The Perennial Middle Child

This is reprinted (with a few changes to some previously irritating syntax) from Nov. 2015.

Version 2

Know what prudes don’t like? Short-shrifting months.

To  short shrift means To give little consideration to.
  A shrift was the penance imposed by a priest to provide absolution.
 Death row in the good old days of jolly old England didn’t last for years.
 Usually one went from the trial to the sentence to the gallows.
 So they only had time to consider a short penance, or shrift, before facing the hangman.
 Every cloud has a silver lining.

The short-shrifted month to which I refer is November. Squeezed right on the back of Halloween, most participants on 11/1 are too sugar-dazed with trick-or-treat candy to notice its arrival.
Poor November grew up believing its real name was “Only a few dozen shopping days till Christmas.”
The typical middle child. Sandwiched between the over-achiever and everybody’s favorite.
November isn’t much to look at, at least in most parts of the northern hemisphere. October is a flamboyant exhibitionist, with its “look at me, everybody!” attitude. December gets grace and affection and enough twinkle lights to give Jupiter a migraine.

But the eleventh month is drab and modest and unmemorable. It shies away from weather extremes. Every few years it works up a doozy of a blizzard, or a few balmy, halcyon days, but they are soon forgotten in the gray chilliness.

No matter what November does, its reputation is set. It is the awkward, frumpy month. Occasionally it can be found huddling with March and grousing about ingratitude and kiss-up months like May and June that everyone likes even though they have no major holidays to commend them.
November may be disgruntled at times. It might indulge in spates of self-pity and drizzle its misery all over our windows, but it still has reasons to hold its head high. Cheer up November. Look what you’ve got to offer!

Veterans Day


After a shameful period beginning about 50 years ago, when the armed services were treated with disdain, veterans are finally, in some quarters, given the homage due them. November is the perfect month to recognize these men and women. Humble enough so as not to obstruct their honor under a plethora of picnics and three day weekends. Sturdy enough to support them on matching 11/11 legs.

Deer Hunting Season


While the season has been extended so far that Pilgrims are now applying for licenses, its apex is November. The quiet sky (bereft of birds that have sought out the warmer fraternal twin of November somewhere ‘down south’ ) is filled with the ringing of shotgun blasts. The drab woods are brightened with jackets, vests, hats and pants in that glowing color affectionately known as ‘blaze orange.’

Thanksgiving


The shining jewel in November’s dowdy crown. The holiday that exempts us from buying gifts, sending cards, and untangling two hundred miles of twinkle lights. The holiday that only requires us to cook our turkey till it reaches an internal temperature of 165°, include at least one menu item that vaguely resembles a vegetable, and watch football games through a poultry and carb-induced stupor.
November is waving its unprepossessing hand and wants to say something.
 Don’t forget to be thankful. Don’t forget to articulate the thanks. If you have the breath of life in you, there is something to be thankful for.


November remains out of the limelight and lets Thanksgiving take center stage, and Thanksgiving will gladly step back and showcase what really matters.
Gratitude. Hearts filled and overflowing and bursting with so much thankfulness that voices are raised to God and hands outstretch with shared bounty.
Never give the middle child a short shrift. A meek nature can hide a heart of gold.

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Fly in the ointment, or, Silver Kisses Among the Gold

Autumn purists are everyone’s heroes come September. Pumpkin this and apple that and spices and yellows, oranges, reds and browns begin popping up while temperatures still hover around triple digits. At the close of Labor Day autumn appreciation explodes everywhere, including my house.

An entire day. That’s how long it takes to decorate my house for fall. And come November first I add the Thanksgiving decorations to the mix.

Here’s the problem. Autumn, so beloved at the end of summer, gets kicked to the curb before the Halloween candy is passed out. Christmas has been hovering around the edges of autumn for two months now and at the stroke of midnight on October 31st it springs full blown to coat the nation in red and green, holly and berries and silver bells.

The ramifications for autumn purists are manifold. And not the least of these is the dearth of autumn colored candy. My pumpkin jar stays out till Thanksgiving but no red or green candies will ever see the inside of it. The problem is getting hold of appropriately-colored candy after Halloween. So I stock up as soon as the Autumn Mix and gold, red, orange and brown M&M’s hit the shelves because they’ll be gone faster than the carved pumpkins on your front porch.

