Life with my Dad

Stories I remember from growing up with a "spontaneous" Dad and a tolerant Mom who sometimes didn't think things through all the way before he implemented them. And some about my Mum as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A 3 minute egg

For most people, practical jokes are an inconvenience to be tolerated with a weak smile and a vague hope that the perpetrator of the joke will spontaneously combust as retribution for their act. In my family a good practical joke is a thing of beauty to be carefully planned, plotted, and orchestrated. When sharing stories at family gatherings there is always someone who brings up a practical joke. The perfect practical joke becomes woven into the tapestry of our family history to be recounted and enjoyed again and again for years to come.


My parents were the masters of the practical joke. Their typical foil? My Uncle Pete. The one person in the world I know who can ALWAYS take a joke. The man has not only the greatest sense of humor but the greatest ability to laugh at himself without it becoming personal. Something I truly wish I could execute even half as well as Pete does.


The relationship my parents had with my aunt and uncle was truly something I have never seen duplicated since. Saying they were close to one another doesn't really cover the depth of their relationship. It's difficult to describe a relationship that allows people to tease and joke with one another with no one getting bent out of shape...ever. They never forgot that they loved and respected one another above anything else. Their friendship was truly a thing of beauty.


One weekend when my Aunt and Uncle were visiting, Pete announced, quite theatrically, that he wanted breakfast in bed. My Mum fell into her role nicely by asking what his majesty desired for his morning repast. The answer: a three minute egg (soft boiled)...not a second more...not a second less and soldiers (buttered bread cut into strips so they can be dipped into the boiled egg). Bowing to his royal highness, King Pete, Mum went to the kitchen to begin her preparations.


To understand the rest of this tale a little background information is necessary. Our house sat at the edge of a field in a small village in England. On alternating years the farmer who owned the field planted either wheat or sugar beets. When he would till the field prior to planting Mum and I would walk the rows and look for treasures. England is such an old country that today's life is lived on top of layer upon layer of history. The farmer's plow unearthed old pieces of pottery, clay pipes, and all sorts of debris from the lives lived on the land for hundreds of years.


One of our major finds was a china laying egg. These eggs were used by farmers to keep their hens sitting after raiding their nests. The egg was in perfect shape. Amazing considering it was buried in a field for decades and turned up by a tractor's plow! This treasure was about to take center stage.


When Mum went back to the kitchen she put a pot of water on to boil, popped bread into the toaster, put the kettle on for tea, and rinsed off the china laying egg. She prepared a nice tray to take for Pete's breakfast in bed, buttered and sliced the toast, brewed the tea, and dropped the china egg into the boiling water. She timed it perfectly. Three minutes...not a second more...not a second less. When three minutes had passed Mum put the steaming egg in to an egg cup on the tray and walked it into the bedroom. She placed the tray on Pete's lap and made a rapid retreat from the room.


Dad and I were waiting in the hallway after Mum delivered the tray to Uncle Pete. I'm surprised Pete didn't know we were there because we must have been giggling. They quickly shut the door behind Mum and we all stood quietly listening.


From the other side of the door we could hear some gentle rustling and general movement. King Pete was arranging himself and preparing for his royal feast. We could hardly wait to see what would happen next! Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we got results as Pete picked up his spoon and attempted to open the top of the three minute egg. A loud, metallic "plink"...long pause..."plink" shorter pause..."plink, plink, plink"..."HEY!" came from the room. The spoon bounced of the egg with such a loud and satisfying "plink" we could hear it in the hallway without even pressing our ears to the door!

Mum, Dad, and I were almost falling down laughing in the hallway. Mum opened the door and asked if the egg was to his royal highness' standards. Pete, always being the good sport, was laughing right along with us and enjoying the joke. Eventually, Mum did come up with a three minute egg for Uncle Pete but not before etching another great practical joke into our family history.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dad vs. the Animal Kingdom

Things in the world were a lot different when I was a little girl. There were no such things as automatic windows in cars. Car seats didn't exist. There were less "safety" features in place everywhere. People were expected to be responsible for their own safety.

A perfect example of this was Windsor Safari Park. A very large animal park/zoo which featured animals living in something close to a natural habitat (with the small exception that they typically don't have to dodge traffic). You paid your admission fee at the gate and drove into the park on a one-way blacktopped road. It was expected that you would drive at a reasonable speed because the animals were wandering around in the areas next to the road and there were no fences. You could feed some of the animals through your window if you had brought treats for them. Most would accept them happily.

I was very young when we went to Windsor Safari Park. I remember sitting on the edge of the back seat and with my arms wrapped around the front headrests to be closer to Mum and Dad. I couldn't see over the headrests so the view was much better in this position. It was a perfect spot to be for viewing animals because I could go to either side of the car at will.

We had not brought treats for the animals but there were plenty of "browsers" who approched our car. Mum didn't like them poking their heads in the windows so we kept them rolled up.
Gazelles, giraffes, and a few others peeped inside to see if they were going to be fed. It didn't take them long to realize they needed to look elsewhere and they would slowly mosey back to the next car.

