Friday, November 28, 2014

Is it Christmas or Halloween II? Depends on how you tell it.

The season begins with something called Black Friday. From there, the days get shorter as we march relentlessly, inescapably toward The Longest Night of The Year.
Oh, the weather outside if frightful!
All the while, your behavior is being monitored. There is an ancient being—over 1000 years old, older than Methuselah—and he has helpers in every mall in America to help him keep track of you. He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows everything you’ve done. He is old. He has long hair and long whiskers. He wears a red suit. He smokes. He drinks heavily-sugared soda and eats enough cookies to choke a monster. He is overweight—his stomach shakes when he laughs. What’s so funny?
What’s funny is that one night very soon this creature is going to use his magical powers to take to the skies and fly; he’s coming to your house. Got deadbolts on your doors? Got a security system? He finds that funny, too. He’s going to shrink himself and come down the chimney. Don’t have a chimney? No problem; he can fit down a vent pipe. Is there anything you can do to stop him?
Sure: all you have to do is stay awake. He cannot come in if you don’t fall asleep. That’s not a problem at first because you’re so keyed up, but eventually—and he knows this—you will sleeeeeep. Sleeeeeep. Sleeeeeep! Even the government can’t stop him. NORAD will track him, sure, for all the good that will do.
Up on the housetop: click…click…click. Do you hear it? No, because you are sleeping in spite of yourself. Sugarplums are dancing in your head and you don’t even know what the hell a sugarplum is. You dream about a snowman, with coal black eyes and a magic hat, who comes to life.
One of the most popular songs tells you that Christmas should really go on for 12 days, not just one. It also lets you know that you are not truly loved. You got a pear tree? Didn’t think so. Okay, a few do, but is there a partridge in it? No. Know why? Because no one really, truly loves you, otherwise they’d have given you one. When’s the last time anyone gave you 5 golden rings? I rest my case.
Will this night never end? Maybe you could go hang out with your parents. No, they’re not home. They’re attending a ritual ceremony called Midnight Mass, lighting candles and chanting with other members of the parish. The babysitter is useless; she’s on her phone and obviously doesn’t want you to know who she’s talking to or what they’re saying. “Go back to bed!” she says. “Santa Claws will come if you go to sleep.” She says that like it’s a good thing. Of course she also thought that movie about the Christmas ghosts was a good thing. Can you trust her? Dare you sleep? Could you maybe fake it? No…he knows…he knows when you’re awake. And he can wait, for as long as it takes.
What’s that?! It’s not so much what you hear as what you don’t hear…such a Silent Night. Yes…it’s quiet out there. Too quiet.
What fun it is to ride and sing a slaying song tonight.
Word to the wise: You'd better watch out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The War on Christmas

“There’s a War on Christmas! Mayday! Mayday! Get Rudolph to a safe, undisclosed location! Call the Secret Service! Call your Secret Santa! Oh, Lord!”
Calm your ass down, man.
“Gimmie a beer! Load your guns! Fill your stockings!”
There’s no war on Chr—
“The liberals are comin! The liberals are comin!”
I don’t know what’s dancing in your head, but it ain’t sugarplums.
“They’re te… they’re te…”
“They’re tellin me I gotta say (gag, choke) ‘Happy Holidays.’ Mangers Away! Deck those Halls! Lively and quick, lads, lively and quick!”
Nobody’s telling you that you have to say anything. And even if they were, since when did you ever give two hoots in Hell what anyone else told you to do, think, or say?
“You just don’t get it, do you? Read my lips: They Have Declared War On Christmas!”
Stop shaking my shoulders, back up, and listen. No one has declared war on Christmas, and even if they had, keep this in mind: LBJ declared war on poverty; Nixon declared war on drugs. Seems the best way to keep Christmas alive and thriving would be to declare war on it.
“You can have my candy canes when you pry them off my cold, dead Christmas tree!”
Hey, if you want to say, “Merry Christmas,” and I want to say, “Have a fun day off, with pay,” we’re both—let me check—yes, we’re both free to say that.
“You sure?”
I’m sure.
“But they said on the news…”
Houston, we see the problem.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

