Making my best pitch

I have a dead file, in need of its annual updating.

The file dangles in the front of our family filing cabinet, a red hanging folder filled with all of the important stuff my family will need for when I depart this mortal coil: the songs I want played, the songs I wish to have sung – the how-I-want-them-played-and-sung at my memorial service – dead-file-e1327109698717along with the scripture, quotes and poetry I want to be read, and what I want printed on the program.

Pretty basic, but important stuff.

My wife and kids know where this file is, they know that all that key info will be right there, as I am trying to be proactive, not controlling.  They are mostly okay with this arrangement, and though they don’t know what’s in it, they figure they will deal with that if and when the time comes.

Or, hopefully, my children will simply be able to pass on the whole thing to their adult children under the banner of ‘you cousins can all take some responsibility for grandpa/great family-tree-relationship-chart-free-pdf-templategrandpa/great-great grandpa here.’

Good Lord willing, that’s the way it plays out.

As is my custom, I review the file at the beginning of the year – though not as some sort of resolution ritual, or anything like that. I am always reminded to do this by all of the year-end/year-beginning, tax-and-estate planning reminders from every direction and the television commercials featuring thought-dead-already celebrities touting ’providing for your family’ with mail-order life insurance. Though sometimes I get those commercials confused with those of some other thought-dead-alreadys and their reverse mortgage ads.

Now there is a spiritual analogy post just dying to be written.

This year, I found as I reviewed the tattered red folder that there is one key piece of information that I keep neglecting to place in my dead file: I’ve got to tell them where the baseballs are.  I also remembered I actually have to purchase, and then partially prepare said  baseballs.

Yeah, the baseballs.

Anyone who knows me and my family will attest to our love of the game. My wife Amy and I began dating late summer, 1991, as our hometown Minnesota Twins were en route to their second World Series championship, and let me tell you, World Series victories are great new-relationship aphrodisiacs. The following year we got married and had a Twins-themed wedding reception, followed up by family members and the wedding party (60 of us, all told) going to the Twins-Brewers game the next day, after hich we (just Amy and I) followed the Twins on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee for our honeymoon

So yeah, as a passionate aficionado of all things America’s pastime, baseball will certainly be as much a part of my departure from this world as it is in my existence on this rotating-like-a-fine-change-up celestial orb.  My immediate family understands that, and figures they will deal with whatever zaniness I have in that red file folder when the time comes, though the one particular aspect they do know of gets the ‘hot potato’ treatment amongst daughter Lindsay, and sons Will and Sam. (Amy wants no part of my baseball bequest and has long since informed all the kidlets that this one will be totally on them.)

Somebody is going to have to put me in the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, actually, and far more feasible than other preferred options, like a traditional Viking viking-funeral-799141funeral.  The whole ship set ablaze and afloat (with my remains on it) while  in keeping with my ancestral roots and desires, is impractical and expensive (EPA permits and whatnot) and maybe just a bit pretentious. So while the whole Viking ship thing would be as exciting as an inside-the-park home run, my baseball brainchild is an easy, knock-it-outta-the-park game-winner.

That I hope doesn’t result in me getting knocked around.

Upon my demise, after everything donatable has been donated, organ and tissue wise, the rest of me will need to be cremated. That will leave me as a nifty little pile of ashes, which will then need to be handled in some way. As I have never been one easily confined to conventional parameters (literally or figuratively) I don’t see myself as sitting in an urn or ornate box on someones’ mantelpiece somewhere.  Bor-ring.

Hence the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, really. A set of regulation, major league baseballs will be purchased, then will official-major-league-baseballs-edbe autographed by me; some signed as ‘dad’ some as ‘grandpa.’ Then, when the time comes to stash the ash, each ball will have a small core drilled out of it, just big enough to contain some of my ashes. Once the ashes are placed in each ball, the hole will then be sealed up with the drilled-out core and some epoxy, and the baseballs will then be ready for distribution to the next generation(s).

The idea could catch on – a sort of national pastiming-on, if you will.

The great thing about me being ensconced for eternity in baseballs is not only will what’s left of me be suitable for display in a ball cube, on a mantle or in a memorabilia cabinet, I will also be able to remain part of the family in a tangible, practical way.

For years after I am gone, when my grandkids and great grandkids get together someone will baseball-ed3always be able to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play catch with grandpa!”

And we still can.

Ummmm….but please, no batting practice, kids.

“Because grandpa said so, THAT’S why!”

 

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B017LALIES

 

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First letter to a new grandson

It’s hard to believe it has been four years since I first penned the missive below.  But it has been. My grandson Felix turns four on Tuesday. In looking back over my initial thoughts at this wondrous event…well, not much has changed. Except everything has.  All for the good. Time flies, and flying with Felix?  That is not flying – it is soaring.  Happy birthday, dude.
Love,
Grandpa Mark

*    *    *    *

11/18/2011

Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. I’m sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenage uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)

This will soon be old hat

oldworld4I am feeling rather old-world these days. Not OLD, mind you, but old world. My twenty-seven-month-old grandson Felix has taken to calling me ‘Papa.’ He calls his other grandpa ‘Papa’ as well, though he does differentiate between the two of us by referring to my wife and I as “Papa and Gigi’ – Gigi being the sobriquet that she has gone by since Felix was just a little guy.

I don’t mind the moniker; it just is not one I ever envisioned for myself.

‘Papa’ seems very old-world, European to me – which, considering my ancestral mix of Russian Jews and Norwegians, makes sense. Felix is, apparently, an old soul.

MG6 03 02 14 C2This Papa thing came about purely by accident, after I had posted the picture of myself  (left) on Facebook, following a full day of  New Orleans Mardi Gras parade festivities. My daughter got the notification, showed Felix the picture, then posted his response:  ‘To which Felix exclaimed…”Its PAPA!…..and HAT!!!”

FelixFBprofpic

 

 

The first time I had heard/seen the ‘Papa’ designation from him.

I don’t – or at least, I didn’t – see myself as a ‘Papa.’ Grandpa is great; Gramps would be fine, as that’s what my I called mine – the only grandfather I ever knew, my mother’s father. Granddad was always a possibility as well. But ‘Papa’ had never entered my solo, silent deliberations on the topic.

