And when I say 'normalcy', I'm not using it as a synonym for tranquility!
Hi, everyone! For the two or three of you out there who read this blog, I'm sorry that it's been a week and a half since I last posted. :( I've been catching up on sleep, to be quite honest. It's kind of exhausting, traveling half-way around the world, and one wants to just pull up the covers, mumble something about turning out the light, and crash.
When I haven't been sleeping, there have been quite a few different 'dishes' on my proverbial 'plate'. There have been doctors to see, paperwork to sign, friends to host, parents to talk to, and bags to unpack. The last was probably the hardest--not only am I a late packer, I'm a late unpacker as well! I'm trying to catch up with all my friends; I'm fortunate enough to find this hard to accomplish in only three weeks! :)
So, in the middle of this maelstrom of business, I'm reminded of something I wrote 'back in the day', when I was sixteen, that strikes a chord somewhere. As most of you know, I was homeschooled, and our days weren't any calmer then than they are now... My friend Hannah requested this story when we were in Samoa, but I didn't have it about me to give to her. So, here it is--hopefully, it will raise a chuckle!
Notes: Names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the unsuspecting. All of the incidents set forth in the story did occur at some point, though possibly not on the same day, and did indeed disrupt our school routine. In advance, I apologize for the formatting of the tale: believe me when I say that it looked much better in the Word document!
Do comment if you liked this little story of woe and disruption; there's more where it came from!
A Normal Morning
By Anna Perkins
“Now, let’s try to have a normal morning.” Mom, sitting back in her rocking chair, looked at the row of us hopefully. It was early morning; devotions time. We had already taken care of morning chores, eaten breakfast, and read our personal devotions. It had all the ear-marks of a productive, normal morning. At least, that’s what Mom thought. “Where’s Caleb?”
“He’s brushing his teeth,” Grace spoke up, lolling back on the couch. She had stayed up late last night, reading a Civil War novel, and it had taken nothing less than a gargantuan effort to roll her out of bed this morning.
Caleb thundered down the stairs and slid onto the couch next to me. He exuded mint breath. Grace slowly heaved herself into a sitting position; Bill and I sat up straight and angelic.
As Mom stared at us, it was pretty obvious to me what was passing through her mind. Would today be the day that she had been waiting for since the school-year had begun? A morning where we kids worked industriously at our lessons, memorized facts, and played our instruments, all without distractions? She seemed hopeful – she put up a front of confidence – but doubts did arise. I know they arose in mine. We kids all rather wished for an abnormal morning; they tended to be much more exciting.
“The only unusual thing going on today,” Mom proceeded, starting the ritual of telling us what the schedule for the day was, “is that we have a piano tuner coming at one. Both the Steinway and the Cable need some work. But he shouldn’t interrupt our routine any.”
Interrupt our routine, mister; interrupt our routine, I wished silently.
“We should just do our school-work like always this morning.” Mom had already dismissed the piano tuner from her thoughts. “Grace, you work on your math lesson. Becky and Caleb, I’ll want to give you a spelling test. And Bill-” She was wondering what special job to give him, and then, with the sixth sense given all homeschooling mothers, found it, “finish your creative writing page from yesterday. Remember, all of you, don’t get distracted.”
“Oh, we won’t,” we chorused obediently, but I knew, from Caleb’s expression, that he was wondering how soon the distractions would start coming. Caleb hated spelling only slightly less than he hated grammar.
“Then let’s pray.” We all bent our heads, and Mom got as far as, “Dear Lord, I pray that -” before the telephone erupted into shrill rings.
“Hurry, Mom!” we urged, knowing that the first distraction had arrived. Mom dove for the phone.
“Hello? Oh, yes, Mrs. Davies. Thanks for returning my call.” I was sure that Mom was wishing that Mrs. Davies hadn’t chosen that moment to return it, though.
While Mom was on the phone, Caleb seized a pillow and casually bashed Bill over the head with it. Bill immediately retaliated by grabbing the only other pillow in his reach, Mom’s cross-stitched one with ‘John 3:16’ on it, and brought it down with equal force on Caleb. The fight was on!
In a couple of moments, the two of them were wrestling all over the floor, while Grace took the vacated couch as an invitation to lie down, plopping her bare feet into my lap. I promptly deposited them on the floor. Caleb, pillow held high, chased Bill into the bathroom, and Bill attempted to slam and lock the door. Caleb managed to jam a corner of pillow into the crack, and tried to pry the door open, while Bill held it closed on the other side, squealing excitedly. I picked up a book.
“Kids, kids!” Mom flew back into the room, slightly wild-eyed. Instantly, sensing Mom’s mood, Caleb deserted the bathroom door, and plunged down next to me, tossing aside the slightly battered pillow. Bill peeked out of the bathroom, and seeing that the coast was clear, likewise dove for his seat.
