Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Dads Need To Take Their Sons To See Cinderella

Not just your mother's Cinderella

Given the way Disney and other movie producers have been revising fairy tales in recent years, I was unenthusiastic when I heard there was a new Cinderella movie.  It did have in its favor a PG rating, so excesses of passion or violence would be missing.  Then a reliable media critic that I know personally, my teenage daughter, went with a group of her friends to see it and came back with a glowing report.

Clearly, I needed to do my own evaluation.  So, I took our 12-year-old daughter for her date to see Cinderella.  As might be expected, there were a lot of moms and little girls when we arrived for the early matinee.  There may have been other dads there, but I didn’t see them.  I settled into the reclining theater chair, sure I would at a minimum enjoy my daughter’s reaction to the movie and my tub of popcorn.

Two hours later, I am not sure who was more enthralled.  Yes, it was the same story, yet fresh and grand.  Surprises were few and complimentary.  Most surprisingly, I realized that this is a Cinderella that fathers should take their sons to see.  Because this Cinderella captures the essentials of what it takes for a ‘happily ever after’, for a man and a woman to join in a lifetime partnership of doing and being together what they could never do or be on their own.  

Here are the father-son lessons from Cinderella:

Values Matter
A simple narrative thread was woven into the tale: have courage and be kind.  While some ardent feminists object that Cinderella was just a door-mat for her evil stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella was actually embodying a counter-culture ethic in a time that idolizes power, especially "girl power" that looks like nothing so much as immature "boy power".  Cinderella instead chose this path:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” 
That takes an entirely different kind of courage than the "kick your enemy's butt" kind.

Not Just A Pretty Face
The prince and Cinderella first meet while she is riding in the woods.  At this chance encounter, he discovers a girl who is willing to confront him with her compassion for the stag the prince and his party were hunting, a girl who speaks the truth that just because something has always been done is no reason it should be done.  When his father the king accuses him of having his head turned by ‘a pretty girl’, he responds:
“She isn’t a pretty girl.  Well, she is pretty.  But she is more than that.”
When the prince eventually discovers that the mystery girl from the ball is truly a dirt-poor commoner with no parents and no dowry, he has a decision to make.  And he makes the right one.

Be Truthful, Especially About Yourself
The prince keeps his royal identity secret when he happens upon a simple country girl in the forest.  He introduces himself to Cinderella as ‘Kit’, an apprentice learning a trade from his father.  When she discovers his true position, he reiterates his claim that he is an apprentice.  He had the humility to recognize that in spite of advantages of position and wealth, he had much to learn about life and the responsibility of being a king.  

Honor Your Father  
While his growing regard for Cinderella brought tension into the royal court, the prince was always respectful of his father’s wisdom.  He would do what his father thought best for the kingdom, even to the point of accepting an undesired marriage if Cinderella could not be found.

The Right Person Is Worth Everything
The prince searched until he had found Cinderella.  At the end of the movie, he takes Cinderella by the hand and asks, “Are you ready?”  To which she replies, “For anything, as long as it is with you.”  Then they step out onto the balcony to join the celebration. That ending captured the essence of why our culture for so long has given each princess their fairy tale day called a wedding ceremony.  That day when for one shining moment, he is a prince, and she a princess and they are declaring to the world:
“We are ready for anything, as long as we are together.”
I have been with my princess for 34 years now, and cannot imagine facing the future without her.

Recap
To sum up the lessons fathers can teach their sons from Cinderella:
You start life as an apprentice.  Keep learning.
Listen to Dad.
Have courage, especially when faced with overwhelming obstacles.
Be kind, especially to those who have it harder than you.
Do what is right, not just what everyone is doing.
Inner beauty is far more important than outer beauty.
When you find the one who is willing to share a lifetime of uncertainty with you, never let her go.