The resemblance is, well, there. "If I were a rich man..."
The resemblance is, well, there. “If I were a rich man…”

But once I started to think about it…

Of the old world Papas I could think of, the first two images that sprang to mine fit our (Felix and I) shared heritage. First there is Tevye, of Fiddler on the Roof fame, and also Leif Ericson, the famous Norwegian explorer. Tevya, Leif and I all spring from hearty stock, and are known for rugged hirsute-centered handsome natures. (Okay, Tevye is a fictional character. But Topol, the actor who portrayed him the most, is still going strong and is still a bit old world.)

“And hat!” Mazel Tov.

"Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn't i?"
“Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn’t i?”

Yes, of the Papas I could come up with, all were exciting, dynamic guys with well-known facial hair…and very prominent hats. I get where Felix is coming from.

While both Tevye and Leif are definitely ‘old world’ Papa-types, their respective headgear translates differently. I could, in today’s world wear Tevye’s milkman hat and not look at all out-of-place. Not as jauntily as Topol, perhaps, but I could pull it off.  Leif’s battle helmet would be another matter. Although, I do live in New Orleans. Metal headgear would not be the strangest sight seen around these parts.

“And hat!”

Interestingly, the other Papas I conjured up I also share top-and-bottom-of-head similarities with. Famed novelist Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway, for one.

Interestingly, I recently completed one of those online ‘discover your writing soulmate’ quizzes onhemhat2 hemhat3 Facebook…and got Hemingway as my ‘writing soulmate.’ Interesting, no?  Though Hemingway did have a strange thing for weird, cowl-neck sweaters. I couldn’t pull that off…but berets, wide-brimmed Panamas and pith helmets? Hell yeah!

Then there was Papa Noel and Papa Smurf – both noted for what resides at the opposite poles of their skulls, both red on top, white on bottom. Not my style, really. Those two may be pushing it a bit anyway. FYI: Papa Bear and Papa John Phillips did not make the list for various reasons.papasmurf papanoel

“And hat!”

Felix had seen my Mardi Gras  jester’s hat before, a week or so before Mardi Gras. During a Skype session in which he was goofily showing off his array of winter hats, I told him I had a hat as well, grabbing mine and modeling it. His response at the time was a vigorous head shake and a concerned, plaintive, drawn-out “Nooooo…”

It was obvious he didn’t much care for the hatting of our Skype session. Or maybe he just didn’t like the hat competition, me – me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

"Look, ma! No hats!"
“Look, ma! No hats!– me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

The more I roll it over in my head, I’m liking ‘Papa’ more and more, especially since I have plenty of hat-wearing papas in whose footsteps I can follow. I think we can work with this, Felix. I really do.

I’ll talk to you soon and we can discuss further, compare chapeaus.

Love,

Papa

And Hat.

Kids these days

You just never know how my students are going to react.

The new semester began this past week, and I have two completely new sets of senior English students to deal with and hybrid speech class of holdovers and newcomers. I like the freshness of two new classes – especially since this is the final semester for my seniors. It should be interesting.

Sure is starting out that way.

Two week one incidents at relatively opposite ends of the spectrum stand out to me in large part because I believe they both stem (at least in part) from a picture of my grandson.

Lucker_Opening_Day_Pp SLIDE 1On the first day of any new class I show a PowerPoint presentation that outlines my classroom policies and procedures; it also has some personal info about me, contact information and a few stray tidbits of stray oddities or bits of humor, just to keep my students attention.

This year’s version features a couple of pictures of my grandson Felix, who turned two in November. The first shot is on the first slide: a close up of Felix waving WITH HIS LEFT HAND and the title WELCOME TO MR.LUCKER’S CLASS!

Felix makes it all seem quite inviting.

There are a couple of other Felix shots scattered through the twenty-one slide blockbuster, including a simply gratuitous slide labeled ‘OOOH – ANOTHER PICTURE OF MY GRANDSON!’ Not that I am showing any grandfatherly overkill here, but I also used the ‘welcoming wave’ shot as the desktop wallpaper on my laptop; OOH ANOTHER PICTUREwhenever I am hooked up to my Promethean board (all the time during the school day) and I have nothing else feeding, there is Felix waving at everyone.

The reaction to the PowerPoint was predictable: ‘awws’ and ‘ohhhh, what a cute baby’ predominate, along with the also predictable, “Mr. Lucker, that your baby?” Which then prompts the brief, personal background segment of our introduction, teacher-to-new class.

One young woman was not so charitably inclined toward my little presentation.

Upon running through my list of family notables, I simply note that I have three kids, “ages twenty-nine, eighteen and almost fifteen” which prompted a rather forceful “Why there so much time between them?” from the girl. A bit taken aback, I replied that my daughter is from my first marriage, the boy from my second.

“You should have stopped.” Her tone showed annoyance.

“Ummm…”

“You shouldn’t have done that. You should have stopped after the first one.”

“Okay…” Even some of the other kids were looking at her in bewilderment. I had obviously struck some visceral chord in the young woman, but I just kept on with the presentation, answering the mostly innocuous questions the kids had about me, asking some of my own about them.

The girl remained silent the rest of the class.

As for the other females, a number of them were quite animated upon leaving at the end of the period; two informed me point-blank (and with some pride) that they had babies, another mentioned her baby sister, a couple of more added random comments about liking babies, and wanting one of their own…someday.

That was all on Monday.

On hall duty outside of my classroom on Thursday, one of my new students approached me, smiled and directly but politely asked, “Mr. Lucker, do you have one of those little refrigerators, like a dorm-room size one?”

“No I’m sorry, I don’t.”Some more things about me

“Oh. Do you know of any teachers up here on this floor that do?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ll ask around. You need it to keep your breast milk in?” (I knew she had been using restroom breaks to pump.)

“Yeah, it only keeps for an hour or so at room temperature, so I am looking for a place to keep it til I go home.”

“Let me ask around a bit. I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thanks, Mr. Lucker.”

We put this one directly into the ever-bulging ‘conversations-I-never-dreamed-I’d-have-until-I-have-them’ file.

DesktopwithFelixpicShe has refrigerator options in another building across our rather expansive campus, but we are working on getting something squared away in our building to save some time and minimize being out of class. She is genial and greets me warmly every day, a do a number of the other young women in the class. The other group of seniors I have is pretty much the same, though without the extremes in reaction – though one young woman in that class told me she had a baby, and another has mentioned her baby in conversation about other, un-child related topics.

I attribute my new semester’s surprisingly open and free-flowing dialogue with my female students to those pictures of Felix, and I figure I have maybe another year or two of classroom mileage out of his cherubic countenance and bonding with my teen moms and assorted others.

