Gentle Humor

Suzanne Olsen's Humor Blog – I don't offend some of the people most of the time

Month: May 2019

On Being Average

In my youth people, strangers mostly, told me I looked like pretty, famous women: Sally Field, Cheryl Tiegs, and more recently, Joanne Woodward. I don’t, of course. I am pretty much average, don’t stand out in a crowd, the most un-famous, common person I know. Seriously, if someone wrote a book about average women, I’d be smack in the middle.

I wish they had some kind of “Oscar” for being a mom, good pet owner, or flower-planter. People have never come up to me in restaurants and said, “You deserve an award for the way you comfort your babies when they cry.” I never got any recognition for walking the dog every day and tying her toys on the end of a rope that I fastened to my waist so she could chase them while I was doing housework, making it a playtime for her. I got no trophies for the pretty flowers I plant in the spring. Actually, I do get an award of sorts each Mother’s Day when my kids give me cards that say, essentially, I’m the best mother in the whole wide world. They buy the sweetest cards.

I’m just an average person, and it’s a fine thing to be. When it comes down to it, almost all of us are average. Only a few people rise to the top, and I no longer feel inferior to them – they deserve to be there mainly because they worked really hard and had a lot of business savvy and other talents. They are single-minded in the pursuit of their dreams, where I have a mind like an octopus – lots of parts moving in all directions.

I read Kevin Hart’s book, I Can’t Make This Up, about how hard he worked to become a successful standup comedian. The great people of the world appear to be focused on achieving one goal above all others. But they also have to let something else go – there just isn’t enough time to do it all. I don’t know this for a fact, but when I read books about famous people, it looks to me like they just pursue, pursue, pursue, and they never get much sleep, they’re away from home and family a lot, they drink or do drugs to try to wind down. Being average is the curse of ambition, but being happy is a pretty sweet compromise.

My goal is to be single-mindedly average to the best of my ability. Someone else will always be better at just about everything. There are only a few spots at the top. I’m okay with just being good, I don’t need to be great.

If that’s what you want, and are willing to give up everything else for that top position, I say go for it. But if you don’t get there, either because you aren’t persistent, don’t work hard enough, don’t have the confidence, give up after criticism, don’t believe in yourself, or just change your mind – then you’re like most of us. We all have dreams of being the best, but the price of some dreams can be way too much.

I dreamed of being a singer, and I pursued by majoring in music for a couple of years in college, and I enjoyed it. But I was such an insecure little thing. Thank goodness I didn’t become the star I envisioned in my daydreams, because I would have worked too hard, probably gotten into drugs when the criticisms came in or my popularity started to fade and who knows what else. Rather than regretting that I didn’t pursue that dream, I thank the good Lord I did not even start down that path when I was so young and vulnerable.   

I’m average. I can take pretty good photos, write a story, sing a little, do some graphic design, play a decent game of golf, keep up with most people skiing, know a lot about raising kids and flowers, hiking, traveling, tutoring, volunteering. I’m happy I’m average at a lot of things. A jack of all trades and a master of none.

Ahh, it feels pretty darned good to say it!

Our Family Vacation

Whew! Just got home from a week’s vacation and I’m absolutely worn out. Our family vacations like running a marathon: get an early start, stay on the move all day, then collapse into bed at night in a body wrung out like a dishrag. I’m not sure whether we’re cheap and want to get our “money’s worth” out of a vacation, or we’re afraid that we’ll strangle each other over petty disagreements if we don’t schedule up every second with body-draining activity.  

Here’s an example. My husband and I get up around 6. Kelly wakes up about the same time and goes for a run while we get breakfast started, attend to our morning constitutionals, etc. A half hour later she comes back for iced coffee, and we wake Chris up. We have a quick breakfast, grab our swim gear, put on a thick coating of sunscreen and are out the door by 7:30.

