Before I begin, I feel the need to make a “Mission Statement” or something—to explain a ‘way of thinking’ I possess. I’m not sure exactly how to put it in plain words (my ‘way of thinking), but I’ll try to elucidate (I’ve LOVED that word (elucidate) ever since the moment I first heard Bing Crosby/Brom Bones sing, “Just gather ‘round and I’ll elucidate on what goes on outside when it gets late,” in The Headless Horseman song from Disney’s animated version of Sleepy Hollow!).
Anyway, as you know, life can be pretty demanding of our time, emotions, physicality, etc. In truth, we spend most of our time trying to make a living to provide for our physical needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothes, Jane Austen movie DVDs, Reese’s Minis and other important necessities). We worry about our children, our parents, our spouses, our friends…work hard cleaning the house, serving others, etc. It can get be very wearing. And that’s exactly why that one scene in While You Were Sleeping is so very insightful. You know the one I mean: The dad is up early in the morning, sitting in the quiet stillness of the house, enjoying a peaceful moment and a bran muffin. In comes Jack, his younger son, with a box of donuts in tow. The dad’s eyes light up and he swaps a donut for a bran muffin. The next few lines of conversation between the dad and Jack are profound to me—inspirational and explanatory of life in so many ways.
After swapping out his bran muffin for a donut, the dad and son talk for another moment. And then, sitting there together with a box of donuts and the peace and quiet of early morning (which I love), the dad sighs and says: “Life is a pain in the ass. I’ll tell you. You know…you work hard, try to provide for the family and then…for one minute…everything’s good. Everyone’s well, everyone’s happy…and in that one minute you have peace.”
As life goes, Jack then responds, “Pop…this isn’t that minute.”
As you know, Jack has come to tell his father that he does NOT want to take over the family business, etc. But it’s the father’s insight into life…that it seems there is more hardship than peace that resonates with me. It resonates with me in this way…we have to thoroughly relish those moments of peace in life! They’re what get us through the hard times. Funny family stories, enlightening experiences, minutes or moments of laughter are so very, very important to us…to our souls!
We’re doing our children and grand children an enormous disservice by not sitting around the family dinner table, or lounging in the den on the sofa with them and telling them humorous or sweet, tender memories of parents, grandparents, and friends. Not only are there so many important life lessons to be learned from the experience of others, but those funny stories that circulate in families…the kind that humanize and bring to life those ancestors or friends our kids will never know are invaluable.
We have to laugh! Our kids need to laugh…and they to have something to laugh at something to share and laugh about besides the vulgarity that the world offers as humor. Don’t you agree?
So, even though my ‘way of thinking, or opinion is that we have to hold onto those peaceful, light-hearted moments life offers as our life-preserver (i.e. sanity-preserver), I’m not blogging to be a Debbie Downer about it. I just want to give you an example…and example that spans over twenty years of addendums…an example of one of those things in a family that endures through at least 3 generations (so far) in our family, as something to laugh about that brings that ‘one minute’ of peace we so desperately need.
Klopeks, Decaying Bodies and Misdirected Text Messages (Part I)
And so we begin…with references to one of our family’s favorite movies ever—The ‘Burbs. The ‘Burbs is one of those movies that just resonates with our family to our very cores! It’s one that we make sure we watch at least once a year. It’s one that we all regularly quote lines from. It’s one that, as I watch it with my family now, I find myself thinking, “Why have I so terribly neglected doing more Kegel exercises?” (You ladies out there know exactly what I mean, I’m sure.)
For anyone who might not be acquainted with the move, The ‘Burbs, here’s a little synopsis for you I found on IMDb: “The story takes place in a typical American neighborhood, when some new neighbors come to live in the house next to Ray Peterson (played by a youthful Tom Hanks). These new people are really strange; nobody has ever seen them, their house is a real mess, and during the night you can hear weird noises from their basement. The only thing they know is their name: Klopeks. One day Walter (an old man of the neighborhood) suddenly disappears and everyone starts to suspect the Klopeks…”
In the movie, there’s a part when one neighbor tells a teenager from the neighborhood about a guy who worked at a soda shop like 30 years before. The man from the soda shop went crazy and murdered his family. The murderer buried the bodies in the basement, but when the heat of summer began heating things up, the smell of the decaying bodies tipped off the neighbors and police. Consequently the characters in The ‘Burbs begin to suspect that their neighbors the Klopeks are killing people. The great part about the movie, is that, eventually it turns out that the neighbors were right!