A picture is worth a thousand words – or, sometimes, just a few well placed, well-chosen ones.

Memories of Christmas Present, Cheerful Ghosts of Christmas Past

The Sunday before Christmas found me in a shopping mall in Rochester, Minnesota, waiting in line with my grandson Felix, aged two, to have a picture taken with Santa. We were there with his mom (my daughter) and his dad, and my wife Amy, plus my sons Will and Sam – Felix’s eighteen and fifteen year old uncles, respectively.

'The Cajoling of Felix' December, 2013
‘The Cajoling of Felix’ December, 2013

The line was moving efficiently, there were enough of us to rotate on keeping Felix occupied, so there were no issues there. The idea was that Felix would do a solo picture with Santa, and then we would have a shot with Felix and St. Nick joined by Will and Sam.

Felix wasn’t all that interested, and out-of-camera-range cajoling wasn’t getting it done.

He wasn’t horribly distraught, just didn’t want to sit still for Santa. So, we went to plan B, got the uncles up there, and got a nice shot of the foursome, then

Sam, Santa, Will, Felix - 2013
Sam, Santa, Will, Felix – 2013

decided to go the Felix as a solo route. He still wasn’t thrilled, so his mom had to join the shot, much to her chagrin.

It was a fun time for me, watching the various interactions; daughter, sons, grandson, all trying to get a picture or two taken. Pretty cool stuff, and I’m a guy who knows kid and grandkid cool.

And really great Santa pictures.

From the musty, holiday-scented archives of this blog, here is a favorite true tale of Christmas. I hope you enjoy it – again, or for the first time:

Nearly twenty years ago, I decided to pick up a few extra holiday dollars by taking a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa….

As I was neither the natural size nor age (nor naturally hirsute enough) for the role, I wore a roll of foam rubber beneath my suit, scratchy, silver nylon beard on my chin, and ended up working mostly the mall’s lower-traffic hours.

On a very quiet Wednesday afternoon in early December, I was sitting there in my big Santa chair chatting with my college-student, elf-for-the-day Susie, and grad-school photographer, Jen. We hadn’t taken a picture in an hour. As we talked about school stuff, I looked down the nearly deserted mall and saw a tall, young U.S. Marine, in full dress blues; along side of him was a petite, brookdaleholidaymiddle-aged woman; unique, but certainly not the most unusual sight at Brookdale Mall during the holidays.
Until it was obvious they were headed straight to us.

Elf Susie walked cheerfully back to the gate of Santa Land to greet the couple, and I straightened up in my throne and smoothed out my beard – although I wasn’t sure why as I didn’t see any kids with the woman and the Marine. I watched as the boyish Leatherneck glanced around nervously, while the woman spoke to Susie.

I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I was thinking…

“O.K. Santa! This young man is next!” chirped Susie merrily, as she swung open the little white picket gate for the youthful Jarhead to pass, while Jen took her spot behind the camera. The Marine walked up to me and I greeted him with my usual “Ho-ho-ho” shtick, to which he replied quickly, awkwardly, coming to crisp, serious attention, “Merry Christmas, sir.”

Their story was short, sweet, uncomplicated…unless, I suppose, you’re a self-conscious, twenty-year old Marine being asked to take a picture with Santa.

The young man was an only child, U.S.M.C. Corporal home on leave; his widowed mother was very proud of his recent dressbluesaccomplishments, which included a marksmanship award, three ribbons and a training award. Having her son home for the holidays was a huge thrill, and there was only one other thing in the world she wanted for Christmas: pictures of her son in full dress blues.

With Santa Claus.

He told me had no idea why this particular setting was so important to her, but it was. So there we were on a suddenly interesting Wednesday afternoon: Santa and the Marine.

Keep in mind that this was in the days before digital photography; our pictures were the time-consuming, one-shot-at-a time, marineshatPolaroid-you-wait-to-develop-then-stick-in-a-cardboard-frame variety – and the young man’s mother wanted nine of them to send out to relatives all over the country. The young Marine and I had some time to get acquainted.

My arm around his waist, the young Marine sat uncomfortably but patiently at attention on the arm of Santa’s throne, glancing around nervously. After the first picture was snapped, he staged whispered to me, sitting ram-rod straight while staring directly at the camera, “I’m really sorry about this, sir.” I smiled and chuckled, as much as being referred to by a Marine as ‘Sir’ as the situation itself.

santa hat“Ho-ho-ho!” I replied, as Jen readied the next shot.

“Sorry about what?” I asked, as sympathetically Santa-like as I could.

“About doing this, sir. It’s my mother’s idea. I’m a little…uncomfortable.”

“Ho-ho-ho!” I bellowed. I didn’t much look the part without help, but I could sure play it. “Don’t be.”

The scene continued to play out, the Marine finally getting comfortable enough to relax and lean into my shoulder a little bit, as Jen continued to focus and shoot, reminding us repeatedly to smile – which the Marine did only slightly less uncomfortably with each shot. We sat there, his mother beaming with pride while chatting with Susie the Elf, me ho-ho-ho-ing it up and trying to help the guy out a little.

ornament3After a few shots, I whispered to the young Marine, “O.K., I know this feels silly, but it’s making your mom really happy.” I nodded forward while Jen readied another shot. My favorite Jarhead glanced at his mother, smiled slightly. “Yes, sir” he replied, the nervousness softening in his voice.

He was loosening up a bit, though that was being countered as by a small crowd that had gathered, eyes wide, buzzing with curiosity. I guess it’s not every Christmas you see a Marine in full dress blues sitting on Santa’s lap. The Marine smiled self-consciously as it dawned on me what the real issue might be. I made more Santa-and-client small-talk while Jen snapped away.

“Grow up around here? Afraid you’re going to see somebody you know?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir,’ he said evenly, staying focused on the camera, “I graduated from Park Center.”(a high school within walking distance of the mall.)

I nodded acknowledgement of his predicament, ho-ho-hoed some more, asked him a few more questions, reminded him a couple more times about how his mother was smiling, talked Vikings football with the young man, tried not to add to his self-consciousness by chuckling at the situation, while Jen finished getting all of the pictures to the mom’s satisfaction.

It took us fourteen shots to get the nine pictures the Marine’s mom wanted (I saved a couple of the botched extras; they were wonderful.) As his mom was paying Jen for the pictures, and newly Marine-smitten Susie finished sliding each picture into its candy-cane-and-reindeer-motif cardboard frame, the young Marine stood up, turned toward me, started to salute but then stuck out his hand to shake mine warmly.

