Oh, Sugarbunnies!

I had almost completed my first week of kindergarten at St. Joseph’s Catholic school and I had a question for my Mother.

“Mom. I head some words at school and wondered if they were bad. Can I tell you what they were?”

My mother put down what she was doing and looked at me. “Yes, you can tell me the words you heard at school. It’s alright.”

With permission granted, I happily ran through an extensive and well rounded list of epithets and interjections that one would normally associate with bars and pool halls rather than Mrs. Jobin’s AM kindergarten class. As my mother sucked in a long breath, he eyebrows rose up her forehead as if she was inflating. “Yes,” she added as evenly as she could, “those are bad words.”

I was thrilled to have my assumptions affirmed and before the special moment was lost, asked, “Does Dad know any worse ones?”

“No. Your father doesn’t use that kind of language.” Was the reply. Happy for what I had but wishing I had found more, I left the kitchen and headed out into my five year old world to hunt down what ever knowledge I could find. After all, I had some swear words in my quiver now!

swearing

The best part of this conversation to me wasn’t the fact that I had been sent to a religious school and immediately discovered the world of blue language, but rather my mother’s response to if Dad hand any other gems that I might not yet know about. My Father, though a good and kind man, was also a platoon sergeant and must have been at the nexus of foul language for much of the time he was in uniform. Oh, if I had only known.

My Kindergarten discoveries were not however, my first dip into the swearing pool. The very first cuss word to escape my little mouth was a time honored favorite. It rhymes with “fit.” I don’t recall what made me say it, but I’ve been told about the conversation that occurred after I said it. Dad looked up and my Mother and simply uttered, “He didn’t learn it from me!” Dad had worked very, very hard at cleaning up what he said at home since when he was at the barracks, swearing was a necessary part of every sentence. You didn’t ask some one to pass the salt. You asked then to pass the fu**ing salt. You didn’t get into the jeep, but rather got into the godd**n jeep. Not using the swear word would have been like serving a burger with out the ketchup. He lived in fear of sitting down to dinner with his wife, child or in-laws of and asking for the “d**n gravy.”

No, my initial venture into the world of expletives came, much to her embarrassment, from my very straight laced Mom. The fecal swear was perhaps her one real vice. It was not used loosely about the house but came out only in once geographical local, and from this it derived it’s nickname. We referred to it as “the kitchen word” and when you heard it, you knew that things were not going well in there. Often, it was used following the sound of pots and pans hitting the floor.

My Mother has never been the swearing type and her mother, famously in family lore, once castigated her for using “Bull Tickies” when something didn’t work right. She glared at her adult daughter and replied sharply, “That’s pretty close to something I don’t like!” Grandma was hardly unfamiliar with swearing in the house she grew up in and reportedly, when he Father let loose with his ultimate, “God D*mn it all to Hell”, you knew that he had reached the end of whatever rope he was currently hanging from. To this day, that particular sentence still carried weight within the family.

Having apparently taken her Mother’s admonishment to heart, my Mom came up with her own fill-in swear. One that could never be tisked at by Gramma: Sugarbunnies.

This wasn’t the family’s first foray into renaming dirty words. For what ever reason, my Grandmother, the same one who wasn’t fond of “Bull Tickies” decided that she needed to come up with something else to call poop. For some strange reason, she settled on “Bunkie.”

I have no idea why.

What it meant though was that I grew up surrounded by an extensive family of aunts, uncles and cosigns who all used the word, “bunkie” to describe a bowel movement. It was normal to hear and for one of my more rambunctious cosigns, served as his vehicle for his first full on tirade. Confronted one day by our Grandfather and having been told by him in no uncertain terms that things were not, in fact, going to go the way he was demanding, the young and aggrieved party squared his jaw and told Gramp, “Your name is Bunkie and you live on Bunkie Street!”

This, naturally lead to peels of laughter. Not what he was hoping for. Later that week, my parents made a fake street sign reading, “Bunkie Street,” placed it at the end of their road and took a photo to give as a gift to my Grandparents. It was well received.

I have worked hard at keeping my own language in a realm that would keep both my Mother and Grandmother happy with me and for the most part, I succeed. I do slip from time to time, but it’s fairly rare. I never thought of my lack of swearing as terribly noticeable, and as it turned out, it isn’t… until I swear.