Now, the reason I mention this movie and our family traditions involving it will become apparent a little later. Just keep in mind, we’ve loved it forever…which means Kevin and I have loved it ever since our kids were babies…since 1989 when we first saw it at the theater. We quote it, it makes us laugh, and brings us some of those moments of light-heartedness we all so desperately need.
Klopeks, Decaying Bodies and Misdirected Text Messages (Part II)
Now I’m going to skip a head a bit to the year 1991. I’ve written a little blog or something about this before, so I’m just going to paste it here:
“In the spring of 1991, the cannibalisticly gory movie, The Silence of the Lambs, was the big entertainment news. A few months later, The Silence of the Lambs gossip, had given way to conversation concerning the discovery of a current cannibalistic murderer—Jeffrey Dahmer. This kind of horrifying stuff seeps into your brain, preys on your fears, and gives you nightmares. But one just has to go on living life, right? And so one does.
It was a particularly hot day in August of 1991 and my dad and I had been sitting in the front room visiting with this boy who had a crush on my sister (Luanna). He’d dropped by to see her but she wasn’t home and Dad and I are always willing to entertain. We visited for a while and then the afternoon sun began beating down on the dry Albuquerque desert. Luanna’s friend admirer for home and Dad and I continued to sit in the front room and chat about this and that would-be romance.
As we sat discussing casual things such as this boy who had a crush on Luanna, the new flavor of Pringles potato chips, and the sunny, warm weather…we began to notice an unpleasant odor seeping into our nostrils. The unpleasant odor was, at first, faint, barely discernable. But it wasn’t long before it began to grow stronger, more putrid…morphing quickly into a violent stench!
“What is that, Dad?” I asked at last.
“I don’t know,” Dad answered, wrinkling his nose as he always does when he smells something he doesn’t like the smell of.
A few more sniffs, however, and Dad and I looked at each other with eyes wide with realization. What we were smelling—the odor, the sour, rancid stink—was in truth, the very stench of death! Of rotting flesh! The stench grew stronger and stronger with each passing moment, until Dad and I thought we might start throwing up if it didn’t dissipate somehow. I seriously cannot explain how foul, fetid, horrible and it was. Fairly quickly we realized that the swamp cooler (a common way to cool a house in summer here in New Mexico, and it works by pulling fresh air over wet filters and into the house) was drawing the stench into the house. It was gross! I literally began gagging. Dad, too.
Dad and I knew that turning off the swamp cooler wasn’t an option. It was 103 degrees outside and turning off the swamp cooler would make the house miserably hot. It seemed like the only option was to endure the stench…the hot, rancid smell of decaying flesh. But we weren’t sure we could do that.
Finally, I just asked, “What could be rotting outside to cause this smell?” I mean, I knew a dead dog or cat wouldn’t produce such a strong odor of decay.
Dad shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said at first. He sat thoughtful for a moment. Then his brow puckered and he muttered, “You know, the people living next door at Mr. Brown’s rental house butchered a pig a while back. Maybe they left the parts they didn’t want lying around outside or something. But still, that’s been weeks ago.”
Mr. Brown owned the house to the west of my parents and had rented it out to some very shady characters of late. They had indeed butchered a pig weeks prior, but Dad was right…the pig stuff had been long gone.
Dad and I sat speculating, going over the possibilities. A dead horse in the field behind us? More than one dead cat out in the street somewhere? None of it fit. The stench was too powerful and too close.
“Well, something’s dead,” Dad said. “It’s absolutely rotting flesh that we’re smelling.”
And then, like a bold of lightning, it hit us. I would’ve been willing to swear that we both had comic strip thought bubbles over our heads with little light bulbs lighting up in them. Yep…simultaneously and all at once, we knew. As the hairs on the back of our necks prickled with revulsion, Dad and I both realized that the stench of death and rotting flesh was coming from Mr. Brown’s house to the west…and we knew exactly what it must be!