“Thank you, Santa…sir.” I believe that was proper-holiday-protocol-Marine-speak.

His nervousness gone, he wore a proud, Marine-on-duty, restrained smile.

Then, bag of Santa pictures in hand, proud mother and dutiful, loving son walked off, arm-in-arm back down the mall, as the smiling crowd parted, then quickly dispersed.

In the years since, I’ve gotten the opportunity to tell this story to a number of Marines. Younger Jarheads tend to look at me quizzically, apparently pondering the obvious ‘what ifs.’ Older Corpsmen mostly nod, smiling proudly. A few have welled up hearing the story.

Most have agreed it’s a pretty good, unique take on ‘Semper Fi.’semperfi

The young Jarhead is pushing forty now. What became of him and his mother I of course have no way of knowing. But somewhere, on someone’s mantle, or in an album somewhere there is a cherished, probably yellowing Polaroid of a young Marine, sitting with Santa…

As for me, every year the question comes up in conversation: ‘What’s the best Christmas present you ever got?’ That question is impossible for me to answer, but the story I can tell about one of the best Christmas presents I ever had a (small) part in giving?

That’s a gift that fell right into my lap.

christmas

Oh, The Places He Took Us!

dr-suess-Ted_GeiselThe past few days I have noticed a lot of Facebook posts celebrating Dr. Seuss on what would have been his 109th birthday. Being an aficionado of the good doctor, I join in the commemorations. In the numerous Seuss references, one thing puzzled me; so many of the tributes I saw mentioned Horton Hears a Who as his seminal work.

Huh.

I have nothing against the good elephant, but in the Seuss pantheon, I would think Horton probably sits at the far end of the banquet table, next to the kitchen door. His story did get made into a movie, but still.

_horton2I looked it up, and Horton is not even one of doc’s top ten sellers of all time on anybody’s list (Amazon, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.) always ranking behind…Fox in Sox. (Really? Fox in Sox? Hop on Pop I get. Fox in Sox? Not so much.)

We all know the Seuss stalwarts: The Grinch, The Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2, Sam I Am, et al – true legends, each, starring in classic stories of life. But for my money you can’t beat Yertle the Turtle.

Yertle rocks – or at least, the story does. The hero of Yertle is actually a ‘simple turtle named Mack’, who at the end of the story bests the overbearing, eponymous Yertle, a turtle king who abuses his pond subjects in order to further his own ways. Not content to benevolently rule his little pond, King Yertle gets  bored and then gets dreams of yertlethekingturtle grandeur:

He ordered nine turtles to swim to his stone
And, using these turtles, he built a new throne.
He made each turtle stand on another one’s back
And he piled them all up in a nine-turtle stack.

Eventually, more turtles are summoned, and more, until Yertle can see well beyond his pond, and well…

“All mine!” Yertle cried. “Oh, the things I now rule!
I’m king of a cow! And I’m king of a mule!”

Mack, the turtle at the bottom of the stack, brings the whole escapade to a satisfying, muddy splat of an end by sneezing.

MackGood stuff, Maynard.

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (Gertrude McFuzz and The Big Brag were the other two entries in the tome) was one of my favorite books growing up, and my 1958 first edition sits in my living room bookshelf to this day. I read Yertle to grandson Felix when he visited in November, and will happily do so in the future. Great literature is always great literature.

If you don’t know the story of Yertle the Turtle, get a copy. You’ll love Mack.

Another Dr. Seuss classic that is close to my heart is Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Seuss’ last book and certainly one of his most enduring. The book chronicles a future ahead where choices will have to be made and the opportunities that abound, while freely ohtheplacesyoullgo!admitting that there will be challenges:

“Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind maker-upper to make up his mind.”

One of the many big payoffs comes toward the end of the book and this oft-quoted guarantee:

“Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98¾% guaranteed.)”

The book has become a staple of gifting high school and college grads to the point where, in many years, the book is outsold only by the Bible as a go-to gift for a grad. My daughter received her copy when she graduated from high school, then she returned the favor a few years later when I finally completed my B.A. at age forty-six. That day I also received another copy of OTPYG, from my friend Kay, an employment counseling colleague of mine. We once read the book to a group of unemployed job seekers that we had been co-teaching for a couple of days. It made for a moving end to some at times intense training.

It’s a delightfully powerful book.

Then of course, there is Gerald McBoing-Boing. Gerald is a six-year old boy who speaks in noises instead of words, much to the chagrin of his exasperated parents.

geraldmcboingboingThey say it all started
when Gerald was two—
That’s the age kids start talking—least, most of them do.
Well, when he started talking,
you know what he said?
He didn’t talk words—
he went boing boing instead!

Gerald McBoing-Boing was one of Seuss’s first stories and it was made into a film that won an Oscar in 1950 for best animated short, which eventually led to a series of cartoons. The Gerald artwork is far removed from what we know as ‘classic Seuss’ but it is a brilliant piece of work. Check out the original:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNsyQDmEopw

You gotta love a kid who speaks like a springy door stopper – but of course, people don’t. Gerald is shunned by kids and other adults before finding out that being different has ts advantages. It is true genius, a wonderful lesson in empathy. Gerald alone is reason enough to tip the old striped top hat to Dr. Seuss.

If you haven’t known of some of these other Suessian delights, it’s time to get with it, still time to take flight. It isn’t just the animals in various apparel and stolen holidays and weird colored eggs.

He gave us so much more than Horton.

HortonNow don’t write me about being a Horton hater – I most certainly am not. Horton is cool, I’m just not sure he is an ‘A’ list sort of guy. Horton Hears a Who is okay, but something always seemed like it was missing. I always thought Horton could be something more if he had been part of a trilogy, ala Lord of the Rings. Think about the cinematic potential of Horton Hears a Who, Horton Touches a Where? and, of course, Horton Tastes a WHAT?

gandalfOf course, Hollywood would then want to make Horton into something of a Gandolf type, so maybe not.

Now…just try to get THAT mixed imagery out of your head.

At least I didn’t go for a cheap There’s a Wocket in My Pocket!  laugh.

Happy birthday, doc!

ohtheplacessignage

Firsts and Foremosts

Quite an eventful week around the ol’ Lucker Hacienda.

