a turn for the worst. My father-in-law found a dead chicken in his backyard.He sighed and disposed of it sure he’d hear from a neighbor soon.
Then a second dead chicken appeared in the yard.
Then a third.
He smoked a cigarette and waited for the phone to ring.
When the phone rang, he sighed and answered ready to apologize and make amends.
“Hey Buddy,” he said his customary genuine warmth.
“I guess you know why I’m calling,” his neighbor said.
“Yeah, I do. I found the chickens. I’m sorry and I’ll do whatever I can to make things right.”
“It was my own fault,” said his neighbor,” I left the gate open.”
“ I guess I’ll have to find a new home for Ginger so this doesn’t happen again.”
“No,” the neighbor replied, “it wasn’t Ginger.”
My father-in-law was stunned. Bullet was a gentle giant. He had never caused trouble of this sort. He couldn’t believe that this dog who was so patient with puppies and small children had harmed a living creature.
Then the real shock came.
“It was the little one,” said the neighbor.
“Darlin’,” my father-in-law gasped in disbelief.
“I replayed the footage on my security cam,” said the neighbor, “that little dog grabbed a chicken by throat. It was bigger than her! The poor things fought with her but she’s scrappy!”
My father-in-law apologized again and hung up. He could hardly wait to tell his wife about the trouble her dog had caused.
“Listen to this,” I exclaimed to my husband Brian in disbelief, “A US Airways flight had to make an emergency landing because a dog pooped on the plane.” I read the news story from my cell phone.
“An emergency landing for that,” Brian asked in amazement.
“It gets better,” I told him. “The dog was big and he pooped a lot! The crew cleaned it up but the smell lingered.”
“What sissies,” Brian said.
“That’s not the end of it though,” I told him. “Apparently the dog pooped again later. The smell was so bad people started being sick and dry heaving.”
“When the crew ran out of cleaning supplies the pilot decided the put the plane down.”
“This story is finally starting to make sense,” he said.
“Remember our last road trip,” I asked him.
We both paused and thought back. We were returning home from a visit to his parent’s in Georgia. Brian, our dog Starla and I made the three hour drive back to our home in Greenville, South Carolina.
Things were going smoothly. We’d packed everything, were making good time and hadn’t had car trouble. I was smug. Probably too smug that I’d managed to get us on the road successfully.
“Was that you,” Brian asked suddenly.
“Was what me,” I asked.
Then it hit me. The smell was like an illness that climbed through the cabin of the car.
Starla looked guilty.
“Oh gosh,” I gagged.
Brian and I contorted desperate to open the flip out windows in the back of our Honda Element. We were trapped in a car shaped like a toaster, barreling down the freeway with no exits in sight and a dog that was dropping bombs potent enough to choke an elephant.
“Don’t roll down the front windows,” I cried a moment too late. “It will draw the smell toward us!”
He frantically pressed buttons on the driver’s door handle.
“Why won’t the far back window roll down,” he gasped.
“I don’t know,” I screamed. “I guess gassy dogs weren’t in the design plan at Honda.”
He calmed himself. “We can’t turn on each other,” he said with forced composure.
“No,” I agreed. “We must stay strong.”
“Thank God! An exit,” I pointed out a ramp that was nearing at eighty miles an hour. Too slow, far too slow.
Brian kept the top-heavy SUV at speed as long as he could on the ramp slowing only when gravity forced him to brake.
We whipped into the nearest gas station. I snapped the leash on Starla’s collar and rushed her to a grassy spot. Brian aired out the Element.
“I remember,” Brian said, bringing me back to the present. He looked slightly green around the eyes.
“Imagine,” I said, “being trapped in a plane with that smell.”
“Recirculated air,” he murmured.
We looked at each other, stood and each opened a window in our apartment.
My husband Brian returned home from work and lay face down in the middle of the living room floor. The dog immediately jumped on him.
“Uhhhhmmmmpppfff,” he gasped when she landed in the small of his back. “Get off!”
I opened a beer.
“Rough day at the office, sweetie,” I asked handing him the beer.
“If only I worked in an office,” he muttered.
He doesn’t. He works in retail and sells glasses to masses of people. People who are furious that they have to spend their money on glasses instead of something they really want.
“We had a ‘problem customer,’” he groaned.
“Just one,” I asked surprised.
He rolled his eyes so hard I worried he’d sprained them.
“Yeah just one today but it was a bad one and it took me hours to sort out a computer problem with her order. The problem was caused by home office but my boss will probably yell at me for it,” he took a long pull from the beer. “I need a different job.”
He did. He’s happiest when working with machines. People present him with a bigger challenge, particularly people who are determined to be unhappy no matter what he does.
These people are also known as retail customers.
A bad economy and limited job options landed him his current job. He misses working with his hands.
Brian is at his best when a machine breaks down. He pulls it apart, finds the problem and reassembles.
When people aren’t working at their full potential you can’t take them apart and add oil.
I smiled at him. “Finding a job that’s a good fit is a little like dating.”
“How do you mean,” he asked.
“They aren’t all destined to be a marriage. Sometimes all it takes is one bad dinner and a movie to know this isn’t the job you’re going to stay with for the rest of your life.”
“I need to break up with this job,” he muttered. He thought about it for a moment. “Is it cheating if I start looking for another job?”
“I think you’re getting carried away with the metaphor,” I replied.
He climbed out of the floor and sat on the couch. The dog jumped in his lap.
Brian scratched her ears, gave me a warm smile and said, “If I can find a job that makes me as happy as you and the dog do, it will be a great job indeed.”
“One that will last a lifetime,” I agreed.