The time that struck this home to me was back in college. My roommate at the time was of the “thick” variety and had a habit of doing knuckleheaded things. Sometimes to me, sometimes to others. He wasn’t bad, just numb. One night, I had come home to find that he had ruined some of my things though his all to often, careless behavior. I had liked these things he had ruined and was justifiably mad. I had also had a really rotten day. Apparently, the other folks on the hall were so caught off guard by my litany of swearing and vitriol that one of them was dispatched to find my roommate and instruct him that he was not to come home that night, lest he loose a major body part or several quarts of blood. Now, I’m not the violent type and I truly doubt that many would find me imposing but these fellows whom I lived with were so caught off guard by the nice, quiet guy letting loose with his best profanity that they the consensus was that I had snapped. From this episode, I learned that swearing needs to be used carefully. Measure it out and place it well and your point will carry that much more weight. Just don’t do it when Gandma is within earshot.

Working by my self for years made keeping my language clean pretty easy for me. Action Girl has had a rougher time. She works as a sea captain, longshoreman and is a card carrying Teamster. The vocabulary of a sailor is a colorful thing and it has taken a good deal of effort, discipline and glares from me over the dinner table, lest Short Stack catch on, to keep her more dynamic speech in check. She works hard at it and I’ve become an excellent covert glarer.

My Mom also has worked hard to overwrite “the kitchen word” with “Sugarbunnies” and she has pretty much succeeded. It tumbles off her tongue without a thought and now, Short Stack has picked up on it. He thinks it’s hilarious. As she stands in the counter making a meal, she drops a fork to the floor and utters an exasperated sigh. Short Stack is making a pass thought the kitchen at the time with his toy dump truck and stops to examine the fork and the situation. He looks up at his Grandmother and in true Short Stack fashion, asks a question.

“Gramma. Why did you not say ‘Sugarbunnies’?”

With a little luck, he should be swear free until Kindergarten. Then all bets are off.

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Zwack Attack

Last night, I was the parent on duty. Action Girl mostly works second shift and thus, the evenings are my territory with the Widgets. When it was just the single Widget, Short Stack, it was really not very hard to pull off. Things went pretty smoothly on the whole and hell nights not withstanding, we got along pretty well and he got to sleep at a reasonable hour. Then came Lulu Belle.

Just about the time the evening routine had become highly predictable and easy to execute, we threw in the random variable of a new baby. Things immediately got way more interesting than any sensible person would ever want. With new babies, the real problem is that routines just don’t exist long enough for you to figure them out and exploit them. Just about the time you realize that the baby always likes this or laughs at that, everything changes. Yesterday’s panacea is today’s anathema. It keeps you on your toes. It also makes me relish that evening beer all the more.

After Lulu Belle is tucked in and happily reaming about an edible world and Short Stack is lying in bed pretending to be asleep, but actually whispering stories to him self, I switch off the lights, go to the fridge and grab a beer. The day is over, both kids are fed and I’m pooped. I feel that I’ve earned my cold one.

Last night, disaster struck. As soon as the kids were down and I quietly padded into the kitchen, I had a sinking feeling. I know what I’d find. Opening the door only cemented my horror as an empty beer drawer stared back. This was not what I was hoping for. As the lone adult in the house and with both kiddos asleep (or close enough to asleep), there was no way I could to run down to the store. I was trapped in my beerless home. Just to add insult to injury, my half full bottle of Black Strap rum had been left at another house after an evening of Dark & Stormies, so my other late night favorite was inaccessible as well. I looked around to check out my options.

Scotch? Gone.
Calvados? Finished.
Whiskey? Also empty.

You have GOT to be kidding me!?

With the exception of a few liquors that didn’t appeal to me at the moment (Gin, Sake, Tequila) there was nothing in the “booze” range to be had in the house. Even the wine cellar was looking pretty bare. That’s was okay for the moment though. I didn’t want wine. I wanted BEER!

A conversation with my wife later that evening netted me some sympathy but didn’t whet my whistle. I assured her that would somehow cope without my nighttime libation but as I hung up the phone, I started casting about for something to take its place. I settled on my favorite daytime drink as an alternative and poured my self a generous glass of milk. Though cold, smooth and normally enjoyed fully, the milk lacked a certain… everything. The kicker was when Action Girl returned home after her shift was done and guiltily admitted that after the boats were tied up, she had gone out to the near by pub with a coworker to cap off the night. AAAGH!