We drive a half hour to the Place of Refuge, a protected bay south of Kona, and walk down the road, a single file of humans with beach bags hanging off of each shoulder stuffed with giant towels, water bottles, cameras, several tubes of sunscreen, snacks, water shoes, etc. and/or backpacks containing everything we might need if we got lost in the wilderness for a week. In one hand we have the mesh bag of Snorkel Bob’s snorkel gear, the other arm wraps around a big styrofoam boogie board. We pick our way across the lava rocks and hear that there are dolphins swimming way out in the ocean, so we ease into the water, slip on our fins and snorkel masks, and race each other to the dolphin area.

Sunset at the Sheraton waiting for the manta rays to come to the spotlights.

There are a lot of dolphins! They’re swimming under us and on both sides, in groups of three and four, the moms with babies that swim like they’re glued to their momma’s sides. They’re all talking to each other in their high-pitched dolphin squeaks. Four teenage dolphins (or so I imagine) start hollering back and forth to each other as they pick up speed and launch straight up and out of the water, doing flips and twists. I’m sure they are yelling: “Hey Flipper, I can jump higher than you!” “Can not.” “Can too.” “Oh yeah, well watch this!”  It all happens in just a few seconds, but they are definitely egging each other on. It’s so much entertainment that we stay out there way past the eighty minutes the sunscreen says we can be in the water, and we’re cold and tired and our fingers look like shriveled brains. 

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A Memory for Mother’s Day

Note: I wrote this when my daughter was around ten years old.  

It’s five in the afternoon, and I’m debating whether to sacrifice precious calories for a glass of wine, or save them for a piece of the ugliest cake on earth that my daughter, Kelly, made last night.  It’s really no contest.

That cake! Oh, my!  I let Kelly make it with her two friends all on their own.  It was from a boxed mix so all they had to do was throw in the eggs, water, and oil.  She’s made many cakes with me, so I was confident she could do it.

I was working in my office when Kelly popped in and said, “Mom, where’s the recipe for the icing?” Her friends were right behind her, on either side: one blond, one brunette, and Kelly, the redhead.

This would have been my cue to sigh, get up and lead the parade of girls back into the kitchen to find the recipe for them and stick around to oversee the proper making and frosting of the cake. 

But doggone it, I was busy and I didn’t want to get up. “It’s in the recipe book on the counter by the pantry.  The one we always use.  You’ll find it,” I said brightly.  She turned around and led her friends in formation back to the kitchen.

I’m sure going through my piles of cookbooks weighed on her patience, and she quickly gave up the search. “Oh well, I’ve made icing lots of times. It’s just a box of powdered sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, and butter,” she probably said as she gathered the ingredients.  To herself she must have been thinking: but how much butter?  

I could hear the faint whir of the mixer and lots of giggling as the girls fluffed  the butter, added the powdered sugar and vanilla, then shook out a few drops of green food coloring to make it pretty.  Kelly has helped me frost cakes many times and knows you have to wait until the cake is cooled before icing, but in their lust for sweets, the girls put the icing on while it was still warm.

I heard her bellow, “Mo-om!” followed by a pitiful, “helllllllp!”

I ran into the kitchen, bracing myself for mangled fingers in the mixer or something worse. Oh the horror!  The icing had melted into that warm cake and ran down the sides in variegated light and dark greasy green streaks.  Before I could even say, “What did..?” the top layer of the cake slowly slid sideways, sliding, sliding, sliding, until the bottom edge came to a halt on the counter, and the top edge pointed up to the sky like a flying saucer.

“Mom, do something!” my daughter wailed.  As if I could, I thought.  Then the three of them burst out laughing as the frosting started flowing down the flying saucer in slow motion, making a seafoam green slime pool on the counter.  

I laughed with them. “This is just like that ‘Macarthur Park,’ song,” I said.

“Huh?” they chorused.

The girls’ fingers poked cautiously into the puddle of green slime, and soon they were brave enough to venture a little sample.  “Tastes a lot like butter,” the blond said. 

I dipped my finger in.  “A LOT like butter,” I laughed. “How much did you put in there?” 

“Just two sticks,” Kelly answered innocently, eyes wide open and turned slightly down, the universal child’s look that said, I may be bad but aren’t I the cutest thing? 

“Two sticks?  It’s supposed to be six tablespoons, not two sticks. You put sixteen tablespoons of butter in that icing!”

