06 November 2008

Trains Don't Talk

I knew the day would come. My son skipped home from school last week and announced that he needed to sort our movie collection. He would sort fiction from non-fiction. He then explained in great detail that this would consist of things that are true and things that are not true. He went on to give the example of Thomas the Tank Engine, “Mom, trains don’t talk so Thomas is fiction.” Ouch, that hurt. After spending the past five years in what seemed like a mini Thomas world, I was having trouble giving up the idea that Thomas couldn’t talk. After all, he’d delivered plenty of lessons on sharing, caring, and making good choices. How could I so easily brush this off as fiction?

Explaining what is true and what is not true is a large task and I wondered what kind of Kindergarten teacher takes on such subject matter? I read the newspapers everyday and not a day goes by that I don’t ponder the question of truth. How do we know what is true? Maybe somewhere trains do talk. Even more confounding was explaining that while trains don’t talk, what Thomas says is true. The message and the messenger seem to be at odds in my son’s new knowledge of fiction and non-fiction.

Alas, all this talk did not appease my son. In fact, his world took on just a bit more complexity this beautiful fall day. Now he is straddled with the knowledge of a fictional character who espouses non-fictional messages. “Mom, so which pile do I put the Thomas movies in, fiction or non-fiction?”

A good question…

31 October 2008

Like a Flock of Pigeons

This week would have marked my mother's 80th birthday and as the day passed, I chuckled knowing how much she would have hated being that old. The entire occasion made me pause and think about how we remember our departed once the other side of the parenthesis is closed. And what I came up with is that the totality of a life lived is less about accomplishments and a great deal more about the stories we tell.

So, on this 80th birthday, I started digging around in the odd pile of stuff that I inherited. I was looking for a story. I was
looking for a story that could produce the essence of my mother.  In a box that would otherwise look like junk to anyone outside my family, I found the small details of my mother's life. I knew the story to every item in that box. When woven together, these stories filled in the rich details between date of birth and date of death.

This funny bird is one of the first items I dug out of the box. He is a clip on Christmas tree ornament from the 1920s and I know his story by heart. Mother would drag out the decorations the week after Thanksgiving and as the tree neared completion, which took awhile since nearly every ornament had a story, she would finalize the scotch pine masterpiece with this little tin bird. The story was always the same, "...you know this bird was my grandmother's and she bought it at the Heywards up on Hollywood Boulevard the year she got married. It is very bad luck to put up a tree without a bird. Christmas trees should always have at least one bird on the branch or bad luck will follow you, like a flock of pigeons on a pumpernickel trail, into the new year." 

My own Christmas tree is blessed with many birds and I am happy this little fellow has joined the flock. Soon my son will know the story of this little bird...told over and over and over. 

24 October 2008

Smarties or Dum Dums

We all have our favorite way-back-when story. It is universal human nature to fondly remember the past as much better than the present. Generally these back-in-my-day stories revolve around a time when life was somehow better, slower, more personal or just simply happier.  Even my four-year-old son enjoys reminiscing about his days using the tiny green vinyl baby spoon. It was a favorite and on occasion we pull it out and enjoy a blueberry yogurt in small baby-size bites. The scant amount of yogurt held by the spoon makes snack time go on for what seems like forever and all the while we talk about the good ‘ole days of needing a baby spoon.

One of my fondest childhood memories is going to the bank on Saturday mornings with my father. The purpose of our weekly pilgrimage was to deposit his paycheck. I would fill out the deposit slip and he would ask me how much money we should keep back. I would always answer,  “Do you think five dollars will do it?” He would always respond, “Yep, I think that’ll do it.” Marty, the woman at the counter, whose family knew my family, would ask if I wanted Smarties candy or Dum Dum suckers. I would tell her Dum Dums and then ask for the Smarties just in case the Dum Dums held true to their name. She always laughed heartily even though I used the same ploy each week for double candy allotment.

I am sorry to say that such rituals have gone the way of the 8-track tape. My paycheck is neatly deposited electronically in the spirit of saving time and money. My earnings now magically appear in our bank account and I don’t get to take our son to the bank on Saturday mornings. He misses filling out deposit slips, watching the jovial conversations among friends doing business, the subtleties of town gossip, and he misses out on Smarties and Dum Dums.

If I have a problem with my electronic deposit, I can no longer call Marty, down at the bank to discuss the issue. Rather, I dial a number and get an automated machine giving me all the automated selections under the sun except the one that I need. No matter how loudly I call into the phone or punch the appropriate sequence of buttons, all I get is a unisex voice that says, “I’m sorry, I did not understand your selection, please try again.” Well, of course you did not understand my selection. My selection is personal. It is unique. I want someone who can empathize with my current plight. I want someone who can say, “I’m so sorry this happened and I’ll see to it personally that the situation is resolved and by the way how is your mother’s hip doing from the surgery last week?”

Sure, it takes more time and effort for such a personal approach and there are those who tell us that money is saved through automated mechanisms such as the one that deposits my paycheck.  I am wondering if the trade-off is worth the loss of a slower and more personal world.

If you’re ever fortunate enough to get a Dum Dum sucker from the bank, spend an hour savoring the whole thing until it makes the roof of your mouth raw…but be sure to get the Smarties, too, just in case.