Category Archives: Coffee Corner

The Trooth about the Tooth Fairy

My grandson hunched over a piece of paper, his small fingers busy writing.

“Are you making up a story?”

“Nah. Writing a letter.”

“To whom?”

“The Tooth Fairy. She’s late.” He shook his head. “But I better edit this before I put it under my pillow.”

Words to warm an English-major grandma’s heart.

However, his efforts inspired me to wonder: Where did this Tooth Fairy person/custom originate?

Possibly with Norse culture. Warriors paid offspring for their baby teeth, carrying them into battle as good luck charms. Viking kids apparently made a real killing, much more than the $3.50 – 3.70 per tooth received by today’s little capitalists.

But twenty-first-century children benefit in other ways. For example, girls can visit websites maintained by their personal Tooth Fairies that feature games, cartoons, castles, and Tooth Fairy stores.

If their age, I’d deluge my online Tooth Fairy with letters, love and charges on my parents’ Visas. As a Viking child, I gladly would have done my patriotic duty. However, no Vikings, Internets or parental credit cards existed during my era. I knew only that the shadowy Tooth Fairy appeared an insomniac.

Did she also bring new teeth to baby siblings, “gifts” that morphed them — and the rest of our family — into insomniacs? I considered lying in wait and firing pillows at her.

Besides, she showed up late — or not at all — when money was tight at our house. When I did discover a shiny dime under my pillow and bought a giant PAYDAY, though, I appreciated anew the Tooth Fairy’s efforts.

The irony of buying candy with Tooth Fairy money was lost on me and my friends. But we deduced other important Tooth Fairy principles, including: the bigger the teeth, the lower our returns. By the time we lost primary molars, the Tooth Fairy had deserted us for younger devotees with handmade Tooth Fairy pillows. The dentist barred us from his treasure chest, even if we didn’t yell.

This permanent-tooth thing was overrated.

Little did we know that soon, instead of raking in dimes, we’d pay more than the cost of a whole bag of PAYDAY candy bars and receive root canals in return.

Lou the Tooth Fairy of YouTube fame briefly renewed my hopes for adults. A balding, sixtyish man dressed in a pink tutu, Lou hands cooperative patients cash. I could handle that — plus back pay since age 12.

Sadly, Lou appears only when paid to do ads. I like my grandson’s Tooth Fairies better. Hardworking and crazy busy, they would appreciate help. As an honorary Tooth Fairy, I also could write my grandson a reply.

But I’d better edit it twice.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did the Tooth Fairy ever visit you?

The Great Toothpaste Quest

My husband pokes his head out the bathroom door. “Would you pick up toothpaste while you’re out?”

“Sure.” If I had a brain, I would not ask the following question. But I am an American — programmed by 5,000 daily ads to love choices. “What kind of toothpaste?”

“No fancy stuff. Plain old toothpaste.” Kissing me goodbye, he leaves for work, not noticing his words just shut down my body systems.

“Plain old toothpaste”? How could the love of my life condemn me to such a fate?

Therapeutic coffee brings me to my senses. A veteran of 44 Christmas seasons should not be so easily shaken. Not only will I find plain old toothpaste, I will hit a triple-coupon, buy-10-for-$10 sale.

The 329 brands in the first discount store do not intimidate me. My choice was settled decades ago because, like most parents of Baby Boomers, mine heeded the infallible Sixties’ “Look, Ma, no cavities!” commercials featuring kids wearing Roy Rogers cowboy hats. If you couldn’t trust Roy Rogers for your dental care, whom could you trust?

So, I gravitate to the familiar logo, searching shelves where I should find a hundred tubes of plain old toothpaste. Instead, in my quest for the pure and simple, I must read each and every label. Hubby never has liked big stripes on his shirts or toothpaste.

Blue gels resemble congealed Windex. No peroxide, baking soda, or Clorox® needed. As for pro-health and clean mint varieties — hopefully, they do not present true breakthroughs. Did manufacturers formerly sell anti-health and dirty mint toothpaste?

