For 16 years, my family had a lovely cat named Cleo. He was some sort of Maine Coon mix, and was therefore huge and fluffy, and used to fetch sticks like a dog. And yes, we named him Cleo before finding out he was a boy. This happened with our cat Rosie, too. Look, we’re not very good at sexing kittens.
On Saturday, my parents took poor Cleo to the vet to have him put to sleep. He had been suffering for about two months with kidney failure, and had lost about five pounds, which is a lot for a cat. My parents had been giving him subcutaneous fluids and feeding him pureed food by syringe for all that time, and he just wasn’t able to rally given his advanced age. I wish I had been in Ohio to say goodbye, but it was not to be.
Though I knew the end was near, losing a pet is always tough. I really miss him already. My parents felt the same way, and ended up stopping at our local no-kill shelter on the way home from the vet’s. I think the initial idea was “just to look,” but who ever goes to a shelter only to come away empty-handed? And so we now have two new kittens, Sasha (grey) and Simba (tabby). They are currently living in my childhood bathroom until they settle down and are fully litter-trained.
Yes, my bathroom was/is pastel pink. It was not my choice. And that’s my mom there, posing with them.
While growing up, my sister had a unique ability to magnetically attract liquids and foods to her clothing.
Seriously, no matter what the situation or how careful she was being, by the end of a meal, she would be so splattered with sauces that it looked like she had just come from a paintball arena.
No one is really sure why this happened. Perhaps it was just adolescent klutziness, or maybe because she is left-handed but was forced to use right-handed implements. Regardless of the reason, it caused a lot of distress for my teenage sister. She couldn’t be trusted in a restaurant or at home, and she frequently had to change clothes after each meal. We couldn’t have a family dinner without at least one glass tipping over and covering the entire table with milk or soda. Each time this happened, my sister would frantically apologize while my dad let out a stream of swears and ran for the nearest towel. More often than not, after this spill was mopped up, she would knock over the refilled glass and the scene would repeat itself, only with even more colorful curses from my dad.
My sister was banished to the opposite side of the table from the rest of us, like we were at the Last Supper and she was the only apostle on the near side, covered with food. We weren’t trying to be cruel, but her left elbow was completely unpredictable during a feeding frenzy, often jabbing into someone’s side or flailing into someone ELSE’S cup, strewing its contents onto their plate. Her placement at the table was more like a quarantine for our own protection.
She also had a tendency to stuff WAY too much food into her mouth at once. It was like she had been starved and was fighting off territorial dogs for her dinner. In an infamous restaurant incident, she once stuffed an entire loaf of bread into her maw at once, nearly choking to death. The rest of the table looked in awe at the empty bread basket and my sister’s rapidly purpling face, only putting two and two together when the international choking symbol was performed. Until then, her fellow dinner-mates simply didn’t think that what they were seeing was possible. She also once almost died from eating mozzarella sticks like they were jello shots, not realizing that the hot cheese was like molten lava in her throat. She would also eat a pile of rice so quickly that she’d manage to inhale the grains into her nose via the back of her throat. Suddenly, slimy grains would creepy out of her nostrils like little maggots, forcing her to run from the table and go blow them all into a tissue. The experience was, reportedly, quite painful.
Now that my sister is older, her predilection for decorating herself with foodstuffs seems to have gotten much better. But I still wouldn’t sit to the left of her at a table if you paid me.
My dad has always had issues with the deer that live in our backyard.
Every year, his carefully tended beds sprout, look nice for about one day, then are mercilessly mowed down by a horde of ravenous deer. They clip each tulip and plant neatly with their teeth; it looks as if a scythe has reaped the entire lot. The deer come right up to the house and munch on our flowers while watching us eat breakfast through the windows.
In an effort to save at least a few of his precious plants, my dad has tried just about everything. He hung Irish Spring soap from each branch, which did nothing whatsoever. He began peeing on all the bushes, heading outside several times a day to “water the plants.” The idea is that your are marking your territory with your urine, but the deer didn’t seem to care.
He applied cheesecloth and bird netting to our raspberry bush, which didn’t work for deer OR birds. They actually seemed to work together, with the birds carrying off enough of the netting that the deer could feed more easily. He applied dried blood all over the place, which was supposed to scare off the deer. You can buy this blood meal at any hardware store, but what IS IT? Cow? The blood of virgins? The label does not say.
Obviously, this didn’t work either.
He strung up fishing line attached to poles, which were supposed to keep the deers’ long legs from marching around willy-nilly. But he didn’t build this fence tall enough, and the deer simply grazed over the top of the boundary.
