I moved to the midwest in the mid-1990′s after a lifetime in Philadelphia. Until I took the twelve hour drive I’d never been farther west than Harrisburg, PA. I was thirty. My son was two-and-a-half (don’t do the math, he turns 21 in March) and was slow to speak, so he really lassoed his speech skills as a resident of a quaint Chicago suburb. Which is when we realized that not only were we raising a little boy who liked Batman and hats and Disney movies, but one who had — AN ACCENT.
It had never occurred to us that our kids would speak differently, that their colloquialisms would not resemble ours. Nor did we realize that this would become a source of endless entertainment as we added a daughter to the family and she, too, talked funny.
Or was that us?
Even recently when we were having dinner with a friend from Philadelphia, we ambled into our favorite game: How Do You Say This?
So I thought we could play it here! But you have to say the words aloud! I promise, no one is listening.
1) Say: forehead (did you say it?)
Did you say 4-head or far-head? If you’re my kids you said 4-head. If you’re most people you said 4-head. But if you’re from Philadelphia, like me, even though I took a college class to rid myself of the Philly accent, I still say far-head. This amuses my almost-grown children to no end.
2) Say: orange (very good)
Did you say OR-ange or did you say R-ange? I say R-ange. Or-ange sounds funny to me still, and I haven’t lived in Philly since 1990. You can take the girl out of the old neighborhood…as they say.
3) Say: sub (as in sandwich) Ha, this was a trick question. It’s a hoagie.
4) Now this is a tricky one. Read this line aloud. Really. It doesn’t work if you say it inside your head.
Merry Mary Married Hairy Harry
Ok, now when my kids read that line, Merry, Mary, and Married sound EXACTLY the same. When I say it (obviously correctly) they all sound different. Same goes for Hairy Harry (poor guy).
When my kids read it, Merry, Mary and Married sound like: MARY. And Hairy and Harry sound like: HAIRY.
It’s an A thing.
When I read it, Merry has a short e, Mary sounds NORMAL and Married sounds like Maah-ried.
You know, CORRECT.
This does not even start to get into the realm of jimmies which the world thinks of as sprinkles, or playgrounds that Chicagoans call parks, or movies that Chicagoans call shows. A friend used to say she was going to a show almost every weekend and I imagined her heading downtown to the swanky Broadway in Chicago theaters and spending a boatload on tickets. In reality, she was dropping $9 at the movies in the town over.
I love regional dialects and the special names that go with special places that we know. In Philadelphia when you go downtown you go “into town.” It looks like this:
If you’re in my small Chicago suburb and say you’re going “into town” then you are going here:
Both destinations are lovely, but very different. The biggest drawback to Mayberry? You can’t get a soft pretzel on a street corner.
In my family’s language , “funny stories” translates to “let’s embarrass the children.”
And so, with no further ado:
When my son was small, I often took him to visit my father on weekends. Dad lived 20 minutes from us, with a big backyard where my son could run and play. Dad also loved Jack-in-the-Box cheeseburgers, so I usually picked up lunch on the way.
One midsummer afternoon when my son was two, Dad and I sat at the patio table and talked over lunch while the kiddo orbited the yard like a hyperactive moon, returning for a bite or two of his burger or a rapidly-cooling fry between circuits.
That summer Dad supplemented his backyard tomato garden with three serrano chile plants. The plants had matured, their skinny arms
Image courtesy antpkr/DigitalFreePhotos.net
sporting a tantalizing assortment of brilliant red chile fruit.
Fruit that looked an awful lot like candy.
My son saw the peppers and raced to the table. He pointed. “Want.”
“No, you don’t,” Dad said. “Those are serrano chiles. Very hot.”
My son’s lip quivered. “I want one.”
“Too hot,” Dad said, “burn your mouth like fire.”
But my son had made up his mind. He must have a chile, and have it now, and since we refused he escalated negotiations. His face screwed up, his little hands bunched at his sides.
Dad offered real candy and even an ice cream from the fridge. No dice. My kid wanted a pepper, and if he couldn’t have a pepper he’d have a tantrum.
“Okay,” I said, “but only one.”
My father looked as though I’d lost my mind.
The storm clouds vanished, replaced by a brilliant smile. “Okay, just one.”
“You won’t like it,” I warned him. “It will burn your mouth. It’s yucky.”
Dad couldn’t believe I was serious.
“It’s a life lesson,” I said as my son debated which pepper to pick. “It won’t kill him, or make him sick.”
My son selected a one-inch pepper, popped it into his mouth, and chewed.
I looked at Dad and counted. “One, two, three.”
My son opened his mouth and removed the pepper – still almost whole, with a deep set of teeth marks imprinted in the surface.
“I don’t like it.”
And then he began to cry.
