Everything is on the table

Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training.

Sitting alone at this table with open notebook, a pen, and a fresh cup of coffee in the early morning light of day I can, with an angular glance, see the extensive preparation and practice for remembrance that it has already put in. At a mere sixteen-years, the table is hardly an antique – yet its smooth, blonde-maple surface is already pockmarked with the memorable nicks and ruts left by stray utensils and homework-prodding pencils – stray treatises to family,  assorted Christmas cards and letters.

All embossed in memory and maple.

My wife and I assembled the table the first night we lived in a rural, southwestern Minnesota Victorian we had just moved into from big-city Minneapolis; a new board-with-legs for our small-town fresh-start. The nondescript table fit perfectly in our new, multi-windowed, breakfast alcove; perfectly seating the four members of our family.  While we read the instructions, inserting the right bolt into the right hole, our boys, then seven and three, were tucked soundly into sleeping bags in the bare living room, as our furniture still in transit. We labored to assemble the table, determined to have a place at which to properly commemorate our first meal together in our new home and community.

The last screw was secured in the final chair leg just after two a.m.

Today, a decade-and-a-half later, when the southern sunlight of our now-home in New Orleans smothers it, you will see the signs of the life the table has nobly earned in service to our family. Worn spots mark each place setting. Plates and bowls of china, paper, and plastic have been repeatedly set down, slid around, eaten upon, picked up again – sometimes dropped. A knot on one end of the table has dried out, a small crack has now settled into a browned notch out of the edge. If you put your face close to the table’s edge and look at its surface, you can trace the hard-scrabble pencil indentations of the two boys who completed their homework each night 100_49891while mom or dad prepared dinner.

Look more closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, far more recent.  The ancient nine-plus-three-equals-eight-no-twelve is still bold from the pressing of a hot dog-diameter pencil; the more recent equation made by a more elegant and confident ink pen.

The table has made its way south with us.

A million small lines zigzag the surface;  swooping in graceful curves atop the now-worn maple, resembling a vacant skating rink in January. Every member of our family has triple-axeled this table countless times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of each of the others. It is a spot of triumph, of place of individual and group confession, reflection, renewal. It has hosted countless meals, endless discussions, prompted numerous revelations; it has echoed the laughter of day-to-day  100_4986life, heard the solemnity of nightly prayers of thanksgiving and praise, sorrow and intercession. It has been spilled on, bumped into, lived on, all the while quietly, steadily. Always smoothly supportive.

It has served us well.

Some ten years ago, we uprooted our brood again – this time to New Orleans. The table that once bore mostly pedestrian, traditional Midwestern fare has become attuned to hosting more exotic and at times experimental and quirky meals of gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish.  I am certain the resulting changes in dietary spills and slops has only served to enhance the preservation and aging process of the maple; it is a seasoned patina – the spice of memories – adding character to the worn, blonde, wood

The table is loyal; it has been almost exclusively devoted to our immediate family; guests have usually necessitated a shift to the more expansive, less lived-on, dining room table.  It, too, has stories to tell, but nothing approaching the quantity of those with that our kitchen table could regale us. And now, our time here is coming to a close; both boys have graduated high school, one has completed college as well,  while the younger begins his collegiate experience. We are headed off on new adventures, different adventures.

Our inexpensive-when-purchased, still not priceless, D.I.Y. table will accompany us.100_4979_00

Boys who once needed help to scootch up their chairs now find little elbow room to spare when we are all together. The table’s chairs creak a bit beneath their more considerable heft. Still, neither of them has asked if we will ever get a new kitchen table, or why we just  can’t eat in the dining room. The table has adapted nicely over the last few years from a haven of group work, to more solo time with family members; a boy with a bowl of cereal and spread out newspapers or school project is now more common than then the full-fledged mealtime family foursomes of the past.

The table also spends more time sheltering two aging dogs seeking the relaxing companionship of their boy’s stocking feet –  adept as each has become at absent-minded, foot petting.  Both dogs are equally content to lay there, just soaking in affection, less time frenetically awaiting dropped crumbs from younger, less observant boys,  who used to provide ample treat-pouncing opportunities.

Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our sons have more hectic schedules, and sporadic all-of-us-home home evenings often find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix – another family ritual once confined to Friday nights, now preciously savored whenever we can scrounge one up. One son still lives at home; mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted, and coveted, elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.

Soon, the table’s adaptability will again be tested,  as the term ‘table for two’ will be de rigueur.

Someday the table may serve in an entirely different capacity – maybe a first-apartment-hand-me-down for one of the boys, or maybe someday many years down the road and to the 100_4977puzzlement of a spouse, a much-wanted keepsake for one of them.

Not that they are likely to ask about its eventual fate now, but if they do I can just tell them, to their confusion and my satisfaction, that this little kitchen table is, indeed, our heirloom in training.

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Had a ball, to a tee

Baseball is prominent in Lucker family lore: my wife and I come from families of ardent baseball fans, and we met in the summer of 1991 – our dating life was intertwined with the World Series run and eventual championship of our hometown Minnesota Twins.

The following summer we were married, had a baseball-themed reception, took 60 relatives and wedding party members to a Twins game the day after the wedding, then followed our heroes on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee as a baseball honeymoon. We will celebrate the twenty-fourth anniversary of all that this summer.

But some of our greatest shared baseball memories don’t come from sitting in the cheap seats, or hanging out in a bar celebrating a World Series game two triumph with delirious strangers. Ours are far superior.

They come from our time on the field as t-ball coaches for our sons.

Amy and I spent four years as co-coaches for various teams our sons Willi and Sam played on, emphasizing fun and love of baseball over competition, and loved it all. We introduced not only our kids, but a number of others in south Minneapolis and Marshall, Minnesota, to grand additions to the grand old game such as pre-game bunny-hopping and conga-lining-around-the-bases warmups (10 minute warm-up periods were mandated by the Minneapolis park board – they didn’t say HOW to get them ‘warmed up’) to every-kid-wraps-up-practice-with-a-homerun, along with innovative team (and individual player) cheers and so much more.

Eldest son Willi is now a college sophomore, Sam the younger a high school junior. Willi’s teammates are also in college (or, in at least one case, a college grad!) and I see young kids in our New Orleans neighborhood in their t-ball uniforms, I can only think back…and smile.

The place was Sibley Park, in south Minneapolis. The time was post 9/11, jittery, uncertain 2002. It was the summer of the Bobbleheads – the greatest group of young ballplayers to ever cross a chalked baseline. No names have been changed because nobody’s innocence is threatened – only enhanced. What follows the chronicle of the magical season, as recorded and distributed at the time, from April through early June, in the Baseball Diaries – an emailed extravaganza that was the forerunner of this blog. It is a bit lengthy, but worth it.

Settle in for some baseball magic, in its purest form.

04/30/02
Dear Diary:

As the legendary Jack Morris said just before pitching 11 shutout innings in game seven of the 1991 World Series, “In the words of the immortal Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on!”

The above, I believe, is the Bartlett’s Quotations version of a double play.

This year’s dual-Lucker coached juggernaut is known as the Bobbleheads. The name stems from last years tee-ball experience with the SIBAC Tornadoes, where at least once per game one of the assembled parental or grandparental units would comment that “With the kids running around in those big, oversized batting helmets, they all look like bobble-heads!” First practice was tonight, and it went well. We caught some throws, we even caught a couple of batted balls, and not one kid ran to third base instead of first. We also kept the swarming of multiple fielders to hit balls fairly low, and registered just one “double wicket.” (A hit ball that cleanly makes it through two sets of infielder’s legs, ala croquet, while also eluding their gloves.) The new team cheer was a big hit, too.

Our SIBAC BOBBLEHEADS shirts should arrive tomorrow, just in time for our opening game against Hiawatha Park. We will try to refrain from extending our hands to the other team at home plate while uttering the phrase, “Hiawatha! We’re the Bobbleheads.” We’ll try really hard not to do that.

