Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Funeral for Sven

It's writing challenge time, brought to you by Indie Ink. New writers are always welcome to sign up for next week's challenge by following the link above.

Week 23
My Challenger: Amanda
My Challenge: Why were you down at the river last night?
Who I am Challenging: Marian
What I Challenged Them With: Starting with the letter A, every next word should start with the next letter of the alphabet. You *must* cycle the alphabet at least four times, but you may continue further.... (She completely blew me out of the water with her answer--awesome beyond imagining! GO READ IT! Or, ya know, drop dead... Or something...)

A Funeral for Sven

"Sven Holmstrom-Lagerstrom."

"Excuse me?"

"Sven Holmstrom-Lagerstrom. Did I stutter?"

"Look, I... Um..." Hildegaard trailed off. Found the train again. "Grandma, look, the police found a dead, crisped up body floating in the river. Someone said they saw you down by the river that night. Do you think you could do a little bit better than ripping names out of Eric the Viking?"

"Eric who? Do I know him?"

Hildegaard sighed for what seemed like the nth time that night. The last thing she expected to be doing after commuting for three hours back from Manhattan was to be talking to her 97-year-old grandmother in a police holding cell. Never mind that her grandmother couldn't possibly have lit a man on fire and then dumped his body in the river--her nursing home was two hours away! Let alone having the strength to drag a body down the muddy banks!

"No, Grandma. I just--you just need to tell the police you weren't there, they must be mistaken, and this will all go away, okay? Okay, sweetie?"

"But I was there, child. You think my mind is going, don't you?"

Hildegaard looked toward the two-way mirror rather than allow her grandmother to see the truth in her eyes.

"You see, Gladys never did like fire."

Another trip down a forgotten memory. She turned once more to face her grandmother. "Excuse me?"

"Well, she didn't! She almost died in one as a little girl, you know. And when they read the will and it said that Sven wanted a traditional Viking funeral? She nearly died right then and there! Well, not then and there, of course. We all agreed in front of the lawyer that it probably just meant we would have to wear longenhergan. Then we went home and had one of Louisa's grandchildren do that... What's that thing called, dear?"

Hildegaard stood there, hands on hips, a look of anger and confusion warring across her face. "Grandma, you are making no sense whatsoever!"

"No, darling, really... Internets? Gosling something on the Internets?"

"You mean googling?"

"I'm not sure. Sounds like that might have been what she called it. And a wicked pedicure, if memory serves."

Hildegaard turned toward the mirror. "I'm seriously hoping one of you out there is taking notes. If this doesn't prove my grandmother's not a murderer, I'm not sure what does!"

"Don't raise your voice, dear. Use your indoor voice."

She slumped down in a chair opposite the elderly matriarch. "Sorry."

"Where was I?"

"Looking at goslings on the intranets." She laid her head down on her folded forearms in defeat.

"Oh, yes. Thank you, dear. Anyway, when we heard what the intranets had to say about, you know, traditional Viking funerals, well, Gladys was quite beside herself, as you can imagine." She cackled. "Oh, my. But what could we do? A last will and testament isn't something to sneeze at, you know. Have you seen my crocheting, dear?"

Mumbling through her arms: "No."

"No matter. Well, that meant the longenhergan was out--"

"Ma'am?" A policeman entered the room. When Hildegaard looked up, she could tell he was trying his damnedest to suppress a smile. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but could you please clarify something for us?"

"Why, sure, sweetie! What is it?"

"What is a l-... long-... longenhergan?"

"Why, you know... The helmet. The helmet with the horns! Only the very best Vikings wore them, you know."

"Of course. Thank you, ma'am." He turned and closed the door behind him, but not before Hildegaard heard the peals of laughter.

"You see, grandma? You see? They're gonna have to go for an insanity plea if you don't just tell them you weren't there."

"Don't be silly, dear."


"Where was I? Oh, yes, so, we all went back to Gladys's house, you know, friendship and comfort in times of grief, that sort of thing. We started baking a Vänskapskaka, you know, while we discussed the funeral--"

"A what?" she asked wearily.

"A Vänskapskaka. Oh, it's simply delicious! Remind me to get you the recipe--"

"No thanks, grandma."

"Ma'am?" started the policeman, entering again.

"It's a cake, dear. A traditional friendship cake. Take proper notes, now, young man, I hate repeating myself, you know. Good penmanship!"

