Grind­ing One's Teeth - a memoir

Hol­i­day Inn, 1965.

We took the first two weeks in Aug every year to go some­where as fam­ily. Whirlpool shut down those weeks for main­te­nance and every­one went on vaca­tion then. I guess Fort Smith (and Ben­ton Har­bor) emp­tied out and Labor Flight commenced.

Ann's in col­lege, the 5 of us are almost done trav­el­ing together en masse. This is the trip to meet Sen­a­tor McClel­lan (pow­er­ful but not scan­dalous) in DC (not to be con­fused with Sen Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe --"The Tidal Basin Bomb­shell", one of my favorite scan­dals, 1974, when Mills was caught dri­ving drunk with strip­per Foxe in DC, she jumped out of car and over side of bridge to escape) Daddy and McClel­lan were friends from Dad's time on the United States Sen­ate Select Com­mit­tee on Improper Activ­i­ties in Labor and Man­age­ment since Daddy tes­ti­fied years pre­vi­ously dur­ing some hear­ings about col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and other areas of his expertise.

We are all on the final BIG vaca­tion of the fam­ily, and that meant even Ann, who was in her junior (?) year in Razor­backville. Col­lege began after Labor Day then, I think.

The fam­ily stayed in one motel room (obvi­ously) with a "roll­away" bed for Ann. Not FAIR!! NOT FAIR!! John and Dad in one dou­ble bed, Mom and me in the other, Tri-​Delt soror­ity Ann in roll­way. Man was I jeal­ous! I wanted that bed ...

I remem­ber Ann com­ing out of bath­room with her 12 slip pulled up to above her bra, as a sort of mini-​dress, as she was grab­bing her clothes and going back into bath­room to fin­ish dress­ing. Man did I think she was COOL doing that. I asked Mom about it and she told me Ann saw that on Pey­ton Place on TV and that Ann wasn't sup­posed to watch that night­time soap but she did and that was all they could do ... oh she was cool, that Ann.

So we are on our way to Wash­ing­ton DC from Ark. in Daddy's sta­tion­wagon with fins, it died a cou­ple years after but made that trip in fine form with a mechanic installed AC unit hang­ing under the dash. John would see the Smith­son­ian, I would meet the pony of my dreams. I'm not sure what was in it for Ann, prob­a­bly not hav­ing to work. She didn't "do" sum­mer jobs like some of us did. She was too busy with Tri Delts and rush and all those impor­tant activ­i­ties, includ­ing buy­ing Madras anoraks and cash­mere sweaters with dyed to match skirts.

We were near VA for the final slog through Williams­burg before going into DC. Daddy took us to the Pony Pen­ning the day before as a spe­cial nod to me and my love of Misty. Insanely won­der­ful surprise ...

Mid­dle of the night, I wake up gag­ging and chok­ing. Mom is hold­ing me down on the bed try­ing to stuff the bed­spread and blan­ket INTO MY MOUTH. I start yelling and thrash­ing around. Daddy gets up, comes over to Mom, lays his hand on her shoul­der, says, "Give it up Ruth, she can't help it... let her go... "

My brother sleeps through it. My sis­ter glares at me from across the room in HER pri­vate roll­away bed.

I sit up, ask, "why are you try­ing to kill me?"

Ann says, "because you're an idiot ..."

Mom says, "You are grind­ing your teeth so loud we're all los­ing our minds ..."

"Not John..." I point out.

"Idiot," says Ann.

It is seared into my mem­ory -- along with a night soon after when Ann begged Mom and Dad to let her watch Pey­ton Place. Daddy started mak­ing fun of it, Ann was furi­ous. One of the best Bob-​Sayings came from that night: "Rodney's gonna' knock a lung out of Elliott".

Pey­ton Place!? These silly House­wives of the Ter­d­man Heights have noth­ing on that show!


The Dreaded Yet Anx­iously Antic­i­pated "Tan­gelo Thumb"

val macewanFor the last decade or per­haps more, my friend Ernest comes to the house mid-​November with a sign-​up sheet for his church's annual cit­rus fruit sale. The Love, Faith and Vic­tory Taber­na­cle is a small Chris­t­ian com­mu­nity in a small South­ern town (my small South­ern town).

Ernest and I met back in 1991 when he intro­duced him­self as the neigh­bor­hood help­ing man. His words. He also drove the City's garbage truck. Work­ing in a capac­ity such as dri­ver for any City vehi­cle, a man or woman achieves a level of respect matched by any pro­fes­sional occu­pa­tion in this town. Does that make sense? It's my wonky way of say­ing that Ernest, even though his job was some­thing many would con­sider lowly on the face of its descrip­tion of his duties, became a pil­lar of the community.

val macewan The Dead MuleThe many years Ernest spent dri­ving the huge truck cre­ated some med­ical prob­lems. His right hip needed replace­ment and he waited until he retired to have the surgery. He walks with a much more dig­ni­fied air about him now that his gait is straighter and he is in con­trol of his move­ments (as opposed to pain being his nav­i­ga­tor). Ernest came by mid-​November and I ordered, as I always do, navel oranges and tan­ge­los. For $36 I have my two boxes of glo­ri­ous Florida good­ness. The tan­ge­los are incred­i­ble this year. So juicy, I had to change shirts after eat­ing three of them because my sleeves were wet.

