Tuesday, September 3, 2013


A story from my childhood, probably sometime in the late '70's...

Our family had a subscription to National Geographic when I was a child. One month, the new issue came with a bonus: tucked inside an article about research on whale songs was a square, floppy, black vinyl sheet. This magic page could be pulled out of the magazine, placed on your turntable, and - voila! - even in the hills of West Tennessee, we could hear the whales "talking" for ourselves!

Now, getting to hear the whales talk was going to be a rather exciting event. It seems the family agreed to wait until dinner that evening to play the little square record, while everyone was gathered at the table, so that Mom, Dad, and all us kids could together hear the whales for the first time.

This exciting event also occurred within a few days of Mother's Day. How do I remember that detail? Because at supper that night, Mom was wearing the orchid corsage us kids had bought her to wear to church the Sunday before. Mom had come home from work and changed into one of her house dresses - a light-weight, cottony shift that was something between an actual dress and a bathrobe. Loose, light, comfortable.

I do not remember what we were eating that night. But I do remember that Mom sat in her seat at the table, in her loose flowery house dress, with a fancy corsage pinned at her shoulder. The record player was set up in the kitchen near the table. Pop! Bzzzz! The needle hit the vinyl. Then the long, low melancholy oooooh-waaaaahhhs of the singing whales. All six of us sat transfixed, concentrating intently as we listened to this strange new music.

Then my brother's friend Terry walked in the back door.

A quick glance from someone at the table communicated, "No talking!" So, Terry just stood there, silent and motionless, with a confused expression on his face.


No one made a peep until the whales finished talking.

Now, no one who knows my family would ever make the mistake of calling us "normal." But what is "normal" anyway? I suspect most of us would define normal as simply, well, whatever we're used to. You know, just the way things are.

I was up early this morning cooking breakfast for the college crowd before they headed out the door for classes. Are they old enough to get breakfast for themselves? Absolutely. Would I really like an extra hour of sleep? Definitely. Was I tempted to turn off the alarm this morning and crawl back in bed after setting a box of Pop-Tarts out on the kitchen counter? Not at all.

Why? Because fixing breakfast and sitting down at the table with the kids in the gray morning dawn is normal. It's just what you do. Like brushing your teeth before bed. Breakfast with the kids is normal, because it's what my Mom did for me and my siblings every single morning when I was a child.

Sure, we have days when we sleep in and folks stagger downstairs willy-nilly, then grub about in the kitchen for a Pop-Tart or a bowl of cereal. But that is not the norm. That's the unusual, the "off" day. (The bleary-eyed morning after a late-night dance!)

And when it's time to eat dinner each evening, it's normal to all sit down at the table together. Even when we're having squirrel fricassee, which is not Helen's favorite. We eat dinner - or, in Helen's case, push our dinner around our plate with a fork - together. Every evening. It's normal.

So today's post is simply to say: THANK YOU, MOM & DAD, for all the normal, ordinary things about my childhood that I simply took for granted for so many years. Thank you for training me to think that breakfast together as a family every day is normal. Thank you for teaching me that sharing the things we learn each day at the evening dinner table is normal. Thank you for showing me that every bit of loveliness from even a days-old flower should be appreciated and enjoyed. Thank you for taking the time to stop, shhhhh!, and listen to the whale songs.

Maybe my childhood wouldn't have fit anybody else's definition of normal, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

What a fun memory to bring back to mind! Thanks for the review. Mom and Dad sure had me convinced we were as normal as leaves on trees for a very long time. When I learned that normal is just a setting on the washing machine dial, I pondered the notion that our family was abnormal briefly. Then I realized we were very blessed with our unique family life, community experiences, and education. Whatever was normal to everyone else would have been a misfit for us. Hugs and kisses to my extraordinary big sister, Camille. I love you.