I should mention that the prince agrees that boys should see the movie.  Oh, and one final reason dads need to take their daughters to Cinderella: I have daughters and need them to be raising the right kinds of sons.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Day I Knew My Sister Loved Me

If you grew up in a family with more than one child as I did, you were part of a pecking order.  (I apologize in advance to any chickens who may be offended by this vernacular.)  To put it another way, there is no such thing as equality among children, no matter how fair parents try to be or how noble we envision untainted childhood.  Providence and circumstances, or nature and nurture if you prefer, conspire to ensure that the vacuum of leadership is always filled, particularly when parents are not on the premises.  Birth order obviously has an impact.  The younger you are, the less clout you have in childhood until the late teen years mitigates the advantage older siblings have.  Then there is some shifting in the peckological order, but it never goes away.  Adults are right now thinking about their last family get-together and nodding their heads.

In our family, I was number three on the depth chart, ahead of only one brother.  The roost was dominated by our two older sisters, one nearly three years older than I, the other nearly four years older.  When you are in the wonder years of elementary school, anyone that is a teenager seems vastly older, smarter, more powerful.  That was my sisters.  When Mom was gone, they ran the show.  My younger brother and I were just peons scarcely worth consideration in the realm of home life.

There was a constantly simmering feud between my sisters.  It was not pretty.  If you’ve ever seen girls fight - physically or verbally - well, they don’t call it a cat fight for nothing.  (My apologies to cats, of course).  The best my younger brother and I could do when things got hot was stay out of the way.  My second sister was endowed with a forceful personality which collided with the assumed natural rights of the first born.  Still, there was no denying she was a born leader in the mold of the great dictators of history.  If you did what she wanted, life was at least tolerable.  If she ignored you, life was a bit better.  If you crossed her, then life was horrible.  There was more than one literal knock-down, drag-out session when I tried to get out of my obeisance.  Once pounded into submission, I grudgingly toed the line.  In the grand scheme of things, when Mom was gone, Renee was queen.

What made matters worse was that both sisters doted on my younger brother, who was two and a half years younger than I.  He was little, he was cute, he needed attention.  While I was big enough to fend for myself, his adorability unleashed all the nascent mothering instincts of two teenage girls.  Woe to me if ever one of them caught me asserting my rights as an older brother to pick on my younger brother.  Did I resent this?  Of course.

Against the sheer force of the dictator-queen, my eldest sister and I had in our favor that we were rule-keepers.  So, when Mom came home, we had a glowing report of our accomplishments, while Renee and Philip were often found wanting.  Renee simply had other priorities than the rest of us and Philip was too small to do much that was useful.  So, that tended to put Denise and I into an alliance of necessity which pushed Renee even more into favoring Philip.

This somewhat volatile mix of home life left me with the basic assumption that my queen sister despised me, that I was just an inconvenient organism in the petri dish of our tiny trailer.  (Apologies to bacteria).  My oldest sister tolerated me as that helped with the balance of power.  My younger brother always wanted to play with me, while the same immaturity that made him so sweet to my sisters meant he was just annoying to me.  Most of the time, I was isolated in a crowd of siblings.

One weekday evening during this era, Mom was gone.  Which was odd because she didn’t go many places during the work week other than the Wednesday night prayer meeting at church.  I have no recollection where my eldest sister Denise was.  It is likely that dear baby brother was with Mom.  Since I fell into the category of being less than no company at all, Renee had brought a friend over.  Renee always had friends in our neighborhood.  And enemies.  There were no neutrals.  This minion was a guy about her age named Mike.  He had straight brown hair all one length hanging down near his collar, typical of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Mike was a big, stocky, dark-complected kid and, by virtue of his bulk, inclined to being a bully.  

They were hanging out in the living room listening to the rock ’n’ roll music that would never be played when Mom was home and I wandered up from the back of the trailer out of curiosity.  I knew that Mom didn’t want anyone in the house when she was gone and I also knew that Renee disregarded most rules as a matter of course.  Still, it always fascinated me to see this in action.  Here was an obvious breaking of THE RULES.  I never quite grasped how it was that Renee could thumb her nose at the rules and not worry about consequences.  Oh, there were consequences, but she didn’t seem to care.  In the trade-off between consequences and freedom, some pick freedom, others chose to avoid consequences.  I was the latter.

As I came in, Mike’s alpha male instinct inspired him to start picking on me.  He unloaded all the humiliating things he could think to say about a scrawny and quiet underling.  Why I stayed to endure it was a wonder.  As he continued along this vein, Renee came to my defense.  I am not sure who was more surprised, me or Mike.  Well, Mike’s bullying nature overcame his good sense and he challenged Renee to do something about it.  While Renee was physically the dominant person among the children in our home, Mike was a different matter.  He was imposingly large in my view of things.  He smiled the confident smile of a person who is used to getting his way.