All Aboard and All But Bored

If you and I see a freight train going by, we shrug and think no big deal. We may feel inconvenienced if we have to wait for one to go by at a crossing; we may be a little excited if we’d put a penny on the track, but for the most part, hey, a train.
If folks had seen one go by in 1814, God only knows what they’d have thought it was. It might be interpreted as a fire-breathing dragon or one of those horses from the apocalypse. The noise alone would likely scare the daylights out of them.
It took us millions of years to get to the Hunting/Gathering Age.
Then, it took around 590,000 more years to get to the Horticulture & Agrarian Ages.
From there, it took a little less than 12,000 years to get to the Industrial Age
From the Industrial Age to the Information Age only took about 260 years.
The gaps between the ages have gotten progressively shorter, from millions of years to just over half a million years to 12,000 to 260. Things are changing fast. The progress that used to take a thousand years will soon take only ten…or two…or, what time is it now?
Everything necessary to build and run a railroad was right here on this planet, under the very noses of our hunting and gathering ancestors. All the physical elements were there, they just didn’t know how to isolate, manipulate, and distribute them. They were there, but no one noticed. What else might be right here, right now, under our very noses without our being aware of it? What will the folks in 2114 laugh at us for not knowing? (Hey, for all we know, we’ll still be alive to laugh about it, too.) It’s easier to believe that anything is possible than it is to declare anything impossible.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

“It’s not like it’s the end of the world.” No, just this one.

When I read on the morning of September 9, 2014 that Stephen Hawking said the “God Particle” could destroy the universe, I said to myself, “There’s a story just beggin for a country song.”

The Ballad of Higgs Boson

Higgs Boson, he was a good ol’ boy, he never told a lie.
He worked hard and went to church and kept his powder dry.
He could skin a hog and saw a log and make that banjo ring;
Then he destroyed the Universe and ruined the whole damn thing.

Higgs Bosun drove a big ol’ truck; it was a mighty rig.
I said, “Higgs, which one is yours?” He said, “The one that’s big.”
Not one to elaborate, he had no words to waste—
Not the sort you’d figure for collapsin time and space.

Higgs Bosun built a cabin with his own two calloused hands.
He met head-on and mastered every one of life’s demands.
Plum eat up with common sense, best man we ever met,
If anyone was still alive, nobody would forget.

Like any other hero, he had a fatal flaw.
Gettin rid of all there is: That was the last straw.
His final, most important test, Lord, that’s the one he flunked.
Everything, includin Kingdom Come, is now defunct. 

Optional Attachments

I realize that nothin is forever.
Ain’t no ties that somethin cannot sever.
If she at least had run off with a person,
By now I would have stopped fumin and cursin.

I’m not prone to be an over reactor,
But my darlin ran away with my tractor.
Her sad attempt to make me feel better
Was writin me this here John Deere letter.

I used to think that there was no one sweeter;
Thought she was the totter to my teeter.
Now I've been sorry that I ever met her,
Ever since the mailman brung this John Deere letter.

“Dear Joe, I hope you don’t think me unkind;
You know tractors are a weakness of mine.
If I was mean, I never meant to be;
Lord help me, I love yellow and green machinery.”

A John Deere letter? Please tell me you’re kiddin.
Am I in the Twilight Zone? Is there a camera hidden?
A John Deere letter? Where’d I put my inhaler?
Maybe you two can get hitched to a cotton trailer.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Doubt it all you want, but they’re out there!