I cannot find one single tube of plain old toothpaste. But when the going gets tough, wimps hit the Internet. Somewhere in all cyberspace, I will find it.

Instead, I find 3,481 flavors. During the 1960s, any brand that dared deviate from mint was subject to congressional review. Today, however, choices include vanilla, bitter chocolate, caramel, pumpkin pudding, cola, Indian curry and pork. If a person wants to go to work smelling like a distillery, he can brush with bourbon-flavored paste.

However, my husband likes his job. I give up and buy tartar control. Will he notice the difference?

Having spent all energy and brain power on the Great Toothpaste Quest, I have forgotten to buy groceries. Out of milk, I stop by a small village store and discover plain old mint toothpaste. No gel. No bleach. No curry. No bourbon.

I dash home with my treasure, excited. He seems mildly pleased.

Minutes later, he sticks his head out the bathroom door. “Could you buy me more deodorant, please? None of that fancy stuff ….”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What “simple” shopping trip turned complicated for you?

Love Those Layers

Contrary to logic, as the weather warms, the plant world dons more layers. Bushes and shrubs wrap colorful scarves of leaves and blossoms around their shoulders. Trees drape bare branches with graceful green mantles. My lawn pads itself with a soft, thick layer of crabgrass.

Young human beings, however, shun this idea. Passing our town’s grade school one chilly afternoon, I noticed most shivering kids walking home sported shorts and flip-flops. They looked bluer than Smurfs.

At prom time, young women wearing strapless bodices and frozen smiles grace the spring landscape. A million goose bumps encase these lovelies like Bubble Wrap.

If you’re a parent, you do not puzzle over this missing link between wardrobe and meteorological conditions. Weather has nothing to do with it. What’s really happening? Kids are exercising independence. We all do stupid things at that age so we can grow up to never make stupid decisions again.

Still, as a perfect, mature being, I sympathize. My classmates and I suffered similar symptoms. We of the Dick-and-Jane generation wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing shorts and flip-flops to school. Still, our rebellious frenzy blasted black holes in that era’s proper universe.

We wore sleeveless shirts to class.

Abused classmates still wore sweaters Great-aunt Arlene gave them for Christmas. Obviously, they hadn’t exerted proper control over their parents.

I enjoyed wild, uninhibited freedom — until Mom made me wear a jacket.

In fact, she and my teacher kept me in a catch-22.

Mom: This class sheet says you must dress for all weather possibilities. Wear your jacket.

Teacher: Your mother sent this jacket with you, so you have to wear it.

Me: Can’t I put off hot flashes for a few decades?

We tortured children discarded outerwear as close to school dumpsters as we dared. We left jackets hanging in restroom stalls — or tried to flush them.

But our sins always found us out. Traitors among us tattled. No doubt bribed with extra-long turns at the water fountain, these snitches displayed our jackets and sweaters before the entire class until someone identified the culprits. Never would have I participated in such betrayal.

But when my children were growing up, I not only surrendered to the traitors — I joined their ranks.

Sweaters and jackets remain my friends to this day. They conceal my medical condition known as winter waist, characterized by mysterious swelling and extreme pain when buttoning last spring’s capris. Even when the sun shines, I cling to my compassionate buddies.

Someday, the young will realize that, along with moms and teachers, layers can be their friends.

And trees, who sport new cover-up wardrobes every spring, aren’t so dumb, after all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you love your layers, too?

Sunny Spring Day

Do we really want a sunny, warm spring day?

Duh. Yes! I crave a sunny spring day more than a tax refund equal to the lottery. More than an overnight belly fat loss.

I do enjoy the changing seasons, including January and February — cozy months to enjoy a good book by the fire. Also, an excellent opportunity to thumb my nose at warm-weather friends who still must do yard work and jog.

Today, however, the sun peeks through my unwashed windows with na-na-na-boo-boo mischief.

Come outside. It lights up the green, green exterior like a marquee. It’s spring!

Where’s your baseball, your bat? Dig out your old mitt, even if it smells more like feet than hands. When Dad comes home from work, maybe he’ll play flies and grounders with us in the backyard.

