Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Weird But Thankful: The Lazy-Susan Years

Folks celebrate Thanksgiving in alot of ways. Most get together with family or friends and share the traditional meal of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Others dispense with slaving over a hot stove for hours and eat-out at a local restaurant. That, of course, is for normal people. My immediate family when I was growing up... well, we tended to celebrate in a slightly different way.

Not that we were strange to the extreme. The Kelly family -- mom, dad, brother, and myself -- was not your run-of-mill clan. We were a quiet and introverted bunch who kept mostly to ourselves. Oh, we were friendly to our neighbors and all. We went to church on Sunday morning and paid our taxes on time. We just had a peculiar way about us. And that usually extended to our celebrating of the holidays as well.

For the most part, we never celebrated Thanksgiving in the traditional way. We never headed off to Granny's house for the traditional holiday meal. My mother's side of the family were poor folks with scarcely enough to feed themselves, let alone a pack of relatives with a ravenous appetite. My father's side of the family was even more peculiar than we were. Grandma and Grandpa Kelly never celebrated any holidays that I could remember, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. No pumpkin pie or Christmas tree was to be found in that little four-room house in the rural town of Theta. Just the cloying smell of moth balls, endless copies of Tennessee Farmer lying about, and a furnace cranked up a few degrees shy of the surface temperature of the Sun.

So we concocted our own private Thanksgiving feast. This took place mainly between the years of 1968 and 1974, and involved a bygone device that many have completely forgotten. A wonderful wheel-like smorgasbord popular in the eras of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. The party on a turntable... the incredible Lazy-Susan.

I remember that my mother had acquired one around the spring of '68, whether as a birthday gift or a door prize at a Tupperware party, I have no earthly idea. I just remember that it showed up in the center of our kitchen table one night at suppertime. I don't believe my father was all that impressed with Mama's Lazy-Susan (he was a meat and potatoes man!) but my brother and I thought it was pretty danged cool. We used it a few times at suppertime, when we were having sandwiches and chips and such. Then, that November, Mama asked us boys what we wanted for our Thanksgiving meal. I looked at my brother Kevin and he looked at me and, in unison, we said "The Lazy-Susan! You know, with all kinds of snacks and stuff!" It seemed like a good idea to us all... a Thanksgiving meal without all the fuss and bother. My father sort of frowned upon the notion, but alas, he was outvoted three-to-one.

The Lazy-Susan itself was a marvel of technological design. A rotating base with a three-tiered selection of matching porcelain recepticles, ending in a large, covered dip bowl at the very top. Mama stocked the Lazy-Susan with all kinds of neat stuff... things we never ate as part of our regular menu. The lower tier sported finger sandwiches made of white bread and potted meat or pimento cheese, as well as potato chips or Fritos. The second tier contained mixed nuts, Chex mix, M&Ms, and those little pillow-shaped mints that were so popular at parties and weddings back then. The top tier with its dip bowl contained French onion dip, for the chips on the lower landing. It was fun to spin the Lazy-Susan back and forth, helping ourselves to the myrid of treats that it offered us.

Around the time that Nixon left office, the novelty of the Lazy-Susan wore off and we returned to traditional Thankgiving fare. Our Lazy-Susan was retired to an upper shelf of the kitchen cabinet, never to thrill and wheel again. I have no idea whatever happened to the thing. Perhaps, while we slept, my father spirited it away in a trash bag and hauled it off to the town dump with a mischevious grin on his face and a muttering of "Good riddence!" on his lips.

These days I spend my Thanksgiving at my in-law's house, enjoying the traditional meal of roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (you can't have too many varieties of taters down here in Tennessee!), macaroni and cheese, shoe-peg corn, and pecan pie (or pumpkin pie, if you so desire). Add gallon after gallon of sweet tea and you have a Thanksgiving feast a Southerner can really sink his teeth into!

But even now, I still have fond memories of that snack-laden Lazy Susan that reeled off the mileage in the center of our dining room table on Thanksgiving Day. That was a recipe my parents used over and over again during the course of my childhood. The simple but appealing equation of Weirdness + Nonconformity= Fun with a capital F. And for that, I feel pretty dadgummed lucky.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Hogwarts Dilemma: In Defense of Harry Potter

Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend an old-fashioned tent revival. It was a blast from the past; parking in a cow pasture, folding chairs on uneven ground, funeral home fans... the whole nine yards. And there was plenty of hellfire and damnation preaching, too. The kind that makes you squirm in your seat and take stock in how many of the Ten Commandments you might have danced around lately.

