or maybe Santa is just screwing with my head

My siblings and I are all adults now, but anyone home Christmas morning still gets a stocking and Santa gifts. That’s hardly anyone some years, but them’s the rules. We’ve adopted the practice of one of our in-laws in that we prep stockings for the parents, too, and sneak them downstairs when they’re otherwise occupied. So this year, mulling over possible Santa presents, I came across a garden kneeler. Both parents are enthusiastic gardeners and my mom has a bit of a trick knee these days, so it seemed to be a good option. I meant to order it all month, and December completely got away from me. By the last week, I knew it wouldn’t arrive in DC in time for me to take it with me when we drove south. So I thought I’d have it shipped there.

But then I forgot to follow through on that, too. (We bought our Christmas presents for the siblings on the drive, so that’s pretty much par for the course for Other Half and me.)

We did some other things instead. There’s Mother’s Day coming up, maybe I’ll get it together by then. And then a week or so later, back in DC, I get a text from my mom, thanking me for the garden kneeler.

I don’t answer the text immediately, even though I see it, because, frankly, I’m freaking out a bit. There are two options, as far as I can tell: either I ordered it anyway right before the holiday, and have blacked it out of my memory….or I can now control Amazon….with my mind.

I am genuinely not sure which one terrifies me more. Am I getting some kind of dementia? I check my bank account. No sign of payment. I check my email. No confirmation of order or shipment. Am I just that good? Can I now just think, oh, I need one of those things for that thing, and it will show up in my mailbox?

There’s a third option, apparently. My sister in law remembers that my sister Katie and her boyfriend gave his mom a garden kneeler. Maybe they ordered one for our mom too. Maybe we’re merely telepathic. So I text her, and she says, yeah, I sent one, it’s just a bit late. I’m a little disappointed. Not to not have dementia, that was terrifying, but not to be able to psychically order off the internet, which would be so useful for people with my short attention span. Oh, well. The upside is that maybe my sister will just start ordering things for me, but with her credit card. Also super useful.

And by the way, I totally took credit for the idea in the meantime to my mom. In case you’re reading this: I had the intention first, ok?




travel day: my childhood

The goat came to us because it was sick. And because it was cold.

The goats – along with cows, chickens, a surly pony, and cats – lived on our farm out in the country. We lived in town during the school year and trekked out to the farm to feed the animals every other day. On Dad’s last trip out, he’d found one of the goats slumped in a corner of the barn, dull-eyed and lethargic. The vet said it could go either way, but it needed constant supervision. And, it was cold. Tennessee was experiencing record-low temperatures that year and the animals were huddled together in the stalls. Dad stacked hay against the walls but the wind came in – too much, they worried, for a small sick goat. So it came to town in the back of the Subaru, and was barricaded in the furnace room with blankets and grain and newspaper on the floor.

I’m sorry to say we kids were less compassionate than we might have been. We had a goat…in our basement. Who else keeps goats in their basement? Why do we always have to be so weird?

“Oh, keep your shirt on,” my mother says crossly. “It’ll be fine in a few days and will go back to the farm. No one will know.”
That might have been true except for the fact that my brother’s friend John stopped by to borrow a book for some homework, and was standing in the kitchen when the goat decided to break into its own rendition of “Old MacDonald”.
“What was that?” John asks.
It’s hard to make the following statement with insoucience, but I want you to know I went for it. “Oh, it’s just a goat we have..in the basement.”
A definite pause. But it turns out we have underestimated John. He’s a boy not easily perturbed.
“Really? Nice! Can I see it?”
We trooped down the stairs together to see it, curled up on a rug by the furnace. It didn’t look so good, but it was as friendly as ever, leaning in for a scratch behind the ears.

Two days later, though, we awoke to the news that the goat hadn’t made it.

It was sad, but of course we’d lost a lot of animals over the years, not even including the steers that would disappear in the spring at the same time small white paper packages would mysteriously fill up the back freezer. Some goats had been sold, and both the sheep had run away immediately after the red ribbon for the 4-H project, and we’d lost track of the times we’d find more feathers than chickens in the hen roost.
Dad had wrapped the little goat in an old blanket and plastic and packed it in the trunk of the car for transportation back to the farm for burial. He took the day off work and headed off. And then was back, in too short a time to have buried anything.
“Ground’s completely frozen,” he tells my mother. “We’re going to have to wait until it’s a little warmer.”
“Guess I’m not getting groceries in that car,” is her prompt response.

Oh, sure, hilarious, Mom! So funny! Except that this is the car she picks us up from school in, drives us to soccer and basketball practice, transports us and our friends to the mall. Runs errands, goes to Junior League meetings. The car that now has a dead body in the trunk. And the ground is still frozen the next day. Oh, and also the next.