It’s a perfect hopscotch day. Chuck that project. Ditch that deadline. You own a whole driveway of limestone, a treasure chest of perfect rocks that could draw a thousand hopscotch grids on playground blacktop only a block away.

The 1963 Taylorsville Elementary Hopscotch Champion in me trembles with anticipation. I might have to wear Spandex armor to keep my jiggly torso from smacking my knees with each hop, but must … play … hopscotch. …

However, the Responsible Adult in me proclaims, “You haven’t washed these windows since you moved in.”

True. Pristine sunbeams also touch our carpet and winter-dingy furniture as if they had cooties. Layers of dust comfortably camouflaged by dim winter days now scream for attention. They’re almost as needy as the lumpy, bumpy lawn outside, invaded by a crabgrass army. The sun leads me to our garden, covered with skeletons of brave, hopeless tomato vines.

This year, a friend offered me free horse manure if I want to shovel and haul it. Do I feel that ambitious for future vegetables?

Nope.

Funny thing about sunlight — like its Creator, it gets nosy, peering into the grimy corners of my house, yard and life, seeing much more than I like. Instead of dissing me, though, the Sun Maker breathes a warm kiss of a breeze on my cheek and hands me the first flower of spring. So what, if it’s a dandelion?

He’s sent ragged robins, looking like refugees, to greet me, too. But they just can’t help singing.

Nor can I. Sure, our Maker will help me tackle the flaws in my home, yard and soul. But first, He, the sun, and I select the perfect rock from the driveway. We head for the playground and my first game of hopscotch in a long, long time.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite way to celebrate the first sunny, spring day?

Interview: Mary Magdalene’s Sister (Part 2)

(The following includes the remainder of a fictional interview by first-century writer Caleb. Based on historical Gospel accounts, it takes place soon after Jesus of Nazareth’s execution. As Caleb conducts the interview, using a small tape recorder, Mary Magdalene’s sister, Huldah, stirs a huge pot of stew and occasionally yells at her children.)

Huldah: As I said, Daniel and I weren’t crazy about Mary’s being a groupie, trailing after this rock-star rabbi, Jesus. It’s not like she wasn’t already nutty as a fruitcake. But the more Mary hung with Jesus, the better she got.

We were grateful, though I worried about her reputation when she traveled with Jesus.

Mary thought that was funny. “Huldah, I don’t have a reputation to lose!”

Caleb: How did you feel about Jesus’ enemies?

Huldah: What do you think? I worried. Worried our rabbi would kick Mary out of the synagogue. That she’d get us kicked out, and our business would go bankrupt.

Caleb: What about the Romans’ reaction to Jesus and his followers?

Huldah: Duh! You know they also crucify women, if they’re in the mood.

But when Mary visited weekends, I’d never seen her so … peaceful.

Still, she worried about Jesus. He didn’t do anything wrong. He did everything right! But that didn’t earn him any brownie points. We came here to Jerusalem for Passover, but instead of celebrating, the whole town waited, as if expecting fire to fall. When we heard they’d crucified Jesus, we were scared Mary would hang on a cross next to him.

Caleb: What happened to her?

Huldah: Thank God, the Romans hadn’t harmed her. When Jesus died, we begged Mary to hide outside Jerusalem. But she wanted to help bury him.

Caleb: She’s still okay?

Huldah: I—I don’t know. Mary swears up and down she not only saw but talked to Jesus.

Caleb: She thinks a man survived crucifixion?

Huldah: Yes, she’s crazy happy. Others who claim they saw him are crazy happy. Maybe they’re all loonier than she was in the first place!

Caleb: Maybe?

Huldah: I know, I know. Roman soldiers are good at their job. I saw Jesus die. Mary saw his followers put the body into a tomb. Yet she won’t back down. She can’t wait to see Jesus again.

Caleb: Um, Huldah, I want to put a positive spin on this. But you need to get Mary some help.

Huldah: If only she’ll come home with us — there she is! Talk to her. Wait. Who is that Man walking behind her?