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, grinning from ear to ear.

Hildegaard's head slumped back down.

"You call that posture? You'll ruin your back, dear."

She waved one hand lazily in the air, then allowed it to flop back down on her tangled hair, head down, nose to table.

"So we, of course, looked into renting a boat."

Hildegaard didn't even bother asking.

"And you can't just have any boat for a Viking funeral, as I'm sure you are aware."

"A boat. For a funeral. Grandma, really."

"Hush, dear. So we called up Louisa's grandson again, and he was so sweet, oh, just so sweet! He ordered us on the bay a nice krigsfartyg! It was perfect! It even had a mermaid carved into the front--sent us pictures on Louisa's little phone thingumabob!"

"I'll ask before smiley comes back in--a krigsfartyg?"

"A boat, dear. Do you know none of the mother tongue?"

"You've been in the U.S. since you were two, grandma. Speak in English, for god's sake! We may get out of here before--" She glanced at her watch, then sighed. "Never mind." She placed her head gently back on the table.


"Yes, dear. Taking very legible notes, yes?"

"Yes, ma'am. So we're to understand you purchased a boat--from which bay? The Chesapeake? The Hudson?"

"No, no, dear, it was another thing on the intranets, had a vowel? Oh, now I feel like Vanna! Is she still on the television, dear? Vanna White?"

"Do you mind?" the young policeman asked, gesturing toward the other empty chair at the table.

"Oh, and so polite! Hildie, dear, you could do to date someone so respectful and dashing."

"Listen, Smiley," she said, raising her head and glared at the officer. "We done here? Some of us have to work in a few hours."

"Just a few more details, ma'am. This is officially a crime investigation. You can never be to careful."

"Ibay? Obay?"

Hildegaard sighed. "Ebay, grandma?"

She shook her head. "I don't think so... But anyhow, it was very nice. He even had it 'rushed' to get it in three days! Such a sweet boy." She turned her aging head toward the policeman. "Such a nice young man."

"Please, ma'am, go on."


"This ridiculous story, grandma."

"Oh, yes, yes. The krigsfartyg. Well, it arrived--on a tractor, if you can believe that! We were all there on Gladys's patio when they delivered it. We wanted them to take it right down to the water, mind you--"

"So, you were at the river?"

"Don't rush me, young man."


Hildegaard rolled her eyes. "Grandma--"

"Dear, enough with the attitude. You'll never land a husband being so hostile all the time. Am I not right, officer?"

He shifted in his seat, stifling giggles once more.

"Now, the delivery man said he wasn't licensed to do that--you know, take it to the water for us, and the funeral home gentleman said he wouldn't deliver the body to the river either! Well, I was in a huff, and poor Gladys was fit to be tied! But then Louisa remembered she had another grandson with a pick-up truck! So soon we were on our way!"

"Do you know the names of these grandsons?"

"Oh, dear, I... Well, officer, I would hate for them to get into trouble on our behalf, but..."

"I can get you Louisa's phone number, officer," Hildegaard offered.

Her grandmother huffed at that. "Well... So, we all piled in, stopped by the funeral parlor to claim Sven, much to the funeral personnel's dismay, mind you, and headed off toward the river.

"Well, let me tell you, never was there a prettier sight! Gladys had brought some lovely flowers, as did I, and Hazel and Louisa had some old blankets! With her boy's help, we managed to get the boat on the water and arranged Sven just so...

"He looked so peaceful..." She trailed off.

Hildegaard watched as Smiley proffered a tissue. "Grandma?"

"Yes, dear," she sniffed, wiping the tears from her eyes.

"Not to seem insensitive, but... Well, it is two in the morning, and..."

"That late! Well, you don't say! My, my, my. Well," she sniffed once more, "as I said, Gladys was always afraid of fire."

"You covered that already," Hildegaard snapped.

"Young lady! I've half a mind to take you over my knee and slap you on the tubbenburbles!"


"Buttocks, young man. Pardon my language." She gave a baleful glare to her granddaughter.

The walls and closed door did nothing to dampen the laughter from the outside hallway, and even officer Smiley couldn't hold back the giggles. Hildegaard sighed, this time in defeat.

"So I did it. I lit the match, and as we watched, Sven went to be with the good Lord, just as the sun was setting on the horizon. The boat caught the current, and before we knew it, it was all ablaze and drifting off around the bend..." Her eyes drifted away, her gaze in her mind's eye, watching Sven once more.

