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Posts Tagged ‘Children’

Later this month, my twin granddaughters Katie and Kelsey turn 17. The other day, I sent a text message to their dad regarding gifts. Here is our exchange…

Rocky: For the girls’ birthday… cash or gift cards?

Britt: Thanks for asking. Cash seems to work best these days.

Rocky: Roger.

Britt: They really deserve coal.

Rocky: Suck it up, Dad. Your function right now is to provide a target for teenage angst.

Britt: Seems I am ground zero.

Poor Britt. He’s a good guy and a good dad, but his fate is to endure the classic parental trial by fire with two teenagers at the same time. That’s brutal.

When my boys Britt and Dustin were teens, at least I was able to deal with them one at a time, several years apart. How would I have coped — or failed to cope — had they been a tandem? Ugly to contemplate.

To be honest, I regret that my parenting skills were never tested on girls. I always wished that a girl had been in the mix. They say boys are easier to raise, but I’ll never know.

What I do know, having been both a teen and a parent, is that parents play a hugely important role during the teen years — as sounding boards and punching bags.

Teenagers need a safe way to deal with and vent some of that pesky angst. If they can’t do it at home, they’ll be forced to find another outlet. That scenario isn’t likely to end well.

And frankly, the parents don’t need to be very good at the task. Or calm and adult about it. They can even rant and blow their cool, if so inclined. No strategy is necessary. You’re free to wing it.

A parent must, however, adhere to a few simple rules: provide the target; keep it in the family; refrain from throwing anybody out of the house; and make it clear that whatever sparks may fly, you love your kid anyway.

Compared to Britt’s situation, I guess I had it easy: one kid at a time.

As for Dustin, his daughters are now 13 and 10. His time is almost here, and he’ll get the same kind of “break” I did.

On the other hand, Dustin and I have to navigate these waters twice. With Britt, it’s one and done. That certainly has its appeal.

Survived

 

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Phenom

In 2006, during high school volleyball competition in North Carolina, a kid named Dana Griffin set a record (as far as I can determine) by serving 48 consecutive points.

That’s 48 straight points while serving, not points scored during play. He did it over the course of three games won by his team 25-0, 25-1, and 25-6.

Impressive, yes, with the caveat that in any sport, fantastic streaks happen only at the lower levels. In college and the pros, the talent is too good to allow it.

I mention this because young Dana’s record of 48 points may not last much longer. Don’t be surprised to see it broken by Maddie “Mad Dog” Smith of Jefferson, Georgia.

At age 12, my granddaughter Maddie is a volleyball phenom in the making. On the court, she is steady and effective. She understands the game, plays smart, and gets better every day.

Three years ago, she started playing on a team at the Jefferson Recreation Center, and it quickly became apparent that volleyball is her sport. Today, she plays for her middle school team in the fall, and she plays “club volleyball” in the winter.

Her winter team, Lanier Volleyball Club, is affiliated with the Junior Olympics organization, which prepares girls 10-18 to play in college. Maddie and her teammates are serious, dedicated, and surprisingly good. Many of them, including Maddie, also take private lessons.

Last weekend, Lanier participated in a regional tournament featuring a dozen clubs from around Northeast Georgia. The entourage of parents, grandparents, and other supporters packed the stands, and the noise level was high.

Saturday morning, Lanier won its first game and lost the second. As the tie-breaker was about to get underway, I moved to a spot on the sidelines to take photos. Sports photography isn’t my thing, but I take so many photos that some are always worth keeping.

As I watched the girls practice, a man and woman in their 40s arrived, got settled nearby, and nodded a greeting.

“Our daughter plays for Fayetteville,” the woman said. She pointed at one of the players. “That’s her, number 11. Where is the other team from?”

“Gainesville,” I told her. “My granddaughter is number 16.”

The three of us chatted for a few minutes about the girls, the gym, the weather, and what-not. Then the teams took their positions, and the game began.

Fayetteville served first, and the ball was out of bounds. Lanier was ahead 1-0.

Maddie, who has a killer serve and is the designated opener, approached the line.

She served, and the ball dropped neatly between two defenders. Lanier 2-0.

She served again with the same result. 3-0.

“My goodness,” said the lady from Fayetteville.

Maddie proceeded to serve and score another 12 points straight. Some serves were returned, and several volleys occurred, but each time, Lanier managed to score and retain the serve.

In the end, Lanier won the tie-breaker 15-0. Maddie had served 14 consecutive points.

The couple from Fayetteville walked away without speaking. Maybe they had to be somewhere.

Serving 14 straight was just the beginning. During the next round, Maddie extended her streak by scoring another 24 points in a row. In all, 38 consecutive points served.

After the games, when I rejoined my relatives and the contingent of Lanier supporters in the stands, everyone was abuzz about Maddie’s scoring streak.

“I’ve been around volleyball for years,” said one parent. “I never heard of anyone scoring 38 straight points.”

No, Maddie doesn’t deliver that kind of performance every time. She has served 10 or 15 straight a few times, but never more than that.

And, like all the girls, she has occasional bad days. In fact, later that afternoon, Lanier lost twice and finished the tournament in third place. They were bummed.

As you can tell, I’m proud of my granddaughter and her accomplishments at such a tender age. She has genuine talent and the support she needs to strengthen it. For me, it’s a joy to watch.

