When I was a child, there was a neighbor boy who was considered extremely bright. A younger brother followed but he evidently didn’t show the same degree of intellect. My mother commented that his mother must have been glad to have a regular or normal boy. I still can’t decide exactly what she meant. Was my mother merely reflecting a bias of her own? Did she think a high IQ child was a hardship of some kind? (I fail to see how as I had a reasonable, albeit not likely genius, IQ, and nobody did anything special for me, ahem.) Was a high IQ child intimidating to her? Or otherwise off-putting?
I think I may have sold my soul to the company store.
I was quite late to online shopping generally, but once I got on board I sure took to Amazon. I’m no shopaholic, going into debt buying figurines or other crap I don’t need and in fact, I strictly use Amazon gift cards for purchases (no extra fee for the “privilege”). I find stuff there I can’t get in stores, love the convenience, and often ferret out good deals. There is no question Amazon has made my life better.
Now that being said, I often feel Amazon knows me just a little too well. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’ve got psychologists on payroll to help them assess customers’ personalities and buying habits. Amazon is “Big Brother” albeit a mostly kindly one. Seduction is a far better technique than bullying, no?
When I first purchased a tablet (from Amazon) I steered clear of those produced by Amazon, i.e., Kindle/Fire. I wanted some of my life to take place away from Amazon’s watchful eye. I was pretty happy with the tablet, that is until this year, when after having it just over 2 years, the touch screen began to go bad. The virtual alphabet wouldn’t let me type certain letters, important ones like “a” or “t” for example. I’d tap “a” and it would type “s.” Being who I am – somewhat tenacious by times (especially when saving money is involved)) – I tried to work around not having a full alphabet at my disposal. Also – and try not to think less of me – I wanted to give the tablet a chance to fix itself or mend its ways.
Equally bad, I was hitting things on the screen I didn’t intend. To my surprise, I joined a “drum jam” on Facebook. I discovered this when I got my acceptance. Oh my! I had never even seen the group before let alone intentionally pressed “join group”. I hastily apologized and removed myself. That was innocent enough, but it occurred to me I could get myself into worse trouble with a bad touch screen. What else might I inadvertently join? Who might I send a message to? What might I purchase? No, it was time for a new tablet.
I strictly looked for inexpensive ones, just basic internet, I don’t need a lot of tricks and features I’ll never use. Also, I was irritated that my initial outlay of cash had gone south so quickly. This led me to an older model Amazon Fire. For weeks, I let the marked-down tablet languish in my online shopping cart. And for those same weeks, in my mind I kept hearing the words to the old song about the company store. When I was a kid, we had access to a pile of old 45 and 78rpm records, oldies left over from my parents and older siblings, and this was one.
For kicks – and because I don’t feel like looking them up – I’m going to share the lyrics from memory: “Sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don’t you call me because I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”
My sister and I would happily sing along to the baritone-voiced narrator. I didn’t know what a “company store” was or why someone might be so indebited to it he’d be unable to get into heaven. I just knew the tune was catchy!
Decades later, I eye Amazon warily, feeling fairly certain with the purchase of their tablet (and its “special offers” i.e., ads, imbedded into it) that I’ve indeed sold my soul to the company store. I bet there won’t be much of anything they don’t end up knowing about me. “I owe my soul to the Amazon store…”
I remember the first time I saw a copy of Playboy magazine.
After she married, my older sister, trying to be a hip woman of the world, gave our father a subscription to the men’s magazine for Christmas one year. This was odd for several reasons. Ours was a conservative, religious household. Our father was no ladies’ man and gave no evidence (beyond becoming animated about the yesteryear film star Mitzi Gaynor) of being all that interested in such things, at least not at that point in his life. He was not even lusty toward his wife, our mother (no bear hugs, kissing, or vocal hubba-hubbas, let alone swats on the ass were ever on display). My mother would surely not have approved of either the magazine or the gift but I now expect she must’ve looked the other way, and not objected audibly since it was her favorite daughter doing the gifting. That’s my best explanation anyway.
After we expressed interest, it was decided that my sister, two years older, and I, could see an issue of the magazine. We were probably 11 and 13 at the time. However, our father went through it first and then handed over a heavily redacted magazine. There were thick black lines drawn through much of the copy. Of course, then I was most curious about what had been hidden from us, although now, I expect I’d have been disappointed with the verboten content. This because our father had odd ways of thinking in general, and related to children, especially girl children, poorly. He grew up surrounded mostly by rough-and-tumble brothers, didn’t understand us, had no interest in trying, and was old enough to be a grandfather to his youngest children, of which I was one. Lord only knows how he decided what wasn’t fit for our viewing.
