Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Excuse me, where is the garboli ?

About 22 years ago our family went to live in England. We were thrilled. We landed at Heathrow on a Friday and by Sunday we were exploring local castles, churches and ruins.

My husband, a one-time history major, was fascinated by castles. Since he was an avid reader and had already traveled extensively, he was quite knowledgeable. He carefully explained the history as well as the reasoning behind the way castles had been built. He introduced us to terms such as moat, keep and....garboli. But I’m ahead of myself.

Our children were 10, 8 and 5 years of age. If my memory is correct, Orford Castle in Suffolk was their first castle. They loved it, especially since they could move freely and not have to listen to a tedious tour guide. One of the first questions they asked us (their tedious parents) about living in a castle concerned a subject children are often interested in. How, they wondered, had people gone to the bathroom? Their father pointed out a seat-like structure and solemnly intoned, “This was a toilet. It was called a garboli.” He pronounced it GAR-BO-LEE.

Ahhhh. A garboli. After much giggling, the kids began to enlighten other newcomers to castle life, mainly family members and close friends who came to visit us in our new home. Even I took pride in pointing out the garboli, though I confess that I did wonder why English toilets had such an Italian-sounding name.

A couple of years after our initial visit to Orford, I was perusing a guidebook on castles. It contained many diagrams and terms. Suddenly something caught my eye: “Medieval toilets were called garderobes.”

What? I immediately called it to my husband’s attention, exclaiming, “Listen to this! This book says toilets were called garderobes. What about garbolis?”

My husband-and-father-of-my-children merely shrugged. “Oh well,” he answered, “garderobe, garboli, what’s the difference?”

What’s the difference? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? So what if we’d been authoritatively telling people about “garbolis” for two years!

Though we amended our toilet vocabulary, the term garboli was not lost to history. No, even today some of our relatives-- and their friends with whom they shared this story-- use it. “Where is Howard? Oh, he went to the garboli.” or “Do you need to use the garboli before we leave?”

The gospel of garboli has spread throughout the land! Or maybe it's more accurately called...bathroom humor.

And to think I’d wondered if the word was Italian! It wasn’t. It was ours.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I Miss My Imaginary Friend

One morning last week as I was driving home from Ft. Worth, one of the Bad Songs I’d named in an earlier post began to play on the radio. Oh no, I thought. But I decided to listen to “I’m Already There.” After all, I could have made a mistake—maybe it really wasn’t that bad. But I soon realized, it is. I reached to the dial to turn off the whining of Lonestar’s lead singer. Then I heard it.

I’m all-ready there...I’m the whisper in the wind...I’m your imaginary friend.”

What was that? Say again?

Imaginary friend. What a loaded two-word phrase. An article I read recently says that after an exhaustive study of Imaginary Friends, researchers say that by the age of seven, 65 % of children have had such a pal.

Oddie P was my friend. I wish I remembered more about her. I do recall that she was a she. And that she was older than I, maybe even middle-aged. I loved the sound of her name, though I don’t know where it came from. My parents said that I used to call for her when I was in trouble, especially when a spanking was about to begin. (“Oddie! Oddie! Oddie Peeeeeeee!”)

My brother’s person was Pea Gah. I’ve emailed my brother for the correct spelling. Maybe he’ll fill me in on a few more details about Pea Gah, such as gender (I think he was a male), occupation and activities. As far as I know, Pea Gah and Oddie P were not related.

Only one of my three children had an imaginary friend that I know of. And really, had I predicted which child would have one, I wouldn’t have picked my son. My daughters seemed so much more, well, sensitive, and—dare I say it?—imaginative. (At this point, I humbly acknowledge how little we mothers sometimes know about our children.)

But John Gock lived somewhere in Bowie, Maryland when we did. He went to my son’s pre-school and was close to my son’s age (four), but just a little older. He and my son played together a lot and liked the same things. Sometimes John Gock got into trouble with the pre-school teacher. No matter. John Gock had The Aura. He just seemed on top of things. When John Gock’s name was mentioned, the rest of us listened.

One Sunday morning we were driving to church and my son casually mentioned, “We just drove past John Gock’s house.” My husband hit the brakes. The older sisters exclaimed, “Where? Which one? Let’s go back.” And my son said, “No, you missed it.” We went on to church.

Last week I asked my son if I could write about his Imaginary Friend John Gock. “You can,” he replied, “but he was real.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

If I can't have her boyfriend, I'll take her hair

The record cover was too much for me to resist. For one thing, it was a record cover. Remember the days of buying a 45 (RPM record) for less than a dollar? No, of course you don’t. (But if you do, please let me know and we’ll hang out. Maybe do the Mashed Potato or the Peppermint Twist. Or something.)

So I had to buy the record cover. Because of the second thing: the cover girl’s hair. More specifically, her flip.

Ah, the flip hairstyle. It seemed so impossible to achieve, at least for some of us. I think I started working on it when I was in the eighth or ninth grade. It’s hard to tell from my old photographs. Why? Because I didn’t achieve it.