No one can tell me they don’t exist because I’ve seen them. I have communicated, though sometimes clumsily, with many of them.
They travel through space in a ship that is almost too large to imagine. Of course from far enough away—no shortage of that in the Universe—it can seem downright dinky.
Their spaceship is ellipsoidal.  It carries its own food, water, oxygen, and renewable resources.
“What kind of renewable resources?”
Plants, animals, stuff like that. This spaceship is so big that it even generates its own weather and has a delicate, self-contained atmosphere. They haven’t worked all the bugs out of the weather system; it’s killed some of them, but it works quite well most of the time.
As far as they know, there is no other source for water in space. If they don’t take care of their water, recycle and treat it properly, they’re up the creek. Same goes for their fragile atmosphere—it’s all that stands between them and disaster.
“Hold on! Recycled water? Please don’t tell me that—”
Yes… I know it sounds indelicate, but you have to understand they’re out there whizzing—no pun intended…well, maybe just a little—through space and they are unaware of any other source of water. So, the same water that comes out of them, and the animals they carry, eventually makes its way back into them.
“Good Lord! I hope they at least have a decent filtration system.”
They do. It’s quite remarkable, really. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.
Anyway, this spaceship also generates its own gravity.
“How do they do that?” 
Well, it spins about 1040 miles per hour, even as it travels at over 66,000 miles per hour—that’s 18.5 miles per second, 1110 miles per minute.
“Clever. How do you know so much about it?”
I was welcomed onboard and took a most mind-blowing trip with them.
“Welcomed? You weren’t abducted?”
Not at all. Don’t believe everything you read or hear about them. I was not exactly invited, understand, but welcomed nonetheless.
“I might like to try that.”
You don’t just hop on this thing. There is a lengthy acclimation/training period involved. I had to learn the most basic skills such as breathing and eating as they do. They taught me how to transport myself and how to interact like one of them. This may sound a little creepy, even farfetched, but the process begins by actually growing inside one of them.
Depends on how you look at it. Takes about 36 of their weeks.
My stay among them had to be a brief one. They told me that after about a hundred years it would become obvious that I had worn out my welcome. Indeed, after around fifty, I was already seeing signs of that.
At first, they thought I was cute. They seemed delighted when I learned something new. Then I was cheered on, even as I was sent off to fend for myself. I never lacked for entertaining company or engaging experiences. As the new wore off, so did their interest. After a while, outside of a few token gestures from those who were paid to offer them, they didn’t seem to really care one way or the other.
Fine by me. I was more than ready to get home.
Even amidst all the fun and refreshment to be had elsewhere, I’ll never forget my little side trip among the Humans.
“What’s the name of their starship?”
They call it Earth. Many of them believe they are the only ones out there.
“Of all the pretentious bullsh—”
I know.
“They really think—”
As best they can, yes.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How is A Bridge like A Squirrel?

I like thinking exercises that are effective and fun, and I found one back in 2001. Pam Blundell, Executive Director of Adult Education with the Oklahoma State Department of Education, told a group of us about forced analogies.
A forced analogy is when you take any two nouns and find things they have in common—something that’s true for both.
To get the ball rolling, Pam gave us these two nouns: marriage and a yellow, number 2 pencil.
I’m one of those off-the-scale Introverts. Typically, I have trouble coming up with a quick answer. Let me go somewhere quiet and think about and I’ll probably have a pretty good one later today or tomorrow.
All around me in that huge pit auditorium I could hear people writing their answers. I was getting nothing. Not wanting to appear dense to my colleagues, I started scribbling on my legal pad. I wrote, “You can bring a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.” Not a bad line, but not what she was asking for, either.
After I heard some of the others’ responses, it started to click. What do marriage and a yellow, number 2 pencil have in common? How about the number 2? That works. And that metal band that holds the eraser to the wood part…and, well, see what you can come up with.
I’ve used the forced analogies exercise with a wide variety of folks, everything from single mothers in a GED class to college and university educators in conference sessions.
Forced analogies are an excellent brain exercise, a good way to warm up for any learning endeavor. Beyond that, I like them because

·       Students enjoy them. Even the most reluctant ones become intrigued and end up thinking in spite of themselves.

·       They level the playing field. I let the students choose the nouns, so I have no way of knowing what they’ll be, no way to prepare ahead of time.

·       They force me to be a little more like my Extrovert pals. (Just because we have a preferred learning style or an introverted personality, that’s no excuse not to exercise our weaker muscles.)

·       They’re fun.

So far, we have never been foiled. No matter what the two nouns, we’ve been able to find something they have in common—and I mean something beyond the cheap answers like “they’re both nouns” or “they both have letters in them.”
I have many favorite stories about forced analogies. If you have time, let me tell you one.
This one took place in Arkansas. I was facilitating a concurrent class at a local high school. (Concurrent means they get high school and college credit for the same class.)
These students were tenacious with the forced analogies. They refused to give up. One day, the two nouns they chose were Walmart and pebble.
I wrote the words on the board, as usual, and we all stared at them for a good long while. Tick…tick…tick… Damn. Nothing. I thought that for the first time ever we were stumped.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s the students who come up with the best (sometimes only) responses. The reason this is one of my favorite stories is that this was one of those rare times when I saved it.
“I’ve got one.”
They stared at me like I’d just set fire to my moustache. (Is he crazy?) Arkansas?
“Think about it.”
They thought about it.
“Where is the Walmart world headquarters?”
Oh, okay. (Bentonville, AR.) So, where does the pebble fit in?
“What’s the Capitol of Arkansas?”
Ahhhh. Good one, Mr. Tom!    