How the kitchen knife happened to be sitting within Renee’s reach, I don’t recall.  But she picked it up.  It wasn’t too big or too sharp, but it was a knife.  Renee implied that she wasn’t afraid to use it if Mike didn’t back down.  How to describe that moment when the stakes have been raised to a crucial point and someone has to fold?  My gut churned with an onslaught of adrenaline.  Even though I had been on the receiving end of Renee’s fisticuffs, did not think she would go that far.  Nor did Mike.  So, he just kept on pushing.

And Renee threw the knife at him.

Now, there are all sorts of ways that could have turned out.  Since it wasn’t a particularly heavy or sharp knife, if it had hit him in his torso it probably would have bounced off his clothing.  Or it could have hit him in the eye, which would have been a far worse outcome.  As it happened, it hit him in the forehead where even a blunt knife at high velocity can do some damage.

I had a fleeting glimpse of the shocking realization on Mike’s face before he howled in pain when the blade struck him.  Blood began running down Mike’s face as he instinctively grabbed the wound.    
“Are you crazy?” he bellowed.
“No.  You just don’t mess with my family,” she replied with remarkable calm, considering the circumstances.
“I’m bleeding!” 
“Calm down.  It’s only a cut.”
Head wounds, even small ones, can produce a lot of blood, a sight Mike was apparently not fond of.  The half-inch gash was leaking quite a bit.  A red line was running down his hands and a few drops had hit the carpet.  Renee found a dish-towel and pressed it to his head.
“I gotta go home.”
“Yep.  I’ll go with you.  And don’t be such a baby.  You’ll be fine.”
I remained frozen in place throughout the entire incident.

Then they left.  I may or may not have ever seen again Mike after that day.  I am sure there was some kind of fall out that both Renee and Mom had to deal with.  I mean, you can’t assault someone with a knife and go unnoticed.  But, that night, there was birthed in my mind the realization that when push came to shove, Renee had my back.

With that realization came a novel idea: my sister loved me.  And still does.


Bear in mind that this event happened about 45 years ago and the only video recording was the one that wanders around in the dusty archives of my memory.  The dialogue in particular is imaginative at best.  I am thankful to have Renee on my side after all these years.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Education of a Home School Dad

It started out as a grand mission, a noble ambition to raise children who would be spiritually whole, academically competent, relationally compassionate.  We had heard the stories about home-educated National Spelling bee winners, about 1600 SAT scores, about brilliant people in history who learned at home.  We met homeschool graduates and heard their success stories.  We also heard about the horrors of public school curriculum and bureaucracy, the corrupting influence of peers, media, and secular humanism.

So, out of the same desire nearly all parents have — to do what is best for our children — we started on the homeschool adventure.  Eighteen years later, we certainly know more about ourselves, more about parenting, and more about education.  Do I have regrets?  A few.  Do I wish we had done something completely different?  No.  But I have learned that the benefits propounded by well-intentioned home education advocates do not all pan out in that very long haul from kindergarten to high school.  So, while there is much good that can come from parents educating their own children, the process has its own unique pitfalls, particularly when one is wearing the blinders of spectacular expectations that morph into fallacies.  So, what follows is a brief synopsis of those home education notions that have proven in our experience to be more than a desert mirage once we got closer to the destination, yet still considerably less than we had hoped for at the beginning.

Parents Make Better Teachers  
Yes, parents normally have a far greater interest in their own children than a teacher can have.  Parental love is a powerful motivator.  But that does not translate directly into better teaching.  In the early clueless years, especially if starting out with younger children, there is little harm you can do, frankly.  Likewise, there is much that children can learn from nothing more than a little readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic.  In that respect, our early years were blissful.  We discovered a lot of new things, made new friends, bought a lot of curriculum, read so many, many books.  Our children seemed to make reasonable progress.  But as they got older, the gaps in parental teaching skills, both in terms of subject matter knowledge and the ability to communicate it, became more and more apparent.  We had to find other options.  That flexibility is part of the benefit of home educating.  It is also part of the stress of home educating.  You are constantly on the search for solutions to the educational limitations of your home school - that is, your own limits as Mom and Dad being surrogate teachers.

