I know you don’t appreciate being the subject of my affection in a humor column, but I do have this duty to my readers, and it was you, after all, who taught me my first malapropism: “You don’t phrase me any, little man.” You arrived at that with no little sacrifice, as I’m about to remind you.
Another holiday season prompts me to spend time reviewing the highlights of my life. Trouble is, I’m finding that my memory will sometimes turn itself inside out. Take today, for instance (or was it yesterday?) when I can’t remember what I didn’t have for breakfast, but ask me about that toddle-walk across Dad’s den when I was three, and I can still look up and see that cord dangling from his desk.
This is my first recollection, not only of any event in my life, but of also attempting my first stand-up comic impression. I was Jack, and there was my beanstalk. I began to climb.
The beanstalk, of course, was no such thing. It was the end of a telephone cord, and it was attached to Dad’s black desktop rotary phone. Right here, Mom, I have to tell my younger readers that this was a communication device with roughly the size and heft of a small anvil. It came in two pieces and was attached to a wall plug. You could not “text” with it, and if used correctly, an actual live human voice could be heard.
I climbed up, intent on meeting the sky giant, stealing some golden eggs and bringing them to you. You were in the kitchen, also three-plus years into my young life, and thanks to all the intrigue I’d already brought into yours, probably still wondering when your womb had been struck by lightning and why you’d ever considered begetting in the first place.
I say this, because this also sparks a memory of the first spoken words of yours that I recall: “Oh death, where is thy sting?”
No, I’m not speaking of the Biblical reference, but rather an entreaty that you invoked whenever a boyhood transgression of mine drove you to it. I consider it part of the root structure of the maternal Sherman family tree, and in my defense, I do believe that it’s the natural order of things for boys to occasionally send their mothers into fits of soul-searching lunacy.
It was sometimes terrifying, however, watching you raise your head to the heavens, palms outstretched, eyes rolled back, beseeching God and begging to know why you hadn’t thus far been struck down dead in your tracks.
During such son-induced blackouts, any mother would wonder about the course of her little male’s gestation period.
Scary as it was, it was also empowering, knowing my actions could drive you to summon the Supreme Being’s wrath in a wishful self-matricide. I could then use that power, compelling you to hark the heralding angels on the spot. But, I had to be careful. If I nagged you over the brink or pushed a good tantrum too far, you might’ve done a Mrs. Lot impression right there in front of me.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide my role in the reckless deed if Dad came home to find you turned into a salt pillar at the kitchen sink.
“Elwin, did you turn your mother into stone?”
“No, Dad. Honest. I just found her like that.”
But, even now as a boy alumnus, I can’t explain why I delighted in the discovery that I could make you lose control of your bodily fluids if I chased you with a spider, or why I’d revel in draining the color from your face by standing atop the barn with an open umbrella, or why I thought the heavenly shriek you emitted when I dumped Kool-Aid in the aquarium or burned down the lilacs with a magnifying glass, was a joyful noise.
Though I’m unsure today if I’m operating on yesterday’s empty stomach, I’m clearly recalling a long-ago giant-killer day, and can still feel the beanstalk cord going slack in my hands as that descending anvil phone came crashing down on my head.
Scientists call this “short-term memory loss,” and scientists call this “short-term memory loss.”
I prefer to think of it as “selective memory” – the term you still level at me whenever I still dare to cop that classic kid plea of conveniently forgetting anything that would incriminate me.
Now, how to fix this over the holiday season and make amends for all the woe and worry I inflicted on you? Maybe this year, when we gather for dinner at your house, how about I bring along some deviled golden eggs?
All these recollections later, Mom, that ought to finally take the sting out of it.
* * * * *
Senior Wire News Service syndicated humor columnist writes from Bethlehem, NH. His new book: “Walk Tall and Carry A BigWatering Can,” is now available. Copyright 2013 by B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.