I handed over his milkshake and watched him take a very large swallow. The crying stopped. The tears and the lesson were over.
Never again did my son insist on eating something I told him he wouldn’t like. In fact, for almost a year he reacted to every new food by looking at me and asking, “Do I like this? Is it … hot?”
No pepper in candy’s clothing has ever fooled him again.
Have you ever had an unpleasant spicy surprise? Would you let your children learn this lesson “the hard way” – or would you have put up with a storm of tears? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Though by night I am a writer, by day I have another identity—as a Pregnancy and Early Parenting Specialist (yes, we call ourselves PEePS) at a wonderful boutique and resource center here in Madison.
As a result, I never, ever have a shortage of fun family stories. Many of my favorites are origin stories—how the family came together, or how a couple became three, or a threesome became four. These aren’t always a laughing matter at the time, but mothers have a way of retelling even the most difficult trials of their lives—like childbirth, for example—as though it was a funny PG-13 movie they saw once long ago. (Or, in some cases, a campy horror flick.)
Of course, those stories aren’t mine to tell, but I can tell you instead about another family origin story—the day we brought home not our baby, but our kitty.
It was Valentine’s Day. To say Josh had been wanting a cat would be like saying BLB kind of likes blueberries. If there were a bathtub full of blueberries, my kid would be in that bathtub right now, emptying it out one berry at a time, taking breaks only to shout “MO! MO BOOBERR!” And if there were a bathtub full of cats, God help us all.
This is all to say Josh really wanted a cat. We went to the humane society with the stipulation that I would not bring home any cats that I hadn’t shared a room with for at least thirty minutes—I am allergic to some cats and it takes that long for my histamines to really get cranking. I sort of figured we’d pick out a test cat, I’d start with the watery eyes and sneezing, and after a few more tries we’d leave, catless.
But I never counted on Priscilla Pufferson.
She was the ugliest cat I had EVER seen. And that includes the one-eared cat my best friend and former roommate took in one night when I wasn’t paying attention. That includes the weird hairless cats that they use on cop shows to demonstrate that the suspect definitely did it, because only mass murderers would own cats like that. She was not a pretty cat.
And the smell. She had long, never-groomed gray hair matted from tail to chin. Her head was dwarfed by all that hair but her wild expression still came through. At some point, way back when, she had been hit by a skunk and stopped grooming herself. She had been moved from one shelter to the next for nearly ten months, and her time was quickly running out.
The cat room was full of plucky tabbies, cute calicos, and purring, docile kittens. Josh picked out Priscilla Pufferson.
The vet tech running the show pulled PeaPuff out of her cat condo and brought her out to us in our cat sampling room. This cat looked even worse from the back. She stank to the heavens. She climbed my body like a tree leaving puncture holes in my jeans (and my legs, I would later discover). She yowled until the moment she was placed on our laps and then would not under any circumstances get down. She bit.
I waited for the allergies to start.
They never did, of course. So we brought Priscilla Pufferson home in a cardboard box with holes in it. We put her in the finished part of the basement so she’d have a smaller space to get used to. She immediately climbed up into the rafters and stayed up there for hours and hours, while we spoke in soothing low voices and prayed she would one day come down. I spent much of that time deeply regretting getting a cat.
Then, around eight that night, she came down. She ambled around the basement coolly, sized us up, and then chose my lap as the perfect place to settle in and immediately began purring. I was touched. I was won over. I thought, I can do this. I can be a cat person. I love this cat.
“We shall name her Pufferson,” we agreed.
“What’s that smell?” I asked.
Ms. Pufferson stood up, dignified. She hopped down, off my lap, and headed back up for the rafters. Most of the terrible smell went with her.
But not all.
Needless to say, Ms. Pufferson had pooped in my lap.
In case it’s not perfectly obvious, I totally love this cat now. Here’s a picture of her in one of her favorite perches, on top of the OED, which was clearly designed with cat-snoozing in mind.
Growing up, my grandparents and I were very close. They lived only 10 minutes from my house, and my brother and I saw them often, whether it was for a holiday or birthday or no real reason at all.
When they hit their seventies, however, they began leaving town for a few months out of the year. Like migratory birds and many fellow Jewish grandparents, they flew south for the winter, fleeing the Philadelphia cold for the balmy weather of south Florida.
One year, when I was thirteen, I decided to visit them. Over my spring break, I flew by myself into the Fort Lauderdale airport, where they met me and drove me up to their condo in Pompano Beach.
I wasn’t expecting a wild week. These were my grandparents, after all. My mom-mom was in her 70s, my pop-pop in his 80s. I’d brought along Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and a few magazines and planned to catch up on my reading and beauty tips while listening to my dub of The Who’s Tommy, an album with which I was inexplicably obsessed at the time.