Caleb: It can’t be —

Huldah: (screaming) Mary’s right! Jesus is alive!

(Caleb’s recorder plopped into the stewpot, and normally, an interview would have been lost forever. But this one, Caleb noted later, he would never forget.)

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: If you could talk to someone who saw Jesus after His Resurrection, who would it be?

Interview: Mary Magdalene’s Sister

(The following fictional interview by first-century writer Caleb is based on historical Gospel accounts, taking place soon after Jesus of Nazareth’s execution. As Caleb adjusts a small tape recorder, Mary Magdalene’s sister, Huldah, stirs a huge pot of stew.)

Caleb: Huldah, thanks for agreeing to talk with me about Mary.

Huldah: Yeah, yeah. People are saying crazy stuff, so maybe I can clear up a few rumors.

Caleb: To keep things straight for readers, we’re discussing Mary Magdalene.

Huldah: There are a million Marys running around. Mom and Dad gave her the popular name, of course. Leave that alone! (She waves a big spoon at the curious kid sneaking behind Caleb, then apologizes.) Sorry. I didn’t mean you.

Caleb: Um … no problem. You’re her older sister?

Huldah: Yeah, been looking out for Mary since forever. She was always different … then she started hearing voices. Saw stuff that wasn’t there. Got really mean. Our parents passed her around to relatives like she was a bad cold. Before they died, they made me promise to take care of her.

Caleb: Mary met Jesus, called the Christ, didn’t she?

Huldah: Yeah. She’d wandered off, out of her head. I said, “Good riddance!” Maybe Daniel and I could enjoy some peace. But we had to look for her. She’d joined those groupies following Jesus, the rock-star rabbi.

I said to Daniel, “Just great. Sounds like he runs a medicine show.”

Caleb: Upon seeing you, how did Mary react?

Huldah: Mary doesn’t hug anybody — she slugs ’em. But this time, she hugged me. Then she laughed! I couldn’t remember the last time I heard her laugh.

Caleb: I saw Jesus, maybe twice. Did you?

Huldah: Yeah. For a rock star, he wasn’t real good-lookin’. There was nothing special about Jesus, until he talked — and healed a leper who used to live next door.

I told Daniel, “I’ll take his brand of crazy, anytime.” Turns out, the more Mary was around Jesus, the better she got.

Caleb: Has she regressed since then?

Huldah: Well … you be the judge of that, after you hear the whole story.

To be continued tomorrow, April 25.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever considered what happened the week after Easter? And don’t you just hate “to be continued” stories?

Violets: My Purple Passion

Seeing these not-so-shy visitors arrive in my yard again, I had to look back on a blog I wrote in tribute to my uninvited but secretly welcome guests.

I first noticed these flowers as a preschooler. While dandelions flaunted fuzzy beauty like Hollywood starlets, violet faces peered at me shyly through leafy green hands. Mom said I could pick them! — unless they grew in other people’s yards.

One day my sister and I gathered a legal but meager violet bouquet in our grandparents’ backyard — until we wandered toward the neighbors’ weathered house. It resembled a log cabin. Did Abraham Lincoln live there? Even that possibility paled beside the ocean of violets before us. God liked purple, too!

The serious business of picking them all consumed us. I knew we should ask permission, but loudly legitimized our actions by announcing we were gathering special flowers for Mommy and Grandma. When we brought them wilted, wadded bouquets, Mom confirmed my niggling conscience’s pointing finger. We had crossed moral boundaries. The good news: too late to do anything about it. I loved it when sin worked out that way.

Not long afterward, Grandma died, and I never visited the magic Sea of Violets again. But as I graduated from picking flowers to picking guys, I never forgot them.

The spring break before high school graduation, I took an all-day walk around my hometown. Like any respectable teen, I’d hated it for years. Now, deep inside, I knew I was leaving Columbus, Indiana, forever. One shabby bungalow’s yard stopped me in my tracks. Thousands and thousands of purple violets. Now 18 and an official grown-up, I didn’t dive in. But I stood, mesmerized, for sometime.