I've been friends with Ernest ever since the first moment I met him. Not some­thing I say about many peo­ple, one must usu­ally prove one's self to be called "friend". Right?

And now Tan­gelo Thumb. It's the raw space under my fin­ger­nail from dig­ging into the skin of too many tan­ge­los. Cit­rus Thumb. After eat­ing almost a dozen tan­ge­los in the last 24 hours, my poor thumb! I try eat­ing the cit­rus fruit by cut­ting it with a knife, sec­tion­ing it and imi­tat­ing Mar­lon Brando's gar­den scene in The God­fa­ther but the process of remov­ing the skin, peel­ing the tan­gelo remains a sweet hol­i­day joy for me.

val macewan The Dead MuleI wouldn't give up hav­ing this sore thumb for any­thing. And the same is true for my friend­ship with Ernest, who arrived on my front porch around 9:30 p.m. last night, shin­ing a flash­light into the liv­ing room win­dow and hol­ler­ing "VALERIE! IT'S ERNEST!" -- giv­ing Car­o­line and me the fright of our life. And also a belly laugh as he remem­bered my daugh­ter on the day he met her, "a lit­tle bit of thing and now look at you, so hard work­ing and I know you are, run­ning a com­pany ... been to col­lege ... is there any­thing you need? If there is, you call Ernest, your mom has my number"

Not three days ago I stood on the porch with weepy eyes and a bleak out­look, telling my hus­band, "We don't have any tra­di­tions any more. Not one hol­i­day event recre­ates what I remem­ber, the way it used to be for ME."

Not three days ago -- I for­got Ernest was my hol­i­day tra­di­tion. And tan­gelo thumb.


Paper53, You Made Me Cry

Tak­ing a few months off from blog­ging to feed the beast. Thought I'd use the mini-​iPad to do the dirty deed but it's a pain in the ass to type on the lit­tle bitty blue tooth key­board and it seems I just get started and the bat­tery goes ker­plunk. Had to wait to get here into the stu­dio with the trusty iMac, the real deal, to type out some words of wiz.

Thank you to all my Dead Mule sup­port­ers. I have the $$ in trust, and it will be show­ing up in 2014 in the guise of either writ­ing con­tests or t-​shirt give­aways. Or it will be used to pay server fees and domain name reg­is­tra­tion fees because I know that's what you, my dear­est online friends, want me to do with it.

What to wear?The stu­dio por­tion is com­plete. Four rooms com­plete with kitchen and even a laun­dry room/​shower facil­ity. Upstairs liv­ing quar­ters are next. We'll start adver­tis­ing for campers for Sum­mer 2014 by mid-​spring. I know, it's a lit­tle late in the sea­son by then but the sum­mer sea­son is late Aug - early Sept so there's plenty of time!

To cel­e­brate the four rooms we now have four dogs.

Clown dogs and the old man dog, Thompson.

Look for­ward to: prod­uct reviews. Prod­uct com­par­isons. Art pre­views. Mon­e­tary trib­utes to an all-​star cast.

Soon it will be 2014. New­ness. Check it out then. Not now. Now is not good. I'll just be over here in my lit­tle chair. Curs­ing Paper53 because it lost hours and hours of my work. Applaud­ing "Sketches" because it saved my hours and hours of work. Yeah, Paper53, you so dis­ap­pointed me. Hooray LateN­ite­Soft! You rule my sketch­ing world.

Remem­ber: when in doubt, grab and pad of paper and a pen­cil. Maybe a sketch­pad and some pens. Some paints, a paint­brush and a can­vas. Old school beats new school. New school needs a bat­tery. New school needs a sty­lus. New school loses your work.


Con­tro­ver­sial Con­tra Dancing

val macewan

It is a world wherein absti­nence from polit­i­cal thought and dis­cus­sion is almost a sin. Repub­li­cans in US Con­gress develop a fear of the known, those who con­trol thoughts in minor­ity dis­tricts... minori­ties of thought, not race. Those who believe in less gov­ern­ment demand more gov­ern­ment to con­trol the ill-​defined lim­ited gov­ern­ment they embrace.



The Dead Mule Octo­ber 2013 Issue

Avail­able on Octo­ber 4th, this Fri­day, the new Mule will fea­ture over 30 per­sonal essays -- MEM­OIRS of a Cer­tain Type.

the Dead Mule School of South­ern Literature

Stay tuned for more information.

over and out.

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