Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Do things signify love? Part IV

By Bob Litton

¶But I need to return to my early childhood—a very strange time. Whatever time my parents’ divorce was—when I was two or when I was seven—I was living with Mama and my two brothers in that shotgun apartment. Mama and I slept in the front room; my brothers shared a bed in the middle room.
¶Papa came over every once in a while to pitch a softball back and forth. One day he brought me a fielder’s glove. I was both happy and disappointed because the fingers were not connected with leather tongs like a first baseman’s glove is and, to my way of thinking, there wasn’t enough padding in it: the ball hurt whenever I caught it with that glove. But, in tune with my usual behavioral pattern, I did not complain.
¶Another event of that time now makes me wonder just how complete the divorce was. One afternoon, I came home after playing with some neighborhood friends to find the door locked. This was very odd: crime was at such a low level in those days that we never locked the door. The door opened about nine inches, the room was dim, Papa was there bare-chested, he handed me a quarter and told me to go to the neighborhood movie theater. I was too young to be aware of what was transpiring inside the apartment then, but of course I have reasoned it out since. O blessed reasoning! At least occasionally you work in my favor!
¶My parents early on noted my adoration of Gene Autry and cowboy things in general. Pappy accompanied Mama and me to attend an appearance of Autry at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas. Instead of rushing to the dressing rooms afterward, as I’m sure many fans did, we went outside to wait near the exit door. My parents stood a few yards out on the sidewalk but urged me to wait nearer the door. A bunch of performers and stagehands came out gradually in twos and threes. I was about to give up, but suddenly there he was, with some woman. I said “Hi” shyly. He said “Hi” nonchalantly and kept on walking toward a black limousine. But my mother called out to him, “Mister Autry, won’t you speak with my son? He idolizes you.” So, Gene squatted down, shook my hand, and chatted with me a few minutes.
¶What Pappy taught me, one could write on a fingernail. Once, when I was barely in school, he phoned and, during our conversation, asked what time it was. The table clock was nearby, but I didn’t know how to read it. He coached me about the import of the big hand and the little hand. Another time, while we were eating supper, he instructed me in a bit of table manners: he told me not to push food onto the fork with my fingers but to use a knife or a piece of bread. I never have figured out why one finger touching a pea was less sanitary than several fingers holding a slice of bread.
¶No, Pappy never taught me anything very useful, like how to build something or repair it, nor anything about ethics and morality, nor how to respond well to questions in job interviews. Of course, some of that information he was ignorant of, having gotten through the second grade. It now makes me wonder about how he was raised, or wasn’t raised.
¶Pappy was very proud of his English ancestry, peppered with gentry and nobility. His genealogical line goes back to the late 14th century when tracing it with any reliability as to accuracy. One of his ancestors was Sir Robert Litton/Lytton, who in 1499 was “Keeper of the King’s Grand Wardrobe”. (Robert was a very favorite name back in the days of chivalry, which is one reason I gave up trying to research beyond the 15th century.) Here’s a document, signed by Henry VII, that will confirm what I have written; however, it might not be viewable very long because the document is for sale:

https://store.paulfrasercollectibles.com/products/king-henry-vii-autographed-historical-document (£27,500)

