Thursday, June 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

So now that the temperature has risen well above that which any human being can endure, I am reminded of a moment in the past, when the air was cooler, and the sun had fled before the wind and snow.

My family, being the pastor's clan, had just come from the candle light service. I was still pulling wax from my skin, where it had pooled from the overly-waxy candle and its inadequate paper holder, causing great pain. I was shivering, as usual, since the van has barely enough energy left in its aged corpse to move forward, let alone to spread heat to its passengers.

I had chosen, or rather been told, that this was a good opportunity to wear a skirt. Muttering words that no PK should say before a church service, I selected the kilt my gran had sewn me from wool she'd bought in Scotland. Hundreds of pleats weighed me down, and the miserable shoes which matched pinched at my toes as I hobbled into the van, out of the van, into the church, out of the church, and back into the van. The last thing I expected was the noise that the van uttered, a miserable groan, a cry of automotive terror; the agony the van was then experienced seemed to be a precursor to its demise.

"What's going on?" I cried. "What was that?!"

Now, in order to understand what happened next, you need to know my father's history with automobiles.

Back in the day, with a friend of his, he had bought and restored a fancy old car, which he then thought made him The Man. However, after restoring the thing, he let it go, got in accidents, and eventually gave up on what could have been a promising hobby of fixing his broken cars. As a result, no car we as a family have owned has ever been fixed in any way by my father.

Instead, he comes up with "solutions" to percieved problems, which include turning up the radio when the engine is making a funny noise, shoving napkins into the gaping holes in the windshield-seal (my car), or calling out random car parts until the repairman says he might be right, and he walks away thinking himself a master diagnostician.

My father has also been known to take the blunt end of an axe to the doors of his car, in an effort to correct the damage done by a run-in with an unfortunate deer. The doors would no longer open more than a few inches, barely enough for a person to squeeze through, and his solution involved bashing in the door near its hinge so it could open with ease. He did, however, neglect to fix this problem on the passenger side, meaning that the poor passenger (me) would either have to shimmy through the tiny gap in the door (the usual solution), or crawl through from the driver's side (people other than me, who were slightly more important). This was the car I dubbed "Puff the Tragic Wagon," and during the years my father drove it, I created an entire theme song set to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon." When Dad finally decided to sell it, he made a giant sign proclaiming, "Still Runs Every Day!" in big, happy letters. The man who bought it from Dad took it right then, licence plates and all, and drove it across country until it finally died, at which point he proceeded to walk away. This was possibly the path of his flight from prosecution. In fact, I would bet on it. Dad ended up having to pay to have the vehicle towed from its position on the interstate and to a car graveyard, leading to the tiny sum he had earned from its sale being siphoned into its destruction fund.

So Dad, following these events, no longer answered his children's horrified screams. His solution to any problem was to pretend it did not exist. So when our tire had lost every bit of air at the side of a country road in a blizzard which had pushed snow plows into the ditch of state road 15, I had no idea what was going on.

Seeing as how no country road, even county-line road, had any form of lighting, Dad had to be creative. He took the tiny, AAA battery-sized flashlight from his keychain and held it between his teeth as he struggled to jack up the car and free the flat tire. We all took turns shivering with him in the cold, as a form of family support. However, soon he began to cry "aaaAAHHH!"and the furrow appeared in his brow, sure signs of a coming explosion, so we fled back into the car.

Then, randomly, a man pulled over. Not only did he want to drive us home, he was someone we knew. He took Mom, my brother, and I all to our house, where we turned up the heat and made hot chocolate for Dad, who had begun to put on the spare before we left. We expected him at any moment, and, even as the chocolate cooled, we began to wonder.

A half-hour later, he pounded in from outside.

A problem had occurred. The spare, apparently, had been almost flat too. The man who had picked us up had gone back to Dad, offered help, then had given him a can of emergency tire sealent for the leak in the not-totally flat spare. Dad had fitted the tube of the can into the tire, sprayed it to seal the leak, and had attempted to remove it, to no avail. After trying again and again to free the can, Dad had given up, and had driven home with the can still attatched to the tire, showering sparks behind the van as he drove.

Later the next day, Dad liberated what remained of the can by cutting off the tube and using pliers to free it from the tire.