(If you’d care to read more about forced analogies, click upon this:

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Place Where Something Once Was

It seems like when I’m all alone I’m with nobody else.
It’s as if there’s no one else around except myself.
Like now, for instance, look around and I nobody see.
Is there a lack of company or is it just me?

It reminds me of the place where something once was,
A place that used to stand right there, but now nothing does.
All the things that happened there were local events,
Then the place was gone, and so they haven’t happened since.

Oh, the place where something once was.
“Was it stolen?” No, don’t call the fuzz.
“Why is it gone?” Simply becuz
It’s the place where something once was.

Some say the future and the past don’t really exist
“It’s always right now,” so the sages insist.
It’s as true this instant as it was yesterday,
And I bet tomorrow it will still be that way.

You know, perhaps what once was hereabouts
Was fictitious, but I really have my doubts.
I always eschew the absolutes.
Could it be that faux and for real are in cahoots?

I know a place where something was here.
Now it’s not, it’s not even near.
“Is it invisible?” So it would appear.
It’s a place where something was here.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to—Lord knows they never did.
It may not be a lost art, but it’s certainly well hid.
It can’t be replicated—go Google it and see;
There must not be a recipe for creativity.

Infinity, by definition, has to run both ways ∞
So, I suppose it will be back one of these days.
I may be someone else by then and miss it. If I do,
Set your timer and remind me, please. I’m counting on you.

Yes, I’ve been here when something was there.
You ain’t seen nothing like it, I declare.
Maybe I’m just biased, to be fair,
But if you'd of viewed it, man, when it was there!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Kay Possum