¶Keeper of the Grand Wardrobe is not a very prestigious position, it seems to me, but perhaps there are reasons of which I have no knowledge (some moderate illness or old age) that made the job suitable. At any rate, I’ve seen no record of the clan distinguishing itself until Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton gloriously popped onto the literary scene contemporaneously with Charles Dickens. However, only scholars and grad students now read his works. I must say, I rather liked his Last Days of Pompeii and Pelham, which Pappy never handed me but instead left on a shelf in the kitchen/dining room of the very modest house Mama had recently bought.
¶He also bought me a pair of spurs, although I had no boots. The problem with the spurs was that they were cavalry spurs, which had no rowels as cowboy spurs do. But I did not complain.
¶It seems to me now that my parents spent a lot of money on my enthusiasms. In fact, one of my parents—I wish I could recall who—bought me a cowboy arrangement of leather chaps and vest. They were very nice. I wonder now if I hugged the giver and said “Thank you!” I wonder if the gifts were intended to express love.
¶Then there was the Gene Autry guitar. It probably would be considered an antique now, although I don’t know how many of those instruments still exist, a factor which would affect its price. I see on Ebay one for sale for $250 (needs some restoration) and another for $429. The first dates from the 1940’s (coequal with mine), while the latter dates from 1954, when I was fourteen and no longer interested in strumming it much. At first, my parents paid an old man to give me a couple of guitar lessons, but I quickly gave it up. I’m not sure now why, but I have some reasonable surmises: my teacher tried to talk me into learning to play the violin, the congenital extra volume of flesh on the little finger of my left hand made fingering the chords difficult, and/or I was just too lazy.
¶So, Pappy gave me stuff and once let me stay a couple of weeks in his shed during a penurious moment in my life, but he never taught me anything except perhaps how to survive on virtually nothing. There was one dramatic scene during my teen years. He and I were standing in the kitchen of Mama’s small cottage. I was looking through the door screen and crying while I accused him of being a no-father. He had never hit me like he did my brothers and Mama, but he had always been mostly absent and he had never taught me anything needful, especially about sex. He raised his voice and in a silly defensive tone said, “All I could have told you is that the penis in your pants causes babies!” I decided then that there was no sense in trying to discuss anything serious with that man, my father.

Finis

 

 

 

 

 

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Do things signify love? Part III

By Bob Litton

¶I’m still not sure when my parents divorced. For most of my life I thought it was when I was seven years old, but when Pappy’s will was contested in the late ’80s, one of the documents indicated that I was two at the time.
¶Pappy’s girlfriend “Goldie” contested the will which my senior brother (I had two) had presented to the probate court. When the old woman presented a holographic will, we had a problem that reminded me of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. After about seven years of discussions and unpaid and rising legal fees, my brothers thrust the executorship onto my shoulders.
¶Mama showed me a photocopy of “Goldie’s” version of Pappy’s will. It was handwritten on a #10 envelope and dated later than ours. However, I immediately agreed with Mama when she pointed out that the body of the holographic will had been written by Pappy but the signature was clearly not in his hand-writing.
¶When the judge summoned all parties to his courtroom soon thereafter, I did not mention the signature discrepancy for I figured it would only extend the case even further. I didn’t care what we might gain or lose; I just wanted to eliminate the legal fees. Early on, our attorney— who suspected my brother of stealing eighty acres of East Texas farm land from ‘Goldie’ (which brother probably did since he told me he had been with Pappy when Pappy stole it)—stood up and petitioned for an increase in his billing.
¶I immediately stood up and loudly exclaimed, “No! May I say something here?” The judge smiled and said, “Go ahead.” I don’t recall my exact words, but basically I said that I was poor, that I had recently received a bill  from our lawyer for thirty-something thousand dollars, that this whole lingering show was beginning to look like a Charles Dickens novel, and that I just wanted it to be over.
¶The judge asked me a few questions and then instructed the two parties to go out in the hall and try to find a way to settle the issue amicably. My brother had sent another lawyer to listen to us but not enter into the negotiation. So, the three of us stood there out in the hallway while I and the lawyer agreed that I would pay him and he would accept $5,000 out of the anticipated $12,000-plus we would receive from the Dallas Independent School District, which had confiscated Pappy’s dilapidated building through the eminent domain law. My brother’s attorney leaned toward me and said I had hit on the appropriate amount. Brother had already paid our attorney $1,000 back when we had thought it would be simple probate.
¶We all returned to the courtroom, and, while I sat on an audience bench, the lawyers stood before the judge and told him they were willing to meet in “Goldie’s” lawyer’s offices and strain out a compromise. They did so the following week. When they came out of an office and met with me and my attorneys in an ornate conference room, I agreed that my family would accept the building and its contents, while “Goldie” could have the contents of his safe deposit box. I’m not sure but I think the total value of what was in the box was something like $20,000.
¶After the judge had approved our agreement and ordered the county to issue a single check to my brothers and me and to the attorney, I met with the attorney at a bank and told the teller to take out $5,000 in cash for the attorney and to divide the remainder into three equal checks for my brothers and me,
¶The next day I handed middle brother his check, a little over $2,000. He whisked himself off to Las Vegas to try for a big win in an effort to save his carpet business, which was under bankruptcy control. When he returned, I was sitting in the office talking to a bank teller on the phone about what was needed to cover a couple warm checks. He stood in the doorway with both arms spread out, his hands clasping the door jambs, a look of exhausted unbelief on his face. “I lost it all!” he uttered.
¶What our senior brother did with his “inheritance”, I don’t know.
¶As for me, I used mine to buy a roll of carpet for a customer who had selected the pattern out of a sample book. Since all of our suppliers were aware of the bankruptcy, they wouldn’t sell us any rolls on credit, and the large store was virtually empty except for remnants and half a dozen full roles. It was the time of the Reagan recession. Our bank closed its doors.
¶But my brother was sort of saved by a factory rep who sidelined in his own enterprises. The rep basically bought brother out but let him retain a part ownership so that my much overweight and sedentary brother would have a regular $500 a week income.
¶I did not participate any longer, but started working for three temp agencies, hoping to find my suitable niche.