And for the most part, my experience in Pompano Beach matched my expectations. The week was filled with a lot of reading and music and car rides that involved us getting moderately lost while my mom-mom tried to give directions and my pop-pop snapped back, “For God’s sakes, Harriet, I know where I’m going!”
As my week in Florida drew to a close, my grandparents decided they should take me to a nice restaurant on my final night. Some place special. Considering one of our less successful meals had taken place at an establishment called The Flaming Pit, an all-you-can-eat type of restaurant catering to the over-80 crowd, the stakes were high. None of us wanted another Flaming Pit.
The quest proved more difficult than expected. I didn’t know the area, and my grandparents seemed suddenly bereft of ideas. Every time we ventured out in their car, we’d scan our surroundings for a restaurant with potential.
“What about that one?” I’d say.
“We went the other week, and it was terrible.”
How anything could be more terrible than The Flaming Pit I wasn’t sure, but I took their word for it.
Then, one day, as we drove along the highway, my mom-mom glanced out the front windshield at a huge billboard looming in the distance, one with a big owl with uncharacteristically large, orange-rimmed eyes. As we got closer, she leaned forward and read the billboard aloud.
“Hoo-ters,” she said, drawing out the oo and putting an extra emphasis on the t. “‘Chicken, clams, shrimp’ — well, now that sounds delicious.”
Hooters? My mom-mom was suggesting we go to Hooters?
“No, mom-mom,” I shot back. “We’re not going there.”
“Just…because. We can’t.”
She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “Okay. If you say so…”
Which, by her tone, meant, “My, my, aren’t we a bit difficult to please.”
Now, to put this in perspective, my grandmother is a woman who, for years, would not patronize a restaurant if they didn’t have tablecloths. At home, she would always serve “something to start” — a slice of cantaloupe or soup or half a grapefruit. For her, there were certain rules one followed when eating and dining, and some things just were not done. (Again, I have no idea how we ended up at The Flaming Pit.)
So for her to suggest a place like Hooters meant her ignorance as to the nature of this restaurant was so profound that she didn’t even know what she was suggesting. I’m sure all she saw was a lovable cartoon owl with big eyes who wanted us to try his chicken, clams, and shrimp. Had she laid her eyes upon the restaurant’s infamous busty waitresses…well, the word scandalized comes to mind
In the end, I don’t remember where we ate, or whether it was any good. But I do remember that it wasn’t Hooters, and as far as I’m concerned, that was the best send-off they could have given me.
So, tell me: did your grandparents ever take — or try to take — you somewhere really embarrassing?
This week we Debs are supposed to regale you with funny family stories.
This has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult task. I know there are lots of funny stories in my family, because I distinctly remember sitting around re-telling them and laughing our heads off while doing so. But when it came to the part about blogging, I ran into a problem. Most of the stories that come to mind a) are only in funny in family context – ie., you really had to be there, or b) they would embarrass somebody in the family if I shared them, or c) they really aren’t fit to tell in mixed company.
In my mind, a good funny family story should be something like this:
But as nothing remotely approaching the hilarity of A Christmas Story comes to mind, I shall tell you about Irving the cat and my mother.
It is important to understand that my brother, my Dad, and I were cat lovers. My mom, not so much. She tolerated the procession of pet cats who lived in our house over the years, but would have much preferred that they live in the barn. The idea of a warm purry critter in her lap while she read a book or watched TV? Not for her.
Irving sensed her opinion of cats. In typical contrary cat fashion, he selected her as his particular victim. He would wait around the house for her, hiding behind stair railings or chairs. When she walked by he’d shoot out a paw to snag her nylons, then run hell bent for leather to a place of safety. The running was important on his part, because there were episodes where she chased him with a slipper or a broom.
But this was not his only trick, oh no. Irving was a master of his craft and knew well the value of variety. He would wait until she sat down in a comfortable place where it appeared she would stay for awhile. When she was settled, he would curl up beside her, ignoring her suggestions that he move elsewhere. A few moments later, he would put a tentative foot on her lap, purring in his most charming and non-threatening manner. She’d push him away. He would persist, repeatedly, until she gave up and tolerated the foot. The second foot followed. Inroads were made in this manner until Irving had insinuated his entire body not only into her lap but onto her chest. For a few disarming minutes he would lie there, purring, biding his time. At the perfect moment (known only to him) he would bite her on the neck and run away.
Yes, people – this happened not once, but repeatedly. My brother and I would watch the process with repressed glee, knowing full well what the outcome would be. (And yes, we were evil children for not intervening.) How did my mother – a woman of great determination and strength of will – allow this scenario to repeat itself?
I can only say that I believe firmly in the Power of the Cat, of which Irving was a master.
