Some of my earliest memories are of my dad telling me “stories” to get me to stop fussing and go to sleep. “There was a little boy once who was walking through a really creepy forest,” he would say, leaning forward. Do you know what his name was?”
“Oh no, is it me?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that it’s a little boy named Chris, and he’s walking through a scary forest. He knows he’s supposed to be quiet or the monster will eat him.”
“Shhh…” He would put his index finger to his mouth and cast a wary glance over to the closet door. Then he would chuckle.
My sister, Erin, has always been the visual artist of the family. I have tons of memories of her working diligently at the coffee table on wonderful profiles of faces. Then whenever she was close to finishing, Dad would get up from his Dad Chair, walk over to the coffee table, and ask heartily “Do you know what this drawing needs?” Erin would sigh and push the paper ever so slightly away from her. I would lean in, knowing what came next. Dad then would pick up Erin’s pencil and proceed to draw boogers coming out of her subjects’ noses.
One day when I was about seven he came home from work with a mysterious wooden box that he had carried with him on the Long Island Rail Road. It was very sturdily built. The sides and the bottom were completely sealed. One half of the top was an equally sturdy hinged lid; the other half consisted of a kind of chicken wire, stronger than the normal type. We could see the tip of a small bushy tail sticking out of a mouse hole that separated the two halves.
The outside of the box was covered with a stenciled warning: BEWARE. LIVE INDIA MONGOOSE. THE SNAKE EATER.
The set also consisted of a two-foot long pointy stick.
Dad gathered us around (but had us keep a “safe” distance), picked up the stick, and began to prod at the bushy tail. He could barely contain his glee as he told us of the wonders of the LIVE INDIA MONGOOSE.
This was all misdirection as the lid was spring-loaded. When he was sure we were all focused on what must have been a very angry LIVE INDIA MONGOOSE, he undid a hook-and-eye latch, and the lid flew open towards us. Turns out the bushy tail was hanging loosely off a small nail on the inside of the lid. The LIVE INDIA MONGOOSE lunged towards us, no doubt ravenous for blood after such a vigorous poking by a man who had had a cocktail or two on the train. My sisters and I screamed and bounced up and down. My mom let out an exasperated “Ron!”
For the next few years, every visitor to the house was led down to the basement to meet the LIVE INDIA MONGOOSE.
When I was little, Saturday nights on CBS were magical. All in the Family led into M*A*S*H* led into The Mary Tyler Moore Show led into The Bob Newhart Show led into The Carol Burnett Show. It was three hours of solid family entertainment –sophisticated humor for the adults and enough pratfalls and wordplay to keep the kids happy. But Dad’s favorite half-hour was The Bob Newhart Show.
It was when he could torment me with his Suzanne Pleshette conspiracy theory. “Did you know Suzanne Pleshette has a wooden leg?
“No way! She walks normally.”
“Why do you think she’s always wearing pantsuits?”
(Please don’t ask why they’re Poles.)
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!