Next year will be Maddie’s final year in middle school, but she probably won’t play there. Jefferson High School plans to invite the more promising middle-schoolers to play on the JHS junior varsity team, and Maddie is a prime candidate.

Last weekend, the volleyball coach from the high school came to the tournament to assess the play of Maddie and the other Jefferson girls.

Mad Dog picked the right time to show her stuff.

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ABC Package is a large and well-stocked liquor store in Athens, Georgia. From its convenient location on Atlanta Highway, it has served the alcohol needs of the University of Georgia student body for 25 years.

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ABC Package opened in the early 1990s, coinciding with the years my sons Britt and Dustin were students at UGA.

Both boys, it turned out, conducted business with surprising regularity at ABC Package. I learned this when I would balance their bank accounts (this being the old days, before debit cards and such, when writing checks was still a thing), and I would see checks payable to ABC Package.

Oddly enough, they both had the same explanation for this — five years apart, mind you — which they expressed to me with sober, stone-faced sincerity.

The conversations went something like this…

————

Rocky: Britt, I balanced your checkbook yesterday and made a deposit. I see you wrote four checks to ABC Package. Seriously?

Britt: Oh, that. Well, the thing is, ABC Package is the only place in Athens that will take a check for cash. I go there to get spending money.

Rocky: You don’t go there for beer or liquor or anything.

Britt: Nope.

Rocky: I see.

————

Rocky: Hey, Dustin, tell me about these checks to ABC Package. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?

Dustin: Dad, it isn’t what you think. ABC Package is the only place in town that will take a check for cash. That’s why I write checks there.

Rocky: So… you write checks to a liquor store, but not for alcohol.

Dustin: Correct.

Rocky: I see.

————

All of which reminds me of the classic question, “You expect me to believe that? What do you take me for?”

The correct response being, “Everything I can get.”

abc-2

 

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Allie’s House

Last month, in a box of old family papers, I found a letter my dad sent to his brother John in New York in 1980. Inside the envelope were these items:

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In 1979, Dad purchased two small houses in rural Hall County, which is north of Atlanta, and flipped them. At the time, he was retired from 20-odd years in the Air Force, plus retired from another 20 years in banking. He was working as a realtor, and remodeling the houses was a money-making project.

That’s because, by 1980, Dad had put two of us kids through college, a 3rd was attending, and the 4th was in high school. Financially, Dad had a rough couple of decades.

Where he learned residential construction, I don’t know, but he certainly knew how it was done. Over the years, in addition to flipping the aforementioned two, he built three houses. In the late 1940s, he built and sold two homes in Savannah. In the mid-1950s, he built the family home when we lived in Panama City, Florida.

Although the Panama City house was quite nice, the others were, as the above photos indicate, minimalist. In those times, minimalist was perfectly acceptable.

Dad was in his mid-60s then, and remodeling a house is a  lot of work. After the 2nd house sold, he allowed his career in home construction to end.

I remember the Hall County places pretty well. Several times back in 1979-80, I went there with him to haul supplies, sweep the floors, haul away trash, etc.

Their exact location, however, faded with the years. That area isn’t the same as in the old days. The peaceful country roads are now six-lane thoroughfares. Instead of houses like Dad’s dotting the countryside, there are massive gated communities.

But finding Dad’s letter changed all that. The flyer gives precise directions. I Googled it, found the spot easily, and, of course, made plans to go check it out.

Thus, late last month, 36 years later, I drove to the southern edge of Hall County and turned onto Williams Road. Honestly, I expected to find a subdivision there. Or a shopping center. Or an auto parts store.

Instead, there were Dad’s houses, both occupied, both seemingly in good shape.

I pulled into the driveway of house #2. A woman and a little girl sitting on the side deck watched me with interest. When I stopped and turned off the ignition, the woman disappeared into the house.

The girl was a pretty little thing with curly red hair. She stood at the top of the steps, studying me. A bit defiantly, I thought.

We stood there, looking at each other. Finally, I said, awkwardly, “Hi.”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Rocky,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Allie. I’m four, and I go to school.”

“Wow, you already go to school?”

“Yes. I’ve been going to school for a long time. I’m smart.”

(When I hear a kid brag about being smart, I tip my hat to the parents. For the first dozen years of their lives, every kid needs to hear, and believe, that they are smart and special. It promotes healthy development, mentally and socially. It helps kids reach their full potential. In my humble opinion.)

At that moment, the woman emerged from the house. “Allie, leave the man alone. Go inside.” Allie didn’t budge.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said in my best aw-shucks manner, “I stopped because my Dad built* this house a long time ago. I haven’t seen it in years. Do you mind if I take a photo to show my brother and sister?”

“My husband is on his way,” she said. “Better ask him, but I don’t see why not.”

“Rocky, can I be in the picture?” said Allie.

“Honey,” said the mom, “He doesn’t want you in it. He just wants the house.”

“What’s going on?” the dad asked sleepily as he stepped onto the deck. It was, after all, a Saturday afternoon, and a working man deserves to sleep in.

I repeated my request to take a photo, adding that Dad also built* the house next door.

“Sure, no problem,” he said, then turned and went back inside. I felt a sudden urge to yawn.

“Thanks very much,” I called out as I walked back toward my car. I took a few photos, trying to make it quick.

“Hey, Rocky!” Allie yelled from the deck, her mother’s hand on her shoulder, “Take my picture now!”