It was all or nothing back then. This was before blow dryers and quick re-do’s. What you came up with, you were stuck with. I remember having to go to church one Sunday morning with a flip that had flopped. I was humiliated. I knew how bad it was when even my mother looked sympathetic. If only she'd allowed me to skip church!

Back to the record cover...the guy on it is cute, though he looks somewhat aloof. Doesn’t he recognize a good flip when he's next to one?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Husband for Hire

I saw this sign in north Waco yesterday and had to photograph it. It was irresistible for a Collector of Useless Information and Off-the-Wall Pictures.

I wonder who put up the sign. The husband himself? Or the wife of the husband? I know, I could call the number. But it’s more fun to just...speculate.Here are a few things I would hire my husband out to do. After all, he does have some skills which could be marketable, especially if times get tough.

Hanging drapes. In 1972 he was a drapery-hanging trainee for Sears.
Cooking out on a grill. Talented to the max. Has a cute apron.
Calling Bingo. In the early 90s he was a nursing home favorite.Entertaining babies. His in-your-face style wins ‘em over every time.
Directing traffic. Loves to hold a Stop Sign. And tell folks what to do.
Pouring concrete. A natural. Never met a sidewalk he didn’t love.

On the flip side, he lacks certain talents which I will now (briefly) list to show my lack of bias. I would not hire him to:

Do yard work. He has allergies and prefers concrete over grass.
Cut my hair. I’ve been there, done that and won’t do it again.
Sing at a wedding. Unless they were all wrong for each other.
Pick out clothing. Most of all for himself.

Let’s stop there. The first list is longer. As they say in the field of economics, the surpluses outweigh the deficits. Hey, that reminds me: He’s pretty good at economics these days, even if he did sleep through class in the 70s!

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Deep in My Heart

It might be nice to be able to say that I don’t love things. But I do. What I treasure most is what could be called, tactlessly, junk.

Sappy, sentimental, maudlin, mawkish (I’m not sure of those last two words as I don’t think I’ve ever used them), that’s me. I can’t bear to throw away stuff and still regret tossing out old letters years ago.

So I’m glad I didn’t get rid of my Texas flag. Not that I don’t love my State, but it’s not Texas that attaches me to it. It’s my mother. She made it when I was twelve.

I’d volunteered to bring a flag to my geography class the next day. I was probably grandstanding, or maybe trying to ingratiate myself to a teacher who didn’t like me. And he really didn’t. After announcing that I would come up with a flag, I forgot about it.

Until 9:00 that night. As I was complaining about Mr. Reeves—the horrid teacher—one last time before bed, I suddenly remembered. Oh nooooooo!

Mother to the rescue. She asked how big it needed to be. Doesn’t matter, anything, whatever, I blubbered. She pulled out several scraps of fabric and, in ten minutes, I had my flag. Mr. Reeves was impressed.

Many years later, when she saw the flag framed on my wall, my mother said, “Well, I’d have made it look better if I’d known you were going to frame it.”

No, no, it was perfect. Still is.

Friday, August 4, 2006

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

During their first week back at school, do children still write about what they did last summer? That was a routine assignment way-back-when. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I probably tried to use correct punctuation.

My summers were uncomplicated, and beautiful. I loved playing. Our neighborhood-- in what was then north Dallas-- was as far as I wanted to go. We built forts, had wagon races, and organized backyard softball games. We chased lightning bugs and put them in old mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the lids.

One summer we bought small turtles at the nearby 5 & 10 . Those turtles, I’m sad to say, had it rough during their short life spans. They went “swimming,” with the help of a garden hose, in our wading pools. We made little churches out of shoeboxes so that they could have weddings. Gertrude and Pierre were the first-- and last-- couple. The same large ugly turtle who presided over their marriage ceremony held their funerals a few days later. I guess life with us was just too much for them.

Even my older brother, usually far too sophisticated for such silliness, joined in the memorial service for Gertrude. He tried to say a prayer, but the rest of us fell down on the grass giggling after he’d spoken a couple of holy words.

The two sisters who lived across the street, far luckier than I, were allowed to buy hamsters at the 5 & 10. We put them on the sidewalk and encouraged them to run. One of them darted straight under the foot of my best friend Ellen, and promptly gave up the ghost. The sisters were first heartbroken, then furious. “Murderer!” they cried. I don’t remember participating in that funeral.

Life is different now, certainly for me, but also for today’s children. Even with the Texas heat, our houses weren’t air-conditioned. We stayed outside, occasionally running in to the kitchen for a swig of cold water from a Tupperware bottle in the refrigerator.

We played until the sun began to set. Coming in barefoot and “filthy-dirty,” as we proudly called it, we were so tired we could hardly bathe.

Afterward, I collapsed into my bed next to an open window, dreaming of lightning bugs, tomorrow’s races, and trips to the 5 & 10 for more turtles.