The excitement began last Saturday evening with the arrival in New Orleans of grandson Felix, all the way from Minnesota – with his mom and dad in tow, of course. Saturday also happened to be the lad’s first birthday, though his arrival was more a gift for us as we hadn’t seen him (save our periodic Skype sessions) since last Christmas.

Suffice to say, he has grown up quite a bit.

Now an active, verbal-and-at-times-forcefully-so toddler, Master Felix has an engaging smile and personality – and energy to burn. After a two-day car jaunt, Felix was in pretty good spirits, but was a little apprehensive about these grandpa/grandma folks. But after a good night’s rest and a little more familiarity, he readily came to his grandpa – for short stints. By Sunday evening he was eagerly hanging with grandpa and/or grandma. Uncles Will and Sam, too.

On Monday, mom and dad headed out to do some sightseeing in the French Quarter, leaving Felix in our care. Utilizing a nifty all-terrain stroller borrowed from friends, we (Felix, me, Grandma Amy, Uncle Sam) took a two-mile walk, picking up Sadie from the groomers before heading back home.

This greatly pleased Felix, as he and Sadie had become best buds almost immediately upon his arrival. Seeing roughly eye-to-eye, Felix and Sadie made an immediate connection and decided that each was pretty cool. Sadie (a.k.a ‘The Big Floppy Dog’) is a very easy going, 61 pound-canine who loves attention. When that attentiveness comes from a one year old who likes to hug, tug and pat on her back with both hands – all the better, apparently.  Aside from the fact that Sadie is a licker who loves to go for the human face at every opportunity and that Felix attempts to reciprocate, the bonding of boy and dog has been a real joy. My favorite sight is when Sadie is

“Belly up to the Sadie bar, boys”.

just standing there, and Felix walks up and puts both his hands on Sadie’s back and they both just stand there. I call it Felix’s belly-up-to-the-(canine)-bar pose

The far less laid-back (energetic still at 10.5 years) Lucy the rat terrier has also been the beneficiary of Felix’s affections, but she doesn’t sit still long enough to partake much – though she does show her jealous side when Sadie is getting allllll the attention. No matter Lucy’s flightiness, the ‘Big Fwoppy Dog’ follows and flops with Felix on an ongoing basis.

It’s not just fun time for Felix here in New Orleans.

When announcing plans for their Thanksgiving/birthday jaunt to see us some months ago, I pseudo-sternly informed daughter Lindsay, “Now if you think you guys can just blow into town, leave Felix with us and go off gallivanting around New Orleans on your own…you’re absolutely correct”!

And they have done some of that from time to time (a shopping trip here, a lunch date there) but not without some slight separation anxiety which has been easily overcome by responding to mom-texts with a curt ‘O.K.’ or ‘We’re fine’.

Hey, this may be our first grandchild, but this aint our first rodeo, as they say.

A few weeks before Felix and family were set to arrive some friends of ours who have a ‘weekend getaway’ condo (‘Condeaux’ in the local vernacular) in the French Quarter graciously offered it to us for them to use for a night or two during their stay. The place is small but incredibly charming (think antiquated, 150-plus year old building with old brick and adobe, gaslights in a courtyard charm and then quadruple it) and apparently the old slave quarters of the original home, but is now a fine mix of old world magic and modern amenities.

I informed Lindsay of our friend’s gracious offer a week before their trip, and she was excited for the opportunity, duly noting that it would be their first full night away from Felix, and hoping/warning that we were/should be ready for whatever that might bring.

We got this.

Their stay was set for Tuesday night, and we would drop them off and get them settled so as not to have to worry about parking or other logistical issues. A nice deal for all concerned…but there was a twist to the plan.

On Sunday Brad accompanied me as I drove to pick up the borrowed stroller, and the conversation quickly took a uniquely curious turn, as Brad informed me he was going to propose to Lindsay, and asked for my quasi ‘approval’, which was immediately and gladly given. He then went on to tell me how this had been in the offing for a while, and that hearing Lindsay tell of the condo-in-the-Quarter opportunity just made the plans all come together.

Serendipitous, it was.

So the simple evening get away turned into something much more (successfully, I might add; she did say ‘yes’) for all concerned. A memorable and romantic evening in the Quarter for Lindsay and Brad, a fun and mostly uneventful night for Felix alone with grandpa and grandma. A visit to see the Christmas lights on nearby Harrison Avenue followed by a trip to Creole Creamery for some yummy small-batch ice cream: caramel apple pie for Felix and I and grandma’s red velvet cake that he also got to partake.

To our friends the Petersons, as they say in the theatre, “Thanks for the use of the hall”.

An interesting sidebar: when going to pick up Lindsay and Brad at the condeaux  I had to park around the corner. While walking to their door, I noticed one of New Orleans ubiquitous bronze plaque historical markers (the city is older than the country, remember) on a neighboring building. Stopping to read it as I usually do, I found that the home there was owned by Tennessee Williams. As Lindsay and Brad are both theatre buffs, and as Lindsay once played Stella in a production of Streetcar Named Desire, the discovery added a nice finishing touch to the whole affair.

More than serendipitous, I think.

This has been a week of a lot of firsts with Felix: first stroller walk, first Christmas lights, first ice cream, first overnight stay with grandpa and grandma. We have also had quiet just-Felix-and-grandpa time early morning; have a little breakfast, drink some coffee, cruise the Internet. Just us. Felix also got his first Tonka truck this week – the big dump truck. A little overkill, I’ll admit…but a boy’s first Tonka truck should be a good one. A big one. From grandpa and grandma.

And much to my great enjoyment we shared grandpa’s traditional Thanksgiving morning breakfast: coffee (milk for Felix) and a steaming bowl of freshly made sausage turkey stuffing (don’t worry – there is plenty left to cram in the bird). I’m sure there are more firsts to come as his week here winds down.

So now here we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, and it’s Will’s seventeenth birthday, to boot. And Will provided us with a milestone of the non-Felix variety yesterday when he drove the family to Winn-Dixie for our pre-Thanksgiving shopping trip, his first trip as a permitted driver. Seventeen Thanksgivings ago we were hospital bound with the month-premature Willi Newman Lucker; now a goatee-clad driver of the family grocery-getter.

Plenty of thankfulness to go around.

For family. For Will, for Sam, for Felix, Lindsay and Brad. For my wife Amy. For friends and family. For mom, who celebrated ten years of being cancer-free this year. For difficult but gratifying employment. For good friends. I could go on.