“When’s the last time you actually saw those people renting Mr. Brown’s house?” I asked my Dad.
He shook his head and asked, “When’s the last time you saw them? I haven’t seen any body moving around over there for more than two weeks. Their car hasn’t even budged.”
We knew for sure then. Dad and I knew that someone had murdered our neighbors and that their corpses were now lying over there in Mr. Brown’s rental, rotting in the heat of the sweltering Albuquerque summer!
“Maybe you should go over and knock on the door,” I suggested.
“Maybe you should go over and knock on the door,” Dad suggested.
“I’m not going over there!” I exclaimed.
Yet, it had to be done. As the odor being drawn into the house via the swamp cooler thickened like the Grim Reaper’s gravy, we knew we had to do something.
“All right,” Dad grumbled at last. “But if I’m not back in five minutes…call the cops.”
“If they don’t come to the door, peek through the windows,” I suggested. “Maybe whoever killed them left the bodies where you can see them through the window.”
Dad nodded and left.
It may have been 103 degrees, but I was shaking like a leaf in an autumn breeze as I heard dad leave the house by way of the back door. All was quiet…deathly quiet. As I waited for Dad to return, the stench of death settled ‘round about me like a heavy cloak of terror.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally, I heard the back door open and Dad walked in. He was chuckling and shaking his head. He wasn’t wearing his dental partial that fit on his left upper and I fancied how I always preferred when he didn’t…for the space left at the side of his smile by his missing tooth added to the mirthful quality of his expression.
“What?” I asked, confused at why he appeared so amused. What in the world could be amusing about finding your neighbors dead, rotting corpses lying in the house next door?
“You know those 80 fish Kevin and his buddy caught a few weeks ago?” he asked.
“Yeah?” I raised my eyebrows…having no idea what relevance the fish had to my parents’ dead, rotting neighbors next door.
“Where did Kevin put the fish heads and stuff when he and your mom finished cleaning them?” he asked, still chuckling.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
“I’ll tell you where he put them…out behind the shed in a black garbage bag! He must’ve forgotten to put it out with the trash on garbage day. It smells like (insert colorful metaphor) out there.”
It seems when one leaves fish heads, tails, skin, bones and various other fish guts lying in a plastic bag in the hot, summer temperatures of the North Valley in Albuquerque, the stench of the remains of 82 rotting wide-mouth bass can closely resemble that of an assortment of murdered neighbors.
Now, Dad’s not much of a Sci-Fi fellow, but he does love a good and gory mystery. Though he was somewhat disappointed that it was just dead fish and not rotting neighbors stinking up the house, the task of disposing of the putrid fish remains still fell to Dad. But don’t worry…Dad’s not one to let an opportunity pass him by! Although he vomited three times during the course of his errand, he was finally able to throw the bag of rotting fish flesh into the back of his pickup, drive it over to his boss’ house and toss it into his boss’ dumpster.”
Clearly, this story of Dad and me and the dead, rotting neighbors, has been one our family has enjoyed telling over and over. We always laugh at how our family’s imaginations go wild. We never think of the normal options to a situation. We never think, “Oh maybe there’s just something extra gross in the garbage.” We jump right to, “Obviously the neighbors have been murdered and are decaying next door!” Still, our family has laughed over this story for years. I admit to giving you the short, less dramatic version, because I figure you’re already thinking, “What is the point of this incredibly long blog?”…but believe me…it’s a funny story…especially when you’re sitting in the room listening to it be told.
Thus, my parents have laughed, Kevin and I have laughed, and my children have laughed at this amusing little adventure that took place with my Dad and I in 1991…three generations and over twenty years of laughing. It’s awesome!
Klopeks, Decaying Bodies and Misdirected Text Messages (Part III)
So, a couple of weeks ago, my son, Mitch, and his gorgeous little wife, Mallory, adopted a dog named, Punchy. She is the sweetest little dog! I mean, she’s not little at all…she’s a 3 year old Australian Shepherd/Retriever mix and weighs 75 lbs. She’s got the sweetest little temperament, and is as patient as Job. We all love her. Of course, she’s a little bit excitable yet…being that she has new, and very groovy parents, and a whole bunch of other new people to love her, too.