Last week, I attended a Freelance Menu Writer conference in Papier Mâché, Louisiana.
At the close of the first day’s session, I shook myself awake, went outside, and sought some recreation. Didn’t want to go to the bar with most everyone else and didn’t want to go back to my ratty room at the King Cotton Hylton (“Gym of the Delta!”), either, so I just went for a walk.
A dust devil came swirling down the street and plastered a piece of paper to my leg. I peeled it off and read it. It was an advertisement for Madam Señora: psychic prognosticator. It was close by, only cost five bucks, and things couldn’t get any worse, so why not go see how the fortune cookie crumbled?
She was nice enough, but I was having my doubts after ten minutes of generic nonsense that could apply to anyone. At least it was something different, something fun, something interesting, and perhaps I’d made a new friend in a strange land. We chatted and sipped some kind of weird-ass tea.
I mentioned an imaginary childhood friend whom I am still in touch with—mostly on holidays and during hypnogogic hallucinations.
“This friend have a name?”
“Yes, her name is Kay Possum.”
 Madam Señora’s eyes lit up. She smiled and said, “Oh, I know her!”
And she did! She described Kay perfectly. She knew Kay’s favorite song, favorite flower, even described the way her laugh sounds like an orange snow cone—most folks can’t hear that.
At the end of conference day two, I wanted nothing more than to have another spot of tea with Madam Señora. It had been an interesting evening and I didn’t remember leaving.
When I got to her place, there was no one there, nor did it look like anyone had been there in quite a while. The windows and doors were boarded up; the nails in the boards were rusty. I double checked the address. It was the right place, but it was all wrong.
The Papier Mâché Public Library was still open, so I went inside and spoke with a man named Rhett Pepper. Mr. Pepper did not look at all comfortable with my questions.
He led me to a room lined with microfilm machines, searched through some boxes, and popped in a reel. “These are old copies of our local newspaper, the Papier Mâché Picayune.”
He zipped and whizzed back over a hundred years until he found the one he was looking for. “Look at that: Coffee was only five cents a pound! But you didn’t come here to research grocery prices, did you? Still, it is interesting.” Zip…whiz. “Ah! Here we are. Read this.”
Had I known what hornswoggled was, I’d have been it. According to the article, Madam Señora’s place dematerialized, with her still in it, over a century ago. The shell of the dwelling, with the boarded up windows and doors, rematerialized a few days later. It has stood a vacant mystery ever since.
Mr. Pepper said, “Kids love to go there on Halloween and dare each other to run up and touch the door or organically hydrate the dead flowers around the porch, but no one has ever gone inside.”
“What would happen if someone went inside?” I asked.
“Well, we don’t know…because, like I said, no one has ever gone inside.”
No one but me, I thought.
Rhett Pepper walked me to the front door, shook my hand, and wished me well. I thanked him for his time and turned to leave. “Funny thing,” he said, as if he’d just remembered something.
I turned back around. “I love funny things, Mr. Pepper. Care to let me in on it?”
He took off his glasses and clumsily cleaned them with his tie—it was a bowtie, so you can imagine how clumsily. “I’m an educated man, not given over to fantasy and foolishness, but some people, some of them quite sane, have reported over the years that when the breeze is just so, they can detect the unmistakable aroma of weird-ass tea coming from the old place.”
I went back to my motel room, kicked off my shoes, and lay supine on the bed. A brief time passed; then the mattress started to shake. My eyes popped open. It was dark, but I saw another pair of eyes looking back at me from across the room.
“Hey, Kay! How’s it going?”
“Going well, thanks. How about you?” She flipped on the lights.
“Let’s just say I’m glad to see you. I have a few questions.”
“Fire away.”
“First, I didn’t think this was earthquake country, but the mattress is vibrating like crazy. You don’t seem the least bit concerned about it.”
Kay laughed. (Did you just picture an orange snow cone?) “Oh, that’s the Magic Fingers machine by the bed. It’s old and just kicks on by itself sometimes. If anyone dropped a quarter in it and tried to get it to work on purpose, nothing would happen.”
“Oh. Okay. So, what can you tell me about Madam Señora?”
“What would you like to know?”
I told her the whole story.
Kay looked at me, that look that meant I shouldn’t have to ask. “Think about it.”
“I’ve been doing little else!”
She smiled. “Would you like a clue?”
I looked at her, that look that meant she shouldn’t have to ask.
“Okay,” she said. “Madam Señora knows me, right?”
“And who am I?”
“Obviously, you’re my imaginary friend.”
“Therefore, Madam Señora must also be ____. Come on, fill in the blank.”
A slow knowing crept over me. “Imaginary?”
“Give that man a cigar!”
“Yeah, but boy howdy, Kay, she seemed so Real!”
She gave me a playful, pouty look. “And I don’t?”
“Of course you do! But you and I go back a long way. I just met Madam Señora yesterday.”
“That’s part of the fun. With imaginary friends, time is almost meaningless. As meaningless as what you call the real world.”
“That’s the problem, Kay. I swear it’s getting to where I cannot tell one from the other. Things go on in the so-called real world that have all the earmarks of a bizarre dream; they don’t make a lick of sense. In fact, the imaginary world makes a hell of a lot more sense.”
“Maybe this ‘real world’ is imaginary, also, just with more folks buying into it.”
“Buying in is right! Man, we’ll buy anything. All an advertiser has to do is make us feel inadequate or uncool or undesirable; then we’ll buy all manner of worthless crap.”
Kay smiled. “Before you tear into religion and politics, I already know how they prey on the populace. Let me just remind you that reality, like sanity, boils down to nothing but majority opinion. If people choose to buy into a certain version of what’s real, well, that’s their problem.”
“But so many don’t know it is a choice.”
“So, dedicate your life to telling them.”
“I’m too tired. You know, it would be one thing if their choices made them happy, but they almost never do. There’s so much trumped up drama. Every area of life has taken on the air of professional wrestling. It’s all Snidely Whiplash, and Nell is tied to the railroad tracks. And our Dudley Do-Right is better, badder, faster than your Dudley Do-Right, and our theologians can beat up your theologians. It’s an endless loop of counterproductive dog shi—!”
“Yeah, you seem real happy, too.”
I had to grin. She had me there.  
“As your friend,” she said, “I really do believe you’d be better off staying here with Madam Señora and me. That double-speak, no-think thing you call the real world? It scares me.”
“Me, too. Well, it doesn’t really scare me; I just want no part of it.”
“Let’s go home.”
“You’ve got plenty of tea at your place, right?”
She gave me that look...