I tried to imagine how the parents would react if I actually took the child’s photo. Not well, I suspect.

But the mother defused the situation. “Come on, sweetie,” she cooed. “Let’s go inside and have some cake.”

“Okay, Mama! Bye, Rocky!” said Allie with an exuberant wave.

Dad, your houses are doing just fine.

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House # 1.

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House # 2, Allie’s house.

* Built, remodeled, whatever.

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I am the oldest of the Smith children, and when we were growing up, I was hard-wired — compelled from deep within — to pick on my younger brother Lee for sport. That’s the way of things with siblings in their youth.

Today, that same scenario is playing out with my granddaughter Maddie, 12, who gleefully needles her nine-year-old sister Sarah.

I’ve tried to convince Maddie that she is simply instructing Sarah in the art of taunting — that Sarah will become highly skilled at cunning and trickery and ultimately will have her revenge.

But, just as Cassandra was cursed so that no one would believe her prophesies, I am ignored. Maddie’s continues to tease and torment her sister at every opportunity.

But then, I didn’t listen when I was Maddie’s age, either. Call it irony. Call it destiny. Karma. What goes around, comes around.

And, based on how things are progressing, Retribution Day is not far off.

——————

Last Tuesday, I was on kid-sitting duty for the afternoon. When I arrived, a steady rain was falling. Maddie and Sarah would be housebound, cooped up with me and the dogs, left to pass the time with music, television, and laptops.

Before long, tired of those options, they decided to get out some blankets and make tents in the living room. This is a regular rainy-day thing.

Tents

The girls soon were inside their tents, Maddie with her laptop, Sarah with Leroy, their new Black and Tan Coonhound puppy.

Sarah and Leroy

The TV was off. The living room was silent. I settled back to check the news on my tablet.

Moments later, Maddie’s arm reached out from under the blanket and felt around for her water bottle. She found it and brought it inside the tent.

Moments after that, the arm reappeared to return the water bottle from whence it came. As Maddie probed for the spot, the hard plastic bottle dinged against the hardwood floor, making a loud bonk that interrupted the silence.

“What was that?” said Sarah from inside her tent.

“What was what?” Maddie replied.

“That loud noise. That knocking sound.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Maddie, sensing an opportunity to exploit the situation.

“There was a loud noise! I heard it!”

“Sarah, you’re hallucinating. Leave me alone. I’m trying to rest.”

The room grew silent.

After a brief pause, Maddie reached out from under her tent, held the water bottle a few inches above the floor, and rapped it against the floor. Another bonk ensued.

“There it is again!” Sarah exclaimed from beneath her blanket. “What is it?”

“What is what?” said Maddie.

“That knocking sound! I heard it again!”

“I didn’t hear anything! Hey, Rocky! Did you hear anything?”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell the truth. “Me? No, I didn’t hear anything.”

“Well, I heard it, and I know I heard it!” said Sarah. “Y’all are just playin’ with me!”

“You’re demented, Sarah,” said Maddie.

The room got quiet again. For the next few minutes, there were periodic bonks, followed by the same conversation of inquiry and denial.

Finally, after what turned out to be the last bonk, Maddie slipped up.

“Sarah, something is wrong with you! That sound you hear, it’s just in your head!”

Suddenly, Sarah popped up from beneath her blanket.

“‘That sound you hear’? ‘That sound you hear’?” she bellowed, pointing a finger at Maddie’s tent. “So, you admit it! I’m hearing a sound!”

Quietly, Maddie came out from under the blanket, her hands covering her face. She was busted, and she knew it.

Simultaneously, the three of us began laughing.

The sudden noise frightened Leroy, who wiggled out from under the blanket and scampered off to seek the protection of the other dogs.

Leroy 7-16

 

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My youngest granddaughter Sarah, age nine, raked in a lot of cash on her birthday last April.

The birthday money, plus her share of the proceeds from the girls’ recent lemonade-and-cookies sale, adds up to about $300.

Sarah, it turns out, is quite frugal. She is loathe to spend money, especially if a parent or grandparent can be cajoled into footing the bill.

Her sister Maddie, age 12, is wired somewhat differently. Maddie (who also has finely-honed cajoling skills) believes money is for spending, and the sooner the better.

That being so, Maddie usually is “bereft of coin,” as my high school English teacher used to put it, and she often is envious, even covetous, of her sister’s comparative riches.

Maddie’s birthday was last week, and a few weeks earlier, she told me — no surprise — that she hoped she would get money from the family, not gifts. Greenbacks. Moolah. Cold, hard cash.

But she realized that asking her relatives for money would be rude. What to do, what to do?

Well, I told her, if the suggestion came from me, maybe it would be less rude. So I emailed the greater Smith clan about it. Everyone was okay with giving money.

Thus, at her birthday lunch, Maddie ended up with an impressive amount of the green stuff. As she sat at the head of the table, counting and recounting it with relish, her eyes sparkled.

And she already had plans to start spending it. She made me promise that immediately after the lunch, we would go to the mall to shop.

More about that directly, but first — about the lunch.

This year, Maddie had two birthday parties. The bulk of the relatives took her to lunch that day, and her parents took her to dinner.

The birthday lunch worked out well. We booked a party room at an Olive Garden near the Mall of Georgia — the mall being  a convenient location for the Smith relatives, who are scattered all around north Atlanta.

The unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks flowed without limit. The cake, at Maddie’s request, was red velvet with one symbolic candle.

My brother and his wife livened up the event by bringing her six-month-old great-nephew.

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He entertained us by sucking on a slice of lemon and reacting as you would expect.

Maddie was surprisingly good with the baby, as well as gracious, polite, and on her best behavior.

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With intermittent exceptions.

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Sarah, as always, was the life of the party.

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Later, among the various conversations going on, I spotted Sarah and her grandmother Deanna off to the side, talking in whispers. I noted that Sarah had relocated the Olive Garden sticker from her eye to the center of her forehead. I walked over.

“But Grandy,” Sarah was saying, “You said to leave my money at home.”

“Honey, I meant you should bring a little spending money, but not all $300,” said Deanna.

“But now I don’t have any money,” Sarah moaned. “And we’re going to the mall!”

“Sarah, how about this,” I said. “I’ll give you $40. It’ll be yours to spend as you like. When we get home, you just pay me back the $40. A simple business transaction.”

“Do I have to give you back $40 AND all the money I don’t spend?”

“No, no, you get to keep the change.”

So the deal was made. Two 20-dollar bills changed hands.

After the party was over and the other Smiths had departed, Maddie, Sarah, Deanna, and I drove to the mall.

“I want to go to the Lush store and then to Bath and Body Works,” Maddie said. “They have cosmetics, lotion, perfume. Things like that.”

“Yeah,” said Sarah, “Maddie is really into cosmetics and soap lately. She –”

“What’s wrong with that?” Maddie barked.

“Nothing. I’m just sayin’ you’re into that stuff.”

Lush, I learned, sells handmade soap, cosmetics, and such. The store is very colorful, very fragrant. In fact, Deanna said the scents were too much for her, and she left to wait outside.

I endured the aromas a bit better, but had to step outside a few times myself while the girls browsed.

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After about 15 minutes, Maddie took her basket to the counter and paid for her selections. We rejoined Deanna.

“Bath and Body Works is this way,” said Maddie, heading away with Sarah skipping along behind her and the grandparents hurrying to keep up.

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Around the  next corner, Sarah suddenly stopped. It was a Build-A-Bear Workshop.

The store was loaded with countless bins of unstuffed animals beckoning to be stuffed and accessorized. Sarah was enthralled.

“Deanna,” I said, “You go ahead with Maddie. Sarah wants to stop in here and look around.”

Build-A Bear sells a variety of ready-to-be-stuffed plush toys, including teddy bears, dogs, cats, rabbits, Disney characters, Star Wars characters — you name it.

After you choose an unstuffed toy, you take it to a large fluff machine, where an attendant fills the toy with stuffing and sews the body shut. Then, on the way to the checkout counter, you pass a wide selection of clothing and other accessories offered at additional cost.

“I’ve never bought anything at Build-A-Bear,” Sarah said, pacing in front of the bins, sorting through the animals. I kept quiet to allow her to concentrate.

Finally, she announced, “I like this one” and held up a Pink Cuddles model, a shocking pink teddy bear. The cost was $16, one of the lowest prices in the store.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she added nervously. I assured her that a Pink Cuddles was an excellent choice.

Our next stop was the fluff machine. Sarah handed the bear to a smiling attendant, who sat down at the controls.

“Do you want to add a scent packet for $3.99?” asked the attendant. Sarah shook her head no.

“Do you want to add a beating heart for $6.99?” Sarah said no.

“Okay, pick out a regular heart to place inside your bear.”

Sarah selected a small red satin heart from a bucket of red satin hearts.

“Okay, hold the heart in your hands to warm it up.” Sarah held the heart in her hands.

“Place the heart against yours.” Sarah did.

“Give the heart a kiss.” Sarah looked at me quizzically, kissed the heart, and handed it to the attendant.

“Now make a wish,” said the attendant. Sarah gave me another look.

The formalities having been concluded, the attendant inserted the satin heart into the bear, then rammed the bear onto the end of a metal tube through which the stuffing would be blown.

“Honey,” the attendant said to Sarah, pointing at the floor, “The stuffing starts coming out when you step on that peddle.”

Sarah gave it a stomp, and the procedure commenced.

RD-7

After the bear was stuffed and sewn up, we moved to a computer console to fill out the bear’s birth certificate.

Date of birth: 6/14/16
Parent: Sarah Smith
Height: 16 inches
Weight 8 ounces
Name: Sprinkles

Sarah decided not to buy Sprinkles any clothing or accessories. The total cost of the transaction: $16 plus tax. I was very proud.

“Rocky,” she said as we left the store, “It was awful when that lady rammed the metal pipe inside poor Sprinkles! How terrible! How gruesome!”

“And you know,” she continued, “I did NOT make a wish like she said. What does that have to do with anything? And kissing the heart? Seriously?”

“Well,” I said, “Build-A-Bear has a lot of very young customers. The younger kids probably enjoy all that.”

“Yeah, I guess I’m getting too old for Build-A-Bear — but I’m glad I did it!” She gave Sprinkles a heartfelt hug.

I learned later that Maddie spent about $100, not quite half of her birthday money, on cosmetics, soaps, lotions, fragrances, and essential oils. Sarah spent $16 plus tax on Sprinkles.

It was, in both cases, entirely in character.

And neither of them had the slightest regret.

