Saturday, August 25, 2012

Judge Judy and the "B" Word

Judge Judy has long been my guilty pleasure.

I set the DVR to record both 30 minute shows, every time there is a new one.  Then, when the family goes to bed, I watch.  I enjoy her direct questioning, her snap judgments, her ability to get the proper outcome more often than not.

It always seemed to me that the US Supreme Court might be much more interesting and certainly more accurate in its rulings with her "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining" attitude.  She doesn't put up with punks who try to put one over on her.

Which brings me to the "B" word.

My wife, Teresa, had a small disagreement with several of the young teenagers in our neighborhood.  They wanted to take some of our stuff to the community pool and our son (also a young teen and friends of the other boys) asked her not to allow them to do so.  She made it clear the items were not to leave our yard.

The boys were not happy.  The gathered themselves up and went into the front of the house, huddling with each other in the street, just beyond our sidewalk.

A little while later, our son and his friends decided to go to the community pool where they played - in good spirits for an hour or so.

Because I am the wonderful husband that I am, I let Teresa spend some time mowing the yard (the temperature was only 90 degrees today).  She got much of it done and so (as a wonderful husband does) I came out of the air conditioned house and offered take over.

That is when I saw it.  The "B" word.

At the exact spot where the group of 5 boys had gathered to commiserate about Teresa's refusal to let them take our stuff to the pool was, in big letters, B * * * H.  An arrow pointed directly at our house in case, I suppose, anyone had a question about where the slur was being hurled.  It was marked into the concrete with pecans which had recently fallen from the trees in our back yard.

As soon as I saw the word, I began calling the parents of the boys.  We gathered around the word and asked who wrote it.  To a person, they denied any knowledge of it.  No one knew how it got there.  No one had any idea when it was put there.  Only that it was there and it was bad that someone had written it (since we were trying to make a much bigger point, I did not point out that the person had spelled the word wrong).

For more than 90 minutes we stood around the word, in the street, trying to find a way to get these young men to understand the hatefulness and disrespect of the thought.  To a person, they all denied any knowledge.

It got me thinking about one of Judge Judy's more interesting thoughts:  If a teenager's lips are moving, they are lying to you.

Now, it is possible that I live in a fantasy world.  I fully accept that possibility.  But I do not believe that our 19 year old daughter has ever lied to us.  She has been a great young woman who has endured even greater struggles than most adults will ever experience.  Our son has a good heart, probably tries to mislead us about things like homework but when it comes to matters of real life, I don't believe he has lied to us either.  One day they may confess that they fooled their parents all these years.

Standing around the "B" word we were being lied to by a gang of young men who we have had in our house since they were in the first grade.  Our house has been the neighborhood gathering place - a distinction we take great joy in - for all of these boys.  They drink the drinks we put in the garage refrigerator.  They eat the snacks we have in the pantry.  We even have had them stay for dinner when morning play turned to afternoon, shifted into evening and then past dinner time.  We have been thrilled that they found our house to be a comfortable home-away-from-home for basketball, AirSoft gun fights, bike riding and jumping and video games.

Now, their lips were moving and we could not trust a single word that came from their mouths.  Judge Judy was proven right.

As all of the parents eventually came to our house, we got to the bottom of it.  We know which one wrote the offending word.  We also know that all of them would have been willing to allow an innocent friend to be blamed (which is not a good sign of friendship we pointed out).

The one who has been identified by all of the others as the author of this misspelled slur even came to our door a little later.  He rang the doorbell and just said that he wanted us to be sure we knew he had nothing to do with it (his lips were moving, therefore he was lying).

All of the parents reacted with the appropriate anger.  They wanted to get to the bottom of it and to apply the proper lesson:  we will respect women, we will respect our friend's mother, we will tell the truth even when it is not easy.

But for more than 90 minutes, Judge Judy was front and center:  if something doesn't make sense, it's a lie; if a teenager's lips are moving, they are lying; if two completely opposite statements are made, someone is lying.  All of those came into play in the street in front of our house.

