Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Tales and Tails - For my Writer's Group

My friend Wayne Yonce wrote a hilarious essay about his personal Summer of '42. That essay inspired recollections of my own summer that year........

Tales and Tails
The summer of ‘42, when Wayne was a teenager worried about preventing pregnancy, it was too late for my parents. Conceived in April and born in November, I was on my way-—a two-pound, foot-long fetus, unconsciously urging my mom’s pregnancy on with enthusiasm. After listening to Wayne’s essay, I wondered about my parent's intentions that spring. Did they run out of condoms?

While Wayne was sweet-talking the girls, my only utterances were hiccups. It’s likely I was growing teeth and ear lobes and had just lost my tail. I was covered with a coating of fine hair called lanugo. I’m fascinated by the idea that I had finger prints.

Whether they ran out of condoms or planned me, my mother’s pregnancy was the result of the third time she and my father had sex. The first time resulted in my sister, Eilleen; the second in a miscarriage and then I came along. I am sure they never had sex again. Why would they? Isn’t that true of all of our parents? Sex was only for procreation in those days; our generation invented the really good stuff.

We were living in Fort William, Ontario in Canada that summer. My father, a World War I veteran, had re-enlisted in 1940 at the age of forty-one. He was training troops and later on was appointed a Judge Advocate, spending the remainder of the war and some years afterward on the bench.

Mom, as she recalled, wasn’t happy, separated from her friends and family, pregnant and living in military housing. Of course, I don’t remember anything of my fetal year except through the stories. One tale I loved was about the white rat my sister bought from a kid on the bus for a quarter, while mom’s attention was momentarily diverted. In a weak moment,she succumbed to Eilleen’s six-year-old wheedling and let her keep the creature. Mom put Eilleen fully in charge of the rat so she’d learn to be responsible. Empress of her universe of two, Eilleen decided in a stroke of liberal impulse, that the rat should have play time in the attic. The rat, acting like Wayne and his teenaged friends wished they were, began to procreate with alarming enthusiasm. Right about when my fetal tail fell off, those rats were creating new baby rat tails with alacrity. What a scene I see in my mind’s eye! Picture a screen split into three parts: mom is downstairs contentedly gestating me; the rat is upstairs trying to populate the earth; Wayne sits in the LA river basin admiring the palimpsest of the condom in his wallet.

From what I’ve read, Canada was a crazy place that summer when the war-mode government took over the agricultural economy. The export market for apples and lobsters had collapsed threatening farmers and fishermen with massive surpluses. Patriotic Canadians were encouraged to eat them. I can hear people complaining: “Lobster tail again!” “Oh no...more apple pie?”

From my perspective as a food professional promoting the nutrition culprits of our time: salt— when sodium was bad, Equal—when Nutrasweet was considered poison and eggs—when cholesterol was a killer, I can’t help looking back at those war times with longing. Oh, to have been born in an earlier year, a better year, say in 1926 and have had a chance at a war-time career working blissfully for the Canadian Apple and Lobster Commission.

rat with quip.pngAnd that’s my story of four tales/tails during the summer of 42: Wayne’s inspirational condom tale, my own temporary fetal tail, the attic rat’s multiplying tails and finally, the piece de resistance, the surplus Canadian lobster tails.

Mom, me, dad, Eilleen...summer of '43

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