Granny Wisdom

I don’t remember who had the bright idea for the “Share That Wisdom While You Can” weekend. It just kind of grew out of an all night bonfire and beer drinking conversation at our last family reunion. The seed was planted when little Cody Dakota Hunter Trapper Cowboy singed off all his hair, even his eyebrows and lashes, while doing an Evel Knievel impersonation on his junior ninja dirt bike. His grandmother, “MawNana,” was awakened by all the screaming and laughing. MawNana barged her way into the circle of gawking nitwits, lit an unfiltered Camel, snorted, and said, “Put some mayonnaise on it!” No one in their right mind (which by no means excludes anyone in this bunch) would bring a jar of mayonnaise to an outdoor picnic, so Uncle Cooter, revered throughout the family for his ability to think on his feet, even when he could not stand on them, unwrapped a tuna sandwich and rubbed it all over the injured boy’s head and face. Next thing I knew, we were making plans.
The plan was to gather the fifty wisest grandmothers and their granddaughters at a retreat place out in the woods. The grand dames would hold forth in response to their granddaughters’ questions, and I would record it for posterity and a small profit...just covering expenses, you understand. Two glorious days of life lessons and words to live by. Instead of making their own mistakes, these lucky granddaughters—and our lucky readers—could simply learn from the experiences of their elders. Hell of a deal. The “Dueling Banjos” of wisdom sharing. A geezer geyser of good sense would rain down upon us, refreshing our hearts and minds; sapience and sagacity would flow like a mighty river, right down the mountain, through my pen, onto these pages, and into your soul.
Great, but how do you go about picking the fifty wisest grandmas?
Someone suggested an essay contest. We announced it in Parade magazine and AARP.
Reading essays gets real old, real quick. We all have a new respect for English teachers. There were hundreds of them.
Someone else on the selection committee said, “Hey, we’re Americans. We don’t do research! Just have them send in pictures and we’ll pick the fifty who look the wisest.” Playing devil’s advocate, I pointed out that that seemed a tad shallow. The committee member said, “Okay, I can’t define wisdom, but I know it when I see it.” Good enough. All those in favor? They ayes have it.
Long story short, we settled for twelve grandmothers and twelve granddaughters. We spent a Friday afternoon and all day Saturday at a Boy Scout camp in the Arkansas Ozarks. It was the off season and we got the place pretty cheap. In the main lodge, we put a dozen rocking chairs in a semicircle. The rest of us sat facing them on wooden benches. We’d intended to hold the Saturday session up on Council Bluff, but the wind was howling like Judgment Day. There were a few complaints from some of the granddaughters—“Guess that blows the weenie roast all to Hell!” “If I wanted to sleep on an Army cot, I’d join the &%$#@ Army!”—but most took it with good humor. I left with a better appreciation of why this was the off season. Remind me to tell you later about the dead bat we found in the meatloaf. That was hilarious. That, along with the outdoor community showers, is what took us from fifty down to twelve.
It wasn’t quite the “Dueling Banjos” of wisdom we’d envisioned. It was more like Fogy Mountain Breakdown, but we came away with some pretty good ideas. We definitely heard stuff we’d never thought about before. The cornbread recipes alone were worth the trouble. What follows is a faithful transcript of the group gathering. If you are easily inspired, then grab a mug of hot cocoa, wrap yourself in an heirloom quilt—not the one where your toes get all caught up in the strings—and take a semi-mental journey to Wiseville with us. 
A granddaughter named LaMegan said, “Grandmother, speak to us of marriage.”
Apple-cheeked MeeMaw wiggled her fingers, indicating that she’d like to field this one.
“Dear, you do not have to love a man to stay married to him for fifty years.”
There was groaning and rolling of eyes from the granddaughters.
MeeMaw cleared her throat, both as an attention getter and as a phlegm remover.
“Buh...whuh! Kaa-HUM! Uh-HYEA! Hwick-Hah!” (She had our attention.) Mee-Maw continued. “Pardon me. Whew! But you must respect him, especially at those times, those many times, when he doesn’t deserve it. It’s like two trees in the forest: If they’re too close, you can’t sling a decent hammock.”
We waited for her to go on, but she never did. Most of us sat there nodding like we knew what the hell she was talking about.
Two granddaughters found themselves on their feet at the same time. Each hastily offered to sit back down. “Go ahead.” “No, it’s okay. You go.” One of them did sit down, leaving a self-conscious, nervous woman to address the sage assembly.