Education Can Be Tailored To Each Child  
The reality is that mastering a single curriculum in a multi-student, multi-grade environment is quite an achievement, particularly when pre-schoolers crawl between the legs of the Teacher Mom while she attempts to educate her school-age children.  Every homeschool family I know has spent significant amounts of money and time on under-utilized curriculum in search for that perfect fit: the self-teaching curriculum.  What ended up happening in our home and many others is that they settled on a curriculum that worked for the parents.  The parents understood it.  Whether it was really best for their children may not have been clear until much further down the road.  As the years unfolded, we did get better at evaluating curriculum and how it fit our children.  But, that still leaves the unbending limit of how much time a parent-teacher can put in to shaping a custom education for each of their offspring.  So, we picked a method and, for the most part, have stuck with it.  As we got smarter, our teaching improved, but it wasn't customized for each child.

The Bible Is A Science Text  
No, I’m sorry to say, it isn’t.  I have friends who have been ostracized for not toeing the line of ‘Young Earth Creationism’.  I myself have had to take a vow of silence on this topic so as to not alienate people whom I otherwise hold in high regard.  I understand that the Bible and its veracity are foundational to the Christian faith.  What I don’t understand is jettisoning ‘love one another’ — which the Bible clearly teaches — for the sake of non-essential positions on the purported scientific framework of Scripture.  Since most of church history leans toward treating the Bible as moral and theological, rather than technical and scientific, I can only attribute this contemporary effort at reconciling ancient writings with modern science as an indicator of ignorance both of science and Scripture.

A Large Family Means Success  
I love my children.  We have more than the average American family.  I love my grand-children.  In fact, the people I get along with best are those from age zero to about four years old.  I don’t know what the ‘right’ answer is about how many children your family should have or my family should have.  All the wailing and hand-wringing about ‘carbon footprint’ hasn’t convinced me that we are in a population epidemic.  But I do know that a subtle worship of fertility in home school circles does two things.  It creates a stratified culture where those who have fewer children are seen as less committed to the mission; those who have followed the plan and have a large brood are expected to handle with a ‘stiff upper lip’ the concomitant financial and relational stress that comes with raising large numbers of children in an urban society and adding in homeschooling on top of it.  The mothers in homeschool families that I know are dreadfully weary.  Most of the time.  And they are heroic.  But I also think they carry a big sense of failure with them because they see the near impossibility of the task, yet have no space to admit it.  In the case of my own treasured wife, I know this is true. 

Everyone Should Do It  
Teaching is hard.  It is not a skill that everyone can develop.  There still are excellent teachers who actually want children to learn and can inspire them to do so.  No doubt, there are issues with the public school system as a whole and with particular public schools.  Private schools are often prohibitively expensive.  But, that simply means that parents need to evaluate the options of the schools available for their children and determine as best as they can what will be the right solution for their family: public school, charter school, private school, home school.

Character Formation Will Be Better  
Character formation of children, when exclusively the domain of the parents, becomes reflective of the strengths and weaknesses of the parents, which may or may not be ‘better’.  Conversely, children with broader exposure to other positive role models and experiences outside the home gain character in ways simply not possible when limited to two people known as parents.  While this precept of home education had children in mind, the challenge of this monumental task certainly is character forming.  For parents.  

Families Should Do Everything Together  
Because, the more you do together as a family, the closer your family relationships will be.  While this sounds good in theory, in reality, the differences can become volatile the more time you spend together.  The sun provides warmth and light.  Focus it through a magnifying glass and it produces smoke and fire.  This is particularly true in the home where the muting effect of public visibility goes away behind the walls of the homeschool castle.  Each one of our children are unique, significantly different from their siblings.  While we are confident that they will remain close to each other into adulthood, it is highly likely that they will, like their parents, form bonds with friends outside the family that will be closer than the relationships they have within the family.