RD-8

 

 

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Here in Jefferson, the school year just ended. That means my Jefferson granddaughters Maddie and Sarah are loose for the summer, and kid-sitting duty has commenced for us grandparents.

Conveniently, all four of the girls’ grandparents live in town, so we each have the duty one day a week. The fifth day usually manages to take care of itself — a parent working from home, a Rec Center field trip, a play date, or whatever.

Maddie is almost 12, and Sarah just turned nine, so having someone stay with them is just a formality. The girls are fully self-sufficient. They prefer to fix breakfast and lunch for themselves. They pass the time with laptops, music, TV, swimming, etc.

All in all, they are enjoying the indolence of summer vacation, as they should. For the grandparents, being there is merely an opportunity for face time with the girls — when they haven’t disappeared into their rooms for reasons unexplained.

Last summer, Maddie and Sarah caught heat from their parents for obsessing over MineCraft, and their computer usage was restricted to certain hours of the day.

This summer, the parents are trying a different approach. The girls were given a list of chores to be performed daily. As long as the chores are done by the end of the day, the girls are free to do as they like.

When I reported for duty that first Monday after school was out, the chore list was the main topic of conversation. The girls’ obvious goal was to get the chores done quickly, painlessly, and with minimum intrusion on play time.

For the record, both girls take the chores edict very seriously. They posted formal lists of the assigned tasks on their respective bedroom walls. This is Sarah’s list.

Wheel-1

And this is Maddie’s.

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Before I continue, some context information about Sarah would be helpful.

In the last couple of years, Sarah has blossomed creatively in a major way. She especially enjoys sculpting with clay. Her room is filled with countless tiny creations that she formed and painted, all from scratch.

Last year, for example, she made this impressive figurine, which is about two inches long.

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The doll’s feet snapped off recently, and Sarah had to make repairs. No problem. It was just another creative project.

A few weeks ago, she made this 4-inch-tall Starbucks latte, also from clay. It’s either a Molten Chocolate or a Pumpkin Spice.

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With kids, you never know whether an intense interest like Sarah’s artistic streak is an ephemeral thing or the real deal.

But for now, it’s serious enough that her parents set her up with this very nice work station. This is where the serious creativity happens.

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Now that you know a bit about Sarah’s artistic inclinations, you can better appreciate the gadget she created in connection with the summer chores.

“Hey, Rocky,” she said as we waited for Maddie’s chocolate chip muffins to bake, “I made a ‘chore wheel’ to help me decide which chore to do next.”

“A ‘chore wheel?'” said I.

“Yeah, I cut out a paper wheel, and I wrote all my chores around the outside edge, and I put a thumbtack in the middle and stuck it to the wall. I spin it, and wherever it lands, that’s the chore I do next.”

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Sarah’s chore wheel.

Amazing, I thought. This is true artistic expression. It’s clever, creative, and entertaining.

“Well, don’t just sit there. Go get it. I can’t wait to see it.”

A few moments later, she was back with the chore wheel.

She allowed me a few seconds to study the thing, then snatched it away and bounded across the living room. She chose an open space, affixed the chore wheel to the wall with a pushpin, and gave the wheel a spin.

“It landed on ‘Feed hamsters!'” she yelled over her shoulder. “That’s my next chore!”

At that moment, Maddie walked into the living room and saw the chore wheel tacked to the wall.

“SARAH!” she bellowed, “You made a hole in the wall! You can’t do that!”

Sarah rolled her eyes.

“Come on, Maddie,” I said, “It’s just a pushpin. All it made is a tiny pinhole. I’ll patch it with a muffin crumb.”

“Well, Mom doesn’t like holes in the walls! She’s gonna have a COW!”

“Let’s see what chore I’ll do next,” Sarah said calmly, and she gave the chore wheel another spin.

The chore wheel landed on “Feed hamsters” again.

Maddie leaned in and peered closely at the chore wheel.

“Ha!” she snorted, “The thumbtack is off-center, so your wheel is off-balance! It’ll land on ‘Feed hamsters’ every time! Nice going, Sarah!”

“Easy enough to fix,” said Sarah. She plucked the pushpin from the wall, grabbed the chore wheel, and headed upstairs to the work station.

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The artist displays her certificate for “outstanding art achievement,” bestowed earlier this month at the 3rd grade Awards Day ceremony.

 

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This well-known short story by Fredric Brown has themes aplenty — taking responsibility for your actions, for example. Usually, it’s considered an allegory about atomic weapons in the hands of the volatile, fallible human species.

To elaborate further would involve spoilers, so I’ll let you do your own analysis.

Please note that the text below features Brown’s original ending. In some versions out there, the last sentence is modified, for reasons I will explain at the end.

——————

The Weapon

By Fredric Brown
Published in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1951

The room was quiet in the dimness of early evening. Dr. James Graham, key scientist of a very important project, sat in his favorite chair, thinking. It was so still that he could hear the turning of pages in the next room as his son leafed through a picture book.

Often Graham did his best work, his most creative thinking, under these  circumstances, sitting alone in an unlighted room in his own apartment after the day’s regular work. But tonight his mind would not work constructively. Mostly he thought about his mentally arrested son — his only son — in the next room.

The thoughts were loving thoughts, not the bitter anguish he had felt years ago when he had first learned of the boy’s condition. The boy was happy; wasn’t that the main thing? And to how many men is given a child who will always be a child, who will not grow up to leave him? Certainly that was rationalization, but what is wrong with rationalization when — The doorbell rang.