Mom, finding all of this as humorous as I, took the flashlight and fashioned it into a Christmas ornament.

Now, every Christmas season, it is the first to adorn the tree. When we see it, we all dissolve into laughter, except Dad, who goes outside to check the air levels in every tire, including the spares.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Somebody Call the UN

My dad has just brought home paint again. It is a blue-gray color, usually the color of a cloudy day, the color that means we stay inside and read good books and drink cocoa. But I know better. The cans he brought were not a nice omen, because they were filled with house paint.

Now, Mom has been begging us to do something about the house for over two years. Dad is way too busy to handle managing the painting, unless he takes vacation time, since he is attatched via a Brethren umbilical cord to all members of our congregation, their friends, relatives, and distant aquaintences. She is miserable with the way the paint has curled up, whimpering, and given up the hope of clinging to our siding, falling away in long, snakelike chips, never to return. And the mold growing behind our bushes in the front of the house, which made its appearance a full two weeks after our last paint-job, has reduced her to tears more than once. I firmly believe that the mold was always there, but the green paint of my childhood had shielded us from noticing what cadet blue has drawn to our attention.

From the moment I saw the cans, anxiety has been growing deep inside me. Yesterday, when I nonchalantly picked up a paintbrush to put it away, I had a full-out flashback, which led me to drop the brush in horror, shaking bodily.

I am twelve. Dad is thrilled with Mom's decision to repaint the house, because he has realized that his children have reached the age where slave-labor is acceptable. Or at least they could be employed legally. He has determined that they will paint alongside him, so he can teach them a Work Ethic. They will then become Responsible Adults, proving that he has been a Good Father, after all.

However, he also knows that, being young, the two young and innocent members of the family might need valuable fatherly attention while learing to paint. This, he concludes, is far too much of a commitment on his behalf. He needs all his attention to put toward the house painting, not the supervision of two novices. He has conveniently forgotten that his children had painted INDOORS many times already, and is convinced that they have never held a paintbrush.

He also knows (or fears) that if he leaves them under the watchful eye of his wife, they will be allowed to wander away to other pursuits. This is unacceptable. No pain, no gain.

So Dad set off for the hardware store. Now the owners of the hardware store know my father by sight. The few times I have accompanied him on trips there, I have watched as they scurry to the back room, scattering keys and paint-stirrers in their wake. The novices are left to listen to my father's rambling, aimless questions, their eyes wide, shaking behind their counter. I pity them all. But this time, Dad knew exactly what he wanted.

Hey kids!" he cried when he returned, brandishing the nondescript brown paper bag. "I got you a suprise!"

I was looking forward to painting the house, quite naively. I closed my eyes, imagined white overalls, a little white hat, and an artistic sprinkle of multi-colored paint over the purity of my crisp new clothing. I would perhaps have a smear of paint on my cheek, which would be alluring on a tween like myself. My hair, in its loose ponytail would be shiny in the sunlight. Passing motorists would be transfixed by the adorable Laura, expertly painting her home, and would hire her to paint their homes, paying her in library cards and trips to Barnes and Nobles.

Dad pulled the bag open and brandished his gift.

It was a half-inch wide, barely two inches long, with a flimsy, four-inch wooden handle. And it was made of foam. He had brought home sponge-brushes,

Believing his children incapable of handling a real paintbrush, he had determined that the best solution was to bring them a fail-safe: something that would easily protect from errors of massive proportions, no drips, no loose fibers caught in the paint, no spiders drowned and fused with the siding, no mistakes.

Laura and Paul spent the next two weeks grasping the miniature brushes, meant by their designer for fine-detail work, never for painting the massive sides of a country home. Paint dripping down their forearms, they were unable to swat the mosquitos which fed off their blood.

By the time Mom discovered the sponge brushes were in use, I had lost so much blood that I could no longer stand without assistance, and I spent the next two weeks believing I had contracted malaria.So, standing at home yesterday, I dropped the paintbrush that I had discovered, which clattered to the ground at my feet. Ever since then I have been in the office, drinking Big Gulps of Dr. Pepper and eating Tums like candy. With any luck, the house will be finished before Dad notices I'm gone.