“Now, let’s start our prayer time again,” Mom began, running a hand through her hair. Then she caught sight of the pillow that Bill was still clutching. “Oh, Bill, you didn’t!”
“Didn’t what?” Bill asked, looking down at his shirt; from her tragically resigned tone, he expected that he had unknowingly spilled some of his breakfast down his front. It had happened before.
“Why do you boys insist on using my good pillow for your fights?” Mom demanded, seizing the ill-used pillow and holding it gently, as if it were a robin’s egg and might break unexpectedly.
“We didn’t hurt it,” Caleb pointed out. Which was strictly true, but moms seldom see things in the same light as boys.
“But you could have,” Mom responded, placing the pillow lovingly on the coffee table beside her. “Now, let’s pray.”
Due to the loss of time occasioned by the phone call and fight, the prayer was shorter and less exhaustive than usual. After a hasty conclusion, she sent us off to our various school assignments.
Grace rolled of the couch, and, yawning, sauntered to the table and sat down at the chair nearest the French doors. Suddenly, an explosion of howls, fur, and shrieks issued from that direction. Mom raced to the scene of action, Bill yelled, “Whatza matter?”, and I stared at the hysterical Grace in astonishment. Only Caleb remained undistracted – he was involved in sucking on his clarinet reed before putting it to the mouthpiece.
“What happened, Grace?” Mom demanded.
“I-I sat on Doofy!” Grace gasped. “I didn’t know he was there!” The mortally-offended cat was stalking regally away from us, his tail held high in disdain.
“So you were just scared, is that it?” said Mom sympathetically, but with a glance at the clock.
“Y-yeah, and so was Doofy!” Losing the last of her shock in her concern for him, she caught and scooped up the un-injured, much-insulted cat. “Wuz he scared?” she crooned, as Doofy, who always hated to be held in any way, yowled and twisted in her arms. “Wuz da poor baby scared of his Nana, who loves him zo much? Did she sit on da baby? Poor Doofy!” She hugged him tightly. Doofy, infuriated by this un-welcome love, resorted to desperate tactics – he sank his teeth into Grace’s arm, and was rewarded by being promptly dropped on the floor. He streaked for the cat-door that led to the basement.
“Okay, back to school!” Mom commanded with all the authority of a drill-sergeant. “Becky, Caleb, I’d like to go over your vocabulary words with you.”
“But Mom!” Caleb protested. “I just got my clarinet out!” He hated vocabulary words only slightly more than grammar and spelling.
“That can wait until you finish this.” She sat down on a rocking chair in the living room. Caleb dragged himself over, and I easily beat him to the couch. Mom proceeded to toss the hard-to-pronounce words at us as fast as we could take them in. This was something I was good at: being a Dickens fan has its advantages. But Caleb, who never read anything except what he had to, and even that sparingly, was at a loss.
“Dogma,” Mom said, “Caleb.” If she didn’t tag on who was supposed to give the definition, I would be answering them all.
“Dogma,” Caleb groped, then paused. A twinkle of merriment danced in his eyes. “A dog’s mother.”
Mom smiled, and instantly repented it. Caleb, knowing that she had thought it was funny, was egged on. “And a dogpa is a father dog.”
Mom looked at me.
“Dogma: a creed or tenet of faith, usually in a religion,” I supplied promptly.
“Ah, brilliant!” exclaimed Caleb, looking suddenly enlightened. Mom started to smile, then caught it and held it back.
“Truncate,” she read, “Caleb.”
“Truncate,” he repeated. “That’s when an elephant goes to a watering hole to drink, and a crocodile bites off his nose. The crocodile has ‘trunk-ate’ed him.”
I gave great credit to Mom for hearing this with a straight face. I couldn’t. “You’re on the right track,” she replied encouragingly. “What has the alligator-”
“Crocodile,” Caleb interposed.
“Who cares?” I asked.
“The crocodile!” Caleb burst out. “Alligators don’t live in Africa with elephants; they live here, in America. In fact, there was a news story the other day about one who bit off -”
“Well, anyway,” Mom interjected hastily, “what did the crocodile do to the elephant?”
“Bit him,” supplied Caleb promptly.
“No, I mean, what did the elephant look like?”
Mom gave him up. “Becky?”
“Truncate; to shorten,” I replied, giggling a little at the faces Caleb was making.
Caleb snapped his fingers. “It was on the tip of my tongue!” he moaned. “If you’d just given me a few more seconds…”
“All right, Caleb,” Mom intervened. “The word is ‘unwieldy’. Caleb.”
“Unwieldy. Something without any wheels.”
“Spell it,” Mom commanded.