((More later. I’ve got to get back in bed. Adieu,))

 

Mama’s Medicine Cabinet

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

 

syrup-of-pepsinad

Image Source:  antiquebottlesglassplus.com

¶Yeah, I know “Mothers’ Day” is still more than three months away, but I might abandon this blog before May 14 and there are still a few things about my mother that I want to record.
¶Mama was in some ways acutely alert to health matters and in other ways indifferent to them. I remember when I was hardly more than a toddler she took me to be examined by Dr. Fred S. Brooksaler (1901-73), a Dallas pediatrician who later became a professor of pediatrics at Southwestern Medical School in that city and who is still remembered there by an endowed professorship in his name .
¶Once, Dr. Brooksaler performed an in-office operation on my neck just below one ear, but what he removed I do not recall, if indeed I ever heard him say. I liked him a lot because he gave me a little toy every time I visited him.
¶One of the medicines Dr. Brooksaler prescribed for some forgotten ailment was a roll of flat, circular, chewable lozenges that tasted like candy. I liked the flavor, naturally, but Mama said I could take one only after a meal. I had a very broad concept of “meal” in those days, so one day while Mama was away I ate a couple of saltine crackers and then chewed one of the “medicinal candies”. Then I repeated the process from saltines to medicine two or three more times. Later, as I was walking down a sidewalk a few blocks from our apartment, I became violently ill. Fortunately, a lady sitting on her porch across the street noticed me and came over to take me to her porch, where she provided whatever aid she could, not knowing what was wrong. Obviously, I survived.
¶Mama also had me examined and fitted for eyeglasses, although she probably did so at the elementary school’s bidding. They were wire-rimmed glasses, which I hated. (That was back in the days before the Beatles, when “granny glasses” weren’t yet “cool”.)  I refused to wear them one spring while I was staying with an uncle down in the Rio Grande Valley. After I got sick at school one day, the nurse concluded it was because I hadn’t been wearing my lenses, so I had to dig them out of the sandy loam of the grapefruit orchard where I had buried them and don them from then on.
¶I don’t recall Mama ever taking me to a dentist’s office, and now I don’t understand that. Dentists are, in my experience, the least expensive of health care providers. How my teeth managed to stay in good condition until age thirty-five (when I underwent a periodontal operation)  I’ll never understand. I sure miss those three gold-crowned molars I gave up last year because of all the suckers I used to poke into my mouth.
¶Now to the medicines I started out to discuss.
¶First, there was the Campho-Phenique which was a regular staple in Mama’s medicine cabinet. I often enough required its application because I spent hours on end running around barefoot in the neighborhood lawns, which were the chiggers’ habitat. I haven’t had a chigger bite since I was little, yet, in my earlier adult years, I used to stroll or sit on friends’ lawns or in area parks where the grass was plentiful enough. Nary a bite! Are chiggers extinct? I just can’t believe that!
¶Also in Mama’s cabinet one could find a jar of Mentholatum or VaporRub. These salves were developed in the 1890s and are still used today to aid breathing while a person has a cold or cough. Recent research has indicated that the salve doesn’t actually improve breathing but that its camphor aroma fools the brain into thinking that it does. (What’s the difference?) It ordinarily is applied to the chest and the back. The ill person inhales the cool camphor smell, which has an odor that I like. However, since the positive effect is supposed to be derived from breathing, I fail to understand how applying the salve to one’s back is going to be effective. Anyway, when I was a child Mama applied it to my chest many a time.
¶Another antique medicine was Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin. Many benefits from its intake were claimed back in late 19th century when it was developed, as can be seen from this quote from a 1904 ad in the “St. Louis Republic”: “The manufacturers claim that the remedy will relieve any case of Indigestion; cure any case of Constipation; remove the cause of Headache, Biliousness, Dizziness, Foul Breath, Sour Stomach and Flatulency; and dispel Colds, Fevers, and Ills caused by bad digestion, torpid liver, and sluggish bowels.”
¶In 1906, Congress created the Food and Drug Administration to investigate exaggerated and fraudulent claims by patent medicine makers, including Caldwell’s company. Digger Odell’s website Bottlebooks.com, reports that, despite the federal government’s actions, Dr. Caldwell’s Medicine was still misleading the public about the worthiness of its product. This no doubt was accomplished by well-placed donations and lobbying.  With the owners making millions each year they would have been a formidable opponent for the government lawyers. So much so that the product was made continuously from 1889 until 1985.” So, about all that is left of Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin are collectible antique bottles and ads. Oh well, I sure did like the taste of that stuff, containing as it did pepsin, one of the ingredients that now goes into Pepsi-Ćola.
¶That pretty much concludes my inventory of Mama’s medicine cabinet. She remained a devotee of patent nostrums, although she used doctors and hospitals whenever she figured they were needed. She even enrolled in a night course once to become a licensed vocational nurse but never completed it. However, she did occasionally tend to bed-ridden folks. When her final days came she complained about spending them away from home — in a hospital. “Bobby,” she said to me then, “why are they doing this to me? They’re going against nature.”

