Saturday, July 05, 2008


It only took Norah a few floats to get the hang of darting out to pluck candy from the asphalt in yesterday’s 4th of July parade. We’ve been parceling it out to her at a controlled pace ever since and taking a few liberties for ourselves along the way.

The Tootsie Rolls are a popular treat for all members of the Grenstead, and the Jolly Ranchers are pretty inoffensive as well…but it seems I am alone in my enjoyment of the Bit-O-Honeys. Moonshot tends to make nasty faces as I unwrap them and then gagging noises as I eat them. Her face turned to bewilderment however, when I commented, my teeth gummed together with confection, “Ya know, they’re good…but they’re just not the same without the grit in them.”

You may be making a face similar to the one my wife made, because to understand my sediment sentiment, you’ll need some history.

I started caving with my Dad when I was about five. He purchased a kid’s football helmet and outfitted it with a headlamp since no one made functional hardhats for the preschool set. He taught me to pack for safety: three independent sources of light (typically your main headlamp, a reliable flashlight, and one or two cyalume lights (glow sticks.) Also on your person should be a canteen of water, maybe a space blanket (foil hypothermia blanket,) some matches in a waterproof container (especially important is you were a carbide caver…which I wasn’t at that age,) and some snacks.

My Dad took the snack selection very seriously. The snack break on a one-day cave trip (I wasn’t allowed on the overnight trips at that age) nearly always came at the very back of the cave. You’d stop, chat with your mud-coated friends and refuel for the trip back which you knew was going to be exactly as grueling as getting there in the first place. So, Dad was looking for a snack that was compact, delivered a good sugar punch for energy, would stand up well to being squished, rolled on and possibly soaked, and had at least the illusion of some healthy benefit. And as a man who raised bees and swore by the health benefits of his tablespoon of honey per day, the mere mention of the word “honey” on the label, even if it did only promise a “bit” of the substance, was enough to make Bit-O-Honey the obvious choice for our caving snack.

We didn’t eat them any other time. They weren’t my favorite candy and Dad was a Jelly Belly man when out of the confines of the cavern. And so the Bit-O-Honey was only eaten while resting countless feet below the surface of the Earth with muddy fingers to pull the wax paper from between the little segments of the taffy bar.

Since I’d not had one since those long-ago cave trips stopped, I had never really realized until earlier this evening as I chewed on that beige candy that the sandy grit of Missouri caves had become an integral component to my nostalgia for that red-and-yellow-wrapped Bit-O-Honey.

I tried to explain this to my wife, but she just shook her head and went back to stirring her “Chicken” Tortilla Soup…no doubt lamenting what a thankless job it is to prepare a delicious meal for a man who thinks mud is a gourmet ingredient.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Friday the 13th - Chapter 3: Hockey Night in Kansas

I’ll admit that I was in a fowl mood by the time I returned to Sarah's wedding reception…and might have stayed that way had it not been for my dear brother. Seeing that the lone half-keg of Boulevard Pale Ale was about to be emptied before I even had one cup (leaving me with only a wide selection of [shudder] macro-brewed lagers) he and my cousin Jerry had schemed to secret me away one cup of the good stuff. It wasn’t so much the beer that snapped me out of my funk as much as the joy with which they delivered their quasi-illicit good to me. Thanks again, guys.

We were just standing toward the back, discussing the beautiful park and building flaming napkin they had found for the ceremony.

What’s that? There was a flaming napkin there? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I saw that too, but I had to do a double take to be sure cuz it happend so fast. No cause for alarm…just a groomsman fleeing the building with flame spouting from his fist. Go about your business.

Anyway, we meandered outside, my brother and I. He’d been hitting the macro-brewed lager and his arm gesticulation was showing it. My cousin Caleb (Sarah’s brother) sauntered over and as we chatted, Caleb started joking with a group of groomsmen standing in a group beside us. He knows a little sign and so was having fun teasing the guys, all of whom had come down from Toronto (the groom’s hometown) for the wedding. I tried to think of something to converse about with these out-of-towner s and thought to myself that I do actually have a few Canadian friends, and pride myself on knowing a bit more about our neighbor to the north than your average American. I considered current Canadian events and remembered a conversation I’d had with my friend Simon about Hockey Night in Canada losing its theme song. It’s a big deal up there, apparently. It’s been called Canada’s second national Anthem and is a major source of pride. A good place to start a conversation, I thought.

“Caleb,” I said, “Tell them how sorry we are for their ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ loss.”