“Spell it?” Caleb repeated, a little nervously.
“Unwieldy,” he floundered, “U-N-W-H-E-E-L-”
No one knows how the rest of this unfortunate word would have ended, because Caleb, who had been looking helplessly in all directions as if he expected ‘unwieldy’ to have suddenly appeared on the walls, gave an exclamation between a gasp and a choke. At the same instant, an insistent car horn began blaring right outside our house.
“The cows!” Caleb exclaimed as soon as he could speak, leaping to his startled feet. “They’re out and in the road!” Another horn started beeping wildly.
We never quite remembered afterward how we got out of the door and into our boots – we must have flown. In the proverbial jiffy, we were around the side of the house and staring at what would have been a comical sight if it had not been our cows that were involved.
One steer had cleared the road and was munching on Mr. Jameson’s privet hedge. The other two jail-breaking bovines were actually standing in the middle of the road, staring stupidly about them as if wondering how they had gotten there. Several cars were backed up, and it seemed that all of the drivers were pushing their horns constantly. One middle-aged woman, dressed in a suit, was gingerly stepping out of her little sports car as Caleb and I ran up. Caleb seized and brandished a thick limb that Bill and Grace had somehow missed when they picked up the sticks that had fallen in the yard.
The business-woman, glancing apprehensively at the dumbfounded cattle, approached us. “Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked nervously. She plainly did want to help, and she also plainly didn’t know the first thing about cows. “Will they come if I call them?”
With the horns blaring, Caleb didn’t stop to parley with her. With one Indian-war-whoop imitation, he hurled himself, waving his stick, at the bewildered bovines. The startled recipients of the charge took to their hooves and galloped off the road and onto more congenial ground – namely, Mr. Jameson’s immaculate lawn. The impatient cars gave us a final beep and sped off; the business-woman thanked us with relief and also departed, leaving Caleb and I to deal with three stubborn, stupid steers, who seemed intent on leaving calling cards on every inch of Mr. Jameson’s prized landscape.
However, Grace, having at last found her boots out by the firepit, finally joined us, and with the aids of shouting, jumping, and stick-brandishing, we successfully herded the runaways back into their accustomed quarters.
“I see how they got out,” Caleb observed, picking up a chain from the ground. “Bill must have forgotten to put the chain on the gate. I wonder where he was during all this.”
After washing our hands, we all filed back into the house, where Mom, slowly realizing that the morning was fast wearing away without being strictly ‘normal’, handed us our school books and begged us to put our full minds to them. Which we did. The excitement and drama of the last hour had left us momentarily winded, so we studied with the diligence of medieval monks. I had soon finished my spelling work and was well on my way to triumphing over grammar, when I suddenly heard another beep of a horn, this time coming from our driveway.
“Don’t look at me!” Caleb exploded as I met his eye. “I put the chain back on!”
Pushing our school books aside, we dashed to the window and beheld Mr. Stevens, our beloved neighbor from up the hill, climbing the porch steps with a bundle of papers in his hand.
“Mom! Mr. Stevens is here!” Bill bawled up the stairs. Caleb jerked open the door and jumped out onto the porch; Grace and I contented ourselves with sticking our heads out the door and listening to what was going on.
“Good morning, Mr. Stevens!” Caleb exclaimed. “Do you want to come in?”
“No, thank you, Caleb,” Mr. Stevens replied courteously, his gray hair glistening in the morning sunshine. “I just have some coupons for your Mom, if you’ll give them to her.”
Before Mr. Stevens could hand over the coupons and leave, I intercepted him. “How’s Mrs. Stevens?” I inquired from the door. I suddenly noticed that Mr. Stevens looked worried as he answered,
“Not too good, actually. She was admitted to the hospital yesterday morning.”
“Why?” Grace and I gasped, as if in chorus.
“Remember that trip we took to India a few months ago?” We nodded. Who could forget it, especially when their suitcases came back stuffed full of souvenirs for us? “Well, Mrs. Stevens came down with what appears like malaria a few days ago. The doctor took one look at her and ordered her to a bed.”
“Is it catching?” Bill asked me, too loudly. Mr. Stevens smiled a little.
“No, it’s not infectious. It’s a disease transmitted by mosquitoes.”
“How?” Bill demanded. Mr. Stevens glanced at his watch.
“Well, I can’t exactly explain it – why don’t you look it up?” he suggested. Without another word, Bill vanished. Mr. Stevens, relieved from his fear that he would have to stand on our porch expounding on tropical illnesses for the next half-hour, rumbled off to the hospital in his pick-up, and we hurried to hunt up references to malaria. Mom was quite concerned when she heard the news, and agreed that we should make a meal for them. Grace and I immediately began to plan the menu; Caleb asked Mom if he’d better take care of the Stevens’ horses for them; and Bill started to shout out various tidbits of information he was gleaning out of our encyclopedia.
