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Monday, September 24, 2012

Hair Emergency and Hash Browns

     My son tried to throw me under the bus for hash browns.
     Over the summer, we married off my oldest daughter.  Yes it was a  festive, lovely time resulting in wonderful memories and the union of a new family, and all that other good stuff.  But the weekend also gave me the chance to learn about the wily ways of my oldest son, and that he is one to keep an eye on.
     The morning of the big day presented the opportunity to teach the oldest male child of the tribe some of the most endearing traditions long-held by our family. In no particular order, two of these lessons for the day were to stay gone while the women engage in their frantic preparations for the wedding; and, the search for a classic hot rod after breakfast trumps all else.  The day would become a learning experience for us all...
     On the drive into town on the previous day, I had spied what I believed to be the Holy Grail of Barretts and Barrett-kind, a 1968 Chevy El Camino.  This was the car that called to me like a siren's song, the piece of my father's youth that I sought out as my own, the artifact that had started wars and promised to lead to a breakout of world-wide peace if only I could make it mine.  My father and I have been known to disappear for entire weekends, travel into the wee hours of the night, cruise back alleys and off-road paths, looking for this monument to Detroit ingenuity. And now it was my son's turn to take his place behind the windshield.
     A search as serious as this requires a full stomach.  We found the only cafe in town, and nestled into a booth to try out the breakfast goodies.  The male child wanted one of everything, most of which I ordered. But I drew the line at a double serving of hash browns. He wouldn't eat them all, I probably would, and there was only one, angry Visigoth of a waitress serving what seemed to be the entire town.  This was not a good combination, and I was not paying extra for double hash browns disguised as a minor train wreck. Food,  hot rods, and then a wedding.  There was no room for food fights of any description on the day's agenda.  The boy was not happy, but seemed unsure as to how to voice his disapproval.
     Once breakfast was polished off, and the Visigoth adequately tipped, we were off for horsepower, carburetion, and bias ply tires.  My father and I mapped out the plan of attack for finding what I hoped had not been a central Oklahoma mirage; to my dismay, my son was practically asleep in the back seat, oblivious to what was going on around him.
     Just a few miles south of town, the Spousal EAS system was alerted and my phone practically leaped out of my shirt pocket. With some trepidation, I answered, but weakly tried to disguise my voice.
     Through the phone speaker, I heard chaos of the wedding preparations.  Women of all ages were crying, children were screaming, things were being flung against far walls.  In the background I thought I could hear Sponge Bob being tied to a stake.  Through the clatter I heard my wife say, and only on the very edge of calmness, "Honey, I have a problem here."  I managed to fight my instinct, which would normally have been to quip, "I will say you do."  Since I had left her with her step-daughter and my ex-wife, for once I fought the instinct and instead asked calmly, "What can I do to help?"
     "We are having a hair emergency."
     I breathed a sigh of relief.  Hair emergency.  Not a blown fuse, a small interior fire, or a broken arm.  Hair emergency.  This firmly falls in the category of not my problem.
     "Ok, I'll bite.  What is this hair emergency you speak of?"
     My lovely bride explained that her, one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush was no where to be found.  Without its magic like qualities, she would be unable to turn the ladies, and primarily the bride to be, into the stunningly manicured wedding party that had been promised all.  I was distracted by a road side snow-cone stand.  I still didn't grasp the emergency.  And then she hit me right where it hurt.
     "I need you to drop whatever you are doing, go to Wal-Mart and get another one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush or your daughter isn't getting married today."
     My mouth fell open, but no sound came out.  After millions of years of evolution, some part of my brain knew better than to protest, and I certainly couldn't preempt a wedding because I felt the primal urge to find the mythical '68 El Camino.  I heard myself say, "Yes dear. We will be back in just a bit."
     Dear old dad glanced away from the road just long enough to disapprovingly grunt.  The male child in the back seat snapped his head towards me, suddenly fully alert.  Even he sensed that we were speeding towards some crossroads from which there was no return.  Dad glanced across the console at me again.
     "Drive."
     A curious wave of prepubescent smugness washed over the headrest from the direction of the back seat. I should have sensed the warning signs, but I was too distracted by the complex mathematical and logistical planning that would be required to find the El Camino and still be back in town in time to save the wedding.
     By the time we rolled into the neighboring town, where I was certain I had seen the mechanical unicorn just the day before I was so antsy I must have looked like a five year old doing the "pee-pee" dance.  The universe was on my side this sunny Saturday morning though, as the El Camino rolled to the curb just as we turned the corner.  The car, the seller, and the buyer converging to the same location in time, just as planned. Then the plan fell completely apart.
     The badges on the car were all wrong.  The top was not original and the color was all wrong.  Worse yet, the original engine had been replaced with a boat motor.  Even if the car were all original, it was $5000 over priced.  The male child was supposed to be learning from this experience, and even though he had no interest in the car, he seemed oddly pleased with all of the world around him.  I started shoving bodies back into the Barrett-mobile, intent now on locating that one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush and rushing in at the last possible minute in order to save the day and be the hero.
     Fifty two minutes later, hair brush in hand, I burst through the door, expecting a parade befitting a war hero, complete with ticker tape and maybe a marching band.  Instead, I was forced to dodge a flying mega-tray of mascara and a hail of half eaten Jolly Ranchers which stuck permanently to the first surface they reached.  Over the din of crying and curling and polishing and screaming, I heard an accusatory voice say that we had missed pictures and would have to stay after the service.  Uh-oh.
     Just like a rolling thunderstorm broiling across the Oklahoma Plains, a whirling dervish of wives, ex-wives, daughters, step-children, half-siblings, strange children with thick glasses, grand-children and mother-in-laws began swirling into SUV's in a haze of powder makeup and eye-shadow.  I felt my self being swept into the chaos; for a moment I thought I saw a jeweled slipper and a flying monkey in the shadows of the autumn rust haze.
     Somewhere in all the chaos, my beautiful daughter (with hair intact) got married, and took another man's name.
     Then came the pictures.  First the in-laws, then the ex-laws, and then just the children.  Finally, it was time for the Barrett tribe.  Just as we had assembled on stage and the pictures began, the male child looked at me and winked, then said, "Mommy, why is a hair emergency called a 'her' emergency, and why does it always have to take a back seat to hot rod hunting?"  I felt my wife's head snap to the side as though she were giving herself lateral whip lash while my ex-wife bored a hole through my chest.  At least three different style of women's shoes bounced off my forehead as the shutter memorialized the image.
     The next morning, we took the blushing bride and the new son-in-law to the same cafe for breakfast.  I sat in the corner at the kids table while the male child sat with the grown ups.  He got a triple order of hash browns.
   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Little Brother