Children Will Become Better Adults
I have seen the anecdotal evidence in homeschool publications.  I have also seen personal examples of people I know.  My un-scientific conclusion is that homeschooling certainly affects how children transition to adulthood.  While sometimes the homeschool greenhouse results in stronger plants once they get out into ‘the wild’ of the larger society, I have also seen homeschoolers wilt when confronted with something far different than they experienced, or take a totally different path than their parents ever envisioned because they never had options before.

Still Miles To Go

I treasure memories of time spent helping my children grow in wisdom and knowledge.  Our children have a shared literary heritage of many wise and delightful works.  I have made deep and dear friendships with other parents on this journey.  I enjoy being closely connected to my children through their years of education.  But, I have learned my limits.  I can look back on moments of despair when I realized I was failing my children in a big way.  I am not a good teacher.  At best, in a certain limited sphere, I am adequate.  I am grateful for where each of my children are today and that they have grown sometimes because of and sometimes in spite of my tutelage.  That, I suppose, is true of parenting as a whole.  I will continue to participate in my children’s education, but I have learned that they do not need to validate my aspirations for their future.  My children answer to a higher call than mine.  Sometimes, that means getting out of the way and letting them hear that call for themselves, perhaps through experiences and voices I would never have anticipated.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Quality Time

I need this at 6 am on Saturday
It was a typical Saturday morning.  I headed to Starbucks at 6 am for what I informally call the Starbucks Breakfast Bible Club.  Our small circle of men share the Baby Boomer cultural framework.  We also share a desire for stalwart camaraderie on the journey of life.  So, we spend a couple of hours together on Saturdays wrestling with how the truth in Scripture should continue to shape us.  It is a good time, a time ‘with the guys’ that has become vital to me.  

Early Saturday mornings at Starbucks seems to fit our demographic.  I suspect the younger crowd populates the ubiquitous coffee chain in the evening hours, when I am shutting down at the end of a long day.   After we have been there an hour, the foot traffic picks up.  Looking around, I see individuals plugged into their requisite electronic devices taking the occasional sip while intently engaging whatever is on the screen, couples conversing over steaming latte’s, a few younger guys in another corner who may be gathered for the same reason we are.  Starbucks is to this era what the classic diner was to an earlier generation. 

On this particular morning, when we had been there long enough for the coffee to do its good work of energizing my synapses, I noticed a young father with his infant daughter, likely about a year old, close to the age of my youngest grand-daughter.  She was dressed in “footy jammies”.  You know the kind: all-in-one flannels that zip from the ankle to the neck and have the non-slip coating on the bottom of the feet.  The contrast was striking between the tiny toddler with her wisp of light hair and her strongly built father with his shock of dark hair who carried her as lightly as he might carry a kitten.  They sat down in one of the cushioned chairs by a window, about half-way across the dining area from us.  Though still engaged in discussion with the guys, I couldn’t help watching this father-daughter moment.

Every child should have these
She was perched on his lap, nibbling on something from the bakery case.  He was drinking his coffee.  Every so often, he would bend down and kiss her on the top of the head or ruffle her crown of hair.  As people came and went, she would point and say something.  He would look and smile and comment.  When, as inevitably happens with small children and food, a piece of her breakfast didn’t make it to her mouth, he would carefully help her recover it from her lap or his.  Not so extraordinary, this.  Yet, as I watched them, in their own little world though surrounded by people, I realized what a precious, magic time they were sharing.  This daughter was learning at an early age that she had a father who loved her so much that nothing else but being together was important.  He was supremely content just to simply be with her.  No agenda, no schedule, just being with his little girl while she enjoyed her pastry and the people strolling in and out and the morning sun peaking in the window of that Starbucks cafe.

Then I thought about the date I had coming up later in the day with one of my own daughters.  And I was grateful for this young man and his reminder.


Monday, January 12, 2015

It's A(nother) Wonderful Life

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. 
When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
Nearly every New Year’s Eve, we watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  We did again this year.  As, I understand, many other families do each Christmas Season.  Released in 1946, “It’s A Wonderful Life” has became a classic in the truest sense of the word — an artistic work of enduring value.  So, what made George Bailey’s life Wonderful?