Finis

A Final Father’s Day

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Well, today it is raining. How appropriate and welcome! For it is Father’s Day, too.

Among the Ten Commandments recorded in the Old Testament, is the directive “Honor your father and mother…”. Half the sources list this commandment as the fourth, and half include it as the fifth. Whatever.

In the past, I have pondered the question: What if your parents are not honorable? Surely the sons and daughters of historical tyrants and criminals must scratch their heads over that. As for me, I feel that Mama was worthy of honoring despite her social lapses and strong prejudices. Pappy, on the other hand, has been a puzzle for me; he was always rooting for me from a distance; but he was hot-headed, and he was morally and ethically weak. After he died, Mama, in a fit of anger, informed me that he was “a coward”, citing as her justification for this allegation that he had asked her to support his request for exemption from the draft during World War II on the basis that he had three sons to care for. (They had divorced in 1942.)

There is no way I can confirm the truth of Mama’s claim: it is a conundrum for me. Pappy was big, his attitude was often belligerent, and he had worked all his life among rough men. My sister-in-law informed me recently that, according to my brother Vernon, Pappy had left the Rio Grande Valley for Dallas “because he had almost killed a man down there”. When I pressed her for more details, she said that was all she had heard from Vernon, “just bits and pieces”. Then there was Mama’s judgment.

That cowardice business is just one interesting piece of information I have happened on since I wrote my first blog post about Pappy. Another came to me indirectly from a “book” by and about one of my uncles, Carl Lee Tanberg, who remained in the Valley all his life. One of his three daughters sent it to me. She had given him the blank book with a request that he write down all the memories that he thought would be interesting to his family and others. (I had given Mama a blank book also, but she never wrote anything in it.)  Carl Lee was a fairly gifted raconteur and writer. One sentence in that book jumped off the page at me: “Maurine ran off with Bill Litton.” They eloped?! Mama, of course,  being a bit strait-laced in her maturer years, never mentioned that episode; in fact, she never confided anything about their courtship to me other than, in answer to my idle question of how they had met, she replied, “O, everybody in a small town like that knows everybody.” The sentence in my cousin’s book indicated to me that my grandfather, and probably my grandmother as well, did not approve of Pappy. Since Mama was born in 1910 and my brother Vernon was born in 1928, Mama could not have been older than eighteen when she and Pappy ran off to get married.

