Me

Sometimes, a walk down memory lane… sucks.

One of the cool things about kids is that they unintentionally unearth back-of-the-rack childhood memories.

It’s like my brain is filled with long, dimly-lit corridors, crammed with stuff I’ll never find. And, like kids running with arms outstretched down a grocery story aisle, eventually, they’re bound to knock something off a shelf.

It happens periodically. Most recently, this morning. The kids are attending a Harry Potter camp, and they were chattering about puffs… puffs, pygmy puffs and magic. It wasn’t long before my brain drifted to the song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

I don’t know if my parents owned the record, but I distinctly remember hearing the song in my Dad’s green MG. I was pretty young, waiting in the car, while Dad retrieved his dry cleaning. I remember twisting the radio’s black rubber knobs (which I was allowed to use, opposed to the TV dials which I couldn’t touch, after I accidentally removed the on/off knob). I heard that song several times.

Puff the Magic Dragon,” I tested aloud in the kitchen, “lived by the sea, and… and….what did he do? Something, something, in a land called Homily.”

The kids immediately took interest. They didn’t know the song, but they wanted to know it.

I googled the title on my phone and it popped up, accompanied by a low-grade, still-frame youtube video. I hit “play,” and resumed breakfast distribution and lunch assembly.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea

And frolicked in the autumn mist

in a land called Honahlee

“Autumn mist, that’s it!” I said. “Now it’s coming back to me.”

But as it came back, so did the vague notion that this tale about a boy and his dragon didn’t end well.

Sure enough, as little Jackie Paper and that rascal Puff, frolicked, and sailed happily around the world, a feeling of dread settled over me.

“Hey,” I said slowly. “I should mention that things might not end well for Puff…”

Just then, Peter, Paul and Mary hit the stanza where Jackie Paper — lured by toys — loses interest in Puff. He totally disses the dragon, and Puff plummets into a deep depression. His scales fall off, he slips into a cave, and presumably dies.

That’s when Hadley unleashed a guttural cry. “That is SO SAD!” she wailed hysterically, tears streaming down her cheeks. “The dragon was his best friend and he ignored him! And he died!”

Cayden hugged Hadley and he started crying. Brynn hadn’t quite grasped the ending, but her eyes welled up, too.

“Hey, stop crying! It’s just a song,” I said, grabbing my phone. “Look, this isn’t even Puff! Puff has green scales! This stupid dragon is orange!”

Hadley kept sobbing.

“You never cried when I read The Giving Tree,” I said. “That boy cuts his beloved tree down to the stump, and you never got sad about that!”

“A tree isn’t the same as a dragon!” Cayden replied tearfully.

In the early 1970s, I never cried over Puff. But there wasn’t any visual evidence of the dragon’s demise. It was just a strange, kid-appealing song among adult contemporary radio rotation.

“Seriously, stop crying,” I said, semi-sternly. “Hey, some people think that ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is about smoking pot!”

That didn’t help.

“Okay, you can update the song, with a modern spin,” I suggested. “Nowadays, the boy would ditch Puff, and some cool girl — who doesn’t fall for cheap, plastic crap made in China — would become Puff’s best friend. And together, they’d sail the world, and find Jackie Paper’s house… probably in some shoddy subdivision. And then Puff would use his fire-breathing skills to torch the roof off!” I gave the kids an encouraging smile.

“You could end the song that way. Puff would live happily ever after! Well, assuming he didn’t encounter a US Navy destroyer… or Somali pirates.”

Cayden mulled this over. Hadley remained remorse until we shifted back to Harry Potter.

So, what did I learn today?

It is possible to make three kids cry simultaneously at breakfast.

And some memories, miraculously unearthed, are best re-shelved.

Flip the calendar; we made it to June.

I’m tired to the bone… as though I’ve been flattened by an 18-wheeler.

Which means it must be June.

Yea! We survived another season of hell. Most folks refer to this time as April and May, or “spring.”

Not us. One moment it’s late March: you’re cruising down the road, arm dangling out the window, and barely breaking the posted speed of 25 mph.

But flip the calendar to April and suddenly, the gas pedal’s been jammed to the floor. Your skull whacks the headrest as the car takes off, and you’re hurtling down the road at 120 mph, desperately clutching the arm rest and struggling to stay in your lane. The scenery flies by in a blur, but there’s no slowing down. You grit your teeth and white-knuckle the wheel until finally — thankfully — you hit max speed, activating the governor. The car slows, eventually rolling to a stop, and in a daze, you glance around wondering, “Whoa… what just happened?

You have raced through a mish-mash of activities, softball practices, games, parties, school performances, horse shows, hunter paces, steeplechases, pony club, doctor appointments, meetings, end-of-school events — one piled atop the other — for 8 weeks.