The deer would walk over our frozen swimming pool in winter, and their sharp hooves would tear holes in the cover, which meant we had to buy a new one every year. My dad got worried that a deer would eventually break through the ice and drown in our pool, so he installed a super-tough cover at great expense.
Our dog Lily, a 75-pound golden retriever, was terrified of the deer, and so was no help. My dad would sometimes let her out anyway when the deer were around, in the hopes the deer would bolt, but Lily would just stay at the door, whining and pawing to be let back in. He then went out himself, armed with rocks, but the deer were completely unimpressed. I imagine they were actually laughing in their tiny deery heads.
My dad has since given up, and simply refuses to plant anything anymore. Annual bulbs still sprout, and are cut down before they can even bloom. Most of our landscaping near the house has been removed so that the deer at least keep their distance. This is a battle we realized we simply couldn’t win.
However, he is still fighting the good fight against the moles in our yard. Back when I was living at home, he would proudly show me the corpse whenever he caught one in a trap. The mole’s pinched face was barely visible behind it’s comically oversized paws, and its midsection was, of course, squished into a bloody pulp by the trap. Lovely.
My parents had a somewhat unusual policy when I was growing up. Essentially, they didn’t believe in censorship of any form. I was allowed to watch whatever TV shows or movies I wanted, and certainly delved into non young-adult books as a child.
And while I mostly cherished this policy, sometimes it backfired on me. I had to learn early on what I could and could NOT handle as a kid. I clearly remember watching Alien for the first time in primary school, and being terrified of an alien bursting from my chest. I was a big fan of some of the more supposedly violent, raunchy, or “adult” cartoons of the ’90s, including Beavis and Butthead, Dr. Katz, Ren and Stimpy, and South Park. Of course, I also watched these alongside more kid-friendly shows like Animaniacs, Bobby’s World, and Rocko’s Modern Life, so I guess it all balanced out.
By middle school, I had seen more “off limits” movies than anyone else I knew, and my references to The Godfather‘s bloody horse head or Silence of the Lambs‘ Hannibal Lecter were met with blank stares. I developed a reputation for being rather morbid, though I thought I was simply being cultured.
I do remember a period of time when I simply went to far. My dad had a collection of Stanley Kubrick movies, including titles like A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Lolita, and Full Metal Jacket. Though I had seen Kubrick before, and enjoyed Dr. Strangelove’s hand with a mind of its own, I was unprepared for the sheer violence in the rest of the batch.
I managed to make it through The Shining without too much trouble, and it remains one of my favorite horror movies. Lolita grossed me out, seeing as how I was in middle school at the time, and could barely process feelings about boys my own age, much less ones old enough to be my father. Full Metal Jacket scared the crap out of me, and I had nightmares about classmates shooting themselves for weeks. But none approached the psychological damage wrought by A Clockwork Orange, during which I saw a penis for the first time. It was middle school, and I was a shy thing. To see graphic gang rape and full frontal nudity, all to the tune of Singing in the Rain was too much for me. I sat there, slack-jawed but unable to turn away.
Before I had taken the tape off the shelf, I had asked my mom if she thought the movie was any good. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “Quite good.” “Do you think I should watch it, then?” I asked. She answered in the affirmative. Now whether you believe in censorship or not, this is still an intense movie to see alone as a 14-year-old. Drugs, rape, and violence paraded across the screen in a seemingly endless loop. Even when Alex is taken to be “rehabilitated,” the horror continues in that dark conditioning room.
I finished the movie, and sat stunned for a while. Then I came out of my room, thrust the tape in front of my mom, and asked what the hell she had been thinking. “Well, you asked me if it was good, and I told you! You didn’t have to watch it. That was your own decision.”
Oh, well. The no censorship rule benefitted me much more than it harmed me, so I still think it was a good policy. As it turned out, I could take a lot more as a kid than society expected or thought was “appropriate,” and I think it made me a better, more open-minded person today.
In 5th grade, my whole class was required to join either band or orchestra. My sister was in the marching band, and so I picked band along with pretty much everyone else I knew. Only the super smart or the super nerdy seemed to pick orchestra, at least to my cruel little mind. This was the same reasoning that led me to take Spanish instead of Latin (though I have no regrets about that one).
Our band director was named Mr. Biershank, which caused endless giggles amongst the 11-year-olds in his care. Beavis and Butthead-like chuckles echoed throughout the band room. “Beer”…hehehehe…”Shank”…uuuh-huh-huh-huh.
I chose the play the drums since they were kickass, though the reality fell far short of my expectations. I rented a drum kit with a single practice drum pad and a small xylophone. The drum pad was tiny and the opposite of a loud, cool snare drum. Tapping on it with the tips of my sticks sounded like light rain on a spring day. I wanted to create a tornado, or a hurricane. My practicing was often mistaken for the sounds of our cat running around. The xylophone was similarly disappointing since we never once got to use it in class. I also already knew how to play the thing since we had been playing marimbas and glockenspiels since 2nd grade, and I had been learning the piano since kindergarten.
