Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Story of a Salting

My mother was very proud of her ancestry, although at times her stories of her relatives that went before got somewhat muddled. Many of her stories were simply dismissed by most of us children, especially when they told of close familial connections to Hollywood directors and royalty.

With a little amateur research on the internet, I came upon some startling information that supports my mother's contention that she was related to a Hollywood director. But more interesting and somewhat disturbing was the one line sentence I found next to the name of one of her uncles, a man who married late in life. It said simply that he was "salted to death" by his wife.

I found it strange that I had never heard this before from my mother, for mysteries and conspiracies were among her favorite pastimes. In her family it seemed that wives were always somewhat suspect, since they weren't part of the family but rather married into it. Second wives were even more suspect - even if the fellow was dirt poor, it was always assumed that second wives were gold diggers.

And yes, this was poor Great-Uncle M's second wife, the first having died and left him a widower. So it is inevitable that the family whispers would be breathed in quiet corners and behind backs. But I am left with one great question: how was this salting accomplished?

There aren't many instances of "death by salt" to be found upon a Google search, although there seems to be a rock band by that name. There's a biblical death by salt, as Lot's wife became a pillar of it, but I doubt that even a second wife had the power to call down fire and brimstone. Finally, we are left with salt poisoning, which by the estimates I found would require the average man to ingest about 12 ounces of salt at one time. Surely, this would be a crime of some magnitude and the tale of it would not have been so easily forgotten.

The most likely explanation is that others in the family cared little for her cooking and found it salty, or that Great Uncle M had some medical condition that was sensitive to salt intake. In any case, it was likely felt that Wife B fed him too much salt, therefore hastening his demise. Since the dates indicate he married her shortly after his first wife's death and lived on for another 16 years, Wife B must have been a very patient woman.

Unfortunately, my mother passed on before I ever thought to look up genealogy online and I can never confirm for her that some of her information was spot-on, nor can I glean more of what she knew of her Uncle M's life, marriages and death.

But I do know one thing, even if a death certificate for Uncle M were produced and it was found that he died of natural causes, it would not quell any rumors nor sway any family opinions. Worse, the family stories would lose their mystery and element of dark conspiracy. And if they were about anything at all, my mother's family were about entertainment.

Although I find the facts fascinating and engrossing, I think I would prefer to hear my mother's stories. There was never anything better than a family gathering, to sit amongst the siblings as they exchanged knowing looks and spoke in hushed tones about this one who was done wrong by that one, and about the wife who worked her husband to his death. It's the only way to find the nuts scattered amongst the branches of a family tree. Genealogy is a fine thing, but that - well, that's family history!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Those Lazy Summer Days

Every summer, school vacation presents problems for parents: how to keep the kids busy and entertained for two months. When I was a kid, this was never a problem. As soon as we woke up in the morning, we were outside, knocking on the doors of friends' houses, running under summer skies throughout the days. I can't remember anyone planning a single activity for us, our imaginations filled the days that seem to last forever and yet were so brief.

Bur for kids today, it's very different. Summers must be planned, activities found, rides sorted out and of course, money plunked down to pay for it all. Being able to stay home and experience summer freedom isn't what it used to be. Since most kids aren't home in the summer, there's little to do in an empty neighborhood.

This year I discovered what seemed to be a perfect solution - the Parks Program. All of the town's parks are staffed with counselors who will guide your young ones through a summer of fun and activities and it's all free. This sounded ideal as the neighborhood park is a mere two or three streets away and the ages served are 6-14, a range inclusive of both the children. Moreover, the elder can keep an eye on the younger.

During their April vacation I was persuaded to allow The Girl and her friend take the The Boy to the park. They had a raucous good time - playing, swinging, sunning and buying junk food from the ice cream truck. They went every day and vowed to spend all Saturdays in this manner. Although they never actually went to the park again, I still thought itsounded like the perfect plan.

As with any perfect plan, it went wrong before it began. The elder, being a 14 year old girl, had no interest whatsoever in going to the park, let alone watching a younger brother. She was bribed into participation with promises of payment, but soon even the prospect of spending money was not enough to rouse her from her bed to walk the three blocks.