It’s always “A great day to play two!”

Goodnight, Diary.

autographed bat

 

05/02/02
Dear Diary:

Well, we celebrated a successful season opener on all fronts. The Bobbleheads had a rip-roaring grand time over at Hiawatha Park. It appears that our reputation is growing as we had three new kids sign on last week, and we got a little surprise when we met our Hiawatha opponents.

When their coach introduced himself to me he said he had never coached tee-ball before. He was a veteran of cubs, midgets and for the last few years, four pitch. He described himself to Amy and I as “really in the dark about how tee-ball works.” Not to fear I told him, just follow our lead. The Hiawatha kids were already a little taken aback at our calisthenic routines, but the parents and other crowd members seemed to enjoy it. The game itself was…an experience.

There wasn’t time to explain step-by-step what we were going to be doing, so we had to wing it. We were the visitors, and batted first so I was up at home overseeing. This made it convenient to simply yell out everything to everyone as loudly as I could. The first inning consisted of me yelling out instructions like “OK, coach Dan at first base! Reeeememberrrrr every kid who gets to first gets a high-five!” Followed by “Coach Bruce! Remember that evvvvvery kid who gets to third gets a high-five!” As I was at the helm at home, I took care of home plate-high fives.

By the time Hiawatha batted in the bottom of the first, their coaches pretty much had it down. Every kid getting to first got a high-five, every kid getting to third got a high-five, every kid getting home got a high-five. Every kid got multiple, well deserved, high fives. All in all a pretty smooth game in front of a large and boisterous crowd. (Hiawatha is a busy park next to a busy lake.) After they batted one of the Hiawatha kids asked what the score was. I announced/yelled out that after one inning of play, we were of course, tied “A bunch…to a bunch!” All concerned seemed satisfied with that answer.

Add in our conga-line base running warm up, five (count ‘em, five) different renditions of the “Gooooo Bobbleheadssssss!” cheer and game ending glove slaps, and I think you’ll find that tee-ball at Hiawatha is gonna start looking a bit different in the weeks ahead.

Spreading the word is what we’re all about. Its tee-ball gospel, the Bobblehead way!

Til the next time then, blazing new trails – the Bobblehead Way…

Regards,

Us

autographed bat2

 

05/16/02
Dear Diary:

With glorious sunshine and temps in the 70’s, weather the likes of which we haven’t seen for the past couple of weeks, spring returned today to the Twin Cities. It enabled the Sibley Park Bobbleheads to make their home-opener even brighter.

After squeezing in a practice between showers and then missing a game last week due to a deluge, it was good to be back on the Sibley aggregate basking in the glow of our fans and the sun. Resplendent in our fire-engine red shirts with SIBAC (Sibley Athletic Club) BOBBLEHEADS splayed in dazzling white across the chests we took on our brethren, the SIBAC TWINS.

Katie the park director was on hand getting us set up, and she informed us that the Twins were missing both their regular coaches for the night. She also said that their fill-in, Coach Chris, wasn’t well versed in tee-ball. Not to worry, I told her. We were ready to “Spread the gospel of Sibley Tee-Ball” just as we did a few weeks back at Hiawatha.

After filling in Coach Chris and his parental volunteers on the basics, I went back to our third base bench to address our parents. I explained that like in our first game, we were going to have to lead by example as our opponents were once again inexperienced both on the field and on the bench. I told them why I would again be yelling for both teams to hear me. Just so they knew the score, I had prefaced my remarks with “Lest you guys think I’m some sort of raving ego maniac…”

Play ball!

We batted first, doing wonderfully. Batting fifth tonight was Bailey, a ruddy kindergartener with reddish blond hair and freckles. He’s got game, and seems to enjoy the whole experience. As I was helping Bailey get settled in the batters box, I heard a chant break out from our bench: “Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE!” As I turned around to look, every parent gave me a shrug and an “I-didn’t start it” look. Seems that one of the kids did, and it took hold pretty quick. Bailey looked at me, blushed, rolled his eyes and said “Ohhhh man!” He then singled to short. The Twins just seemed puzzled by it all.