I hung that violet picture on my mind’s walls. When my then-boyfriend, now-husband asked about a prom corsage for my lavender dress, I answered, “Violets.” I loved them — and didn’t want him to feel obliged to give me an orchid, the obvious, expensive answer.

Unbeknownst to me, his mother would worry because she could not find a violet corsage.

“Haven’t used violets in 40 years!” one florist said. “What kind of nut is your son dating, anyway?”

Finally, she told Steve his girlfriend’s purple passion would have to take a different direction. How about white carnations? Pink roses?

Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.

My date, who had remained silent during this woman debate, decided on a white orchid.

The violet vision must have remained with my future mother-in-law, though. After a church banquet, she instructed Steve to give me its centerpiece, a huge bunch of violets. Did she like me? I hoped so. Whether she knew it or not, she had become part of my violet history.

VioletsMeadow

Which continues to this day. My purple passion still guides my walks. If I find violets in your yard, I just might pick them without asking permission.

In the Running for a Serene Spring

No green interrupts my “spring” day except the envious color I turn when the Taylor University track teams — women and men — run through my neighborhood.

They wear long tights, hoodies and woolly hats. Snow confetti may greet them. Still, their effortless, long-legged strides defy winter, as do their fresh young faces.

They talk as they run. They laugh.

Running and laughter? An oxymoron. Even decades ago, when I ran routinely, I don’t recall laughing once.

My new husband had talked me into running with him. It’ll be fun, he said. Relaxing, he said.

His legs measure six inches longer than mine.

Newly married couples, do not try this at home. Or anywhere else.

Watching these track teams run now, I find their togetherness friendlier. Definitely more fun.

Even as a solo runner, I lacked the fun factor.

Fellow joggers encouraged, “You’ll grow accustomed to exercise and hit a zone when you’re comfortable, even serene.”

Pony-sized canines nipping at my heels increased my pace. Even with their help, I never achieved that blissful nirvana.

Instead, my knees hurt, ankles ached, and I developed giant stitches in my side that reappeared when I played ring-around-the-rosy with my toddlers.

I told Hubby, “I’ll soon be so healthy that I’ll need a wheelchair.”

Even he finally switched to bicycling when a blown-out knee dissolved his dreams of running the Chicago Marathon.

Instead, we cycled and watched our children run. At our son’s junior high coed cross-country meets, the order of returning runners never varied. First, a pigtailed girl appeared ten minutes before anyone else. Next, the boys manfully pounded to the finish line, embarrassed at being beaten by a girl. Then the other girls finished.

Those guy runners needn’t have felt shame. That girl, Morgan Uceny, ran the fastest 1500-meter race in the world during 2011. Morgan often smiled while running.

Still, she hasn’t inspired me to run.

I’ll let others enjoy that privilege. Some find unique ways to do so.

J.D. Arney reported on enthusiasts who ran the five-mile Raleigh, North Carolina, Krispy Kreme Challenge. Each ran halfway, consumed a dozen glazed doughnuts, then ran back. At least, they smiled during the last part.

Arney also described the Filthy 5K Run in Fargo, North Dakota, where joggers slogged through acres of gunk. Participators in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, Beer Belly Run, with beer stops every half mile, might have ran the happiest race — if they remember it.

Some psychos even pay $17,900 to run the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon.

Me? I’ll cheer track teams from my window each spring. It doesn’t get more serene than that.

Smiling participants of The Color Run, also known as “the Happiest 5K on the Planet.”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you run — and smile?

Tablecloth Remembered

Ecuador, where Hubby and I spent six weeks on a medical mission four decades ago.

I forget many things. And I had forgotten about this tablecloth.

Years ago, I almost added it to the giveaway pile because we rarely used it. One day, though, the tablecloth floated to the surface like bread cast upon the waters.

Strangely, the scenario involved a TV stand my brother-in-law gave us as a wedding present in 1975. When eventually retired from TV duties, it functioned as a “temporary” end table.

After more than four decades, I could not stand the old stand one more second.

Rummaging through a closet, I found the gold and white tablecloth, woven more than 40 years ago by a friend in Ecuador, where Hubby and I did a six-week medical mission.