So, with the break of a new day and a trip to town scheduled, I knew what my first stop would be. Normally, I would have saved the beer run as the last item on the “to do” list before returning to the ferry terminal… but not today. It was snowing like a bugger and knowing I had a ton of shoveling in my future, I wasn’t willing to risk it. I love my local beer and booze shop, and not just because they’ve given me free beer in the past, though to be honest, it doesn’t hurt their standing in my book. I like them because they are friendly, exceedingly well stocked and very, very knowledgeable. These are not your average front counter drones. They all know their stuff and if you ask them for their opinion on… oh, I don’t know, Finnish vodkas or Belgian dopplebocks, they will have one. A very well informed one. They are worth listening to. They are also curious and keep bringing in more and more unusual alcoholic items from obscure corners of the world. You just never know what you’ll find there.

As I walked through the door with a smile and a wave to the guy behind the counter, I got as far as, “Hey, how ya’ do…” before it changed me pointing with an outstretched hand and to a shouting.

“HOLY CRAP! YOU HAVE ZWACK!”

There, sitting on the counter, still next to the box they were being unloaded from, was the familiar green bottle with the warning-like gold Swiss style cross emblazoned on it. It’s a liqueur made in Budapest and the bottle itself is vaguely shaped like an old fashioned bomb such as one you’d fire from a bronze cannon at invading Napoleonic infantry. Perhaps they did.

“Yah, we just got these in. Are you familiar with it?”

zwack

I marveled at the bottle for a moment and thought back. I have only encountered Zwack on two occasions. The first time was at our friends Laura and Harrold’s house in western Germany. He’s a Colonel in the U.S. military and having a variety of men serving under him, he’s received various gifts to stock the bar over the years. While Action Girl and I were visiting them one time, we all decided to get some drinks going. I spotted the bottle of Zwack.

“So… What is it?” I asked.

Harrold looked at it appraisingly. “You know, I have no idea. I’ve had it for years and sort of never dared get into it.”

We got into it. The name begged for us to. I don’t remember the night too well.

The next time I spotted a bottle was years later in, of all places, a friend of a friend’s house outside of Boston. We were there for a surprise party and the bottle sat happily in the liquor cabinet all night and taunted me. We never did get into it and I wasn’t sure who our host was exactly and so, was unable to inquire in the most leading way possible. Oh, the missed Zwack!

So, a few moments after spotting this rare bird on the countertop of the booze store, I happily walked out with my very own bottle. As I sit here now, with the kiddos tucked in bed and ostensively sleeping, I’m just finishing off my first glass of Hungarian booze in many years. The taste? Well… I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that nostalgia has colored my memory of the taste. It’s a liqueur and so it’s rather syrupy and sweet. Not clean and bracing like good whiskey or vodka. Do I regret the purchase? No, not one bit. It’s a good drink after an evening moving snow around the driveway and warms you all the way down as you sip it. All in all, it’s a perfect winter libation.

Also, I’m betting that it will last us longer than a six pack of the local micro-brew’s beer. At least it had better. If we tried to polish it off in a few nights without our friends here to help us, we’d be speaking slurred Hungarian in no time.

For What It’s Worth

I went out to the movies with my Dad last night. It was a rare and happy opportunity for both of us to get together and just be guys. Mom had gone to stay over night with one of her sisters and Action Girl had taken the kiddos up to her folk’s house for a mini-vacation. Dad had a conference to go to and I had work to do so we had stayed behind. That evening, we were left to entertain our selves.

I’m very close to my Father and the fact that with adulthood comes fewer chances to do things with him has been hard for me to take at times. We really are good friends. This was a great chance to play!

So, decided to go out and do something that our wives might not want to do. In this particular case, Action Girl was a little bummed by our choice since she was up for this particular adventure. Well… adventure might be pushing it. We went to the movies to see explosions and silliness. We went to see “Tropic Thunder”.

For those of you who might be living in a cave in the Antarctic, Tropic Thunder is a goofball movie about a bunch of goofballs trying to make a movie. As one of the characters puts it, “I’m the dude, playing the dude who looks like another dude”. Oh, yah! We’re talking about quality here. Funny in a lot of places and full of explosions. What more can you ask for in a “guy” movie!?

The quick and dirty backstory is that they are filming a movie about the Vietnam War, in Vietnam. It follows them as they wander off into the jungle and wind up being mistaken as U.S. drug enforcement agents by a local heroin processing gang. Hilarity ensues. So do fart jokes. Oh! And did I mention the explosions?

Here’s where this gets interesting for me. I have never been in the military. That’s something that I’ve always sort of regretted. I’m not sure why. My Dad, however, was. He was extremely lucky, being assigned to a unit that just completed a tour. Before the next deployment came around, things changed. The troops were being pulled out, not put in. Considering that he was trained as a combat platoon sergeant, it’s a minor miracle that he stayed State side for his entire time in the military. He did however train, live with and know a lot of guys who did go over. His best friend had joined the Marines, was a 30 cal. man, and somehow managed to make it through at least two tours, though it cost him dearly. He came home a very different person and it took years for him to put his life back together. Several of my Dad’s friends didn’t come home at all.