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It all looks lovely, doesn’t it? But here’s that fly in the ointment. I don’t understand the silver kisses. Do they fit in with the warm colors of fall? They do not. I try to bury them in the middle of the jar or convince family members to only eat the silver-wrapped kisses. But some always worm their ways to the visible outer portions and MESS with my autumnal color scheme.

I’m thinking of starting a campaign to convince the Hershey’s Kiss folks to Save the Silver for Christmas. Want to join my cause? That’ll earn you a kiss.

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They also serve who only stand and save a seat for your sorry self

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Recently we attended a graduation. Not a cast-of-thousands ceremony with tickets more coveted than invites to Windsor Castle. Nope. Bible College commencement. Still, I was relieved when we arrived early ( say Whaaaaatt?) at the venue—a large church. Plenty of seating. Relief lasted until we saw the long line of cars turning into the parking lot.

“We have to save seats for the rest of the family!” I shouted over my shoulder to my husband, and sprinted for the building. An elderly man saw me coming and tapped along furiously ahead of me but I put on some speed and beat him, along with a little lady in a wheelchair and the pregnant couple with a toddler.

In the lobby, several clueless types stood around chatting, either going on faith that the best seats would wait for them, or because they already had their placeholder on duty.
I’m a self-appointed placeholder. Vivid mental images drive me to it. Ones involving Standing Room Only, anterooms with a fuzzy video feed, or balcony seats so high that George Jetson might buzz by and wave. So if no one else volunteers, I take it on myself to save seats. Sometimes I conscript my husband to help.

Prime seats chosen and the prospective number in our party tallied, my husband and I set to work spreading two humans to cover twelve chairs. We did the One-Bun-on-Two-Seats trick. That was four. My purse saved another spot, my makeup case was commissioned to reserve #6. Our respective programs saved seats Seven and Eight but that left four seats we couldn’t figure out how to reserve. Necessity is the mother of contortion. We leaned forward (uncomfortable in our seat-straddling posture) and draped arms over the seat backs in front of us. It was the perfect position to watch the methods of other placeholders.

Across the aisle from us a young lady tried vainly to make her size 2 sweater cover three chairs. She arranged and rearranged and twisted and finally, in an act of desperate self-sacrifice, yanked on the sleeves and extended their reach by a good seven inches. With brave tears she turned from the ruins of her cardigan and went in search of her people.

Requiring less martyrdom but more coordination is the Stand, Seek and Shoo method. This allows one to mark territory not by physical procurement, but by shooing away any and all approachers. One remains on location, scanning all three entrances. You’ve seen these people. They keep weight balanced on the balls of the feet and regularly sweep a searchlight gaze across the doors to watch for their latecomers. They flap vaguely menacing hands at anyone who casts a sideways glance at the unpeopled seats. When they spot incoming, you’ll see them call, wave, and sometimes whistle at their people, and you know you are watching the elite multi-taskers of placeholders.

The ones that scare me are the Sit and Scowl types. Most of them, I’m pretty sure, were born pre-Baby Boom. They sit smack dab in the middle of a section and glare at passers-by. In times past I’ve had the temerity to point questioningly at the seats surrounding these dour and forbidding folks. And scurry away with a clipped and authoritative “These seats are saved” ringing in my ears.

Our own pragmatic adaptation of various methods doesn’t really have a name. My husband is the more relaxed of us. I try to look serene and at ease, facing the front. I attempt to read the program I have spread open two seats to my left and one row ahead—it is difficult to look at ease when sprawled over multiple seats in two separate rows. I try to avoid anxiously cranking my head over my shoulder looking for the rest of our group because for pity’s sake people are giving us dirty looks. Here I employ the apologetic upward glance, at least 50% insincere because it is mixed with “Maybe if you’d gotten here earlier you, too, could be spilled over all these seats.”

Finally my husband, stretching so his muscles don’t seize up, says, “They’re here.”
We wave casual hands and smile graciously at their thanks and collect up our personal effects. Then we settle down as if this whole placeholder thing were nothing, absolutely no big deal. And inside a smug little portion of our brain is saying “If it wasn’t for me you’d be watching this entire ceremony on a twelve inch screen in the overflow room.”