Now it’s been three days with a body in the trunk and my mother is beginning to become paranoid. One kid catching a ride home with us walks to the back of the car and asks to put his backpack in the trunk. “No!!” my mother snaps. “You can hold it on your lap!”
She watches her rearview mirror constantly. “If we get rear-ended at a stoplight I do not know what I’m going to do. Run for it, probably,” she tells me. I take a moment to contemplate life as fugitives.
“I guess we’re not going to Mexico,” I remind her, “what with the lack of Spanish-speaking, which I continue to blame on you and Dad.”
“Oh, really? Well -” She breaks off in mid-sentence, spotting red and blue lights flickering as a patrol car cruises by.
“Buenas Dias! Estas un federale?” I practice. Learn Spanish in the Car! had been maddeningly unhelpful for this scenario.

In retrospect, I guess it’s a good thing this was long before I’d attended law school or we’d have been twice as worried. I’d have warned her not to keep anything incriminating in her car, because cops can always find a way to search your car without a warrant (free legal advice! don’t ever keep anything incriminating in your car). Not that the goat was incriminating, exactly; I mean, we hadn’t murdered it. But let’s face it: it was going to look really, really bad, no matter what.

In the end, it didn’t come to that. No accidents with trunks springing open!…no speeding tickets…no surprise inspections…no family on the lam to Mexico. I mean, Canada, what with that lack of Spanish thing that I believe we’ve discussed previously. On Day 4 the cold snap broke, and my parents finally drove back to the farm and came back with an empty trunk the rest of us avoided for the remaining lifetime of the car. I’d hold that backpack in your lap, if I were you.

actually, i’m not 100% sure about the census

I’m a person that gets road rage. Intense, shrieking, cursing at the top of my lungs, threatening violence kind of road rage, and it’s not mitigated by the fact that it’s primarily as a backseat driver, and most of my rage is directed at Other Half, the usual driver in the car I’m sitting in. Other Half drives like a geriatric hell-bat, which is to say, somehow both slow and reckless. I don’t know how to explain it. He weaves in traffic but drives far less than the speed limit; blows through stop signs but rubbernecks at parallel parkers, driving so slowly by them I finally feel compelled to scream, “WHAT are you doing? GO!”

“You scream too much. What’s wrong with you?” Is his reply.

“I can’t help it! It’s my Latin temper, you know that.”

“You’re not Hispanic,” he says.

Oh. Oh, he knows, this is a sore spot for me. I am too Hispanic. My grandfather was Mexican, my father is half Mexican, half American, and that makes us 1/4 Hispanic, which totally counts in census surveys. It’s just hard for most people to realize, because my siblings and I are LOLs, less obvious Latinos, what with our being overly Caucasian and not speaking Spanish and all that. That last part is extra tricky, we know. Still, it’s apparently impossible for most people to understand that Hispanic is an ethic designation, not racial; they want you to look a certain way, and that way is, for example, Sofia Vergara. Which is hilarious, when you think that Sofia Vergara is a natural blonde and had to dye her hair brunette to get work as “Latina Woman”. Only when I joined the Hispanic Law Students Association in school was this not a problem; all the other LOLs in the organization seemed unfazed.

I have an American mother and was raised on a farm in Tennessee, all in English, so I have no real connection with our Mexican roots. This used to make me furious. I distinctly remember coming home from school the day we learned about the Day of the Dead festival, slamming my backpack to the kitchen floor and shouting accusatorily* at my parents, “Why don’t WE celebrate Day of the Dead? Why don’t we speak Spanish? We are the most half-assed Mexican-Americans in the country!!”

 “Eh,” my dad says, “Day of the Dead isn’t big in Mexico.”

This is what we had to deal with.

Several of us studied Spanish in high school or college, but we’ve never become fluent. My brother lives with a fluent Spanish-speaker (she is more obviously latina…show-off.) and I am pretty sure he still speaks the same 5 or so words he would’ve remembered from Lesson 1 of a Learn Spanish in the Car! tape set that I may or may not have given him back in the mid-90s. Another brother somehow found himself head of the Latin American division of a large corporation, the only non-Spanish speaker in the department. They had to run the meetings in English when he was there.

I know it’s not too late, of course. People do learn foreign languages as adults. We could actually apply ourselves and try to be slightly-more-obviously-latino, though I am not sure what to do there’s about all the blue and green eyes in the gene pool. Learn Spanish in the Car! must be floating around in someone’s glove compartment. Plus it might distract from Other Half’s mind-boggling driving skills (and I mean mind-boggling in a maddening, insane, wholly negative way) – I know, he’s probably right about me screaming so much. If I’m going to have a Latin temper, I should at least be screaming at him in Spanish.

 [* Enjoy that virtually unused adverbial inflection of the rarely used adjective “accusatory”.]

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