“Grandmother, speak to us of children and young kids.” She put a finger gun to her temple and let the hammer/thumb fall as if to say, Am I dopey, or what? She sat down quickly.
After what seemed like forever, Gramma Cracker took the pipe from between her teeth and said, “Most folks don’t know the difference.”
No one was arguing with that.
“Children,” Gramma Cracker croaked, “are God’s gift. To you. Not to me. I’ve got plenty of gifts already, thank you very much. Have all the children you want, but don’t expect me to raise the damn things!”
Hallmark lost a fine greeting card author when Gramma Cracker decided to become a sharecropper.
A thin, attractive woman dressed in a business suit, her hair pulled back into a severe bun—she looked a lot like Bebe Neuwirth —stood and said, “Grandmother, speak to us of money.”
 Granny Smucker stopped rocking and held up her hand. “I got this one.” She emptied an ounce of snuff into her lower lip, peered at the woman through the spectacles perched on the end of her nose, and said, “Are you gonna marry Frazier?”
The granddaughter looked confused. “I don’t know anyone named Frazier, so probably not.”
Granny Smucker nodded; the look on her face said Okay, I’ll pretend to believe that. “A lot of people will tell you that the Bible (she crossed herself) says that money is the root of all evil, but that’s bullshit. It was Vince Lombardi said that…and he was quoting Benjamin Franklin. The simple fact is that accumulating money is mostly guesswork. But—and it’s a big but—there are ways to guess correctly.”
She gazed at the granddaughters one by one. “By way of illustration, I’m guessing that probably all of you have with you a bill with George Washington’s picture on it.” They all nodded.  "Probably a few of you even possess a bill featuring the likeness of Abe Lincoln.” More nods, but a few less. “Alexander Hamilton?” Two or three nods. “I hope none of you has a bill with Vince Lombardi on it, but I’ll bet nobody has one with Ben Franklin’s picture.”
Kristal jumped up, flapping a piece of green paper. “I do! I do!”
“Well,” said Granny Smucker, “aren’t you something. Bring it here.”
Kristal proudly marched up and handed the money to Granny.
Granny raised an index finger. “Remember what I said: It’s mostly guess work, but there are ways to guess correctly.”
The granddaughters nodded.
Granny Smucker wadded up the bill and dropped it in her spit cup. She looked at Kristal and said, “I’m guessing you don’t want it back.”
She’d guessed correctly.
  A grandchild named Becky stood and addressed the matriarchs: “Grandmother, speak to us about religion and politics."
“Put some mayonnaise on it!”
How did MawNana make the cut? She doesn’t look wise. She looks like Popeye on acid.
Gram Gram held up her hand, both to quell the laughter and to chime in on this one. When she had our attention, she said, “The important thing with religion is to live within your miens—that’s m-i-e-n-s. Find something to preach that you’ll be comfortable practicing. For example, if there’s anything you don’t like or aren’t any good at, find an outfit that says those things are wrong. And then don’t do them. There’s something for everyone, no matter what you like or don’t like. Then you label every other group a cult. Remember this statement; make it your motto: ‘My theologians can beat up your theologians.’ Quote Scripture, but choose wisely; only quote—or make them up if you have to—the ones that fit your team.
“Politics? Pretty much the same rules as religion. You can find candidates galore who believe—or at least say they do—the same as you, and there are ‘news’ networks and celebrities to lend them credibility. If you want to be on the winning side of any election, just vote for the candidate who has the most Elvis. Values, issues? Hogwash. Our attention spans are way too short for that nonsense. It’s a popularity contest. Think about it: Obama was elected because he has more Elvis than Newt Romney. Romney has plenty of of Pat Boone—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but it ain’t Elvis.”  
If there was a flaw in her logic, no one could find it. She got a great round of applause.
 Becky smiled, blushed, and said, “Thank you, Gram Gram for your wisdom.”
Were this a documentary film, our transition scene would be the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino, gushing in time to “Viva Las Vegas.”
Then we would…
(Roll credits)
Our Grandmothers (in order of appearance)
Gramma Cracker
Granny Smucker
Gram Gram 
Mammy Cakes
Big Mama
Abuelita Gorda
Our Granddaughters (in alphabetical order)
Ed (these days, it’s best not to ask)
Kristal (7 of them were named Kristal, with various spellings)
Tia Maria  
I came away with this familiar quote—I think Vince Lombardi said it—echoing in my mind: “Wisdom is often the companion of advancing years. Sometimes old age shows up all by itself.”