In the Lucker household, the day has little to do with football or ‘black Friday’ sale plans. Except that maybe Felix and I can do some of our first football watching. After he gets a crack at his first turkey drumstick, after we find his first wishbone…

Thankfulness in abundance.

Synonym or Symptom

Pet phrases. Most of us have at least a few family idioms; odd turns of phrase they use on a regular basis due to the fact that they have been indelibly imprinted on the brains of said family members. Usually, these expressions are frequently uttered without conscious thought or awareness of the speaker.

Use of these phrases in and around domestic situations have a wide array of side effects, including, but not limited to or mutually exclusive of any combination thereof; amusement, annoyance, bewilderment, exasperation, confusion, disorientation. Family catch phrases can also result in bemusement, confusion, and occasional outright hostility.

Mostly, they are great familial touchstones.

From time to time I have dropped some of these sayings from the Lucker household into some of my blogs and articles. While I usually attempt to put the phrase into some sort of context, I frequently asked for further clarification or, in some cases, where it came from.

Here, for the first time in one locale, and for future reference for grandson Felix,  are some of the key phrases the Lucker family has, continues to, and will hopefully, in generational perpetuity, use and nurture. Each entry includes approximate date of coinage with etymology noted. (I am an English teacher.)

FAAAreee? Did some-body say FAAAree?” entered the Lucker lexicon in the early 1990’s when I was co-hosting a Saturday morning radio show about casino trips (whole other story) with old buddy Mike Iverson on a radio station in suburban St. Paul. It was the early days of Native American casinos in the Midwest, and in their frenzied competition, offered cheap bus rides with loads of enticements to get people to go to their casino. (Rolls of slot quarters for the slot machines, free steak dinners, etc.) Mike would begin explaining what your ten-dollar bus ticket would get you; upon his utterance of the word ‘free’ I would respond with “FAAAreee? Did somebody say FAAA-reee?”

The phrase has morphed from its intended use into an all-purpose phrase whenever one encounters something being given away. Has waned a bit, but is still very popular with daughter Lindsay.

Etymology: WLKX radio Saturday Morning Casino Show      First recorded use: circa 1993

“Hey, buddy! Only one shade of green in this town!” is a situationally limited phrase for use when you are behind someone at a red light, the light turns green, and the vehicle in front of you doesn’t move. There is some flexibility here as it can be used by either driver or passenger. Lindsay, now 28, discovered that this phrase had been imprinted in her temporal lobe in her high school days, when she found herself blurting it out while riding with friends.

Once in state of dormancy, this phrase has taken on new life with the now ubiquitous problem of people checking text messages at stop lights.

Etymology: Family car trips with my father      First recorded use: Early 1960’s

“I hear ya’ cluckin’ big chicken!” is a flexible phrase that can be used to show agreement, support or congratulations. A big part of its flexibility is in how simple inflection changes and tone can convey empathy: any enthusiastic version shows excitement, while a more melancholy take can show agreement and empathy with someone’s disappointment.
Someone: “That was the worst ninja ballerina movie I have ever seen!”
You: (In your best Eeyore voice, head nodding in agreement) “I hear ya cluckin’, big chicken.”

Etymology: unclear or not remembered      First recorded use: Mid 1990’s

“Its Mexican restaurant weather; chili today, hot tamale.” is actually a variation on a phrase uttered frequently by an old Swede that I knew growing up. Hot weather would cause him to take off his hat, wipe his balding dome with a bandana, and say, repeatedly “Hot tamales, hot tamales.”

In the early days of my radio career, I modified the phrase for occasional use in weather forecasts for days when the weather was changing from cold to warmer; “Chili today, hot tamale.”

Etymology: Ivar Andren, Old Swede      First recorded use: Original ‘hot tamales’ early 1960’s; present version, early 1980’s

“It’s warmish” is a fairly recent addition to the family thesaurus, only coming into use when we moved from Minnesota to New Orleans. Subsequently, northern visitors have commented on the summer heat and humidity with pointed exclamations like ‘Geez, it’s hot!” to which the mind-over-matter counter to any perceived meteorological discomfort is an acknowledging, “It’s warmish.”

“It’s warmish” had its first use was in response to repeated commentary on June heat and humidity by our college age friend Stephan Immerfall, who helped us drive down here on our relocation. He took to the phrase, and brought it back north with him. Though ‘Warmish” has fallen mostly into disuse in Minnesota, we still utilize it regularly here in New Orleans. Especially when explaining weather to visitors from out-of-town.
Visitor: “Man! Its 97 degrees with 83% humidity! This is crazy!”
Any relocated Lucker: (nodding in agreement) “Yeah, it’s warmish.”

Etymology: Moving & transitioning  to New Orleans      First recorded use: 2008

“Oh yeah, bay-bee grammmaw!” was uttered by my youngest son Sam, now thirteen, when he was a toddler. He had been running around saying, “Oh yeah, baby” and one night we wanted him to say it to his grandma Mickelson, who was on the phone. The resulting, “C’mon, say ‘oh yeah, bay-bee’ for grandma” came out of Sam’s mouth as “Oh yeah, bay-beeee gram-maw!” and the phrase stuck.

To this day, even grandma Mickelson uses the phrase “Oh yeah, bay-bee grandma!” as a gleeful expression, such as when drawing the cards that give her a win in a card game, for example.

Etymology: Son Sam, who picked it up at daycare and modified it      First recorded use: 2001

“Somebody get that, it might be a phone call.” is a phrase my father used from time to time, much to my mother’s chagrin and annoyance. I picked it up (the phrase, not the phone) and used it in much the same way as my father (when a telephone would ring) much to the annoyance and puzzlement of most people.

Lindsay also found this one had stuck in her head while working her first job as a teenager, in a video store. She was stocking VHS tapes on a shelf at the far end of the store when the phone at the desk rang, prompting Lindsay to pop up and loudly proclaim, “Somebody get that, it MIGHT be a phone call!” This caused store customers to stop their browsing and look at her quizzically, as her coworkers did likewise.  This phrase is among the most frequently used in the Lucker lexicon.

Etymology: My father to me to Lindsay to Will and Sam      First recorded use: Early 1960’s

“Well don’t that just curdle yer milk!” is a general purpose show astonishment or incredulity at something incomprehensible; usually the behavior or utterance of another person. I picked up this little gem during my first job in radio in little Nevada, MO, from my friend and co-worker Jeff Tweeten.

This phrase had a longer shelf life and higher recognition factor when living in the rural Midwest, but can still elicit the ocassional nod of agreement from bystanders.