The girls thought that was bend-over double hilarious.  They laughed and licked frosting and laughed some more.  We sliced ourselves an experimental piece of the bottom layer of cake, a little scared because the icing had oozed down into every crack and pore, and it looked soggy.  

Oh, but that greasy green butter cake is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  All that butter could give you a heart attack but you’d die happy. We have to close our eyes to eat it, it’s so hideous.  

Sure beats a glass of wine! 

Another note: I wish I would have taken a picture, but I see it in my mind so clearly. I can hear those girls laughing, making fun of the cake, comparing it to every disgusting thing they could think of. And even now, ten years later, I can still recall the amazing flavor, and I am grinning like a mule eating briars as I type this. Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.  

(Lyric to the song I referenced above:) MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark

All the sweet, green icing flowing down

Someone left the cake out in the rain

I don’t think that I can take it

‘Cause it took so long to bake it

And I’ll never have that recipe again

Oh no, oh no, no, no, oh no    

Our Sweet Momma

My momma was sweet – that’s a great gift to have in a mother. She wasn’t perfect, but she was kind. 

Photo of our sweet momma when she was young.

I grew up in East Tennessee, where the summers were hotter than a half f…..ed fox in a forest fire, as my dad used to say. He was in the Navy and literally cussed like a sailor. We didn’t have air conditioning when I was little, and in the middle of a hot summer night, with a wide-open window right next to your head to try to get some cool air in, it would come a thunder storm that shook the whole house. A flash of lighting spotlighted the bedroom, and thunder cracked and boomed like an explosion.

My eyes popped open, my heart hammered in my chest, I went rigid all over. Simultaneously all three of us kids lurched out of our beds, raced through the lightning bright hallway and lunged into the full size (not queen, not king) bed my mom occupied alone because dad worked out of town a lot. Three shaking children huddled as close to her as we could. She put both arms out so our little heads had a place to rest, pulling us even closer. She always let us stay there until the storm was over, usually about twenty minutes or a lifetime, depending on how severe it was, and if we fell asleep that was okay. What a sweet momma!

Other times in the night one of us was positive we heard a burglar. We’d tiptoe into momma’s room and whisper in her ear, “Momma, there’s a burglar in the house.” She always said, “I didn’t hear anything,” hoping to stave us off. Whoever heard the burglar was absolutely one hundred percent sure that Blackbeard the Pirate or one of his kin was in our house. “No, honest, I really did hear a burglar. I think he’s in the kitchen.”

By then all three of us were in the room, awakened by the loud whispers. Momma knew none of us would settle down believing a hooligan was just outside the bedroom door. She threw her warm covers off and grabbed the baseball bat she stashed behind the bedroom door for these emergencies. She walked out in front, in a pale flowered nightgown almost to the floor, both hands clutched on the skinny part of the bat, ready to swing. Momma was strong. We knew no burglar could survive a blow from that bat. 

We lined up behind her, my brother’s hands on her waist, my hands on his waist, and my sister’s hands on my waist – the caboose. Our little train moved slowly from room to room, momma finding the light switch in each room, opening the closets and looking behind doors. “What about under the beds?” we whined. “You look under there,” she said, perhaps growing a little impatient with this ritual. “No, we’re too scared” She got on her hands and knees and looked under each bed. Luckily our house was small, but still, with her thorough survey, it took a few minutes. Then we’d whimper, “We’re too scared to go to bed,” and she’d lead us back to her room and we’d pile in, sandwiched against her – we were the bread, she was the cheese.

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The Girl and the Piñata

I was at the high school tutoring in the second floor library on a warm, sunny day so the windows were open. I could hear a commotion coming from outside, and when I looked out, I saw a class full of students in a half-circle yelling at a blindfolded girl who held a stick and stood in front of a piñata hanging from a tree.

I could understand the class being outside and soaking up some rare Oregon rays, but I couldn’t figure out the piñata. What did that have to do with economics or health? Maybe it was Spanish class, but it wasn’t even Cinco de Mayo, which I’ve been told means “put the empty mayonnaise jar in the sink.”