Dad steered the car down the road until we came to a group of baboons who were lounging around on the road grooming one another. They had chosen the center of the road as their spot to rest and seemed unconcerned about blocking our progress. Occasionally one of the group would look up from grooming another to see if we were performing the same ritual and then resume where she had left off.

Dad could only take so much baboon grooming and edged the car a little closer. I suppose his theory was that the baboons would understand he wanted to get through and move over. This did not work as, apparently, baboons have no knowledge or regard for vehicles or 'rules of the road'. They continued their activities happily oblivious to us and Dad's pressing need to move on to the next species.

Uttering some manner of profanity under his breath (standard practice before embarking on 'Plan B'), Dad decided he needed to get the attention of the group by flashing the headlights. Since it was broad daylight the lights had no effect and didn't even warrant the attention of a single animal. This elicited more muttered profanity from Dad and a reference about the parents of the baboons not being married at the time of their conception. Which, in retrospect, is true but really not applicable to the animal kingdom as such.

Having failed miserably at Plan B we moved on to Plan C which involved honking the car horn repeatedly while reissuing the profane references in a much louder voice. Every baboon on the road must have jumped a foot in the air while uttering gutteral alarm calls. They were all still on the road but now they were milling around while Dad laughed and said something to the effect of "that'll show them".

Almost immediately after the words had left Dad's lips one of the baboons began to approach the car. Mum was nervous and chastised Dad for making the baboons angry but he was still confident that he had the upper hand. Mum glanced nervously about the car to ensure all of the windows remained closed. She was a fan of nature but preferred not to be completly submerged in it or have it climbing through the car in which she sat.

The baboon approached the passenger window and stood on his hind legs to see into the car. In one lightening quick "only a Mother could do this" move, Mum locked both passenger doors, slid over toward my dad, pushed me toward the opposite door, and began to explain to Dad what a bad idea it had been to honk at the monkeys. Motherly multitasking at its best.

Seeing nothing that satisfied his curiousity on the passenger side of the car, the baboon dropped back down on all fours and ambled around the front of the car. He stopped near the hood ornament and stood back up for a closer look. His long fingers gripped the chrome appendage and waggled it back and forth. Baboons may be territorial about their desired grooming areas but they can't hold a candle to the American male when his car is being assaulted. Dad just wasn't going to stand for this. No monkey of any kind was going to mess with HIS car so he honked the horn again.

The baboon leapt back from the car and began screaming at the top of his lungs while jumping up and down and making, what I take to have been, obscene jestures at Dad. He was NOT happy at being startled. Mum reminded Dad that it wasn't a good idea to honk at the monkeys. Dad started to tell her that the noise had removed the monkey from the front of the car but was cut short by the sight of the irrate baboon launching himself onto the hood of the car.

Mum was positively apoplectic! Dad, on the other hand, was ready for another round. No hairy, thumbless monkey was going to walk on the hood of his Mercury Comet. Absolutely NOT! Dad pulled himself up straighter in the driver's seat and locked eyes with the baboon. The two were sizing one another up and neither was prepared to back down. The baboon walked all the way up to the windshield of the car and stuck his nose against the glass. He wanted to get a good look at his adversary and make sure it was known that he was, indeed, the dominant male.

Dad's chin tilted down slightly. His eyes narrowed. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. This animal was about to find out who the true king of the jungle was. This animal was about to have his comeuppance. Dad and the baboon remained locked in occular combat. Neither blinked. Tension mounted. It was like a scene from an old spaghetti western. You know the kind where the two gunslingers are facing one another on a dusty main street. Some disembodied guy is whistling a mournful melody. Every spectator is holding their breath and waiting to see who will draw first.

Dad's arm slowly reached out toward the dashboard. The baboon's every breath etched a small patch of fog on the windshield. Dad's fingers closed around a silver knob on the dash and, with a flick of his wrist, the windshield wipers lept across the glass and smacked the baboon square on the nose. This was apparently a surprise for the baboon because he quickly stepped back, shook his head and watched the wipers travel back and forth.

A evil chuckle filtered through the car as Dad celebrated his apparent automotive and evolutionary superiority. Mum was again lecturing Dad on proper baboon etiquette as the baboon suddenly snapped out of his wiper induced hypnosis and leapt from the hood of the car onto the roof. Dad flipped the wipers back to the off position and looked toward the roof. We all listened intently for evidence that the baboon had accepted his loss and left the scene. The silence was deafening.

Dad broke the silence with a stream of epithets which would have made a platoon of Marines blush as he realized the baboon was having the last laugh. A small stream of yellow liquid was coursing rapidly down the center of the windshield as the baboon expressed his opinion of Dad's tactics. Dad snapped the wipers on again and hit the washer fluid. As the fluid bathed the windshield and overshot it's mark onto the roof the baboon finally decided he had endured enough. The icy cold washer fluid was the last straw and he rapidly ran back down to the road while screaming instructions to his troop. By the time he reached the former grooming area the troop was on the move and finally leaving the roadway. The ultimate victory belonged to Dad, the dominant male and proven King of the Jungle, but at great sacrifice to the dignity of the mighty Mercury Comet.