Soon, the younger realized that the counselors don't insist on participation in games and that they have an "open door" policy, which meant he could leave at any time. The first time he decided to exercise this right was a day when clouds lowered heavily and there was an imminent threat of rain and thunder. Having kept a close eye on the weather, I set out to pick him up only to find him already making his way home, having left upon feeling the first tiny droplet of rain.

Soon his reasons to leave were such things as boredom, he forgot his favorite Pokemon card, he hit his thumb on a tree, etc. He began to find reasons not to go before he even got there and turned back halfway.

But never fear, The Boy has found the perfect activity to keep him busy all summer. At the top of the street (the hill, as he calls it), he has found a depression in the ground under a tree. He likes to sit in "the hole" and... well, I don't know what else he does. But when I call to him and ask what he's doing, he simply yells back "I am up the hill". Further inquiry reveals that he is "sitting in the hole".

Sure he will spend time riding his scooter, catching bugs, and just running for the sake of running, but it's nice to know that he will spend some time as I remember spending time on those long summer days. Sitting in quiet contemplation from a shady spot, perfectly situated to observe the world and its wonders - a walking stick on the tree bark, a dragon in the clouds flying through the sky - the wonders that we once saw on a summer afternoon. They are still there, though we no longer see them through the busy-ness of life. But sometimes, through the eyes of a child, we experience them once again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Balancing Act

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...

These stirring words from the Declaration of Independence express the desire for all citizens of this glorious land to have equal rights and equal protection under the law. Unfortunately, it is not so.

This was pointed out to me accidentally today by The Girl, who spent some time complaining to me that the rights in the household were unbalanced - she felt she didn't have enough rights. A quick tally of rights and responsibilities soon made me see the inequity.

The rights are out of balance, and tilted heavily in her favor. She doesn't pay rent, and yet she has a comfortable place to live. She doesn't pay utilities and yet she has lights, heat, electricity to run her PC, her radio, her blowdryer, her flat iron...the list goes on and on.

She doesn't work or earn money yet she has food, clothing, medical and dental care. Without performing any tasks of hard labor she gets spending money to go out with friends - sometimes it's offered just to get her to go out with friends instead of fighting with her brother.

I certainly had to agree with her that there don't seem to be enough rights to go around, and it appears that there aren't any left over for me.

Okay, this is normal. Parents provide and care for children because it is right and normal to do so, because it is what parents are for. Children don't realize what real life is like because childhood is supposed to be a time infused with a certain amount of light-heartedness and it is the time to be care-free, before adulthood brings responsibility to rest heavy on their shoulders.

And because I was once a child and am now a mother, I know that there will come a day when she will understand and appreciate what I have done. I know it will be the day that one of her children complains to her about how unfair she is being. So it has always been, and so it always will be, from generation to generation. I don't think it's wrong that I am going to giggle just a bit when it happens... do you?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Juggling Act

I have some bad news.

I can't juggle.

Some years ago I was given a set of soft juggling balls and instructions. I did try (in vain) to master the art of tossing three objects into the air and preventing gravity from exerting its power over them, but inevitably I failed to save even one of the brightly colored orbs from its groundward fate.

Why worry about it? I am sure there are millions of people who can't juggle. But according to a new study, when older people learned to juggle, they grew new grey matter in their brains at a rate equal to younger students of the art. The skills mastered in learning to juggle made new connections and caused a growth of grey matter in the older participants so that even those that conducted the study were astonished.

Of course, I don't believe they were that astonished since it was their idea to teach all these people to juggle in the first place. They must have hoped to prove something. The thought occurs to me to wonder who stepped forward to fund this study when presented with the idea of holding clown school, but I have seen sillier studies than this one.

I can't juggle. I can't learn to juggle. My brain is doomed to become an ever-shrinking remnant of what it was - mostly due to having children - but apparently also due to my lack of hand-eye coordination.

I can't whistle, either. I can't wait to find out what that means.