"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


We've all heard the fable, you probably chanted it in nursery school -- the poem  "For Want Of A Nail." Remember?  "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost," etc.

Well, it really doesn't take much for some things to snowball.  Some years ago when I went out to get into my car in the morning there was a political lawn sign in the hatch-back.  Now I do lean toward the left and this was a Liberal candidate but it was not one of whom I was particularly fond.  Nevertheless, my first thought was not "who the hell put that in there?" (it was my brother, but that's so beside the point) but rather "what can I do with this to cause trouble for somebody continue this little joke?"  I thought immediately of a friend, Jon, who stayed weekends with his girlfriend and whose house was empty then.  Shame on me, I drove down there and stuck the sign in his lawn.  I don't know how I was even able to breathe for laughing so hard imagining him driving up Monday morning and seeing it.

Turns out it never occurred to him that I was the culprit -- he thought it was a pal/crony of his, Chris K.  He told me later he drove down to Chris K.'s that night and furiously tossed the sign onto the lawn.  And he figured he'd made his point.  The next day, though, when Chris got up and saw the sign he figured it had been a neighbor two or three houses down who always seemed to rub him the wrong way.  Chris apparently marched down there with this sign, flung it at the neighbor and warned him that if there was any more trouble he was going to call the police.  In fact the police may have been called; I don't quite remember.  It was a good one though.  Even Jon thought it was.

The thing of it is, things do take off at times.  The other day my father was looking through some books I'd found for him at the dump and out of one fell a photo of a lovely baby girl; on the back, inscribed in shaky handwriting, was:




Dad was DELIGHTED to have found such a thing because now he could play a joke on my mother, whose name is Millie.  He immediately took it to her and with a straight face told her it had fallen out of another book which my Significant Other, Steve, had recently lent him, and it must be a baby picture of him.  (The "S" was there and everything.)

First of all, said Mom, it's obviously a girl.  It's a PRETTY baby, not boyish, and she has pink and lavender on.  Second, it's a color shot.  Back in the 50s, when Steve and I were babies, most pics were in black and white.  I'm sure he just walked away hiding a smirk.  My mother thought she'd put him in his place but she gets a little confused at the best of times, and he knows it.

Meanwhile I had asked Steve if he knew who it could be and he racked his brain.  The books had been his late dad's and maybe his dad had stuck the snapshot in as a bookmark.  However, Steve could recall no Millie on either side of his family.  "I think it was my Uncle Frank who gave Dad those books," he said.  "Maybe somebody from one of his in-laws.  This is a very mysterious thing."  He questioned me a little more and then said he'd ask his 93-year-old mother.

The next day I found out about my father's shenanigans and wasn't surprised, but I was praying Steve hadn't asked his mother about Millie and the baby girl yet.  Even though his mother is sharp as a tack and looks it, I pictured her fretting about this at her age and eventually getting on the phone to call as many relatives as she could think of to ask for help in tracing the mysterious Millie.  Well, I didn't get to Steve in time and he in fact had already asked his mom, but fortunately she was just very matter-of-fact about it and said she had no idea what he or I were talking about and thank heavens, presumably did not care.

Dad, who is 91 himself, is a terrible trickster.  I have heard many a tale from those who knew him way back in the day, and he admits it all, including setting his boss's hat on fire once just to see what would happen.  He gets away with this stuff because he is charming.  The most jokes he ever played were on my Uncle Bill Breslin.  He got me involved early on in this.  It was almost automatic that when he changed a toilet seat he would leave the old one in Uncle Bill's yard.  Once, he had me stand on the hood of his car and hammer a sign into a tree on my uncle's property that said said "For Sale By Owner" and then gave the number of the local coffee shop downtown, thereby killing two birds with one stone.  If we found something funny in the dump, there it would go, to the Breslin house where he and my Auntie Mig took it good-naturedly.

The killer dump find was an old accordion.  This was probably a good 12 or 15 years ago.  We could barely get the thing in  the truck.  We got lucky that day and found my cousin Peggy's car parked at the foot of their long, steep  driveway and like thieves in the night - or reverse thieves in the night - we pulled up, jumped out, deposited the squeezebox and squealed away.  HA!  This time the joke was on us.  We found out later that Peggy had put the accordion down cellar, bringing it up one night when someone who was visiting mentioned that he knew how to play the instrument and damned if they didn't have a concert.

I got my brother REALLY good once; it was an incredible stroke of fortune.  I'd gotten a parking ticket for $150 for parking in a handicapped space without a permit, though I do HAVE a permit (Lyme disease), I had just forgotten to use it.  It was all straightened out with a minimum of trouble, but meanwhile, coming back from taking Mom to a doctor's appointment in the city, it was still in my car.  We stopped for lunch at Ruby Tuesday's and who should walk in a few minutes later but my brother and his youngest son, who had been doing something at the DMV and had also decided to stop at Ruby Tuesday's.

We all had a pleasant time, and on the way out with Mom I looked for my brother's car and very surreptitiously slipped the ticket under his windshield wiper.  Again, the anticipation of his unpleasant surprise in finding it made for a very pleasant ride home.  Later I spoke to my nephew.  "Oh my God," he said, "Dad freaked out because he thought he was parked in the To-Go section."  Once he saw what the ticket really said, though, it was "Well played, sis...well played."  

Of course.  Back several years ago I was visiting the aforementioned Jon and another woman, older than us and very pretty, had also stopped by.  I didn't know where he knew this woman from but she was pleasant and we were making conversation when she suddenly stopped and said "Hey - how old were you in 1971?"  "Um, 15," I said.  "Were you tall and skinny with long brown hair?"  I had been.  "Oh my god, I was your neighbor across the street - Elaine!"  I hadn't seen Elaine or any of her family in DECADES and was delighted to have crossed paths with her again.  But before I could say anything else she asked me "Didn't you make a sign once that said 'I AM WOMAN' and stick it to the back of your brother's jacket without him knowing, and he wore it on the school bus that morning?"  My jaw dropped, and then I smiled...it's good to be remembered.

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