Caleb had no idea what I was talking about, but began signing. Jet knew this story from my retelling and laughed as he tried to look as sympathetic as he could to make the joke better. The best man looked confused. I assumed Caleb just hadn’t translated correctly. If this thing was as big a deal as Simon had lead me to believe, surly any Canadian would know about it. As I began explaining to Caleb the nature of the joke with him translating what I was saying to the bewildered group, my brother was “helping” by striking an imaginary puck with a pantomimed stick. One of the groomsman got excited. He played hockey and thought were saying that we did as well. We assured him that we did not and tried again. And it was somewhere during this time, while Jet mimicked air guitar to indicate the theme song aspect of our joke and as Caleb turned to shake his head at us that it hit me…none of these fine gentlemen had ever heard the theme song from ‘Hockey Night in Canada.” They’d never heard anything. They had no interest in theme songs and were thus blissfully unaware of any controversy surrounding what tune plays at the beginning of Canada’s most popular sports program. We were, my brother and I, while trying to prove just how sensitive we were to Canadian issues…proving how utterly clueless we were about deafness.

“Nevermind,” Caleb signed to them.

My brother, unfazed…hoisted his beer high and called, “Nevermind….cheers!!”

The three Canadians lifted the drinks and cheered, their looks of confusion gone as they all took a slam from their plastic cups.

Ah, I thought to myself as I slipped away to the shadows, the important thing here really wasn’t that they’re Canadian…nor that they’re deaf. The important thing was that they’re drinkers.

Leave it to my brother to be the first to learn that diplomatic lesson.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Friday the 13th - Chatper 2: For Want of Pants

So, we loaded up the clan plus Jet into ZaZu the Subaru and made our way toward the Kansas City suburb that would host Sarah’s wedding. In Columbia, we stopped for gas and checked Norah’s diaper. I saw my wife’s shoulder slump and knew. Norah had flooded her poor Huggies and had turned her car seat into a urine sponge. We soaked up what we could and were thankful we were on an overnight trip since we therefore had a change of clothes for her.

Back on the road we checked her again just outside of Kansas City. Flooded again. She merrily sat there, singing songs and making faces at her uncle in her second and final pair of drenched jeans.

We had no choice but to finish the trip to Moonshot’s sister’s place (who was nice enough to put us up for the night since she also lives in Olathe.) We arrived at Mouse and FreddyJ’s home and immediately commandeered their washer and dryer. We had just enough time to dry a pair of jeans before we had to leave for the wedding. The plan was simple…we’d go to the wedding, spend a little bit at the reception and then I’d run Moonshot and Little Lutine back to Mouse’s before returning to the reception myself. It was a bit of back and forth, but the event was only about ten minutes from the house, so it wouldn’t be so bad.

Five minutes before time to go, we check the little pants only to find them still soaked (but just in water this time). Seems there is a significant difference between the “dry” setting and the “air fluff” setting. So, unless we wanted to take Norah to the wedding with no pants, she would have to miss the ceremony. New plan: Jet and I would go to the wedding, I’d come back to pick up Moonshot and Norah for the reception and then continue with plan as before. It was a bit more driving, but it was what we had. The worst part of the plan correction was that Moonshot was upset to miss the ceremony. As a mother who has truly enjoyed teaching our daughter sign, she was intrigued to see the wedding because both my cousin and her groom were deaf. We had discussed many times how we thought the ceremony would go and now she would miss it due to a lack of pants.

Jet and I rushed away and enjoyed a truly touching wedding on the banks of a duck-and-fountain-filled pond. The ceremony was conducted fully in sign with only a seated translator for us hearing folk. The only strange thing about it was the utter lack of music. I had never realized to what an extent I knew what was going on in a wedding based solely on the start and stop of music. Bridesmaids started filing in with no warning. The minister had to point to the alert us that Sarah was entering from the side. But, it was perfect for them, and that made it perfect for us, too. I only wish Moonshot could have seen it.

After the ceremony, as friends and family meandered into the reception hall, I ran to the car and drove away to pick up my own family. Ten minutes there, ten minutes back and suddenly we were passing a giggling Norah about to distant relatives who were amazed at how she had grown. Norah, who had not napped well on the drive over enjoyed this attention for exactly fifteen minutes. Then she began the dreaded melt down. They were just about to open the buffet line when she hit her limit. We whisked her away.

Driving back to Mouse’s we swung through Subway to get Moonshot and Norah a bit to eat and I realized that despite the buffet line that was currently being attacked by hungry wedding-goers, I should probably get something at Subway too. You see, weddings are typically a horrible place for a vegetarian to eat. Not that I’m really complaining. The wedding hosts owe us picky eaters nothing, really. Heck, even Moonshot and my wedding (held two months before we gave up meat) had nothing a vegetarian could have eaten. So, I throw no stones. But facts are facts…the average wedding meal has little to nothing that a vegetarian can comfortably eat. Now, I had failed to even look at the buffet at Sarah’s reception before darting out with Norah, but even if they had something, the timing was going to work such that folks would be finished eating by the time I returned. So, for want of a pair of pants for my daughter, I inhaled a sub sandwich, dropped off my family and headed back to the festivities for the third time.

I was getting to know that streatch of road pretty well.