I have to tell you, though, even in its weird condition, the magazine was a happy surprise, in that I’m still a bit shocked that we were allowed to see it at all. I don’t remember much of what I thought about the visible content. I’m sure I didn’t relate to the women shown or the overall sensibility, but no doubt was glad to learn what it was. Curiosity has driven me all my life and this subject was no different. My sister and I looked at the magazine together, alone, and then returned it. There was no conversation with any adult as to what we’d seen, or if we had questions. This was typical of how things were done in our household, and I’d have expected no different.
When I was a child you know what I got to do on Christmas Eve? What every kid loves! Practice my penmanship! What’s this, you ask? Well, my mother would have us sit down at the dining table and carefully write our letters to Santa. In fact, we needed to re-write it until our individual letter was honed and mistake-free. Once my mother said it was okay, we burned our letters in the fireplace, with the understanding this was how they got to Santa. Burning wasn’t optional. I told myself elaborate stories about how the ashes must somehow magically reconfigure themselves back into a letter once they’d cleared the chimney.
This little enterprise was a sham on several levels. First, having to practice handwriting on Christmas Eve. And then burning a letter no one would ever read. And there’s the fact that the presents we were going to receive had already been made or purchased, so fat chance of getting anything requested. (What did my mother think as she read our wish lists of things we stood small chance of getting? “Chumps”??).
I never knew anybody else who grew up with this peculiar ritual so tonight I googled “burning Christmas letters to Santa.” Bingo! We got hits! It seems that it’s a custom for British children to burn their letters to Santa. I was knee-jerkedly going to tell you well my family was certainly not British – my father was 100% Italian (northern-not-Sicilian), and I learned to recite that we were “Irish, Dutch, French and German” on my mother’s side, something I went on saying for decades. My mother proudly liked to claim her “Irish” heritage and always wore green on St. Patrick’s Day. Except…except turns out that’s not entirely true.
About 2 or 3 years so I independently discovered very detailed maternal genealogy online and learned that yes, there was German, French, and Dutch back there, but the “Irish” bit was negligible. (If I recall, my mother was an eighth Irish, meaning her children were a scanty sixteenth.) Moreover, there was a healthy dose of English! This was both freaky and kind of exciting to me – surely not on the level of discovering you’re in line to inherit the Rockefeller fortune, or that your real dad is Kevin Costner – but interesting nevertheless.
I kind of wonder now if that heretofore undiscovered English heritage a few generations back is the reason I had to burn my letter to Santa on Christmas Eve. Well, blimey, mates! Bollocks, I just don’t know. I think I’ll go eat some crisps and think about it…
My parents both came from a rural area in a neighboring state. As a family, we often returned to the area to visit since many of our relatives remained there. The home and 40 acre farm that had belonged to my paternal grandparents stayed in the family, although the house itself was left more or less vacant for years. My uncle and his brood lived right down the road and were essentially the “next door neighbor” to the farm although next door was separated by some distance, which was either a short drive or a medium walk.
At some point, my uncle procured Mary and Joseph statues from his church. I don’t mean he stole them; the church must have given them away. I don’t remember a baby Jesus being part of this package, although it’s been a long time and living elsewhere, I had limited observation of the affair. I did, however, see Mary and Joseph up close and personal over a period of years. First, they turned up in the living room of the farm house (I guess my uncle didn’t want them at his house? Not sure.). When I was still a kid and our family visited, we sometimes stayed in the vacant house (which we called The Old House), and having Mary and Joseph there too scared the bejeepers out of me. I found life-size, or near life-size statues in this case, just creepy. To this day, I tend to sidle up to statues and stare intently, waiting for sign of movement, an eye blink or something. At any rate, I hastily moved past the living room when Mary and Joseph were in residence.
On a later visit, Mary and Joseph were now on the stone front porch of the house. I guess they decided to take in the air, a change of scenery. There was a story, told by one of my cousins who lived down the road, about a friend of hers commenting on the strange people that she always saw on the front porch. There was enough of a distance between the porch and the road that surely they could have been mistaken for the real thing.
By the time I entered my teens, Mary and Joseph had migrated from the porch to the property proper. They were looking a little worse for their advanced age and what with roughing it in the great outdoors. Joseph’s ceramic hand had broken off so that his raised appendage was now just wire (I hadn’t known that such statues were built around wire frames till I saw that). Joseph looked a bit like a berobed Captain Hook. The farm grounds were the site of our annual summertime family reunions. These reunions were noted for their marked consumption of keg beer. Somebody stuck an empty on Joseph’s wire hand. It was not me.
There was a long-abandoned, decrepit 2-story house on the property that was referred to as “the shack”. It was abandoned far more completely than the main house. There were no doors and windows; looking through the front door – or the opening where a door might have been – you could see clean out the back side to the fields behind it. The last time I saw Mary and Joseph they were far from the main house and appeared to be heading in the direction of the shack. I happened upon them in tall grass. Mary was upright but Joseph, beer can at his side, was now lying on the ground. Oh, I wished I had a camera. It looked like they were headed home, with Mary trying unsuccessfully to rouse drunken Joseph off the ground after a late night.