Now there are a couple of things about Punchy that you need to know…she doesn’t hardly ever bark (even though she can) and she’s very timid sometimes…especially around other dogs. However, she’s as gentle as a spring breeze and so loving. We all just adore her!
Well, two nights ago, around one or two a.m. Mitch was awakened by a very unfamiliar sound…Punchy barking! Instantly knowing something must be the matter, Mitch leapt out of bed, raced down the stairs and out into the back yard. There was Punchy and she greeted him with unusual exuberance (considering the time of night). It turns out that a young cat (not a kitten, but not an adult cat either) had apparently fallen from the 10-15 foot cedar block that back’s Mitch and Mal’s yard. 🙁 The cat was injured, but as Mitch began to move toward, Punchy raced over and picked up the injured cat in her mouth. Sadly, do to either Punchy’s late night exuberance or her natural instincts against a natural enemy and would-be burglar, Punchy killed the cat as she bounded back to Mitch. (We figured its back was broken.)
You need to understand that Mitch is a really sensitive soul. Oh he’s very tough and masculine, but he does have a tender heart for things. (Once when he was a little boy, he unwittingly dropped his tube of Carmex somewhere in our church parking lot, and since he kept repeating, “But, Mom! We have to go find my Carmex! It’s been so good to me all this time! We can’t just leave it out there to get run over by a car!”…eventually, our entire family could be found scouring the parking lot (in the dark) searching for Mitch’s lost Carmex.) Mitch felt so badly for the teen-cat Punchy had either intentionally or unintentionally taken the 9th life of, that he put Punchy back on her cable, placed the cat in one corner of the back yard and out of Punchy’s reach and determined he would have to bury it the next morning before going to work.
Well, morning came and Mitch found himself with no spare time to bury the cat. Therefore, yesterday mid morning, he called me and told me what had happened to the cat. He asked if would go cover it up until he got home, because he didn’t want some little girl looking over into his back yard and seeing her dead cat lying there. He’d checked the cat for name and/or owner address tags, or a pet license, but there was nothing to identify it. He didn’t want to simply put the cat in a bag and toss it in the trash—that was too cold-hearted (plus it might be against the law…I’m not sure). He wanted to bury it, so that it could go back to nature in as much peace as possible. I told Mitch that of course I would go cover up the poor little thing until he could get home.
Thus, I hurried out the door and drove to Mitch and Mal’s house, determined that it looked as if the cat’s spine and/or neck was definitely broken, put a box over the it, piled some heavy rocks on top of the box so the wind wouldn’t blow it off, and went back home.
By the time I returned, Kevin was back from working out and asked me what was up. I told him what had happened with Punchy and the cat, and that I had put a box over it so it wouldn’t be or messed with until Mitch could bury it.
“Why doesn’t he just throw it in a sack and put it in the dumpster?” Kevin asked.
I explained that this was our son—the one who use to worry about his Carmex tube being out in the dark alone or getting hit by a car. Kevin smiled and nodded with understanding.
But then he said, “Well, tell him not to let the neighbors see him burying it. It might upset someone if they owned the cat. He doesn’t want to have problems with his neighbors.”
It was a valid point. If Mitch went around telling all the neighbors that his dog had inadvertently killed an injured cat that had been trapped in his yard…well I don’t really think I need to elaborate on all the negative possibilities.
I said, “Good point, Kevin.”
Quickly sent a text message to Mitch at work that said, “Daddy says don’t let any neighbors see you bury it 🙁 .” Then I tossed my phone somewhere and went about my day.
Mitch worked late yesterday. So it was dark when he dropped by at 8:30 p.m. to borrow a shovel. Again Kevin asked him why he couldn’t just toss the cat in a dumpster. Naturally Mitch explained that he didn’t want to do that. That it wouldn’t be kind…that he felt like he should’ve been able to save the cat, or stop Punchy from killing it somehow and that that was bad enough…he certainly wasn’t going to just heartlessly toss the poor little thing in the dumpster.