"So, to clarify, ma'am, you were down at the river last night?"

"For Sven Holmstrom-Lagerstrom."

Previous Challenges I have answered:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Growth of a Human Being...

“If we're growing, we're always going to be out of our comfort zone.” --John Maxwell
First off, let's please note the irony of an atheist quoting an evangelical pastor.

So noted? Good. Moving on...

Now, let's note Spike. He is the 19+ inch tall cactus you see just there on the right. When I received Spike as a gift about 6 years ago, he was two inches tall with a purple plastic flower glued to his top. He was purchased at a grocery store in that section where they retain all things green but not necessarily of the produce persuasion. I was in the hospital having a tumor removed from my spine (benign, of course), and husband knew of my love for all things plant, but not necessarily produce, related. It was one of those "I fall in love with you all over again" moments.

Spike himself won't naturally bloom until he is somewhere between three and four feet tall, as is the wont of his species of cacti. If I ever want to see Spike dressed to the nines in this fashion, I must make sure Spike gets all the things he needs to be a fully productive member of his species: water (if sparingly), sunlight, proper soil. If I fail, Spike may die. He certainly wouldn't flourish and grow. And he will never, ever bloom if I, as his caretaker, fail in any way to provide for his needs.

Moving on...

A few years ago, there was quite the bru-ha-ha in our family as we were all once again planning our giant family get-together for the summer. And I say "giant" because when you have four siblings, each with their partners and various children and the total number of people in your immediate family exceeds twenty individuals--well, not many can relate to an immediate family of that magnitude (which is why some of the in-laws have adjustment issues when they first join our clan), and it's always quite the production.

But the bru-ha-ha happened because of the youngest sibling: she wanted to take a "moral stand." She was afraid her two children would see me and the husband in the same bedroom and ask questions--questions she wasn't prepared to answer. She was afraid they would somehow be introduced to the "gay lifestyle" too early, that it would seem as if she were "endorsing" our relationship (a very bad thing to do when you're a conservative Christian, as some of you may know), and didn't think she should have to explain to her children why Uncle Jason slept in the same room as Uncle Rich...

Needless to say, they never did come on that family vacation with the rest of us...

Anyway, a recent blog post by a Catholic woman has gone viral (see here) and it reminded me very much of the incident in our own family three years ago. Some excerpts from her blog post:

At the pool this summer there were homosexual couples with children and, while I was polite as my own young daughters doted on the baby with two "mommies", I also held my breath in anticipation of awkward questions - questions I'm not ready to answer. My young daughters are all under the age of eight and they are not old enough to understand why a baby would have two women calling themselves "mommies".


When there were two men relaxing at the side of the pool unnaturally close to each other, effeminately rubbing elbows and exchanging doe-eyes, I was again anxiously watching my children hoping they wouldn't ask questions. They don't see Daddy do that with anyone but Mommy.


Two of my daughters were in the sandbox, one on the slide, the other on the swings, and as I lifted the baby out of his stroller I looked up to see four women laughing at a baby boy as he was swinging in one of those bucket baby swings. That seems harmless enough, but I'm so sensitized to the strangeness in my community that I've developed this ever-present jumpiness whenever I'm in public. Sure enough, two of the women, so happy to see a baby boy laughing, embraced and remained standing there rubbing each other's back in a way that was clearly not just friendly affection.


I find myself unable to even leave the house anymore without worrying about what in tarnation we are going to encounter. We are responsible citizens. We live by the rules, we pay our taxes, we take care of our things. I'm supposed to be able to influence what goes on in my community, and as a voter I do exercise that right. But I'm outnumbered. I can't even go to normal places without having to sit silently and tolerate immorality. We all know what would happen if I asked two men or two women to stop displaying, right in front of me and my children, that they live in sodomy.
Am I allowed to say how scared I am that this woman is raising seven children?