The class was trying to get the girl to hit the piñata, but she was being timid and wouldn’t even give the stick a full swing – she’d go halfway and lose her nerve. I suppose if you are worried about messing up, then you’d have a reason to hold back. However, this crowd was lusting for piñata guts and they got louder by the second.

Soon everyone in the Library was craning their necks to see out of those  windows that you only see in schools – the ones with the latch that makes that suction-releasing sound when you undo it. They pull inwardly, so it’s a hindrance to looking down. We all leaned way over, standing on tiptoes. 

The crowd below was losing patience with the girl. “TAKE ONE STEP FORWARD! NO IN FRONT OF YOU! NOW SWING! SWING NOW! SWING THE DAMN THING, SWING REALLY HARD!

I couldn’t understand why she was so cautious. Even if the stick would have, by some miracle, made contact with the piñata, she would have been practically petting it with her mousy swing, rather than whacking it. She finally gave in to the mob and swung with all her might, and missed. She turned and faced the crowd with the stick raised high over her head. Kids scattered like cockroaches as she swung down and hit the ground SMACK!

NO TURN TO YOUR RIGHT! NO, YOUR OTHER RIGHT! NOW HIT! HIT HARD RIGHT NOW! YOU CAN’T MISS! They were wrong. She could miss, and did, but she got the scent and was going for blood. Her next slash broke right across the little pink and orange pony’s back. It didn’t break, but it looked like an old grey mare with a U-shaped bow in it’s back.

Giddy with success, she commenced to whack like someone trying to drive a nail with a giant hammer. Even though she made many connections, the pony danced on the string, trying to avoid the assault. She finally delivered a solid deathblow that severed it right in two, and it spewed out cheap hard candy like a waterfall.

The crowd cheered, then these teen-age kids dived onto the grass like they were trying to catch a low-thrown frisbee. They piled up on the girl at ground zero and raked in what they could. Some of the more dignified students waited until the others got up to try to get their fair share, but their delay left them empty handed.

With the show over, we spectators in the Library went back to our seats, shaking our heads. What was the lesson those kids learned? The social dynamics of mob rule? That nice guys finish last? They certainly learned that hard candy, even if it’s ancient and has a squishy, sticky outer layer that causes the wrapper to bind like it’s duct taped, the candy is all that much sweeter when you get it avoiding class.

Wandy and Brendy and the Bees

When I was ten or eleven, I had a couple of summer friends, sisters named Wanda and Brenda. Their mother, a stocky woman who wasn’t old enough to wear dentures but did anyway, would holler, “Wan-deeeee, Bren-deeee” so I called them that too. Wandy and Brendy’s house was full of ceramic figurines they called what-nots (I dubbed them what-not to have). Little painted imitations of life – cats, dogs, clowns, pixies, toadstools with frogs, a shepherd boy holding a lamb and such were on the coffee and end tables, mantle, top of the TV. No horizontal surface was left uncovered.

I don’t know how we met. They lived several blocks away and went to different schools. I usually hung out with my best friend, but she was shipped off to her grandparents in Ohio that summer, so I needed sidekicks. Brendy was my age with wavy blond hair, fair complexion and always looked like she was smiling. Wandy was a year younger with straight brown, shoulder length hair and relaxed brown eyes I’d later learn would be called bedroom eyes, although to me she just looked a little sleepy.

They were always game to go on adventures. Those were the days when parents let their kids wander wherever we wanted, before constant sports practices, daycare, and the fear of what might happen to unguarded children. We explored miles away from home, walking or riding our bikes, checking in for a quick meal then dashing outside again. After a day of roaming around, I’d invite Wandy and Brendy to camp out in my backyard and their mother almost always said yes. Our tent was blankets fastened to the clothesline with wooden clothespins, with more blankets inside for covers. Nearly every night we huddled around flashlights, telling ghost stories and making silly jokes while crickets and cicadas sang in the background. Wandy and Brendy were the best friends a free-range kid could ever hope to find.

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Copyright © 2019 by Suzanne Olsen