     My favorite breakfast is raw bacon.
     Well, let me re-state that.  My favorite breakfast story involves raw moderately raw bacon.  Several years ago, when I was still in law school, my little brother was stricken with the thought that he and I needed to take our father on a camping trip.  To put this idea into context, the closest the three of us had been to camping together was that night in 1982 when Dad locked himself out of the house and the three of us thought we were going to have to sleep outside until Mom showed up to save the day.
     Having some camping experience in my background, but having had even more experience with travelling with my father, my brother and I agreed that regardless of what happened, we were leaving for out trip no later than 2:00 pm, so that we had plenty of time to arrive at our destination and still have daylight to set up camp.  At 6:00 pm, we were still standing in the middle of Academy Sporting Goods while Dad tried to decide between the all-inclusive titanium mess kit with a built in space-age one size fits all spork, or whether he was going with the jewel-encrusted flatware set that had been carried to the summit of Mt. Everest just after returning from a mission on the space shuttle.  I think he also bought a package of socks for the weekend.  By 9:00 pm that night, while we were setting up tents under the glow of headlights and watched as a den of hungry wolves began to circle, I was wondering if this camping trip were such a good idea.
     There are a few less obvious hazards involved in setting up camp so late at night.  For instance, we were unaware at the time that the camp just above us was populated by a family of Baltic origin with little in the way of English skills or camping experience.  We also failed to notice the worn trail between our camp site and theirs.  So, at 3:00 am that morning when the bears showed up at the neighboring camp site to partake in the bags of food that had been left out, the three of us woke up to the the yelling of Russian curse words, banging of pots and retreating bears brushing up against our tent as they ran away on their well-travelled trail that we were sleeping on.  I am pretty sure there was at least one Yeti running with the bears.
     The next morning, while smirking at the mess in the Baltic Hinterlands, we ferried our food stuff out of the car and down to the camp site to make breakfast.  Although we hid this from our respective wives, my brother and I were beauty in motion as we hustled around the campsite preparing breakfast.  We moved like a well-oiled, spatula wielding, breakfast cooking machine.  My father however, is less used to cooking and even more unfamiliar with the ways of the hardy camper.  In my minds eye, breakfast looked like a time-elapsed photo with my brother and I bustling around while dad supervised from his perch at the table.
     In my own haste, I lost track of what my brother was doing.  Before I knew what was going on, he was serving my father a big helping of bacon.  Pasty white, limp and lifeless raw bacon.  He was half way through his first piece before I could stop him.  I flung the jewel encrusted flatware, pots, pans, condiments and raw bacon aside in a gallant effort to save my father the ravages of raw bacon and took over the bacon duty before my brother could infect us all with Mad Pig disease, or some such ailment.
     I tell that story every time the family gets together, especially on camp outs.  It is my favorite breakfast story.  (In protest, Dad still claims the bacon was just fine and tasted great.)
     My little brother took his own life last February.  Today would have been his 38th birthday.  Go out of the way to eat breakfast with your loved ones, the next breakfast is never guaranteed.  For good measure, go ahead and cook the bacon a few minutes longer...