Or a marathon 11-weeks, since this year’s hell slopped onto a third page.

Apparently, today is… June 22.

The 22nd? Yowza.

Judging from Facebook, it appears that we party endlessly and trail Brynn and Rocky, obsessively photographing them at various venues.

Really, other stuff has happened. I’m just too tired to name it, or find any gooder words to describe… the other stuff.

So here’s an illustrated glimpse of recent going-ons —  based on iphone photos:

Yes, Brynn gladly accepted a couple of sidesaddle opportunities. (Thanks to Sarah, Liz and the pit crew who assembled child and pony at multiple events.)

And on one occasion, I actually wore a dress. (Yes, I do in fact, own dresses. The hat, however, was a loaner.)

Prior to her sidesaddle debut, Brynn added vaulting to her equestrian resume.

Her glam look was also short lived. Later that day — 50 miles away, with the word “West” inserted before “Virginia” — here she is, a few hours later:

I realize that there are usually two other kids in our possession. At some point in May, my mom whisked them off to France, for a 10-day jaunt in Paris and Provence.

I know, rough life.

Sometimes those kids — including the other one… the small, bossy model — forget how good they have it.

Like the day they set out for the pool, while Martin moved last year’s forage across the loft, and unloaded a hay wagon… in 93-degree heat.

When I discovered those chore dodgers, I accused them of the worst offense. “You’re posers — city kids pretending to be farm kids.”

Brynn burst into tears and wailed inconsolably… as if I’d cursed her very existence. (Nothing worse than being a called a “city.”)

Of course, I’d never curse Brynn. Out loud.

But some days stretched my sanity to its limits…

… and forced me to resort to desperate actions.

Let’s see… what else?

Brynn celebrated a birthday. Cayden “graduated” from elementary school. And Hadley participated in, well… everything.

At present, all 3 are at an undisclosed sleep-away camp. (They don’t want other kids to “discover” their retreat, so they simply call it The Camp. In fact, Hadley glared at me murderously, when I mentioned our drive to West Virginia. Good luck finding them based on that tip.)

In their absence I’ve been trying to restore order. On Monday morning, I composed a list of chores and plotted a clean-up plan.

The mudroom seemed a logical point of attack. I sighed, then waded in.

But that morning, I did not restore order.

I kicked clear a path, slammed the door, and spent the day guarding the couch and the TV.

You never know when they might try to escape.

And me without my dog crate.

Max Und Moritz

How often one must read or hear

Of children, who should be so dear,

But are as naughty as can be

And practice darkest devilry.

 

Like most kids, I was raised on a diet of popular, perennial children’s books, like: “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “The Giving Tree.”

But my grandmother also introduced me to Max and Moritz: two cartoonishly unattractive and unrepentant boys, who terrorize their community with cruel, malicious tricks.

Originally published in Germany, in 1865, “Max and Moritz, A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks,” occupied my grandmother’s bookshelf, and she frequently translated the tale — told in rhymed couplets — while I listened enraptured, and scrutinized each illustration.

The story was a welcomed diversion from typical books, laden with lessons and awash in sweet, furry animals and light-hearted fun.

These boys were rotten to the core. They strangled the neighbor’s chickens, in gruesome style.

They sawed through a bridge, nearly drowning the town’s tailor.

And they packed their teacher’s pipe with gunpowder, causing an explosion that disfigures his face and burns off his hair.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy bedtime reading…

But I never tired of this narrative.

Considering children’s literature that is banned or criticized — (Shel Silverstein’s whimsical poems have been banned for promoting disobedience) — it’s unlikely that school libraries will ever stock Max and Moritz.

Fortunately, my kids have not been deprived. While I’m unable to translate German, I recently stumbled on a tattered, paperback English version of the tale.

I read it over dinner. The kids barely touched their food, opting to peer at the pictures of two gleeful boys, wreaking havoc and celebrating the suffering of others… just as I had followed my grandmother’s book, so many years ago.

I was happy to share another childhood memory — a story, which actually, has a happy ending.

The villagers get their comeuppance.

Max and Moritz choreograph 7 pranks… but the final one does them in.

When they slash open a farmer’s sack of corn, he catches them in the act. And he bags them, and hauls them to the local mill. There, they are ground into bits.

From an adult’s perspective, I see the lesson instilled — from the relieved villagers, who express no remorse:

“None but self to blame, mischief is not life’s true aim.”

And, although the chickens are victims of Max and Moritz’s first trick, ultimately, the poultry persevere.

The ducks — who live at the mill — are fat and happy.

They devour all that remains of Max Und Moritz.