I’d smack the drum pad as hard as I could, trying to get it to sound like an instrument instead of a pillow. I was pretty dedicated to my drum studies, practicing on a daily basis and learning all the correct musical drum notation. I yearned to play on a real drum kit, or smash some cymbals together, but I tried to content myself with the simple snare for now.
I was chosen as a soloist for our winter concert, which would feature Christmas and other holiday songs. I was to play the drum solo for “Up On the Rooftop,” and I had it down cold. Despite the fact that soloing on a single snare drum is pretty boring, I was ridiculously excited for it. My mom dressed me in a supremely 80s ensemble for the occasion: black velvet leggings, a Seinfeld-esque puffy shirt, riding boots, and a teased side ponytail. Oh, yeah…I was ready!
However, the evening of my drum debut was marred by the fact that every other drummer in the band was a snotty juvenile delinquent. I was a nerdy, studious child, but everyone else in my section had joined just because they wanted to hit things as hard as they could. If not each other, then they would settle for beating massive bass drums. I was the only girl, and was outnumbered by pre-pubescent boys surging with hormones for the first time.
Within moments of Mr. Biershank starting the concert, the drum section erupted into chaos.
Sticks and drums went everywhere, cymbals crashed to the floor, and boys fell down in a tangle as they tried to gouge out each other’s eyes with their drumsticks. I retreated to the back, clutching my sticks to my chest as I tried to avoid the rampage. It was like wild animals had been let loose, and after a few painful measures, Mr. Biershank stopped the concert.
“Drums, put down your sticks and sit on your hands!” He had forbidden the entire section from playing for the rest of the concert. My parents sat quietly in the bleachers, pained looks on their faces. As I realized that I wouldn’t be able to play at all for my parents, I started to cry. The other drummer boys cheered and began noisily chatting to each other as they sat down. I squatted in silence, and shot angry looks at the boys. They began to make fun of my tears, and I was moments away from launching myself at the nearest one and beating him to a pulp.
Mr. Biershank started the concert again, sans drums. I was despondent, and hardly even listened to the rest of the band. I tapped a drumstick idly on the floor as song after song went by. Eventually, it was time for the soloists, though I figured I’d no longer be performing. Mr Biershank was still furious after the drum section’s embarrassing display.
But maybe he saw my face, or realized that I wasn’t to blame, and I got to play “Up On the Rooftop” after all. My parents clapped, and I was happy again, but I decided to switch instruments in 6th grade. The drum section repeated their behavior during every other concert that year, and I just couldn’t cope with it anymore.
I played the saxophone in 6th grade, which was nearly as bad as playing the drums, then joined the choir in 7th grade. Though I love to sing, my choir instructor told me to lip sync during the concerts since I was, apparently, “throwing everyone off.” I was too heartbroken to fight, and mouthed my songs for the rest of the year. I then switched to art classes in 8th grade, since at least I could just do my thing without anyone else interfering.
I stuck with art for the rest of my high school years, though I still wish I had learned to properly play the drums. How will I ever become Garth from Wayne’s World now?
So my paternal grandfather used to write contracts for his children to sign, outlining household expectations and/or projects. He wrote these in rather formal language, then had the children, himself, and his wife sign the document. And no, he was not a lawyer.
I present to you this scanned example from 1958, when my dad (“Gregory”) and his sister (“Jill”) were 10 and 9 years old, respectively. A third child, then age 3, was deemed too young to be involved in the contract. The last names have been censored to protect the innocent, who are now over 60 years old.
Note the “error in language” clause, which also referred to lapses in accent. If either of the children began to develop a New York accent, the $0.03 penalty also applied. According to this online Inflation Calculator, $1.00 in 1958 was about $7.45 in 2010 dollars, with the three penny penalty being worth nearly a quarter in 2010.
Oct. 26, 1958
“Mommy” Tosca —
“Daddy” Jerry —
Gregory — —
Jill — —
I hereby agree to provide an allowance of $1.00 per week from this date until Christmas, and $0.50 per week thereafter, subject to the following conditions:
- I deduct 3¢ for every error in language spoken during each week.
- Piano practice in completed on schedule and cheerfully.
- Room is kept neat and presentable when maid is not present.
- There will be no talking back or disobedience to orders.
- In addition, each recipient of allowance will perform 2 hours of light household chores each week.
- Table and company manners will be improved.
It is agreed that, if any of the above conditions are not met, the allowance for that week will be cancelled.