Deb Kerry really has no news of interest. Other than discovering that apple pie can be made without peeling the apples first. This is BIG news for busy writers everywhere!
Deb Dana spent a lovely Thanksgiving with her extended family — and ate way too much pie!
Deb Susan also enjoyed a relaxing and happy Thanksgiving with family and friends – and hopes everyone else enjoyed the holiday too!
Deb Amy is late to the ball today, but better late than never, right? She’s thrilled to bits with her new website, which you can visit here.
Past Deb News
Deb Joanne Levy‘s blog is still hosting Round 2 of the KidLitCares auction to benefit Hurricane Sandy relief. Some auctions have closed but many are still accepting bids – click here for the full list. It’s not too late to participate!
Deb Dish – What was your favorite part of Thanksgiving this year?
Deb Dana: Pitching in with all of my family members as we helped my mom get everything on the table. My mom ladled the soup into bowls, my aunt shuttled the bowls to the various tables, I cleaned up the bowl rims with a paper towel, my cousin garnished each bowl with the bacon and chives, and my brother lit all of the candles on the tables to make sure everything was ready to go before we sat down for the first course. When you’re serving 34 people, it takes a village!
Deb Kerry: An unexpected late night trip to retrieve eldest son from the bus depot in Spokane because the connector bus – although they sold us a ticket – wasn’t running. I had an awesome talk with both my boys while we were driving.
Deb Susan: Since my mother had all of her children and grandchildren at her house for Thanksgiving, she decided to set up her Christmas tree Thanksgiving night. After a fantastic meal, three generations of people put five generations’ worth of ornaments onto the tree while sharing memories and desserts.
Deb Amy: My favorite part of Thanksgiving was having everyone under one roof for a few days. Even though it sort of throws me off kilter (I’m used to lots of alone time) I hope it happens again this spring for my daughter’s high school graduation.
Your Turn!! We’d love to hear something that happened at your Thanksgiving! What will you remember most about this year?
Today at The Ball we have Seré Prince Halverson, who’s getting ready for the paperback release of her debut novel, The Underside of Joy. To celebrate the paperback release of The Underside of Joy on November 27th, book clubs are invited to schedule a Skype visit with Seré and enter the Win a Picnic for Your Book Club drawing. Details will be available on Seré’s website and blog on November 27th or contact her here.
This is an opportunity you do NOT want to miss. Not only is Seré’s book full of heart, it’s also full of amazing food. This is a chance to get some of that for yourself and your book club!
Seré worked as a freelance copywriter and creative director for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband live in Northern California and have four (almost) grown children. The Underside of Joy is her debut novel. Originally published by Dutton in January 2012, it will be translated into 18 languages. You can find out more about Seré and her novel on her website, blog, and on Facebook.
Thank you for joining us at The Ball today, Seré!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
It’s hard to pick one book. I know that one of the first that made a big difference in my life was Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I read it in fourth grade and was both inspired and devastated by the time I finished. I started keeping a diary. In the back of my bedroom closet there was a pocket door with another hidden closet behind it. I set it up with pillows and blankets and would sit back there and write in my diary, knowing that if the Nazis occupied Hamden, Connecticut in 1970, looking for lapsed Catholics, I’d somehow cram my family into my tiny secret annex. In reading Anne’s story, I lost some of my innocence, but I gained a deeper sense of wonder and gratitude too.
What time of day do you love best?
I’m an early morning person. I usually wake when it’s still dark—a habit that started when my kids were little. I’d get up at 4:30 so I could write before they came pitter-pattering into my room.
My favorite drink is that first cup of coffee with frothy, steamed milk. I take it to my studio and flip on the lights and crank up the heater. I sit in that warm glow in the middle of the darkness, while everyone still sleeps, and I scribble in my journal until I find my way back into the story I’m working on. The day’s wide open and anything’s possible—or at least it feels that way in those earliest hours. Ask me again at four in the afternoon.
Where do you love to be?
I like to travel, but my favorite part of a trip is coming back home. I’m a total homebody.
What talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could sing. Oh, how I wish I could sing. In my next life I’m going to be a singer/songwriter and have long curly hair and impossibly green eyes.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I once hung cable guides on doorknobs for a cable company. Not so strange, right? But it was in Alaska. There’s a lot of space between houses in Alaska. And as much as I love dogs, I didn’t meet many who welcomed strangers trespassing on their two-or-three-mile dirt roads, never mind hanging junk mail on their doorknobs. I’d work all day, risking my young life, to hang something like ten cable guides. But the only other job available at the time required dressing up as a red devil and selling fireworks on the side of the road. In comparison, the cable company job seemed like a dream opportunity.
Thank you so much for inviting me to your wonderful ball/blog. I wish all of you the very best as your debuts go out into the world and find their readers.
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