Many people, including most of my own family, would hide anecdotes such as these; but, like my uncle Carl Lee, I don’t believe in white-washing family history, primarily because it is just such “bits and pieces” which make a family history engrossing, and usually entertaining, reading. Contrasted with the images of Mama and Pappy I have had all my life, I think the elopement story is hilarious.

This will probably be my last Father’s Day blog post…at least about my own father. I don’t know anything else about him that I haven’t already related. Although he won’t rate  highly on any sensible scale of fatherhood, he was a fascinatingly colorful figure. He is a most suitable subject for moral and ethical reflection.

Finis

 

 

Bob’s Apology to the Children of the World

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

O little children, how I regret the need to write this letter to you. If we big people had done our duty for many years now, this apology would not have been necessary. You might not be able to read or comprehend by yourselves what I shall say here, so you perhaps should wait until you are a little older and have learned more and bigger words. (I will try to rein in my tendency to use complicated words, but that is very hard to do.) Or your parents might sit down with you and reduce the content to your level of understanding. I doubt that they will, because it could be too embarrassing for them.

I don’t have any children of my own, but there was a time when I deeply wanted a baby. However, I was already past the age when being a good daddy was practicable; and, anyway, I didn’t have a wife. A mommy is just as important in a child’s development as a daddy, usually more so. But my being childless is not really important: I am still just as responsible for our troubles as any parent.

But, let’s get on with the basic message I want to share with you.

The world is in a sad situation right now, both in an environmental way and in a social way. Perhaps the primary cause of that sad situation… (Let me introduce a new word to you here: dire. I would rather use that word than “sad” because, although it contains much the same meaning, it also means more. You see, a situation can be “sad” and yet limited; it might affect only one person or just a few people, and it might be just a temporary mood. “Dire”, however, adds more meaning — the element of threat. If something is a threat then it is neither tied to a mood nor likely to be temporary; it could mean the end of all life, even all things.)

One current threat is Climate Change. The Earth’s temperature is increasing; at least that is what about 300 of the world’s scientists have told us. And many things that we can see, if we look at them, appear to back up the scientists’ claims: the Arctic ice is melting, threatening the habitat of the polar bears and the Eskimos; the coral reefs, on which many sea creatures depend for food, is receding; the schedules and flight patterns of migratory birds are changing; and, perhaps the simplest test of all, the recording on temperature gauges is inching upward year by year. And those are just a few of the observable changes.

Now, a sizable minority of the world’s population refuses to acknowledge these changes or to attribute them to Man’s use of energy sources that come out of the earth, such as coal and oil. And other people, who might recognize Man’s guilt in all this mess, don’t have the political will to do anything about the problem. What hinders them is that to take the urgent actions needed to try and reverse, or at least moderate, disaster would require eliminating some industries, such as coal-mining and oil/gas-drilling, which have employed many people — perhaps your daddy or mommy — for a long time. You can understand, can’t you, why your parents, if they work in one of those industries, would fight to keep their jobs? They want to be able to feed and clothe you just as they have always done. And when the cost of a solution closely affects a person’s family his or her range of vision becomes severely narrowed.

Another threatening element in our world’s scene is tribalism. If you are Americans, you probably think that only the Native Americans (formerly known as “the Indians”) live in tribes. Actually, though, we are all members of tribes in that our facial features, skin colors, cultural attitudes, political arrangements, and even spiritual beliefs are shared by varying fractions of the world’s population. Throughout the centuries, tribes have often been in conflict with one another; this is very noticeably the current case in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. But it is also an issue in Europe and the United States, where mass migrations of peoples who are fleeing oppression and poverty in their homelands continue. Especially when a bunch of them move to any one country, they tend to congregate in the same area so that they can share themselves with others of their own culture and language; thus, we have neighborhoods that become known as “China Town” or “Little Mexico”. Large influxes of peoples bringing with them their traditions, religions and other cultural habits appear threatening to native peoples, who want to protect their own cultural norms from alterations. Now, some of the native people — particularly the farmers — often welcome the foreigners because those refugees are willing to do work that some natives do not want to do. That causes quarrels between the farmers and their urban neighbors.

