Friday, April 09, 2010

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

More and more, researchers say that a child's personality is formed by early influences. Once, I asked hubby why he is so organized, and he mentioned that his grandmother, who was the most influential person in his early life, made him put up anything he finished playing with, so he is ultra-organized.

My early life was also ruled by the elderly. Initially, mom had a lady come stay with me in our home; when she gave up the job (too old to deal with a toddler) my dad took me to my great-aunt's house, which was in Redstone. There, I learned to read and write. In addition to reading with me, Aunt Stella had me copy the labels of the jars in her pantry. Actually, when I began school, I thought it largely a waste of time; I'd been there and done that. Just before I began formal schooling, my paternal grandparents took over my childcare, and from them I remember stories. Lots and lots of them. Really, I should write them down, although I am several decades away from being able to check them for accuracy. I should stop letting that hold me back, and I should record some of them, to pass along. I am quite certain that my love of story-telling goes back the early years.

When I write a suspense yarn, as I did with The Gift Horse, or science fiction, as I did with Trinity on Tylos, I look to favorite examples. Someone said that mankind learns at the school of example; it is true. When I write that memoir, I could look at any number of examples, but as a teenager, I read Jean Kerr's collection of humorous essays, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, which remains one of my all time favorite reads. While it was published one year after my birth, and seemed a bit dated when I first read it, the struggles of a mom balancing work and motherhood are timeless. These tales of the Kerrs rearing their six kids are incredibly funny at times. The title comes from the instructions that parents give children. Try as we might to anticipate what the little darlings might do, we really can't predict what they'll get into next. So, when the daisies in the table centerpiece disappear into the mouth of a child, Kerr says she'll will know to say, "Please don't eat the daisies."

Just the chapter titles can evoke a smile. One of my favorites is "Aunt Jean's Marshmellow Fudge Diet." Nowadays, deriding fatties is the last acceptable form of prejudice, but Kerr's take on the matter is more balanced. I remember an illustration of a guy, looking longingly at his plump and smiling bride's picture, while a thin and irate woman stands waiting to chide him for some unknown failing. Kerr's take on it is "She's as big as a house, but he's crazy about her!" Sometimes fat and happy is better than thin and crabby. And there's her observation that if you are still wearing maternity clothes when the child begins school, maybe it is time to take off a few pounds. Obviously, Kerr doesn't deem extra weight to be of paramount importance, and I don't think the word "obesity" appears in the entire chapter.

Another favorite section is "Operation, Operation" wherein Ms. Kerr observes, "One of the most difficult things to contend with in a hospital is that assumption on the part of the staff that because you have lost your gall bladder you have also lost your mind." Or my personal favorite quote, "If you feel terrible, look terrrible." In fact, I am terribly good at that.

In one of the essays on child rearing, Kerr relates that when her sons kept climbing out of their upstairs bedroom windows, the parents decided to have chain link fencing nailed over the windows. I just love her observation about the new addition to the house, "It gives the place a nice, institutional look." Kinda reminds me of the miles of new, black, chainlink fencing they've installed all around the local schools to keep the yard apes under control. Every time I drive by, I recall the phrase, "a nice, institutional look."

Although there was a movie version of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and a television show based on the movie, neither of them capture Kerr's sharp, witty prose. The book is long out of print, but used copies are out there, and finding one is worth the search.

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