I cannot remember the weaver’s name, but his portrait is etched in my mind: chamois skin, a black braid down his back, topped with a jaunty black fedora. He wore the local uniform: white shirt with a poncho, black pants, and rubber boots. His tiny wife wore a full, black skirt and shawl clasped with a monster-sized stickpin that could have fended off Godzilla. Their children were miniatures of their parents.

They all thought gringos were certifiably insane.

The missionaries liked their vegetables and chickens small, whereas any person with a brain would grow them big to feed a large, hungry family. Gringos, who owned kitchens the Quechuas only dreamed about, ate picnics outside. Norteamericanos ignored ancient wisdom that the night air caused every malady from sniffles to liver disease.

Mentally unbalanced and possibly deficient, they lacked basic life skills. They couldn’t finagle decent prices at the market. Despite their height — the gringos also were known as la familia de gigantes, the family of giants — their volleyball team consistently lost because they didn’t cheat.

Such people obviously needed help. The weaver and his family, among others, offered it. They even joined us on picnics.

The weaver’s wife gave me a monster stickpin. “It’s not real silver.”

That, and the lovely tablecloth I bought from her husband at a reduced price, communicated friendship woven into its warp and woof.

Back in the States, we purchased an oval dining room table instead of a rectangular one, so the tablecloth lived a largely undisturbed existence for decades. Now, however, it graces the TV stand, redeeming it with a beauty I never expected.

One more show-and-tell reminder that the forgotten sometimes can reproduce the unforgettable.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What forgotten memento brings back memories for you?

Hand Me the Hand-Me-Downs

We often hear about recycling paper, plastic and metal to preserve our environment. Nowadays, we’re advised to take our conservation efforts up a notch by recycling clothing.

My family has carried on this practice for generations, never suspecting we were going green. My mother, the youngest of 12 children, lived with seven — yes, seven — older sisters’ hand-me-downs. If ever a girl preserved the planet for posterity, Mom did.

She brought this ecological mindset to her five children. With infallible mother-radar, she hunted my brothers down. Mom threatened them with death or extra baths to coerce them into trying on last year’s kneeless pants. She re-patched, rolled up, let down and let out. Mom stressed, guessed and pressed, shifting jeans from one brother to another.

My sister and I scorned our brothers’ childishness. We loved trying on clothes! We dug into boxes, throwing skirts, sweaters, and dresses like confetti, reviving friendships with favorite outfits. Until I discovered I could no longer button my beautiful ruffled green dress, purchased with last year’s precious birthday money.

Obviously, my mother had shrunk my dress. Why couldn’t she do laundry right?

My sister tried it on. Good for a couple more years’ wear, Mom said — on her. Sigh.

By all rights, I, as the oldest girl, should have enjoyed life without hand-me-downs. Instead, I wore them throughout my childhood. Something was always better than nothing. But the main reason I didn’t mind: I fell heir to my friend Angela’s glorious castoffs.

A year older than I, Angela never wore hand-me-downs; therefore, she was rich. Angela lived in the Big Town near the swimming pool, a glamorous existence I, surrounded by cornfields, could only dream about. She read trendy teen magazines and knew what clothes were hip. I read Alice in Wonderland and Little House on the Prairie. When my dad would have kept me dressed like my favorite characters, Angela helped me live in the 20th century, offering an annual treasure bag of school clothes.

One fateful year, though, my uncooperative body not only caved where hers curved, but, after one summer’s growth, I topped her by four inches. Recycling would have to take a different turn.

No one in our area held garage sales during the ’60s. However, my mother discovered an odd new business, a consignment shop. Mom bought me a red corduroy jumper and ruffled blouse to console me for the loss of my fashion pipeline.

I’m proud to say my family continues the recycling tradition. My sister and I still trade clothes when we get together. We practice globally responsible shopping, stimulating the U.S. economy as well. (Are we patriotic or what?)

Recycling can be a beautiful thing.

Me and my sister in 1970. We still swap outfits after all these years.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you “recycle” clothes?