But I digress. What I really want to talk about is the rampant "sheltering" that goes on in conservative communities. As if "parenting" has come to mean giving your children "selective" information about the world instead of trying to teach them to live and cope within it. To protect them from differing people instead of trying to teach them about the differing people of the world. To raise kids in a bubble so impenetrable, so strong, that when they do hit the real world, when they do find out that there are people out there who don't share the same view that they had growing up--well, they either
  • fall back on that same mindset and continue to shelter themselves from the world (thus stunting their own growth even more than their "concerned parents" had...)
  • go crazy, not knowing how to cope, and go off the deep end in various ways (i.e., having no knowledge of the dangers of over-drinking, of unprotected sex, or any number of other, easily explained social dangers),
  • or they examine their beliefs, realize how they were failed as children by their uber-protective parents, and grow in the new sunlight of knowledge.
Did you notice the recurring fears in Stacy's post? Afraid of the "awkward questions - questions I'm not ready to answer"? "[W]atching my children hoping they wouldn't ask questions"?

One of the (misguided? misunderstood?) recurring themes in the comments is the "if you're liberal, you should tolerate my viewpoint" persuasion. But the thing the right-wing doesn't seem to understand about tolerance is the fact that tolerance does not mean putting up with nonsense, does not mean putting up with ill-thought-out beliefs, does not mean letting them believe whatever the hell they want without challenge, especially if you are putting it out in the public sphere of a blog.

Tolerance IS ONLY ever meant to be the smallest part of patience. And when the patience has been tried, tolerance goes out the window. Tolerate is what you do when your two-year-old tried again to drink from a cup instead of his sippy-cup; or you tolerate the sales person who called during dinner only as long as it takes to get them off the phone; you tolerate a visit from some member of the family you dislike for the sake of a holiday, or some-such other type scenario. Tolerance is not letting you live in fairy-tale land where you get to tell everyone else how to live and making your religious preferences the rules the rest of us have to live by. We tolerate a plethora of beliefs in this country. We do not have to tolerate you trying to tell everyone else how to live, and we certainly do not have to stop holding hands just because of your failure to answer a child's questions, if indeed they even ask any.

It is not the rest of the world's job to protect your children from life. It is not the rest of the world's obligation to shelter your children. When you decided to become a parent, you assumed the role of care-giver, of knowledge-imparter, of teacher/guidance counselor/role model, and a plethora of other hats. It is not a parent's job to shelter children--in fact, that would be the exact opposite of being a parent.

In fact, that would be more the role of jailer; prison guard; totalitarian.

And in those conditions? Nothing ever blooms... Nothing good ever comes of it... Nothing productive ever will.

Unless you think the role of parenting is to stunt the growth, knowledge, and strength of the next generation...

The growth of a human being...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just Two More Pussies...

For all you folks who are not on Facebook--you know who you are (Mom!)--the people that get a Facebook account, say "Hi!" twice in six months, delete your account, and then wonder what's going on in people's lives...?

Uh-huh. Don't deny it.

Anyway, we've recently become father's again:

Rio and Puck, brothers by birth and by havoc wreaked, came to us after their previous owner's dog tore through a basement door in an attempt to kill them (no one ever claimed dogs were a cat's best friend--I suppose now we know why...). And while they have managed to get into both Beaux's and Hawthorne's good graces with much less effort than I thought it would require, given their history with other animals, their capacity for all things destruction-oriented makes me think it's just my calling in life.

Having a calm, quiet, content animal, that is. But then again, I hear pet's do tend to take after their owners, and in that, I have no defense. (I can't help but wonder, though, if owner's just tend to pick animals with personalities much like their own...?)

While Rich likes to think I agreed to the name "Rio" for the long-haired orange cat in due respect and reverence for the dearly-departed River Phoenix (as if...), I mainly agreed because Rio is just like a river, with his rippling waves of fur, his rapid switches from calm and serene to all-out attack. It's a fitting yet cursed name, yes?

And then there's Puck, the medium-haired, cross-eyed, frock-wearing-wanna-be-Catholic scaredy cat. You breathe to hard and he leaps up like a deer and dashes off like a cheetah. He's loves-loves-LOVES to cuddle (until you breath...), so I thought a proper fairy-tale name was more suitable--you know, easily frightened yet full of love? Regardless of the fact that I completely forgot what a trouble-maker Puck was in literature, I certainly didn't expect Puck to know that. However, he can't seem to help himself, and thus he is aptly named after all. Climbing window screens, leaping on his brother, attacking Beaux, having stand-offs with the 60-pound half-pit Hawthorne... One can't help but wonder if it's the crossed eyes or just his attitude...

Be that as it may, we are now a 3-pussy household consisting only of dicks...

Go figure, as my father would say...

And in my defense, all I can say is at least this time, I wasn't expecting any girl cats...

Just two more pussies...