Graham rose and turned on lights in the almost-dark room before he went through the hallway to the door. He was not annoyed; tonight, at this moment, almost any interruption to his thoughts was welcome.

He opened the door. A stranger stood there; he said, “Dr. Graham? My name is Niemand; I’d like to talk to you. May I come in a moment?”

Graham looked at him. He was a small man, nondescript, obviously harmless — possibly a reporter or an insurance agent.

But it didn’t matter what he was. Graham found himself saying, “Of course. Come in, Mr. Niemand.” A few minutes of conversation, he justified himself by thinking, might divert his thoughts and clear his mind.

“Sit down,” he said, in the living room. “Care for a drink?”

Niemand said, “No, thank you.” He sat in the chair; Graham sat on the sofa.

The small man interlocked his fingers; he leaned forward. He said, “Dr. Graham, you are the man whose scientific work is more likely than that of any other man to end the human race’s chance for survival.”

A crackpot, Graham thought. Too late now he realized that he should have asked the man’s business before admitting him. It would be an embarrassing interview — he disliked being rude, yet only rudeness was effective.

“Dr. Graham, the weapon on which you are working –”

The visitor stopped and turned his head as the door that led to a bedroom opened and a boy of fifteen came in. The boy didn’t notice Niemand; he ran to Graham.

“Daddy, will you read to me now?” The boy of fifteen laughed the sweet laughter of a child of four.

Graham put an arm around the boy. He looked at his visitor, wondering whether he had known about the boy. From the lack of surprise on Niemand’s face, Graham felt sure he had known.

“Harry” — Graham’s voice was warm with affection — “Daddy’s busy. Just for a little while. Go back to your room; I’ll come and read to you soon.”

“Chicken Little? You’ll read me Chicken Little?”

“If you wish. Now run along. Wait. Harry, this is Mr. Niemand.”

The boy smiled bashfully at the visitor. Niemand said, “Hi, Harry,” and smiled back at him, holding out his hand. Graham, watching, was sure now that Niemand had known: the smile and the gesture were for the boy’s mental age, not his physical one.

The boy took Niemand’s hand. For a moment it seemed that he was going to climb into Niemand’s lap, and Graham pulled him back gently. He said, “Go to your room now, Harry.”

The boy skipped back into his bedroom, not closing the door.

Niemand’s eyes met Graham’s and he said, “I like him,” with obvious sincerity. He added, “I hope that what you’re going to read to him will always be true.”

Graham didn’t understand. Niemand said, “Chicken Little, I mean. It’s a fine story — but may Chicken Little always be wrong about the sky falling down.”

Graham suddenly had liked Niemand when Niemand had shown liking for the boy. Now he remembered that he must close the interview quickly. He rose, in dismissal.

He said, “I fear you’re wasting your time and mine, Mr. Niemand. I know all the arguments, everything you can say I’ve heard a thousand times. Possibly there is truth in what you believe, but it does not concern me. I’m a scientist, and only a scientist.

“Yes, it is public knowledge that I am working on a weapon, a rather ultimate one. But, for me personally, that is only a by-product of the fact that I am advancing science. I have thought it through, and I have found that that is my only concern.”

“But, Dr. Graham, is humanity ready for an ultimate weapon?”

Graham frowned. “I have told you my point of view, Mr. Niemand.”

Niemand rose slowly from the chair. He said, “Very well, if you do not choose to discuss it, I’ll say no more.” He passed a hand across his forehead. “I’ll leave, Dr. Graham. I wonder, though… may I change my mind about the drink you offered me?”

Graham’s irritation faded. He said, “Certainly. Will whisky and water do?”

“Admirably.”

Graham excused himself and went into the kitchen. He got the decanter of whisky, another of water, ice cubes, glasses.

When he returned to the living room, Niemand was just leaving the boy’s bedroom. He heard Niemand’s “Good night, Harry,” and Harry’s happy ” ‘Night, Mr. Niemand.”

Graham made drinks. A little later, Niemand declined a second one and started to leave.

Niemand said, “I took the liberty of bringing a small gift to your son, doctor. I gave it to him while you were getting the drinks for us. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Of course. Thank you. Good night.”

Graham closed the door; he walked through the living room into Harry’s room. He said, “All right, Harry. Now I’ll read to –”

There was sudden sweat on his forehead, but he forced his face and his voice to be calm as he stepped to the side of the bed.

“May I see that, Harry?” When he had it safely, his hands shook as he examined it.

He thought, only a madman would give a loaded revolver to a retarded child.

Weapon

——————

When you find “The Weapon” in print these days, it usually ends with the phrase, “… only a madman would give a loaded revolver to an idiot.”

The change is made because, in these enlightened times, the term “retarded” is considered offensive. Dated. Terribly uncouth.

Perhaps it is. And maybe, had Mr. Brown written the story in 2016, he’d have worded it differently. But “retarded child” is what he wrote in 1951, and “retarded child” it should remain.

Rewriting an author’s work is offensive. Terribly uncouth.

 

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The Affluent Class

miser (my-zer) — A person who hoards money and possessions and spends as little as possible, even to the person’s detriment. A cheapskate, penny-pincher, tightwad.