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Big sisters are always right

When my older sister (or my much older sister, as I like to call her when I think she needs to be taken down a peg or two) was born, she got every single ‘ability to organize’ gene from our mother. By the time my younger (not all that much younger) sister came along, some of those depleted  genes might have built back up and passed to her.
Sadly, instead of the gene that helps me sort and collate and coordinate and prioritize, I got an extra several thousand molecules of ‘just read a book and drink coffee.’

So when Older Sister pointed out that my blog is called ‘The Tuesday Prude’ but my sporadic posts are often on any day but Tuesday, I put down my book, took a fortifying swig of coffee, and explained:
“‘Tuesday Prude’ was chosen because I like the way it sounds.”
Such a delightful internal assonance. And I had great intentions of posting every Tuesday. Just like this morning I had great intentions of beginning a paleo lifestyle. Once the loaf of bread is gone.
For some inexplicable reason, Tuesdays are SO HARD for me.

But, because Older Sister is usually right, and because I’m taking cues from the open and transparent and forthright political climate,
I’m turning over a new leaf, and posting on a Tuesday.
(Remember though, in this political climate, new leaves only last a week.)

Here is an old poem from an old book of my dad’s, that my youngest son had newly bound for my Christmas present. I like this poem. Poets always talk of geese leaving in the fall. But here in my neighborhood they are back, and clamoring in excitement over the marsh’s receding ice-line.
I’m squawking and flapping right along with them.

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Wild Goose in Spring

Wild Geese
Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Beauty is coming north again
Slanting eager as the rain;
With necks like arrows on a bow
Across the sky the wild geese go.

Beauty is coming moulded by
High winds of the upper sky
Into shapes that burn to be
In a patterned symmetry.

Loveliness comes like a host
Of lean ships headed for a coast,
Every sail and every keel
Pointed at a common weal.

Comeliness in company,
Every wing where it should be,
Their feathers are communal things,
They help each other with their wings.

Aging Like a Conifer

‘Let me grow lovely, growing old”

is a poem by Karle Wilson Baker, which I’m not sure I can reprint because I’m not sure it’s public domain. (Prudes thrive on assessing and evaluating each potential action they might take, then searching for laws that could prohibit such action.)

The poem goes on to extol other beautiful, fine old things, like lace. Trees make the list.

Oak trees grow lovely, sure.SONY DSCMaples? You bet.

The venerable weeping willow droops gracefully as she sheds her final tears. SONY DSC

Elms, even those untidy, drop-their-messes-everywhere mountain ashes—

hardwoods wear their age well.

 

 

 

 

 

The leaves these old deciduous trees dropped the previous autumn might not all be replaced in the spring. Come late summer, their scant leaves fade into fall hues even as their younger compatriots still flaunt green foliage.SONY DSC

But sparser leaf covering serves only to accentuate the splendid outlines of these trees.

There is dignity in the gnarled, scarred trunks.

Branches, some of them more fragile now, still extend with grace and beauty. More of the basic structure is being revealed, and it is beautiful.

The deciduous tree is stately.

Its oldness has a fine quality.

Even the most elderly of these, naked and alone, can provide a perch for the majestic bald eagle.

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With the exception of the giant redwood, maybe the grand cedars of Lebanon, very few elderly needle-producing, cone-bearing softwoods inspire poets.

SONY DSCA spruce, on exiting middle age, gets all prickly and irritable and begins to drop things.

The ancient fir suddenly realizes he is more bark than bite.

Pines fight a losing battle with needles turning from verdant green to unattractive rust.

Or worse, the needles fall out, never to return.

 

Think ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.’

 

The tall conifer looks over its shoulder one day and realizes it has developed a distinct dowager’s hump.SONY DSC

Your yew (just let that phrase roll off your tongue), along with cousins cypress and hemlock, realize they are getting bald and spindly.

And the lowly arborvitae is just a bedraggled mass of sepia-colored scales drooping from veiny branches.

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Brittle needles.

Unnatural color.

Unattractive veins and spindly shanks and drooping limbs.

That’s how a conifer ages.

 

 

Some of us, as we wend our way through mid-middle age, mature like hardwood deciduous trees.

Fine, elegant, stately.

And some of us, as we approach our pre-old age years, can’t help but notice we are getting scaly and droopy and rusty and prickly.

None of us have total control over how we’ll age.

It’s built into our DNA.