Kevin smiled and understood. “Just don’t let the neighbors see you out there burying it,” Kevin added.
Mitch’s handsome brow puckered a moment with puzzlement. Then I saw understanding wash over him and he nodded. I thought it was weird though (that he should pause when Kevin said something about not letting then neighbors see). After all, I had texted Mitch the same suggestion from Kevin that morning.
Kevin smiled with at Mitch then and asked if he wanted some help burying the cat…and even though Mitch said he could and would do it…Kevin recognized that sometimes it’s nice to have your dad help you bury a dead cat…even if you are a 23 year old adult and perfectly capable.
“Let me get my shoes on,” Kevin said.
Mitch nodded, then looked to me and smiled saying, “We’ll be like the Klopek’s…out there digging graves in the backyard at night.”
I laughed and we made a few more references to The ‘Burbs. Then Kevin and Mitch walked out into the night to take care of the sad business at hand.
That was when I went in to sit down on the couch, and finally found my cell phone that I’d haphazardly tossed somewhere earlier that day. I had several missed calls, including one from my friend Karen and two from my dad. I knew that by then it was too late in the evening to return phone calls (especially to my dad, since he and my mom go to bed even earlier than I do). I’d talked to my dad first thing that morning and all was well at that time…and he hadn’t left a message on my voice mail, so I just decided to call him in the morning.
Once Kevin returned home from helping Mitch with their Klopek-ish task, I went to bed and didn’t think about it again….until about eight a.m. this morning when my cell started ringing and I saw it was my dad.
“Hi, Dad,” I answered. “I missed some calls from you yesterday.”
“Well, I was just wondering, what the hell that message I got yesterday was about,” my Dad kind of grumbled. “What’s going on down there?”
“What message?” I asked (having entirely forgot about Punchy and the cat for the time being.)
“That damn message I got on my phone yesterday!” he repeated. “What are you burying out there that you don’t want your neighbors to see?”
Instantly realization washed over me! Quickly checking my outgoing text messages from the day before…yep! I’d sent the text to my DAD…not Mitch!
“Daddy says don’t let any neighbors see you bury it 🙁 ”
Ah ha ha ha!!! I mean, roaring laughter, right? My poor dad! Ah ha ha ha! Pushing 80 years old this year and spending the whole day yesterday wondering what we were burying that we didn’t want our neighbors to see! Ah ha ha ha ha! I thought about Mitchel’s remark…just before he and Kevin left to bury the cat…“We’ll be like the Klopek’s…out there digging graves in the backyard at night.” I thought about the summer my dad and I decided the neighbors had been murdered and were decaying in the house next door…and as I told my dad the simple story of Punchy and the poor little cat—as we laughed about it—as I then called my sister and told her the story—as she was wishing as badly as I was that she’d done more Kegel exercises—as I thought about it all, I realized it was one of those moments—a story we’ll tell our grand kids one day—about the day their great-grandfather spent a whole night wondering what his kids and grand kids were having to bury that they didn’t want the neighbors to see.
It’s those moments—those memories that get us through the mundane things in life. They offer not only experience, but humor and an insight into how nutty we all are. The dad in While You Were Sleeping hit the proverbial nail right on the head: “You know…you work hard, try to provide for the family and then…for one minute…everything’s good. Everyone’s well, everyone’s happy…in that one minute you have peace.”
Yep…for one minute you have peace. Or else you have a good laugh…which is kind of the same thing! Klopek’s, Decaying Bodies and Misdirected Text Messages—those are the things that get me through the tough times. How about you?
Just for fun, here’s one of our favorite moments from The ‘Burbs (we often yell, “Yo, Rumsfield!)
And to this day, one of my daughter’s greatest ambitions is to one day own a cat named, Rumsfield! 🙂
Now, if you’ve never had the opportunity to watch The ‘Burbs, here’s your chance! Well, even if you have had the opportunity to watch it, just post a comment here or on facebook and Monday I’ll pick one lucky winner to receive a DVD copy of The ‘Burbs, okay? It’ll give me a chance to see if anyone really makes it through reading this whole blog post! Yikes it was long! 🙁