the daddy essays: not catholic, just crazy.

“Oh, are your parents Catholic?”

That is usually the question I am asked by people newly acquainted with the idea that I am the youngest in a family of six children. And like any question that I am asked repeatedly, I have a stock answer.

“Nah, my parents just really like each other.” Sometimes I think the other person thinks I’m just being sarcastic, which honestly is a fair assumption on their part. But no, I’m being serious. My parents like each other. Also, they’re careless. But who’s complaining? Not Number Six.

My parents do like each other. It’s not just that they are still married. Most of my childhood friends came from two-parent homes. But most of my friends grew up with the knowledge that they were the reason their parents were still married. One of my friends told me once how she thought it was great that Mama always looked so happy to see Daddy when he came home; her parents were barely on speaking terms. Mama and Daddy were not staying together for the kids’ sake. They were staying together because they still liked each other, and well, the kids came out of that. So it’s not just that they are still husband and wife.

It’s that given the choice, Daddy would still use that line about being in the FBI on that brunette back in August of 1960. It’s that Mama would still opt to quit school and move across the country to marry a man she’d known only a few months.

And really, couldn’t Mama have done a lot worse with that kind of decision? She could have easily ended up with an abuser or an alcoholic or a used car salesman. But Mama got lucky (and Daddy did, too, but this is his book). She didn’t get an abusive, alcoholic, used car-selling husband. Sandra Jo could have done a lot worse and not much better than Sidney Louis. And they still like each other, still together, still in love, still crazy after all these years.


the daddy essays: my dad is cooler than your dad.

My parents were never the super-involved type. They came to PTO Open House and ballgames and things like that, but I never had the kind of parent who came to the school on my birthday and brought the whole class cupcakes and soft drinks. Classmates knew those parents by name and by sight, and the kids who had those parents automatically became well-liked, no matter how bad at Red Rover the kid was.

Kids like it when their parents come to their school. They like to show their school and their parents off to each other. And it’s important that the parent be met with approval. You didn’t want to be the kid with the fat mom or the dad who wore white shoes after Labor Day. Your dad could be wearing a white pantsuit in the dead of winter, but if he brought cupcakes for the whole class while he wore it, he came out looking like a hero.

My parents never did the cupcake thing. And I maybe I resented it a little. Maybe I envied the kids with parents like that as I ate those store-bought cupcakes with the waxy icing, especially with my birthday being so close to Halloween, when I figured the themed cupcake decoration possibilities were unlimited.

But one day, in the fall of my third grade year, Daddy came to school. He did not bring cupcakes. He did not bring two liter soft drinks. He brought an apple press and a bushel of apples.

My whole class spent the afternoon outside working the press and avoiding the bees. We stood in line to throw apples in and watch them get crushed and juiced. Then we drank the cider we made and all agreed that it tasted great, even though it had those weird apple pieces floating around in it.

And the Lenoir NewsTopic even came out and there was a picture in the paper of my daddy and my classmates pressing apples. The caption read something about Louis bringing his apple press to his daughter Sandra’s third grade class. That never happened for those silly cupcake kids, no matter how many cupcakes with themed decorations their moms brought.

Kids in my third grade class remembered that day years later, though I bet they’d be hard pressed to remember a single cupcake party unless it was their own birthday. And though my third grade popularity didn’t necessarily carry over all those years, everyone at least thought my dad was cool.


an introduction to the daddy essays.

My dad turned 70 last month. Months before the occasion, us kids started up a flurry of emailing, trying to figure out how best to celebrate the birthday of our patriarch. Actually, the spouses of us kids started it, because while we're all kind of laid-back, some of us had the sense to marry go-getters (And I only say "some of us" because I'm not married yet).

So we decided to celebrate the momentous occasion at Thanksgiving by putting together a great big scrapbook full of pictures and memories. My assignment was simple: just write something. Fine, I can do that.

So I reproduce for you here The Daddy Essays, so named because they were written for Daddy's scrapbook. Happy Birthday, Daddy.

My Hero

It was sometime before lunch on a day midway through my senior year of high school when I found out that I had a flat tire. A friend of mine had gone to an orthodontist appointment and happened to notice that a quarter of my car was sitting a little lower than the other three quarters on his way in from the parking lot. I should’ve noticed the flat tire earlier myself. I had noticed the way the car pulled when I drove it to school, but it never occurred to me that there might be a problem. Yeah, I’m clueless.