There are also, naturally, more practical problems that come with mass migrations: how to house, feed, clothe, educate and medicate the foreigners. The governments in Europe, the United States and some African countries are wrestling with those problems right now. A subtle and dangerous aspect of this social turmoil is the element of racism and religious bigotry involved. Ethnic jealousy and political partisanship also are part of this poisonous mixture. Such a seemingly small matter as whether a Muslim woman should be allowed to wear her religion-prescribed head scarf in some places has engendered debates in parliaments and the media.

Religion itself is a major element in the world’s general conflict. In the Middle East, one branch of Islam attacks another branch over the question of who was the rightful successor of Mahomet as leader of their religion. In China, the government is again trying to extinguish Christianity. And here in the U.S., one political party is working hard to infuse the Christian religion more deeply into our political system; they want to establish Christianity as the official religion of the U. S.. In all our conflicts, a primary element is the “us versus them” mentality, and that is especially true of the religious divisions.

Then there is the question of how you children are going to earn a living when you grow up. Robotics and mechanization are already reducing the number of humans who are needed for many types of jobs. In Japan, I read recently, they are already using robots to work the reservation counters at airports. A batch of sociological studies all indicate that many more positions will be taken over by robots over the next 25 years, including those of lawyers, doctors, and news reporters. So, what will you do? How will you spend all your “free time”? How will your food and shelter be paid for? Don’t expect the owners of factories and other businesses or the political officials to care: they want to eliminate the need for human employees because doing so will save them money. Why should they spend that savings on your needs?

Now, I should give credit to those grown-ups who are trying to solve some of the problems I have too briefly described above. There are many individuals, companies and even governments who are altering their practices regarding gaseous emissions from factories and vehicles, which are a major cause of the Climate Change problem. There are also some statesmen who are trying to tamper down the social strife caused by religious and cultural differences.

And there are your parents, who had enough faith in humanity to bring you into the world. I feel some mental and emotional conflict within myself at this point because, on the one hand, I wonder at their wanting to bring children into a world full of direful and daunting difficulties; while, on the other hand, I admire them for their faith and for providing us with you. The solutions will require people — intelligent, energetic and loving people — to discover and put them into practice.

Thus I leave you, Children of the World, with my most heart-felt apology for the messes we have left for you to clean up, and with my earnest hope and encouragement for your success.

Bless you,

Bob Litton

A Maternal Memorial

thread spool

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Pardon me, folks, but I want to interrupt this extended silence for a  brief while to try and make some amends for the neglect I visited on my mother. She has been dead now for nearly twenty-two years, so of course I cannot justify or redeem myself directly. It’s only if one believes in an afterlife or even that some kind of resonance inheres in lingering cosmic memories that one can accept the following as meaningful to anyone but me. Regardless of the possible unreality of either of those concepts, here are my flowers for Mothers Day 2016. (Oddly, though, Mama was not a floral enthusiast; not that she disliked them, she just didn’t gather blossoms or maintain vases.)

I have written in previous blogs that Mama and I did not communicate well after the onset of my teen years. The problem, as I view it, was not that any sort of major psychological imbalance (such as stood between me and my brother Vernon) or contrary value systems (such as stood between me and my brother Elbert)  hindered our conversations. Our off-moments derived from a much more down-to-Earth dysfunction: I was frequently annoyed and embarrassed by Mama’s lack of tact, of which I have given instances in previous posts. On Mama’s side, she looked askance at my pub-crawling, drifting ways and impracticality; she said to me one day, after I had expressed an interest in majoring in philosophy, “Bobby, I think you live in a dream world. If you are so smart, you ought to be able to make a lot of money.” As usual, I did not utter a rejoinder to that.