Two themes grip me in George’s story.  One is the portrayal of a boy, then a young man, than a mature father and husband confronted time after time with the hard choice of doing what was right instead of what was easy; of doing what was good for someone else rather than fulfill his own ambitions.  George Bailey’s choices are rarely pleasant, starting with disobeying Mr. Gower in the drugstore, then sticking by the old Building and Loan after his father’s death, letting his brother Harry pursue his dreams while George is stuck in Bedford Falls, turning down Mr. Potter’s attempt to buy him out.

The other element is the life that George and Mary Bailey build — together.  What makes a marriage work?  Initially, there is that indefinable something that attracts you to this person unlike any other.  You recognize in them a fit for the empty places in your life, strength for your weakness, calmness for your anxiety, someone whose mere presence enlivens you.  But at some point, there has to be more.  There has to be a shared desire to subsume what “I” could accomplish to what “we” will accomplish together.  Often, especially at the beginning, this is nothing more than a vague thought encompassed in the desire to “live happily ever after”.  

One might think it was George who did all the sacrificing.  Mary got her dream - George and the Old Granville House on 320 Sycamore with every room occupied by one of their brood.  But, it was Mary who made a crucial choice on their wedding day to fork over their honeymoon funds to keep the doors of the Building & Loan open.  It was Mary who participated in the house-warming for the Martini’s in Bailey Park and, by implication, so many others that netted very little financial gain for the Building & Loan or the Bailey’s.  It was Mary who by some mysterious insight knew that the heart of her man was a good one.  It was Mary who knew when it was time to tell her children to “pray very hard” and when it was time to take action, too.

My personal dreams were not nearly as well defined as George Bailey’s.  But, like George, there are times when I have felt the frustration of the "drafty old house" and "why did we have to have all these children, anyway" and the inconveniences of the Uncle Billy’s in life.  I have had my moments as a "warped, frustrated young man" whose anger caused the same kind of tearful, “Oh, Daddy” in my children and brought a reproach from my wife and their mother.  In spite of that, my ‘Mary’ has seen something in my heart which I sometimes lose sight of.  She has known when to pray very hard and when to take action.  We have built something special together that I never could have experienced alone.


I may never get out of my Bedford Falls, I will never build that skyscraper, and I will likely continue working with mundane financial software for a number of years yet.  But as I was reminded by more than one response to our Christmas family picture, I have indeed been blessed with a wonderful life. I have a wife and children and grandchildren and friends who are priceless.  I am pretty darn close to being "the richest man in town".

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Starry, Starry Night

Courtesy of BBC

One of the benefits of jogging at “0-dark-30” is that I occasionally sight celestial phenomena not visible during daylight hours.  For example, the “blood moon” eclipse from a few months ago.  When not overcast, the night sky is just populated with stars and the generic white moon.  Which, truth be told, is certainly impressive enough that I never get tired of it.  The view changes constantly, and as the seasons move along, there is always the added beauty of the juxtaposition of Venus, the “morning star”, hanging in the sky close to the moon as dawn approaches.




Courtesy of yours truly!
Once or twice a year, though, I will see a meteor: a brief, thin streak of light generated as a chunk of solid matter is incinerated by friction as it penetrates the atmosphere.  Given the vastness of the dome of heaven, that a meteor even falls in my line of sight is a small miracle.  Usually, I catch only a glimpse in my peripheral vision and by the time I turn my head to get a better look, the streak is gone in as little time as a heartbeat, leaving me to wonder if I actually saw anything at all.

This morning was different.  As I was bouncing up the hill towards the Mira Costa College campus in my Merrell Barefoot Train True Glove Shoes, a sudden, green glow in the sky on the left edge of my vision caught my attention.  My head snapped left and I saw a bright, emerald green streak plunge towards the earth.  A heartbeat, then another, then the green streak turned to orange before fragmenting into dots of light and finally disappearing, like a 4th of July rocket.

I wondered what mineral composition would glow vividly green under the intense heat and pressure of colliding with air at thousands of miles per hour.  (Later I found out it was probably nickel or copper).  This meteor was either larger than what I normally encounter or much closer, or both.  In any case, it was not the typical, pedestrian variety I usually catch in the wee morning hours.  Somehow, out of the vastness of space, a hefty rock found our planet and treated me to a brief, brilliant, personal fireworks display.  A gift to start the day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Crunchy Halloween

In honor of post-Halloween week, the only holiday with dual A.D.A. sponsorship (American Dental Association, American Diabetes Association), I share the following Trailer Park Tale.