“The symptoms are fever, chills, and nausea!” he shouted to us.
“What about a salad, Mom?” Grace propounded. “Just a little one, with-”
“It’s transmitted by anopheline mosquitoes carrying parasitic protozons of the genus ‘Plasmodium’!” Bill burst out, as if that were just the piece of information that we had been looking for and were now urging him to tell.
“I’ll just head up and see if he took care of the horses, Mom. I’ll be back soon,” Caleb announced. The door banged behind him.
“How about dessert?” I wondered. “I know Mr. Stevens adores that Banana Split dessert that we made last Fourth of July.”
The phone rang shrilly.
“The root word is Italian for ‘bad air’,” Bill bellowed.
“Hello?” Mom sounded rather disillusioned as she answered the phone. Where had her normal morning gone? It was nearly lunch time. Then she forgot all her old problems in the new one that this call gave her. After a brief conversation, she hung up and turned to us, urgency printed boldly on her face. “Kids, that was the piano tuner! He has an opening in his schedule; he’ll be here in forty-five minutes! Becky, grab the vacuum – Bill, put away all those encyclopedias and clear the floor – Grace, come help me with these breakfast dishes.”
Something in the urgency of her voice impressed itself upon us, and we fell to cleaning as if it was the President who was coming, and not just a piano tuner. Mom mopped the floor while Grace emptied the dishwasher. Bill swept the kitchen and dining room floor with vigor that I have rarely seen equaled. I pushed the vacuum cleaner around as if for my life. Then Mom handed me the rag and polish, and I set to dusting all the bookshelves, chairs, and desks – next, I cleaned the bathroom. I even polished the toilet bowl with a pumice stone. When Caleb came back from the Stevens, Mom thrust a trash bag at him with such wildness that, prudent boy that he was, he saw the futility of asking questions. He took out the trash, dried dishes, and carried armfuls of accumulated stuff upstairs before he even had the chance to ask me who we were cleaning for.
“The piano tuner,” I replied, looking up from vacuuming the stairs.
“Ah,” he replied gravely. “That explains why we’re cleaning everything but the piano.”
It was true. Either Mom had completely forgotten about it, or she was figuring that he would make so much dust that it would be a waste of time. But, obeying the spirit, not the letter, I took a few precious seconds to polish both pianos, even though he might never look at the grand.
By this time, we were all, of course, starving. We were just about as pitiable as the pictures you see in advertisements advocating the end of world hunger. We at last persuaded Mom to let us have a couple crackers and some cheese. As soon as the last crumbs had disappeared, though, back to cleaning we went. Forty-five minutes? It seemed like several hours.
At last though, a station wagon pulled into the driveway. We exhausted cleaners pasted ourselves against the windows, wanting to catch a glimpse of the man for whom we’d just cleaned everything but the basement furnace. Mom, limp as a wet dishrag, leaned heavily against the counter. The door to the car slowly opened, and out poked a cane. A white cane. We stared unbelievingly as an older, grizzled man, possibly as ancient as forty, stepped hesitatingly out of the station wagon. Yes, he had a white cane and he wore large sunglasses.
“Uh, Mom, I think he’s blind,” Caleb whispered.
“Oh yes, I knew that,” Mom said wearily. Then she stiffened. “Wait a minute, he’s what?” She dashed to the window, as if he were some rare and exotic animal from Australia. She saw the same thing we did – there could be no doubt.
For a moment, we thought she might faint, or cry, or something. And she did do something. She stared dumbfounded at the innocent blind man who was making his way up our driveway, and started shaking with laughter.
“We – we cleaned the house for the blind piano tuner!” she gasped. “I cleaned the kitchen for the blind piano tuner! We dusted the tables for the blind piano tuner!”
“Mom!” Grace hissed, terrified, “He’s coming to the door! He’ll hear you.”
Mom instantly sobered, and formally conducted the piano tuner into the house. But suddenly the same spirit seemed to possess all of us. It all seemed so ridiculous that we burst out laughing. We giggled, and kept on giggling, until we had to retreat upstairs, practically shrieking with laughter.
“I guess you got some kids,” the piano tuner remarked to Mom. “Sounds like an awfully happy bunch.”
“They certainly are,” she replied with a smile.
“Do you teach them yourself?” he asked as he sat down at the piano.
“Well,” Mom replied with a sigh, “you could certainly say that – my husband helps some too.”
“It’s so nice to tune a piano for a family who actually uses it. A normal family, you know.”
“Yes, I know the kind you mean.” And, under her breath, she added, “Though I don’t know if one lives here.”