Beautiful evening, car windows open, music playing, sitting in line waiting to pull out of a parking lot, after a traffic snarl caused by a fire engine’s passing…
C: Daddy, what caused that fire?
D: I don’t know. There are a few things that could have. But, it could be a false alarm, too. Who knows.
C: Maybe it was that there was some smoking.
D (only half tracking): Maybe. Who knows.
F: Daddy! I saw a smoker!
D: A cigarette or a person smoking a cigarette?
F: A person smoking a cigarette.
D: Oh. That’s not good.
F: He’s going to [garbled] and die, right, Daddy?
D (turning down the radio): What did you say, Fisher?
F: He’s going to get wrinkles and die, right, Daddy?
C: Yah, he’s going to get wrinkles.
F: And die. Right, Daddy?
D: We did learn that on TV. That smoking causes wrinkles.
F: And then it causes you to die.
C (after a pause): But, he’s already as old as a grandpa.
F: So, so, so, Daddy, why didn’t he die already?
C: He has wrinkles.
F: But, he isn’t dead yet.
D (watching them in the rearview mirror): Well, maybe he started smoking when he was a kid, when he didn’t know any better. Maybe he didn’t have a daddy or a mommy to tell him not to smoke. So, he started. Or maybe he just didn’t listen to his mommy or daddy. But, he probably started a long time ago. And do you know what?
D: Once you start smoking, it’s very hard to quit. The bad stuff in cigarettes makes your body want more, even though it isn’t good for your body. So…
C: So, it is better to listen to your daddy.
F: And not, er, eh, uh, ever start to smoking, right?
C: I’m going to listen to my Papa and my Daddy.
Pause. The line to pull out of the parking lot sits unmoving.
C: But, Daddy, why isn’t he dead yet?
D: Well, I didn’t see him, but sometimes people start later in life, for various reasons, none of them ever any good. So, he might not have been smoking for all that long. Or maybe the diseases related to his smoking just haven’t gotten him yet.
F: But those disease will?
D: Those diseases. They could, Fisher. Sometimes it takes a very long time for some people’s bodies to break down from the smoking, but that doesn’t mean that smoking is good, no, no. It isn’t. It is very, very, very bad for your body.
F: Because it makes you die.
D: Yes, it could.
Something to the left catches Daddy’s eye. It’s an older gentleman lifting his sunglasses. He is standing between two parked vehicles a few feet from the car, parallel to the kids’ windows. He lifts a cigarette to a mouth surrounded by a wrinkle or two and takes a slow drag. Daddy smiles awkwardly. The man’s face remains stony, sunglasses perched on his forehead, as he, very slowly, blows the smoke out. And stares.
Ahem. The car ride home includes consideration of other reasons why people might get wrinkles, a discussion of secondhand smoke, a nod to the importance of a verb’s tense (“I see a smoker” v. “I saw a smoker”), and a reminder that certain conversations should happen only with the car windows up, “because people might get their feelings hurt.”
Cory comes out of her room with about eight bracelets on each arm, and a mesh head band coiled around her wrist like a lace glove.
D: Cory! Wow! You go put a huge bow on your head, and you’re bringing back Madonna’s Lucky Star look.
C: Who is Adonna Lucky Star?
C: Can I wear this to school?
Daddy edits her down to two bracelets on the right hand, and the “lace glove” on the left. He shows her a minute of Madonna’s Lucky Star video. Cory smiles.
Later, at pickup, the kids at the Y are playing Freeze Dance. They dance to the music, but when it stops, they have to freeze. Cory wins, working her “lace glove” and bracelets the whole time. Luckily, she didn’t actually use any of Madonna’s moves from the video, though…
Growing up, supper was almost always meat, often from the grill (hopefully from the grill, please, no meatloaf) and potatoes, usually baked. Chicken was prominently featured. Dark meat chicken. Dark meat chicken on the bone. Especially a drumstick. The only portion fit for the wary to eat, after stealing oneself, was the tiny strip of meat about a half an inch from the fat end of the drumstick and an inch and a half from the skinny end. Avoid the weird stuff, the gristle, at all costs.
Barely touched drumsticks were way too much carcass for the more vulturous to ignore. At some point, a claw would rise from the opposite side of the kitchen table, complete with painted (often press-on) nails. The claw would descend on the discarded drumsticks. As the claw retreated, chicken legs secured, a very young Daddy would work hard to avert the eyes. Stare at the floor. Watch the plate. Turn to the little black and white TV in the corner. Just don’t look at Mom.
Because over there…Mom would be ripping apart the stringier parts of the legs, stripping those bones bare, with a smile on her face. She would sometimes provide gleeful commentary, just to up little Daddy’s ick factor. There was just no way to get through childhood without witnessing her clean a coop (or two) of chicken legs taken from Daddy’s plate. Those images got in. And, there’s no getting them out.
So, when Papa randomly decides to fry some chicken legs over Memorial Day weekend, a flashback or two is unavoidable.
C (face horrified): What is that white thing?
F (in equal horror): Daddy, what is that brown stuff?
D (squelching a wretch, ready to tell them what the white thing and brown stuff are): That’s…
P (coming over): Ummmmm. That’s the good part of the chicken.
One man’s good is another man’s gross. But, this is definitely one meal that *Daddy* will never insist that they “finish”…
C: Daddy, Fisher’s favorite color is pink.
D: Yah, I like pink, too.
C: But, pink is a girl color.
F (through a mouthful): No, it’s not.
C: Yes, it is.
F: Daddy, there is no such thing as er, eh, uh a girl color, right?
D: That’s right, Fisher. Colors are colors.
C: But pink is girl’s color. Boys are supposed to like purple, and girls like pink.
D: There is no “supposed to” when it comes to colors, Cory. Everyone likes what he or she likes.
C: But, pink is for girls.
D: But, Cory, what is your favorite color right now?
C (slowly, sensing a trap): Blue.
D: Some people say that blue is for boys.
C (trapped): But…
D: The people who say that are usually the same people who say pink is only for girls, so…
C: Fisher, you can like pink.
F: I already know that, thank you really much.