The preacher got to talking about things that were ruining today's youth and leading Christian children down the path of depravity. He started reeling off TV shows and books, and then he slammed his hand down on the podium and said "And you let your kids read that old Harry Potter! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" Well, I looked at my wife and she looked at me. Joyce looked a tad guilty. I didn't.

Our oldest daughter, Reilly, absolutely loves Harry Potter. The films, the books, everything that has to do with the boy sorcerer and Hogwarts academy for witches and warlocks. When she found out that Universal Studios was in the process of building a Harry Potter section in the Orlando amusement park, she was in seventh heaven. I'm sure we'll be walking the same cobblestones that young Harry has the next time we take a trip to Florida.

If I have anything to feel guilty about, it is denying my daughter the pleasure of the Harry Potter legend for several years, due to buying into the supposed evil of J.K. Rowling's magical land. Before returning to the mostly controversial genre of horror fiction, I was one of those in the amen corner, agreeing to the warnings that were being cast about... how our children would be led from God by the reading of the Potter novels or the viewing of the motion pictures, and how they would develop an interest in witchcraft and perhaps even want to dabble in the black arts.

Yes, I was blindsided by all that bull. But after deciding to return to writing in a field that most Christians regard to be questionable at best -- and abominable at worst -- I looked at the appeal of Harry Potter in a different light. Sure, Rowlings' entire fictional world is based on the practicing of witchcraft, but it is pure fantasy, not some dark snare set to sap our children of their faith and send them back-sliding toward the fiery pit. I've watched most of the movies and enjoyed them immensely, finding them to be clever and refreshing. As far as harmful is concerned, I see nothing dangerous about the content in the least. The Harry Potter legend comes across as a more hip and intelligent version of Bewitched. And, if my parents allowed me to watch that innocent, fun-loving television show about zany witches and warlocks, I certainly see no reason to deny my own kids an innocent, fun-loving series of books and movies about a bespectacled boy with a lightning bolt scar emblazoned upon his forehead.

Yes, I do consider myself to be a Christian, but I do not hold the same belief as some of my fellow believers that horror and fantasy fiction is basically evil and orchestrated by the devil. Some folks think that a writer must surely be morally bankrupt to want to write about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and the like... and even more depraved to want to focus their work on witches and warlocks. Simply put, to write about such things does not mean that we believe in them. It simply means that we have a macabre interest in monsters and menace and things that go bump in the night. And if we have a God-given ability to write of such things convincingly -- and scare and entertain folks in the process -- then maybe the Almighty has a purpose for blessing us with such a gruesome talent. Maybe it's the old tried-and-true storytelling of good versus evil that He wants us to carry on... a theme that is plentiful within the pages of the Bible itself.

So, despite the strict conventions of organized religion and frowning-upon by my fellow churchgoers, I will continue to write about vampires, werewolves, and the darker side of man... and feel no guilt about it. And I will let my children watch that so-called black magician and misguider of youth, Harry Potter... and I'll not feel a speck of shame for doing so.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A True Horror Story: A 7-Month-Old in a Body Cast!

We discovered Friday afternoon that our infant son, Ryan, has suffered a broken leg. My wife and I knew something wasn't quite right Thursday night when we changed his diaper and he cried out when we moved his left leg. We simply thought he'd hurt it somehow while he was playing (he's at that rambunctious age where he gets into EVERYTHING!). Friday morning, my wife asked our daycare lady about it and she remembered that our youngest daughter, Makenna, had been napping on the couch and, upon waking, stumbled and fell on Ryan, sitting down in his lap... all 37 pounds of her. We took Ryan to the pediatrician Friday afternoon, then on to X-ray, and discovered that he had suffered a spiral fracture to his left femur bone.

Late Friday evening found us heading to Nashville and Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Due to the fact that he was only seven-months-old and a femur fracture is a particularly serious one, they fixed Ryan up good... with a body cast that starts just below his chest, extends down both legs, and ends at his ankles. There is a steel bar between his knees that seperate and stabilizes his legs. I must admit, he's a right pitiful sight to behold, but it hasn't dampened his spirits in the least. He's still as cheerful as ever (see the photo above). To tell you the truth, if it was me stuck in that contraption, I'd likely be in a mighty sorry and cantankerous mood!

Ryan will wear the cast for four to six week, until the fracture heals completely. Since he will require around-the-clock care, I've decided to take a family medical leave from my job to stay home and take care of him. I may get a little writing in during that time, but my main concern is to make sure that Ryan's healing process is 100% positive with no setbacks. But with the good Lord's help -- as well as the thoughts and prayers of friends and family -- I'm sure we'll get through the next month and a half just fine.