Tropic Thunder was about humor, but it was kind of uncomfortable at times to sit there next to my father, knowing that he was looking at the movie in a different way than the director intended. There were some moments of uneasiness for me as I watched. At one point as the uppity actors are being dumped into a jungle clearing by helicopter to “experience” what it was like to be In Country, the camera pans over a swampy area and catches the faded and wrecked tail section of an old huey, lost “for real”, during the war. I know it was a prop on a set, but it yanked me violently out of the show on the screen and bothered me deeply. Suddenly, it struck me like filming a comedy at an old death camp. It colored my view of the rest of the movie.

I was born too late to have understood what was happening in Vietnam when the war was in full swing, but it loomed large in my later childhood, none the less. Our dads were the vets who didn’t want to talk about it, or the protesters who felt that they could finally rest. Comic books didn’t touch the subject much. It was still a taboo subject at that point. I remember vividly, my Dad, the gentlest man I knew, dressed head to toe in olive drab, sergeant stripes on his shoulders, cap under his arm and those big black boots. I remember sitting on our steps and not wanting him to go away, even though I knew he’d be back soon. By the time I was old enough to understand, he was out.

They wanted him to stay, naturally, but he had had his fill and was eligible to leave. He hung his boots in the cellar and there they stayed for a long time. They were a fixture for most of my childhood. Eventually, they disappeared during a basement clean out.

The war of my generation was the first Gulf War. If I was going to go, that was the one that I would have been been part of. I was in college and not inclined to join George the First’s party in the sand. I’m too old for service now. Even if I asked to join, they wouldn’t take me. The interesting thing is that Vietnam is still the one that strikes home to me. It’s the one that I feel a strong personal connection to, even though the history buff in me tends to study the First and Second World Wars the most. I may find them fascinating, but they don’t resonate like Vietnam does. I’m not sure why. I don’t even read much about that war in south east Asia. It just feels too close.

Though all war is a horrible thing, Vietnam was a truly hideous war for all parties involved. It was the one where what it meant to be an American started to unravel and splinter. It changed our world view and changed the way we were viewed by the world. It was also the one that claimed the lives of so many of my Father’s friends. Years ago, just the two of us went to the memorial in Washington D.C. I stood back a bit as I watched him look for the names he knew and tried to both be there for him if he chose to point them out, yet distant enough for him to remember in peace. It was a hard moment for both of us.

So, the movie ended on a crechendo of explosions and foolishness. The good guys get away, the movie gets made and the bad guys get nothing. All is good in Hollywoodland. The two of us went out for fish and chips and split a side of muscles. We took advantage of the rare time alone and chatted about all sorts of stuff, but not the movie. I never really gave it another thought until this morning as I was racing around, being industrious. Suddenly, the little music box that lives in my head started playing Dusty Springfield and it stopped me cold. I went over to my computer and looked through my music list and started arranging. In a few minutes, I had built what is to me, the music of the Vietnam War. To be honest, it’s what you’d expect, but it’s made me think long and hard about it again. Memories that are not my own but personal enough to make my vision blurry.

I think I’ll go someday and see that far away place for my self. I don’t know what I’m looking for in the war zone of my Father’s generation, but I’d like to try to figure that out; wether to settle the dust in my mind or stir up the ghosts.

Either way, I think it will be an important moment.

Memento Mori

Nothing fun or or humorous today, I’m afraid. Just a post about a day and a man, very important to me.

Memorial day, in my mind is second only to Armistice day. What ever your feeling are on the topic of war and regardless of what ever war you are thinking about, this is a day to remember those who, as Mr. Lincoln put it, “Gave the last full measure of devotion“.

What ever your thoughts are about the conflicts this nation has seen, this is the time to remember them and their passing.

And so, I will tell you the briefest story of a man whom I never met and know only a little about.

His name is Henry Metcalf and he was born in Keene, New Hampshire, in 1833. At the out break of the Civil War, he signed up with a volunteer outfit that was assembled in Cheshire County and left his trade as a printer to fight for the North. He rose to the rank of Captain and was one of the thousands who found him self on the fateful battle field at Gettysburg. On the second day of the battle, he was ordered down into the Peach Orchard with his men, far from the union lines. It was a foolish order from a glory grabbing general that got them there. It was an exposed position with little cover, but those were the orders and so that’s where he was.