Such perceptions, naturally, are not absolute. One morning, while I was seated at her kitchen table, she wanted to discuss Elbert, whose carpet store was in a state of bankruptcy due to the Reagan recession of the late 1980’s. Elbert had not spoken to her for two years because she had persistently tried to dissuade him from getting involved in any more of his former business partner’s get-rich-quick schemes. I did not want to talk about it, because I had opted to stay with Elbert at the store as it was going under very, very slowly and I was losing my house in West Texas in the process; I was in a heavy depression.  While she set a plate of eggs and sausage before me, she asked me to intercede for her with Elbert, whom she said she loved. I did not say anything; the weight of the whole financial disaster was too great. I don’t recall the immediate trigger for her final comment, “You’re a good man and an honest man.”

Mama and I hardly ever discussed serious matters other than those concerning the family. In fact, most of our conversations involved an exchange of something: she would want me to do something for her, like take her to the grocery store; or she would give me odd things she had picked up at flea markets and garage sales, like a lava lamp (when such was an “in-thing” during the 1970’s), a pair of binoculars (I was not a birder), and an antique walking cane (which at the time I did not need but, after three decades, do now). However, those interactions were after my own hair had started to gray.

During childhood, there were more prized moments of sharing. While I was in the Cub Scouts, Mama went with me down to Turtle Creek one Fall day to gather different types of leaves for pasting in a scrap book. And, when I had the part of Santa Claus in an elementary school play, she made a red-and-white costume for me, complete with a hat peaked by a cotton  ball. (No boots, of course.)

I have related how Mama had worked both as a seamstress in a dress factory  and as a steam-presser at a few cleaners. She also made all my shirts and pants during those early years. Naturally, she always had plenty of thread spools (like the one shown at the top of this post). One afternoon, while I was sitting on the front porch step reading a Dick and Jane book, she came outside with a saucer containing a bar of white soap, some water in a glass, and an empty thread spool. Then she showed me how to amass a sufficient quantity of soapy water on one end of the spool and blow through the other end to make bubbles float out onto the air.

And I will never forget the early morning she came to the combination bedroom and living room to wake me up. She went to the window, raised the paper blind, and announced, “Look, Bobby! It snowed last night!” When the day got light enough, Mama gathered some snow in a big pan and made some ice cream out of it. One cannot do that in Dallas anymore for two reasons: it seldom snows there and, even when it does, the snow is too shallow and too polluted to transform into healthy ice cream.

I have no authority to reference for this assertion, but I believe that only a  girl raised on a farm, such as Mama had been, would have known how to capitalize on a thread spool and a mass of fresh fallen snow.

Happy Mothers Day, Mama, wherever you are.

picers_0004

Maurine Emily (Tanberg) Litton b. Feb. 23, 1910, Eau Claire, WI;  d. Dec. 19, 1994, Dallas, TX

Now I can return to my cave.

Finis

How a childhood trait became an adult habit

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I believe I have written elsewhere in this blog’s archives that major reasons for engaging in it were to analyze my own personality and to obliquely write my autobiography. What I mean by “obliquely” here is that, although the primary topic of any particular essay might seemingly be far removed from the notion of personality traits, some of the illustrative experiences as well as the attitude revealed therein could add tone, form, color and dimension to the hidden autobiographical theme of the blog site as a whole. (I want any future biographer to have access to the most reliable resource imaginable: this blog.)

Some traits, however, cannot be easily presented in such a camouflaged manner. The trait of which I am thinking here is parenthetical remarks, i.e., comments inserted into a scene or conversation that have nothing directly to do with that scene or conversation. Some, in my case, were naïve remarks I made as a child, and some were “zingers” I made as an adult. The only real difference between them was that the youthful ones were simply expressions of curiosity without any intent to be hurtful, while the adult ones were simply attempts to be comical in a stinging way but still not really hurt. Zingers are, I lamentably admit, a regrettable, deeply ingrained aspect of my personality; for laughter-inducing humor usually comes at the expense of somebody’s self-image. My only partial defense here is that I often try to pull the joke out of my own hat, i.e., at my own expense.