We want these young men to learn about how to become real men.  To respect women - not slander them with vile-intentioned names.  To stand up for a friend when their mother or sister (or other family member) is attacked in some way.  To appreciate that truth means everything in the development of their character and type of men they will be.

One of the dads sent his son home to get a bucket and a scrub brush to wash away the offending word even before determining what role, if any, his son had in the writing.  So the "B" word has gone into the gutter where it belongs.  Now if we can just wash away the memory of the boys looking us in the eyes - parent after parent - and telling us they had no hand in the writing of the word in front of our house.

They need to know that they fooled no one.  We know the truth.  The truth was seen years ago on Judge Judy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Grandma Introduced Me to Pink Floyd

Not many people can say that about their Grandmothers. 

When I was a kid, my grandma, Mildred Wilguess, worked for Columbia Records in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Part of her job, as I recall, was listening to the "master" record.  It was kind of like a photography negative - the "master" was used to make all vinyl records (for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about - records were the CDs of the old days). 

We were living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, then, as my Dad was finishing his doctorate at the University of Arkansas.  Grandma would usually bring records for me from her work.  It wasn't unusual for her to arrive with a bag of interesting 45s (the smaller records with a big hole in the middle) and, occasionally the bigger albums.  She once brought me a special "Bat Out of Hell" album by Meatloaf, which had the album cover image printed into the vinyl itself.

But the one that I remember, and appreciate, the most was Pink Floyd's "The Wall." 

I would sit in my bedroom for hours, listening again and again to the story that was told through that album.  This was at a time (I know this is weird) that I would sit and read newspapers aloud - in hopes that I would one day be a radio reporter (which I then did!).   "The Wall" moved my thinking about music into an entirely different realm and I came to understand a sophistication I had not heard before.  I suppose it helped to more finely tune my ears for an appreciation of the connectedness of the mood of an entire album as one story - rather than separate songs made for mass consumption. 

And it happened because of my Grandma.

She died today.

My parents sought a different life for our part of the family many years ago - Dad, pursuing higher education and, eventually, a very successful teaching career at Oklahoma State University.  Mom worked to help make that possible and then found success and satisfaction in real estate.  So we moved in 1976 away from Terre Haute. 

We made many visits over the years - every Thanksgiving and then Christmas - finishing classes, loading up a cooler with ham sandwiches and sodas and hitting the long road to Indiana.  Sometimes in snow and ice, sometimes with sleepy drivers.  Always with the intent, by my parents, to help us know who our family was and where we came from.

But, as happens, our lives become our own lives.  Jobs, marriage, kids, illness, school - all of those caused me to turn my time in other directions.  The trips to Indiana became more infrequent.  Then, non-existent.  My parents would decide to go and ask if one of us wanted to go with them.  I would always say "no" just too busy.

Except for funerals.  To say goodbye a final time.  And then, somehow, we make the time to drive the 14 hours to go. 

Grandma had a stroke on Wednesday afternoon.  I learned about its devastating effect on her the next day.  I began saying my "goodbyes" in my mind all day yesterday.  Remembering some of the things that that I associate with her and have made me the man I am today:
  • incredible hand-made noodles
  • the first time they had a shower/bath put in their house
  • running in their backyard and the smell of frying bacon coming through the screens on the kitchen windows (there was no air conditioning at all)
  • the shiny Christmas tree with a spotlight and rotating color wheel that made it green, red and maybe yellow
  • the weird sound the clock on the living room made and seemed to be really loud on nights when I slept over
  • the records of all kinds that she would bring me - many that I still have in a box that my wife is always ready to get rid of but that I insist on hanging on to.  My wife makes a great point about those records:  we don't have anything to play them on.  No ability to listen to them on any of the devices on which we listen to music. 
So I keep the good memories of her knitting, teaching me to play Solitaire (with actual cards - these were the old days, after all), the food, her great smile in my heart.  The records, I keep put away in a box.

And this weekend, I will begin the long drive to Indiana to say goodbye.  To thank her for the part she played in helping me become the man I am today.

Our greatest legacy should be found in our children and grandchildren.  They provide a window into what was important for a family.  From Grandma Wilguess that legacy is rich in noodles, records and expanding my thinking by introducing me to Pink Floyd.