——————

Jean Paul Getty was born in Minneapolis in 1892, the son of George Getty, owner of a successful oil company. J. Paul studied economics and political science at UC Berkeley and Oxford, and he spent his summers working in his father’s oil fields in Oklahoma.

In 1916, at age 24, J. Paul started his own oil company in Tulsa. He made his first independent million with the first oil well he drilled.

In 1917, Getty walked away from the oil industry and embraced the hedonistic life of a Los Angeles playboy. He rejoined his father’s business in 1919, and throughout the 1920s, Getty Oil continued to grow and amass wealth with new wells and lease investments.

But J. Paul did not measure up in his father’s eyes. When George died in 1930, he left J. Paul just $500,000 of his $10 million fortune. The boy, he told friends, was ill-equipped to lead the company.

J. Paul managed to gain control of Getty Oil anyway. As if to prove his dad wrong, he began expanding the business through mergers, acquisitions, and shrewd investments.

During the Depression, while fortunes were being lost, Getty gained controlling interest in some 200 companies worldwide. He learned to speak Arabic to help solidify his investments in the Middle East. He amassed a personal fortune of $4 billion, making him one of the richest men in the world.

In the 1950s, he moved to Britain and purchased Sutton Place, a 16th century Tudor estate on the outskirts of London. It became his home and business headquarters.

Getty was famous for his business success and notorious for being married and divorced five times. He had five sons.

He also was known to be miserly in the extreme. At Sutton Place, he put dial-locks on the telephones, restricting them to authorized staff, and installed a pay phone for visitors.

If anyone questioned the sincerity of his Scrooge-like tendencies, all doubts were dispelled in 1973, when one of his grandsons was kidnapped and Getty refused to pay the ransom.

In Rome on July 10, Italian gangsters abducted J. Paul Getty III, 16, and demanded $17 million for his return. At first, the boy’s father and grandfather suspected the boy had staged his own disappearance for money, and neither wanted to pay the ransom.

But the boy’s father soon concluded that the kidnapping was real. When he asked his father for the ransom money, the elder Getty refused.

“I have 14 grandchildren,” he said in a statement to reporters. “If I pay one penny ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

Several months later, a Rome newspaper received a package from the kidnappers containing a human ear, a lock of hair, and a revised demand for $3 million.

A photograph soon followed showing the boy minus an ear. The kidnappers wrote that unless their new demand was met within 10 days, “the other ear will arrive.”

With that, Getty relented, but only to the extent his accountants recommended. He agreed to pay $2.2 million, the maximum that would be tax-deductible.

He loaned the remaining $800,000 to his son at four percent interest.

The ransom thus paid, the kidnappers released Getty’s grandson on December 15, 1973, which was J. Paul’s 81st birthday. The boy immediately called his grandfather to thank him for paying the ransom. Getty refused to come to the phone.

After the kidnapping, J. Paul ended all contact with his son and grandson. Thereafter, he communicated with them only through intermediaries.

In 1976, at age 83, Getty died of heart failure, estranged from much of his family, still rich and no doubt still miserly.

J. Paul Getty II fought depression and drug addiction until the 1980s, when he cleaned himself up. Subsequently, he used his substantial wealth to became a philanthropist and a collector of rare books and art.

He became a British citizen and was knighted in 1986 for his generous donations to the National Gallery in London. He died in 2003 at age 80.

J. Paul Getty III never again spoke to his father or grandfather, or tried to. Nor did he recover from the trauma of the kidnapping.

In 1981, a stroke brought on by a toxic mix of drugs and alcohol left J. Paul III partially paralyzed, nearly blind, and unable to speak. He remained wheelchair-bound until his death in 2011 at age 54.

Being rich and famous does not, of itself, make a person a reprehensible jerk. The wealthy don’t have a lock on being loathsome and dishonorable.

But so many in the affluent class qualify for that description that you have to wonder about cause and effect.

J. Paul.

J. Paul.

J. Paul II.

J. Paul II.

J. Paul III.

J. Paul III.

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This being Mr. Write’s Page, I often post stories about words, wordplay, puns, and other interesting uses of the English language. No big surprise there.

But honestly, if the goal is using English artfully and correctly, then highlighting fractured English can be just as informative a method, and often a more entertaining one, in pursuit of that goal.

Richard Lederer is a teacher, author, and syndicated columnist, mostly about language and history, mostly from a humorous standpoint. He has written 50 books, including the best-selling “Anguished English” series. This is a guy who has been named “International Punster of the Year.”

His article below, which has bounced around the internet for some time, is self-explanatory.

—————

The World According to Student Bloopers

By Richard Lederer

One of the fringe benefits of being an English or History teacher is receiving the occasional jewel of a student blooper in an essay. I have pasted together the following “history” of the world from certifiably genuine student bloopers collected by teachers throughout the United States, from eight grade through college level.

Read carefully, and you will learn a lot…

The inhabitants of Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation.

The Egyptians built the Pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube.

The Pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain.

The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinesses, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked “Am I my brother’s son?” God asked Abraham to sacrifice Issac on Mount Montezuma.

Jacob, son of Issac, stole his brother’s birthmark. Jacob was a partiarch who brought up his twelve sons to be partiarchs, but they did not take to it. One of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments.

David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Philatelists, a race of people who lived in Biblical times. Solomon, one of David’s sons, had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.

Without the Greeks, we wouldn’t have history. The Greeks invented three kinds of columns — Corinthian, Doric and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intolerable.