Etymology: Hanging out with Jeff in rural Missouri First recorded use: 1978

“What’s that got to do with the price of eggs in Cleveland?” is simply a more workable, Lucker family version of the traditional ‘What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?’ retort to an irrelevant suggestion. Especially for the younger generation, eggs are more easily relatable as an analogy than tea, as Cleveland is more graspable as a concept than China.

While other foodstuffs and geographic locations have been improvised here, in the Lucker household eggs/Cleveland prevail. Though we all eat eggs, none of us have ever been to Cleveland.

Etymology: South Minneapolis Workforce Center      First recorded use: 2001

“While you’re up…” is a dinner table phrase used when everyone is sitting down and eating, and someone either needs something that wasn’t brought to the table or the dogs need to be let inside, or the fan turned or…? This is a functionally ironic term as it is used only while everyone is sitting down.

“While you’re up…” has occasionally been used in a pique of pure laziness in other rooms in the house and at times other than dinner, though that behavior is generally frowned upon.

Etymology: Family dinner table      First recorded use: Early 21st century

“Who would do that?” is a phrase daughter Lindsay came up with in her teens in collaboration with her stepmother Amy, and is usually used to poke fun at me for some perceived foible, misstep or oddball idea. Inflection varies and greatly alters the trajectory of meaning; “Who would do that?” is the more emphatic version, though “Who would DO that?” is the far more commonly used version.

The phrase has become a staple of family verbiage for all members.

Etymology: Custodial weekends      First recorded use: Mid 1990’s

“You young kids and your crazy ideas!” is a typical Lucker family response to something inexplicable or just plain weird. It is usually uttered in a tone of faux-condescension, mild sarcasm or gentle, tongue-in-cheek scolding…though at times in complete exasperation. It is typically spoken mostly by the two youngest members of the family and directed at either their parents or, once in a great while, at each other.

‘YYKAYCI’ is frequently used to highlight parental use of an archaic phrase or recounting of some childhood recipe or food like. Usually by  youngest son Sam.

Etymology: Sam Lucker, solo    First recorded use: 2011

There you have it; a short compendium of Lucker family verbiage. As we hold no copyright on any of the phrases listed above, have at them without fear of legal retribution. Print a copy and keep this guide handy if you’re coming to visit or planning on any verbal contact with the family. This guide can also serve as a good template for getting your own family’s linguistic quirks recorded for posterity and future generation’s edification.

You’re welcome.

Santa Thoughts for a Grandson’s First Christmas

Yes, Felix. There is a Santa Claus.

Or in the case of the Family Lucker, there are numerous Santas.  Not to mention a pervasive spirit of Santa Claus and what he represents.

In the late 1800’s, a young girl named Virginia wrote to New York newspaper editor Francis Church asking ‘if there really was a Santa Claus.’  Her letter and his response were published and have become classics.  But our Santa isn’t necessarily the metaphoric and mystical Santa Claus that Church wrote about. 

And, as you will see as we stroll through family pictorial history with ol’ St. Nick, the Luckers, in their own quirky and unique way, sort of embody Santa Claus in the true American way: it is an oddly varied, sometimes-not-all-that-photogenic, what-were-you-thinking sort of rouges gallery of holiday tradition.

Let’s start at the beginning – or at least, my beginning.

Back when I was a  lad, Santa was found waiting in big Dayton’s department store  in downtown Minneapolis. My mom, your great-grandma, trotted me down to the store ever year for their annual Christmas displays and obligatory picture.

As the photographic evidence shows, I was a fairly stylin’ dude for the time (the early 1960’s) and that the representative Santa’s were a rather eclectic bunch. The first guy appears to be in the process of passing out; I believe the guy in the middle has just directed a kid to smile for approximately the 3,000th time that day, and the guy on the right appears to be hung over.

Fortunately, my mom was not obsessed with the whole pictures-with-Santa-every-year thing, so this is about all there is of my youthful history with Kris Kringle.

But of course, it doesn’t end there.

By the time I was in junior high, we lived in Denver, and my dad worked at KWGN television as a film editor. A community theatre veteran and all-around-ham, he was eventually recruited to portray Santa once a year for a daily live, hour-long local program the station did called ‘Denver Now.’ The host of the show was a wonderful woman named Beverly Martinez, and every year she devoted a show to a ‘giving for the holidays’ theme and would have Santa as a guest along with children of KWGN staffers, and at the end of the show he would give a little toy to each of the kids. Beverly said many times that once she got my dad to be Santa, she would never consider anyone else for that yearly job.

I still have a couple of the wind-up toys he gave away one year, Felix. I’ll let you play with them when you’re a bit older. I also have the wrist band of jingle bells he wore during those broadcasts, and I get them out each December. You’ll get to hear them very soon.

My dad did the Santa gig for ‘Denver Now’ his last six or seven years at the station before retiring, and it was always a high point of the season for him – one year in particular. The winter I was a junior in high school, our drama department at South High was doing a children’s theatre production of ‘Sesame Street’ and somehow Beverly got wind of it. She asked if a couple of costumed characters from our production could come and be on the Christmas show along with Santa. Allen Schultz, the guy who played Cookie Monster, and me as Oscar the Grouch, were the only two able to make the live broadcast.

It was great publicity for our production, and a great experience for all of us. Allen recalled the whole episode fondly as a high-point of high school even at our twenty-year class reunion, and as for me, it was the only time I ever appeared ‘on stage’ with my dad. It was a great, goofy morning.

For so many reasons: Thanks, Beverly!

As time goes by, Santa makes other sporadic and sometimes curious appearances in our Lucker history.

Your mom got her turn on the big guy’s lap a few times; case in point to the right.  I’m sure your mom has other Santa-related pics to share, as she is a big aficionado of all things Christmas, though with your recent arrival, maybe that’s less of a focus this December. Next year, you’ll have just turned one? Oh, baby! It’ll be something, I’m sure. You’ll love it.

There is a Santa and your mom episode that while, not visually represented here, deserves some mention. For four years I played Santa on WYRQ radio in Little Falls, Minnesota. The station sponsored an annual ‘Letters to Santa’ promotion in which kids dropped off their letters at various businesses while trying to win a new bike, and then we read those letters on-the-air every weeknight; an elf and an announcer  in studio reading the letters, Santa supplying commentary and occasional ho-ho-ho’s over the phone, ostensibly from his North Pole workshop, being the basic premise.