So I had a flat tire and no idea how to fix it, though I was pretty sure I had a spare and a jack in the trunk somewhere. So I do what I always do the car has a problem. I called my daddy.

Daddy has always been our resident Fix-It man, both for our home and our cars. All those basic auto maintenance and repairs were taken care of by a different Mr. G than Mr. Goodwrench. He did it quick, he did it right, and he left oil smudges all over the steering wheel, but he did it for free. So I wasn’t too worried about the tire, because I knew a good mechanic.

But my good mechanic wasn’t home, or at least he wasn’t answering the phone. I left a detailed cry for help, telling him that my car was in space 169 (second row from the end) and that there was an issue. But I wasn’t hopeful. There was no guarantee he’d be home before school was out, and he didn’t always check the messages when he came in.

So then what? I spent my last classes of the day in despair. True, I didn’t have anywhere I needed to go after school, but there were places I wanted to go, like home. Who would help poor little me, a delicate flower of a girl with less than the average knowledge of auto mechanics?

Big, strong men, of course, or at least high school boys who worked out. All I had to do was woefully mention my predicament, and I had a sea of volunteers to save me from my troubles. I had forgotten that females held the power of the damsel in distress, though I had learned it years ago in a sixth grade frisbee-in-a-tree incident.

I walked out to the parking lot at the end of the day with two or three high school boys that worked out trotting along with me. Actually, they were strutting, and I was just trying hard not to laugh. We arrived at parking space 169 (second row from the end) to find my Corolla standing evenly on four tires full of air. My daddy, my mechanic, had come and fixed it while I sat worrying inside, leaving no note or indications that he had even been there other than the newly-repaired condition of the car.

The high school boys who worked out, who had previously been arguing over who was to change my tire and how best to do it, now were silent, lost and without purpose. They did not get to rescue the damsel in the tower because the dragon had already been killed by a mysterious knight, though the damsel did say “Thanks anyway!” before driving off. They had been beaten to the punch by a big, strong man.

My hero.


pippy, the one-eyed cat.

At the Watauga County Humane Society Thrift Store, they have a resident cat. It's a very sweet cat, one who will nuzzle up to shoppers as they peruse the selection of other people's trash for their own new treasures. The first time I met the cat, I bent down to pet it a little, and it looked up at me, yellow eye shining up at me in adoration. Yeah, that's right. Yellow EYE. Just one. Where the right yellow eye should have been was a slightly concave, matted, black eyelid sewed shut. I stood up quickly and gave a little gasp. It really freaked me out, so much that I stayed away from the cat for the rest of that day. I don't think it would have bothered me had the eyelid not been curved in, making it painfully obvious that there was just some hollow space where the eye should have been.

After the initial shock wore off, I pet the cat on subsequent visits to the store, though I tried not to look at it very closely. Apparently, this cat is rather popular at the store, perhaps with customers less skittish than I. Frequent shoppers have even been known to get upset if they don't get a chance to pet the cat. I think maybe those kind of shoppers don't have a lot going for them.

And so, inspired by the cat's popularity, the store had shirts made. They read "Official Member of the Pippy Fan Club" and had a cartoon drawing of the cat, one eye and all. The shop was selling them for $10.

I would not say that I am a fan of the one-eyed cat, who is evidently named Pippy. Like I said, she kinda creeps me out. But I am definitely a fan of t-shirts with one-eyed cats on them, though I didn't even know it until I saw a whole display of them and decided I needed one.

The woman working was very excited to sell me the shirt, convinced that I must be a cat-lover to the core, and a Pippy-lover to the extreme. I did nothing to make her think otherwise, as I'm beginning to suspect that not everyone has the same view as I do about unusual t-shirts. I'm sure that it is a very nice cat, but I would be much more excited if they had a resident llama or something, particularly if they had the wit to name it Lloyd.

Then I'd buy a Lloyd t-shirt, too.


you can't do that with doorknobs.

My mother collects magnets. It's a simple, cheap hobby, and it makes getting her souvenirs from places simple and cheap too. I have a friend whose mother collects doorknobs. This is not a simple and cheap hobby, and so I am glad that my mother is generally satisfied with just the doorknobs on the doors in the house.

I don't know why she started this collection. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she has six children. Since the refrigerator is traditionally the gallery of the artwork and good grades and Optimist League basketball schedules of children, my mother just wanted to make sure she had what she needed to hang everything we wanted displayed.