As Captain Metcalf and his men came under heavy fire from the Confederates, the battle line became disjointed and broken. A lower ranking General than the one who sent them down there, ordered Captain Metcalf to straighten up his line. Henry moved along and through his men and repositioned them to better hold their ground. Once the men were where he wanted them, he turned to his commander and spoke these words: “How’s that, General?”

It was the last thing he said. A moment later, a bullet struck him in the head, killing him instantly. Soon after, the Peach Orchard position was abandoned as unholdable and the remaining men retreated back to the Union lines.

Captain Metcalf’s body was returned to Keene and he was buried in the Washington Street Cemetery. His resting place is marked with a stone made of white marble. If you go there looking for it, you could easily miss it. Time and acid rain has scrubbed at his name and most markings on its surface. Many are blurred into total obscurity. Some are still just legible.

[Photos added a couple of days later]

I know what it says though. When I was younger, it was easily readable and my father and I found it one day. My Dad spent a lot of time researching Henry, and found out everything I just told you. Later, we went to the Peach Orchard in Gettysburg and stood near the spot where he spoke his last words.

He was a soldier, doing his duty. He never came home to live a happy life. His work went on with out him, as did his family. He wasn’t anyone of real historic note. Just a man doing what he felt was his duty.

I feel that it’s my duty to remember him. So today, I’ll talk about you, Henry. I never knew you. You are not kin to me, but you are not forgotten. I’ll visit your resting place and make sure that you have a flag on your marker this Monday. We owe you that much. Requiscat in Pace.

You’ll shoot your eye out, Kid. Part II

I figured that since I seemed to have the trust of my folks, this wouldn’t be an impossible sell. Hard, I was sure, but not impossible. I scoped out the toy store and found what I wanted. I gathered all the particulars: price, availability, safety goggles, specs and formed my case for getting it in my mind. I waited for the right moment to make my plea. A few months before my next birthday was perfect. Not to late, so that they would have already bought presents but not too early either, so that they might forget.

I would be turning 10 and I thought that I was ready for such an item. The moment was finally ripe and ready to pick and I walked up to my parents like a lawyer before the Supreme Court and stated my case. I laid it all out as matter-of-factly as possible. To my horror, my dad (who had just recently finished out his time in the military and attained the rank of platoon sergeant) barely looked up from his news paper and stated flatly, “No way. Not a chance.”

I was dumbfounded. I figured that it would be Mom that would throw up road blocks, not Dad! I knew that he had grown up shooting real guns on the farm when he was younger than I was. He had been IN the military, for Pete’s sake! I was astonished that he would not even take the subject up for debate.

My father is a very good man. He can be goofy and playful. He’s always honest and will do what ever he can to help when ever possible, but… BUT, when he says “no”, that was the end of the discussion. Zero room to wiggle was given and I learned early on that to push it was a fruitless move that only brought trouble. All I was left with was to ask why in the most non-whiny way possible. He looked me in the eye and said, “It’s too much like a toy, but it’s not a toy. It’s almost a gun, but not quite. People treat them too lightly and I don’t want you to have the temptation and underestimate what it can do. You can’t have one. I’m sorry. End of story.”

Crushed, I went on with my plastic cap guns and tried not to linger too much in front of the BB gun display at the toy store. I wanted one so bad that it hurt. I can still remember the longing and I will forever feel a special kinship with Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”. The only difference was that he GOT his Red Rider BB Gun. I never would. I could bank on that.

The next few months rolled by and my birthday came and went. I’m sure I got some neat stuff, but I honestly don’t recall what. A week or so later, Dad and I went on a road trip to visit his folks, my Grandma and Grandpa. They lived about two hours away and since they didn’t drive too much and both my folks worked, we didn’t see them all that often. Visits were always special and I remember them fondly, filled to the brim with cigarette smoke, coffee mugs and a huge german shepherd named King, who, though friendly, scared the hell out of me.

We came in and gave out hugs and had some lunch. After the plates were cleared, my Grandfather stood up and told me to follow him to living room. When we got there, he reached behind a warn chair and pulled out… a rifle. A .22, single shot, bolt action rifle, to be specific. He opened the bolt to make sure it was empty and handed it to me, telling me to keep it pointed at the ceiling. Never having seen a real gun other than those carried by policemen, I was in awe and held it like it was made of glass and diamonds.

A REAL rifle! “That’s really neat”, I said, or something approximately goofy.

“It’s for you.”, he replied.

My eyes must have been the size of dinner plates.

*Last bit tomorrow*

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