Halloween.  A simple costume, a large bag, a trip around the neighborhood in the dark with hordes of other kids, then back home with my sugary loot spread around me to be sorted into three piles: good stuff (Butterfingers), decent stuff (Necco Wafers), and “Anyone want this before I throw it away?” stuff (Black Licorice).  

While adults labored long over fitting lesson plans and parent-teacher conferences into a school calendar, we kids focused on the holidays.  After Columbus Day, the next important date on our childhood calendar was Halloween.  School wasn’t closed for Halloween, but it was a big day.  Everyone would be talking about their costumes and, more importantly, the expected candy haul.  The ride to school the next morning was filled with buzzing chatter about the ghoulish night, in between bites of candy that we weren’t technically supposed to be eating on the bus.

Maybe there were commercially sold costumes 45-50 years ago.  I just don’t remember seeing any.  My own, self-assembled favorites: Pirate - which consisted of a black construction paper eye patch, a bandana tied over my head ‘pirate style’, and a cutlass cut out of the side of a cardboard box.  Cowboy - hat, boots, cap gun; Soldier — helmet, ammo belt with canteen, and some kind of stick that served as my gun.  That violent boy still lurks, well, somewhere.
Simply the best candy bar ever.

Then as now, some folks did not contribute to this annual sponging of candy off of your neighbors.  They kept their lights out or just refused to answer the door.  It was proper etiquette to let other ‘trick-or-treaters’ know about the good spots and the bad spots.  As in, “Go to the trailer 3 spaces down — they give big handfuls.”  Or, “skip the next trailer, nobody is home.”

One year, my siblings and I were near the end of our trek through the rows of aluminum homes.  We decided to stop at a trailer everyone else was passing by.  Just in case, you know, we might get lucky.  The trailer was small.  There was no jack-o-lantern to welcome wandering candy collectors.  A dim light glowed through the front curtains.  We could hear the faint noise of television dialogue.  Our bags were well-stocked, so we had nothing to lose.  One of my older sisters was bold enough to knock on the door.  We waited.  My brother and I were stationed in front since we were the smallest.  Finally, the door squeezed open a bit.  A lean, older man with a shock of wild white hair looked out at us through wire-rimmed glasses.  We automatically burst out with ‘trick-or-treat!’.  He seemed surprised.  Peering at us closely in the dim light, he mumbled, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t plan for this.”

We looked at each other, then back at him, not quite sure what to say.  As we turned to go, he said, “Hold on.  Lemme see what I have around here.”

Will do in a pinch.  If there are no Butterfingers.
He disappeared inside and for a few seconds we heard the banging of cupboard doors and drawers.  Then he was back at the door with a package of Jiffy Pop popcorn, the kind in the ‘ready to pop’ disposable tin pan with the wire handle.  Long before microwave ovens were invented, creative food marketers found ways to make fresh popcorn just a little more convenient.  In its hey-day, Jiffy Pop was the quickest way to convert uncooked popcorn kernels into a mound of hot, salty crunchiness.  No messy pan to clean up.  You just pulled the package out of the cupboard, heated it up on the stove, then tossed the disposable pan in the trash afterwards.  If you liked popcorn and didn’t like the mess, it was an undeniably great innovation.  

We all said ‘Thanks’ to our benefactor, then scurried home.  Rather than go through our candy inventory, the first thing we did was show Mom our Jiffy Pop.  A rare treat.  We popped it right then.


I acquired an astounding variety of candy most years, and that year was no exception.  Neccos, Smarties, Big Hunk, Hershey’s Crunch, some hard candy, some Bazooka bubble gum.  A heaping mound of sweets.  I would be feasting for days.  Mom didn’t even bother to give us guidelines for how much to eat.  It was a once a year event.  Yet, all the candy from that year and every other year never seemed as special as that pan of Jiffy Pop popcorn. 
Salty, buttery, crunchy, hot, fast.
Fitting seasonal Jiffy Pop advertisement