Now I don't have any children. But I do have magnets. They help me display recipes, shopping lists, coupons, and winery pamphlets. But I don't buy a lot of magnets for myself. I'm too busy not buying a lot of coffee mugs for myself. Mama doesn't have much to hang for us anymore, so she uses the magnets to hang stuff from her grandchildren, letters for her children that still come to her address, and articles she clips from the newspaper about the health benefits of chocolate, coffee, and wine.

When I go somewhere, I try to buy Mama a magnet. Like I said, it's easy. Most souvenir shops have magnets, specifically for the people like my mother. She always jokes that I'm going to buy her one of those t-shirts that says her daughter went to such-and-such and all she got was this stupid shirt. Finally I bought her a magnet in Pigeon Forge that was in the shape of a t-shirt that read "My friend went to the Great Smoky Mountains and all I got was this stupid t-shirt." Sometimes the perfect magnet just calls out to you.

And because it's so easy to get a magnet someplace, I feel bad when I don't get one for her. I try to be picky. A lot of souvenir magnets are pretty stupid-looking or at least just not very interesting. Often that means I have to get her the mose expensive magnet, because it's the best, but since magnet prices generally top out at $5 or so, I don't complain too much.

I did buy her a very expensive one once. For the longest time, we had been looking for Snoopy magnets. This was before Charles Schultz had died, when Snoopy items were still a little hard to find. My sister had just moved into her first apartment, and we were trying to find one for her, since she was the original Snoopy fan, and Mama and I just kinda jumped onto the Snoopy bandwagon she started. I went on a youth group trip down to the beach, where we stopped at an outlet center. There was a tiny shop there with gray metal walls where all they sold was magnets. And there I found a Snoopy magnet, a very, very nice magnet as far as magnets go. It was about an inch thick and maybe five inches tall. It was $8, which is absolutely ridiculous, but it was exactly what we wanted, so I got it.

When I got home from the trip, I brought out that beautiful Snoopy magnet that I had bought for my sister's first refrigerator in her first place of her own to show to Mama. She was very excited, as she should have been, because this truly was a fine specimen of a magnet. And then she put it right front and center on her fridge, hugging me and thanking me all the way for her new magnet. I said she was welcome. (We did eventually buy my sister a Snoopy magnet, but it was not as nice as Mama's. She never knew the difference. Well, not until now, anyway.)

By now, my mother's fridge reads like a travel log of all the places she and her children have been. There are more magnets than things hanging from them. Whenever she gets back from a big trip, she brings out all her newly-acquired magnets, shows them off, and tells us about the place where she got them. You can't do that with doorknobs.


do you still listen to good music?

I keep having this dream. Well, no, not the same dream, but the dreams are the same in that they revolve around this one person who I know, or used to know, in real life. I haven't seen this girl in a good seven or eight years, and I keep having dreams about her, usually at least once a month.

Charity and I were two-thirds of a trio in my nightmarish sixth grade class. The other third was a tomboy named Macie, and we were kind of the misfits. Misfits in that we were the most normal people in this class. I got some interesting education in that class, learning of things and acts that I did not know could ever exist, and I'm still not convinced that some of them do.

But I really didn't know anyone in that class. I had gone to elementary school with some of them but knew them only minimally. All my friends had been put in the same class two doors down. And so I guess I always thought of Charity and Macie as secondary friends, as unfair as that was. We were more buddies than friends. We didn't really share like adolescent girls usually do, we just goofed off. We got in trouble a lot, and we would have gotten detention if my teacher had had the heart to send a good girl like me. Me! In detention! The shame would have killed me.

Anyway, Charity and I were in the same seventh grade class as well, and then we had eighth grade Algebra together. We always sat together and made comments to each other under our breaths the whole class period through. But it was a low maintenance friendship. I don't think we ever called each other, and I didn't even know where she lived. We were only friends during certain class periods, and then we were just two people. And then Charity went to a different high school than I did, and we were just two people all the time. I saw her at a couple of football games my freshman year, but then I never saw her again.

I don't think I appreciated Charity as much as I should have. Looking back, I think she was a lot cooler and more fun than I really gave her credit for. We were the only eighth graders who listened to They Might Be Giants, and I should have recognized that as a sign that she was good people.

