Category Archives: Life

Happy Birthday, Dad

No Good the Dancing Donkey

Today’s the 67th birthday of Richard Slucher, my dad, the guy who gave me a hairbrush for my 5th birthday.  I remember him telling me I was old enough to have one of my own.  Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I pretended to be thrilled by it.  What I really wanted was a bike.  After my party was over and my friends and family had left, the real gift – the bike – was revealed…but I had to trade the brush for it.

Dad’s also the guy who had a HUGE box waiting for me in the living room on the morning of my 8th or 9th birthday with “FRAGILE,” “USE NO HOOKS,” “THIS END UP,” and stuff like that printed all over it.  It was a weekday morning, and I had an after school party, so he told me I’d have to wait for the party to open this mysterious gift.  Needless to say I learned nothing at school that day.  My mind was consumed with fantasies of what could possibly be in so large a box.  After an interminably long day of torture, I raced home to my birthday party – and that obscenely large crate.  I pretended to enjoy the preliminaries, and finally, when it was time to open the main event, I was so trembling with anticipation that I could barely operate my hands.  It was surely going to be a watershed moment in my life.

I ripped off the white butcher paper and clumsily pulled apart the tape that held the flaps of the box together.  Inside…was a slightly smaller box.  Confused, I pulled it out of the bigger box and struggled through the industrial tape that held it shut only to find a still slightly smaller box.  This process repeated itself many, many times.  What started as an electric moment, with my friends as antsy as me, turned into a surreal mash-up of Candid Camera meets the ultimate bummer.  My hopes for birthday nirvana diminished in proportion to the size of the boxes until at last I came to the final one, which was no more than a shoebox.  This one opened easily, and inside was a Golden Book titled “No Good the Dancing Donkey.”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  There was a gap of total silence before anyone said anything.  Finally, the joke was revealed and the true gift presented.  I can’t remember what it even was.

I could go on to describe the Halloween night when I was too sick to go trick-or-treating and gave out candy while he lay on the roof and dropped one of my sister’s dolls on unsuspecting princesses, hobos, and super heroes (he tied a cord around the neck, so he could pull it back up) – but  you get the picture.

He’s got it coming, but I’ll wait another year to get even.

Happy birthday, Dad.  I love you.

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Life at Thorntons

Every weekday morning I stop at Thorntons, a local gas station/convenience store, to get a Diet Coke and the occasional pack of Extra Polar Ice gum.

There’s this crusty old lady who works there and fascinates me.  She’s in her own world, working her own game-plan.  For example she’ll ignore the fact that there are no 44 oz. cups while adding another sleeve of 32 ouncers to an already full dispenser.  Or she’ll cram another box of straws into an already over-stuffed straw holder when there isn’t a clean napkin in sight.  The best is when she cluelessly gabs with the regulars while one girl has a line at her register stretching out the door and half-way to the street corner.

So.  Today, she’s at a register, with the “closed” sign on the counter, watching the line I’m at the head of.  She’s chewing on something.  We make eye contact, but she says nothing.  She just chews and watches, like a lazy house cat.  Just as the customer in front of me is wrapping up, the old lady says next and I walk up to her register and put my Diet Coke on the counter…and wait while she picks a handful of coconuts out of a pile of trail mix that she’s poured out on the counter.  Nice.

While I wait and watch – as she pops a handful of coconut into her mouth – two people pay for their stuff in the next line and leave while I try not to have an aneurism.

Is it any wonder that this same store has been out of Extra Polar Ice gum for two months?  TWO MONTHS!

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The Sacred Ritual of Pumpkin Carving

When I was a kid, carving pumpkins was one of the yearly rituals that marked the family calendar.

About a week before Halloween, Dad would come home with a pumpkin at least as big as a basketball, and on the night when we did the carving, Mom made us all snacks and made sure the kitchen table was covered with newspaper.

As with the Thanksgiving turkey, Dad did the carving.  First, he’d cut a hole in the top big enough for my sister and I to reach in and pull out the slimy seeds and stringy pumpkin guts.  We took our time at this task, playing with the innards and shaking them in each others’ face until Dad would tell us to knock it off so he could finish his job and relax.

With the pumpkin more or less hollowed out, Dad would take over and cut as gruesome a face as he could muster.  He had a talent for this sort of thing that would resurface years later in the form of beautiful wood carvings.

There were never any happy or friendly jack-o’-lanterns at our house.  Slucher jack-o’-lanterns were like the gargoyles on a medieval cathedral, meant to scare away evil spirits, but as hideous as they were, they failed to make an impression on the marauding teenagers who roamed the neighborhood late at night, looking for pumpkins to smash.

Every year, the morning of November first meant waking to find the streets covered with the viscera and busted chunks of every single pumpkin in the neighborhood that had been left out.  It was pumpkin genocide.

And now, I’m the Dad.

Last weekend, I rounded up the kids for the ritual carving of the jack-o’-lanterns.  My wife was working, so I also handled the newspaper and the snacks.  Each of my three daughters had their own pumpkin, which ranged from small to large according to age.

We held to my parents’ script, except that I let the girls draw the faces they wanted me to carve.  Ferocity is absent from my front porch, and in its place are three happy-go-lucky jack-o’-lanterns that are more Santa’s helpers than Satan’s henchmen.

Just as seasonal rituals like pumpkin carving at Halloween were important to me and my sister when we were kids, so too are they important to my own children.  My girls have embraced and taken ownership of the rituals in our house, which provide a sense of rhythm and continuity to a household that can often seem chaotic and improvised.

As my family celebrates the special dates on our calendar – birthdays, holidays, and other special times – my hope is that the repeated observance of these milestones will accumulate and build a backlog of happy memories, shared in the form of stories frequently told.

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