What brought this topic to mind at the present is that I have done a lot of reminiscing about Mother lately, particularly of my childhood years when we were closer to each other than during later years. Much of the youthful time, I was what has become classified as a “latch-key kid”. Mother worked as a silk-finisher at a Dallas dress factory called Lorch’s, so, when school was not in session, I was often left to mind myself. However, she did occasionally find someone to keep me in tow.

For a while there was a next door neighbor named Mrs. Woodruff (family and friends called her “Woody”). I don’t remember much about her other than I loved her, that she liked to listen to soap operas on the radio, that she described for me a road that wound around a mountain, and that she had false teeth which she would suddenly stick out at me: it was one of those tricks that kids love, the kind that both scares and makes them giggle.

Also, for a while I stayed at Mrs. Lybrand’s house a couple of blocks away. Mrs. Lybrand and her husband had a large back yard that was a very pleasant place to play. She also was a great cook and she liked to listen to gospel songs on the radio much of the day. I didn’t appreciate gospel music and one day asked her, “Why do you listen to those ol’ god songs instead of Gene Autry or Bing Crosby?”  I don’t recall her answer, if there was one. I liked Mrs. Lybrand and certainly did not mean to offend her; and I do not believe she was offended. She most likely viewed the incident as a child being innocently too curious and too honest.

Last May 9, I published here an essay for “Mother’s Day” in which I discussed attending a kindergarten in Dallas and how a cab came to pick me up and carry me downtown to Lorch’s, where Mother was still at work. I did not mention in that post an interesting incident at Lorch’s which I don’t recall personally but which Mother related to me many years later. “My supervisor,” said Mother, “was a very tall German woman of whom I was afraid. You looked up at her and asked, ‘Are you a giant?’” Mother said she was “scared to death” because she didn’t know how the big supervisor would respond, but there was no reaction.

Another episode Mother had to relate to me many years later happened on a streetcar. (Many readers won’t know what a streetcar was: it was a vehicle about as long as a modern bus but more strictly rectangular in appearance and it was powered by a wire strung above the roadway that fed electricity to the streetcar by movable antennas extending upward from each end of the vehicle.) Now, back to the incident. One day while Mother and I were on board a streetcar bound for downtown (she told me) I noticed a very old lady across the aisle, with deep wrinkles; I turned to Mother and asked, “Mama, why is that lady’s face all wadded up?” I have no memory of the incident nor any recorded continuation of Mother’s anecdote to regain the consequence of that comment.

So, you can see how early my bad habit of spouting “zingers” began. As an adult, the tendency became more conscious and pronounced. Most targets know me well enough to realize I am just trying to be funny…in a fairly blood-thirsty way. A local bar-maid and a waitress here have put up with me long enough now that they have practically developed rhinoceros hides. And, like I said above, I try to balance the cajolery out by occasionally making myself the target, usually uttered in a manner that hints they should reply by saying, “Oh no, you shouldn’t say or even think that way about yourself!” They don’t swallow the bait.

Oddly enough, I don’t recall many of the adult zingers, I guess because there have been so many. There is one, however, that I do recall only too clearly and which I wish I could go back in time to expunge. One noon-day, I was sitting in a “blue-plate-special” café in Dallas that I had recently begun to frequent when I heard the main waitress relate to another regular customer how she needed new tires on her car and that she didn’t know how she would cope if she had a flat someday. “Don’t worry about it, Jane,” I called out. “You’ve got a spare around your waist.”

Jane looked over at me kind of sad-like and, after a few seconds of bewildered silence, replied, “I can’t believe you said that, Bob.”

I should have apologized then and there, but I didn’t. And to this day I don’t know why I didn’t apologize. Perhaps the additional stress that an admission of impropriety added to the impropriety itself was too much for me. I don’t know. But Jane, although she was indeed slightly plump around the waist, was not obese, and she was pretty and one of the most pleasant people I have ever known. Oh, how I wish I had an operable time machine!

So, you can see how a childhood capacity for curiosity can develop into an adult habit of zingering.

Finis

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