It was a fairly straight-forward promotion when I arrived as the station manager, Santa saying ‘Oh sure’ and ‘That’s great’ and ‘Yes, yes,’ a lot as the letters were read to him, but it turned into something entirely different with me on the phone in our living room as Santa and my morning on-air partner Damian Dupre back in studio ‘A’ as letter-interpreting  ‘Sparky the Elf.’  The madness escalated rapidly the first year– to the point where a nightly twenty-minute show ballooned to a forty-five minute long surrealistic, comedic, ad-libbed romp five nights a week for a month. (Station management hated it, but the sponsors and listeners loved it; the letters kept flowing in, and we kept reading them.)

‘Irreverent’ grossly understates our take on the whole Santa and Elf mystique.

Egged on and set up for gags by the extraordinarily talented and extremely demented Mr. Dupre as high-pitched Sparky, my radio turn as Santa was described as everything from ‘overly caffeinated’ to ‘manic.’ Al the while, your mother was usually right there in the living room, observing her father warily, as he sat in his easy chair, screaming Santa and elf jokes wildly into the telephone, while periodically jangling a large set of gold jingle bells and yelling “HO-HO-HO!!! ” to punctuate a punch line. Any rather, uhh, skewed ideas she has about the whole Santa Claus experience likely stems from that pre-school through kindergarten holiday era of hers.

While there is some photographic evidence of this yearly escapade somewhere, it is the audio that is most telling, and probably a little much for your young ears. Someday, lad, someday.

After a couple-of-decade hiatus, my picture-taking with Santa returned in a somewhat different form, but a familiar locale. Here I am (below) with Grandma Amy, visiting Santa at the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s. The picture on the left is from 1991, the year Amy and I met. We went to see the Dayton’s display that year, which was the Pinocchio story, hence the red Pinocchio hat I bought her. On the right is our obligatory ‘1992 first Christmas as married geeks’ shot to serve as the companion piece for the ’91 picture. (Grandma Amy is a mighty good sport.)

We still have the Pinocchio hat in one of the plastic Christmas tubs in the attic. You’ll get a chance to wear it someday, if you want. It goes nicely with my dad’s wristband of jingle bells.

Speaking of those jingle bells, here’s a little secret I’ll share just with you, Felix: the elasticity has long since been wrung out of those bells, but I sometimes carry them in my pocket during December, professing ignorance of the source when someone says, “Does anybody else hear jingle bells ringing somewhere?”  Usually, it’s only someone I happen to be walking close to who can hear them, muffled as they are in my pocket, and others in the vicinity react with puzzlement at the question. It’s just my little tick to slyly spread some holiday cheer.

Santas, Santas everywhere.

When Amy and I were first married, Santa popped up in some different situations. For instance, he made an appearance (in much different ways and personas) at two Christmas parties we threw at our house in Minneapolis. As I mentioned, Santa is all about diversity.

Santa Kenny was a friend and co-worker. He was stationed on our front porch and greeted people as they arrived, bringing a very hip, urban flavor to the proceedings. Once all the guests had arrived, Santa Kenny moved into the living room and sat in our big, green Adirondack chair, and people spent the evening their conversing and having their pictures taken with Santa. Many of our friends had never met a black Santa before. After that memorable night, they had the pictures to prove that they had.

The following year, Santa Don, my cousin’s son, took over greeting and picture-taking duties. A younger, more suburban take on St. Nick, Santa Don held his own from the same chair, dispensing holiday gift ideas and jokes that many of the older (over thirty) guests didn’t get.

Both Santa’s were big hits in their own, very unique ways. (One thing Luckers can do better than most, Felix, is throw a decent party. This is another heritage you have been blessed with.)

Oh, you might notice the hats laying in Santa Kenny’s lap. They were pilfered from Brookdale Shopping Center, where I had taken a part-time gig that year as a mall Santa. (The hats were actually tag-board reindeer antlers with ‘BROOKDALE’ across the front headband. Some white labels and a black Sharpie marker turned that into ‘LUCKERDALE” and were quite coveted mementos from a holiday party and picture session at the Lucker’s.)

I played the mall Santa role for one holiday shopping season, and that was plenty. Not being the prototypical Santa physically, I sported lots of make-ya-sweat foam rubber underneath the red suit, and nearly fried my vocal chords trying to keep my voice in the lower octaves for hours on end. But it was good money, a lot of fun, and I cherish the experience. I even got to wear my dad’s wrist bells.  And I got to keep the wig and beard.

You know, Felix, it wasn’t until I started looking at all of these pictures together that I noticed some of the striking similarities in them. It’s not just about ho-ho-ho and smiling for the kids and the camera, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff to take care of. For example…

The shot on the left is ‘Denver Now’ Santa in 1981, making his yearly post-broadcast visit to the KWGN office staff. On the right is Brookdale Mall Santa with number-one-elf Marji in 1996. Interestingly, Santa appears to be, in his various incarnations, something of a ladies man.

And for future reference, Felix, girls simply  love a guy in uniform.

Another similarity; both Santas also had to deal with children less than enamored of being in his presence…

As time went on, your uncles Will and Sam came along, and they, too, got their turn with Santa pictures – sometimes more successfully than others. To wit, this is one of those ‘what was everyone thinking’ Santa shots:

 

 

 

On the other hand, sometimes Santa can get it to all come together and get pictures that really capture the essence of someone. Better shots of (L to R) uncle Will and uncle Sam in their much younger days, and what they look like now:

Yeah, uncle Will is wearing a camouflage Santa hat.

 

 

Finally, here is a side-by-side of my dad and I in our respective Santa roles, some fifteen years apart. Notice any family resemblance?

Maybe someday you or maybe even Will or Sam will add another holiday mug shot to the gallery.

Felix, I of course have no idea when or where you will encounter Jolly Old St.Nick in your life, but I’m pretty confident you’ll make each other’s acquaintance in some form or another. Santa is a good friend to have, embodying as he does, a lot of the goodness in the world, and a lot of the magic that is childhood.

He’s a pretty cool dude. And don’t get all hung up on all that one-and-only stuff; as you can see from all the above, there is no such thing as a singular Santa. Santa is wherever you need him to be, whenever you need him.

To paraphrase Francis Church, “Yes, Felix, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to our life its highest beauty and joy.”

And a few laughs along the way.

Merry First Christmas, Felix.

First letter to a new grandson

Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. Im sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenaged uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)