Plant an acorn and an oak grows.

Plant a scale-covered seed and you get a conifer.

Oak trees, maple trees, birch—they grow lovely, growing old.

Conifers just . . . grow old.

But little birds lighting on the numerous exposed branches of an old conifer don’t care what it looks like.

Their unlovely tree provides rest and shelter and doesn’t mind being swarmed with small bodies as long as the little ones don’t take the prickliness personally.

Old oaks, ancient maples, venerable elms, grizzled birches—still delight the senses with their beauty.

But the  sparrows in the branches of an aging conifer don’t care about dropping needles or sagging limbs or spidery veins.

Like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, the conifer might not have grown lovely, growing old,

but it has grown love.

The Lecture Lance

Readers of The Tuesday Prude may come here for real-life advice that addresses real-life issues. (‘What if my child’s eyes glaze over during lectures?’ or ‘Would this be a good time to lecture those in Washington DC who should KNOW BETTER?’) 
Any resemblance to actual expert advice by weapons tacticians, child psychologists or purveyors of world peace is purely accidental.
We want to educate you in the ways and means of prudishness and would love to build our ranks. But please take most of what we say with a grain of salt. Or possibly the entirety of Salt Lake City.

We wrap up our lengthy examination of Prude Weapons with the most potent of arms.
The Lecture Lance (LL)
Today we practice
 How to Use it.
We learned to brandish it only on those over whom you wield authority, or those who should KNOW BETTER. For our purposes we’ll call them Temporary Combatants (TC’s).
But don’t let its limited range deter you from becoming an expert in its use. A single human can and does make a difference. One person ( I’m going to invent something. I think I’ll call it Facebook) can influence one other person (and I’ll ask so-and-so to be my friend) and that person influences someone else (Hey! I can be friends with people I never met!) and soon the entire known universe is connected via status updates.
The same principle applies to The Lecture Lance. If everyone (E) uses one (1)  powerful lecture on each temporary combatant (TC) in their sphere of authority, all of civilization will soon feel the prickles of the it-has-to-hurt-to-make-a-difference Lecture Lance.

Are you skeptical of the LL’s power? We provide an algebraic proof:
If
E (1L x TC) = E (LTC)
And
the sum of E(LTC)  lectures everyTemporary Combatant in THEIR spheres (ETCS),
then:
ETC (1L x TC) = (ETCS) x infinity
which equals—well—you do the math.
We can’t. That’s why we are humor writers.

Remember. The Lecture Lance is your most powerful assault weapon. Drill daily prior to employing it in field combat.

Before a maneuver,  check that every part of the lecture is functioning.
Make sure to include:
Premise:  how fortunate the temporary combatant is to have a parent/authority figure who cares enough to lecture
Examples: how if ________ (ie. Attila the Hun / the neighbor’s drug dealing son / reprobate of your choice) had had an authority figure who cared enough to lecture, he wouldn’t have _______ (died from heavy drinking after battling Rome / currently be sitting in a Turkish prison waiting to find out which, if any, of his limbs the judge will allow him to retain / consequence of your choice)
Persistence:  several reiterations of “Don’t sigh and/or roll your eyes. It just makes the lecture longer”
Application: a recap of the TC’s lapse from good behavior and expectations for future improvement
Binding up the Wounds: fervent, though stern, affirmations of the long-suffering lecturer’s love and/or concern for the temporary combatant

Train diligently, and you can survive and even thrive in the heat of battle. Your can stand firm when the TC’s eyes roll backward and pause under the eyelids long enough to collect an opaque glaze. You won’t lose your focus in the face of sighs deep enough to suck all oxygen from the room.  And you won’t EVER let anyone tell you that you are nagging. Nagging is a battering ram poisoned with nerve gas. Instead of heightening the moral sense, nagging numbs it.

The Lecture Lance is a prude’s refined, humane, and effective means to prick the conscience of our temporary combatants and prod them back onto the path of good behavior. Our dream is that some day, history will point to prudes and say: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.*

*Winston Churchill, a man who knew the power of words.

The Tuesday Prude is WHERE?

If you are in the mood for the politically correct versions of titles, or what happens when authors forgo a thesaurus when titling a book, head over to The Barn Door. The Tuesday Prude is hanging out there today with a little something we like to call ‘Little Women? or Small Ladies?

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