Achilles appears in “The Illiad”, by Homer. Homer also wrote the “Oddity”, in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.

In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java. The reward to the victor was a coral wreath. The government of Athen was democratic because the people took the law into their own hands.

There were no wars in Greece, as the mountains were so high that they couldn’t climb over to see what their neighbors were doing. When they fought the Parisians, the Greeks were outnumbered because the Persians had more men. Eventually, the Ramons conquered the Geeks.

History calls people Romans because they never stayed in one place for very long. At Roman banquets, the guests wore garlic in their hair.

Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March killed him because they thought he was going to be made king. Nero was a cruel tyrany who would torture his poor subjects by playing the fiddle to them.

Then came the Middle Ages. King Alfred conquered the Dames, King Arthur lived in the Age of Shivery, King Harlod mustarded his troops before the Battle of Hastings, Joan of Arc was cannonized by George Bernard Shaw, and the victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. Finally, the Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offense.

In midevil times most of the people were alliterate. The greatest writer of the time was Chaucer, who wrote many poems and verse and also wrote literature. Another tale tells of William Tell, who shot an arrow through an apple while standing on his son’s head.

The Renaissance was an age in which more individuals felt the value of their human being. Martin Luther was nailed to the church door at Wittenberg for selling papal indulgences. He died a horrible death, being excommunicated by a bull.

It was the painter Donatello’s interest in the female nude that made him the father of the Renaissance. It was an age of great inventions and discoveries. Gutenberg invented the Bible. Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes. Another important invention was the circulation of blood. Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper.

The government of England was a limited mockery. Henry VIII found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee. Queen Elizabeth was the “Virgin Queen.” As a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted “hurrah.” Then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.

The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespear. Shakespear never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He lived in Windsor with his merry wives, writing tragedies, comedies and errors. In one of Shakespear’s famous plays, Hamlet rations out his situation by relieving himself in a long soliloquy. In another, Lady Macbeth tries to convince Macbeth to kill the King by attacking his manhood.

Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet. Writing at the same time as Shakespear was Miquel Cervantes. He wrote “Donkey Hote”. The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote “Paradise Lost.” Then his wife died and he wrote “Paradise Regained.”

During the Renaissance America began. Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. His ships were called the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Fe. Later the Pilgrims crossed the Ocean, and that was called the Pilgrim’s Progress. When they landed at Plymouth Rock, they were greeted by Indians, who came down the hill rolling their war hoops before them.

The Indian squabs carried porposies on their back. Many of the Indian heroes were killed, along with their cabooses, which proved very fatal to them. The winter of 1620 was a hard one for the settlers. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all this.

One of the causes of the Revolutionary Wars was the English put tacks in their tea. Also, the colonists would send their parcels through the post without stamps. During the War, Red Coats and Paul Revere was throwing balls over stone walls. The dogs were barking and the peacocks crowing. Finally, the colonists won the War and no longer had to pay for taxis.

Delegates from the original thirteen states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin had gone to Boston carrying all his clothes in his pocket and a loaf of bread under each arm. He invented electricity by rubbing cats backwards and declared “a horse divided against itself cannot stand.” Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.

George Washington married Matha Curtis and in due time became the Father of Our Country. Then the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility. Under the Constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms.

Abraham Lincoln became America’s greatest Precedent. Lincoln’s mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was President, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, “In onion there is strength.”

Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. He also signed the Emasculation Proclamation, and the Fourteenth Amendment gave the ex-Negroes citizenship. But the Clue Clux Clan would torcher and lynch the ex-Negroes and other innocent victims.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth’s career.

Meanwhile in Europe, the enlightenment was a reasonable time. Voltare invented electricity and also wrote a book called “Candy”. Gravity was invented by Issac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the Autumn, when the apples are falling off the trees.

Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian and half English. He was very large. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.

France was in a very serious state. The French Revolution was accomplished before it happened. The Marseillaise was the theme song of the French Revolution, and it catapulted into Napoleon. During the Napoleonic Wars, the crowned heads of Europe were trembling in their shoes. Then the Spanish gorrilas came down from the hills and nipped at Napoleon’s flanks.

Napoleon became ill with bladder problems and was very tense and unrestrained. He wanted an heir to inheret his power, but since Josephine was a baroness, she couldn’t bear him any children.

The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. Her reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplatory of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

The nineteenth century was a time of many great inventions and thoughts. The invention of the steamboat caused a network of rivers to spring up. Cyrus McCormick invented the McCormick Raper, which did the work of a hundred men. Samuel Morse invented a code for telepathy. Louis Pastuer discovered a cure for rabbis. Charles Darwin was a naturailst who wrote the “Organ of the Species”. Madman Curie discovered radium. And Karl Marx became one of the Marx Brothers.

The First World War, cause by the assignation of the Arch-Duck by a surf, ushered in a new error in the anals of human history.

—————

How genuine, you may ask, are the alleged bloopers above? Lederer addressed that.

“I am sometimes asked if I invent any of the bloopers that appear in my collections. My answer is an emphatic ‘No way!’ No way would I violate the code of ethics of the bloopthologist — the collector takes what he or she finds and contrives nothing.

“These uncut gems are self-evidently genuine, authentic, certified, and unpolished; they have not been manufactured by any professional humorist.”

Sadly, that’s probably true.

Dunce

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