But I didn't think about all of that until the dreams started happening. In the first one, she killed herself. The second one was similar. In another, she borrows money from me to go to beauty school or buy drugs. And each time I have another dream, it brings Charity to the front of my mind, which of course makes me have more dreams about her. Thankfully, the dreams aren't so depressing anymore. Usually, I'm just looking for her, and then I find her and tell her about the dreams and how I was sorry that we drifted apart and that I wasn't a better friend. Every time I have a dream, I think about calling her, though I don't know what I'd say or how I'd even find her. There really is no good way to say, "Hey, we haven't spoken since we were 14, but I keep having these weird dreams about you and I was wondering what you're up to. Do you still listen to good music?"

Or maybe there is a good way to say it. And maybe someday, the dreams will drive me just crazy enough to find a way to say it, whether there's a good way or not.



I was in Virginia this past weekend. Specifically, I was lost in Virginia this past weekend. So we stopped for directions at a giant discount tobacco store called The Red Barn or something like that. They specialized in lottery tickets, and, well, discount tobacco.

I waited in line to ask for directions, with flannel-wearing men carrying tobacco products in front of me and flannel-wearing men carrying tobacco products behind me. The guy in front of me (whose flannel was green and moustache was gray), bought two lottery tickets and a soft pack of Broncos. His total was $5.86. He had $11 all ready and waiting for the clerk, and had had it ready the whole time he'd been standing in line.

And it made me very very sad, that this old man had been here enough to buy his lottery tickets and his Broncos in a soft pack to know how much it would cost. I've never even heard of Bronco cigarettes, and I live in North Carolina, where tobacco is considered a vegetable.

I could easily use this story as an anti-lottery and anti-cigarettes vehicle. But I'm not. Because as I thought about that guy in front of me, I concluded that I am not against the lottery. As far as I've heard, the main argument against the lottery is that people gamble themselves into bankruptcy. And while, yeah, that sucks, but that's really their own fault. Can't afford to pay your rent? Don't buy a lottery ticket.

So anything beyond moderation in terms of the lottery maybe isn't such a great idea. We let people drink and smoke, and I've heard rumors that those things in excess aren't so good for you either. At some point, you have to let people take care of themselves. People have the right to ignore both the Surgeon General's warning and the eviction notice.

I'm unsympathetic, I know. And I'm certainly not speaking from any sort of expert standpoint. I'm just a completely uninformed bystander with an opinion, but that is my right. North Carolina doesn't even have a lottery (just a Cherokee reservation that has casinos, but where you can't even buy beer at the grocery store). I'm okay with not having a lottery. And I'd be okay if we had one. I hear they give the money to the schools. Maybe then we can afford to start a new curriculum for our kids where we teach them not to spend all their money on stupid stuff.



I hate having to ride the bus to and from my car. But that said, I love riding the bus, mostly because I get to spy on people. I especially love it when I catch the Blue Route on the way down from the parking lot, because that means I get to ride it on its entire 15 minute route, openly staring at people outside from behind tinted windows.

I study their faces, I study the way they stand, the way they walk, the way they talk to their friends if they have any. I wonder why that guy keeps looking around. I wonder if that girl's parents bought her that Mercedes. I think that guy needs a haircut. I try to figure out if that guy saw me staring at him and his bizarre facial hair, and if that's why he's staring at me now.

I've gotten to know some of the people. Not that I've ever actually spoken to any of them, because that's just not my style. Why bother finding out their actual personalities when the ones I make up for them are so much more interesting? But I know them. I know the aloof guy who listens to good music on his CD player. I know it's good music because I peeked when he was rifling through his CDs, and because I can hear it when I sit near him. One time I heard a band that is so obscure and good that I felt an extreme urge to say something so that he would know that I was cool, too. I know the girl with the plain face and the plain haircut that gets into the champagne Chevrolet Impala with the heart-shaped "I love my Marine!" sticker on the back window. I know the guy who wears his pants really high and who always takes a run and go up the steps. I know the girl who is taller and prettier than I am, and I don't like her very much. I know the Asian girl with the bad haircut, and I think she shouldn't wear such unflattering clothes. I know the skinny guy with long black hair who wears his socks pulled halfway up his stick-thin shins.

And I don't just watch. Oh, I'm listening, too. Does it look like I'm staring off into space, thinking about something amusing that brings a grin to my face? Don't be silly. I'm listening to the people behind me, and they are having the most ridiculous conversation. Later, if I remember it, I will write it down. But for now, I'll just sit here and listen. And watch. And wish that my car was not so far away.