The rest of the inning went well until it was brought to my attention that I had overlooked young Joey, and that he hadn’t batted. As we were already taking the field I informed all concerned that we would just bat Joey at the beginning AND at the end of the second inning, and everybody was cool with that. Joey is a quiet kid. He is also the youngest and smallest kid on the team, but he can play. When the top of the second rolled around, Joey was seeking out a helmet and a bat, and I stage whispered to the kids on the bench that what they did for Bailey might be kinda cool to do for Joey. By the time Joey and I got to the batters box, the third base side of the field had erupted in the chant of “JOE-ey! JOE-ey! JOE-ey!” Looking somewhat BMOC-ish, Joey grinned at me and said “Oh boy!” before rapping a single to third.

That was all the encouragement the Bobbleheads needed. The rest of the inning was peppered with spontaneous chants for every kid from when they walked to the tee, til they hit the ball.
“SE-bast-YUN! SE-bast-YUN!”
“Han-NAH! Han-NAH!”
“MAHL-lee! MAHL-lee!”
“Ray-CHEL! Ray-CHEL!”
“Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE!”

There was a slight pause as our number six hitter came to the plate, as the lack of rhythm in “Wiiiiiiiil! Wiiiiiiiil!” sort of threw them for a loop, but they recovered nicely for “ANGE-gel!” “KEIR-nan!,” “Ti-ah-ZA!” and “JOE-ey!” one more time.

All in all, Diary, it was a great night. We played well, looked great, sounded awesome.

The kids were happy, the adults seemed impressed. And we helped the SIBAC Twins learn a few things. Like pre-game calisthenics are a must, especially frog hopping and then group running of the bases. They now know that wrapping up each inning with a home run is cool, too. It took them awhile to remember to give high fives at first and third, but they finally got that down pretty well. They still seemed puzzled when we applauded them at the beginning and the end of the game, and they need some work on their game-end glove slapping. They also had to be re-assembled quickly for the traditional high-five line of congrats after the game, but they did quickly come up with their own cheer. Now Diary, I know I am biased, but to be honest with you, “Tee-ball rules!” just doesn’t have quite the same panache as “Gooooooo Bobbleheads!”

Bobbleheads rock. Wait, I take that back. We bobble!

Goodnight Diary.

 

05/23/02
Dear Diary:

Please pardon the indulgence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about shirts this spring. The new Bobbleheads tee-shirts, bright red with bold white lettering across the chests; the wide eyes of recognition when the kids got them – “Hey! They even have numbers on the back!” I remember thinking briefly, that wouldn’t be such a bad shirt to have for a grown up.

Apparently, I am not alone.

At least a couple of parents have inquired about getting one, and we have even had a couple of Baseball Diary readers who have expressed an interest. Then on Tuesday night I walked into the park building to check out a tee and some bases, and was confronted by Sarah of the park staff. “Hey coach! We hear you guys are going to order big Bobbleheads shirts! I want one!” Turns out other park staff does too, including Katie the Park Manager. “Everybody loves ‘em,” she told me. “What can I say? You guys picked a really cool name!” Dale the park equipment guy called St. Mane sporting goods, and if we have enough interest we can get the shirts for the big kids at about eleven-bucks a pop. Bobblehead mania; coming soon to a torso near you.

Goodnight, Diary.

05/29/02
Dear Diary:

Sometimes life just happens, and we’re the better for it. Such was tonight’s Bobbleheads adventure.

Our scheduled opponents from Corcoran Park never showed up. Their coach had called Katie the Park Director yesterday telling her that this might happen, and she had cautioned me last night at practice. Having been forewarned, we arrived at Sibley #5 tonight with two alternatives to keep our charges occupied and to give them a suitable challenge as well.

5:45 arrived and no Corcoraners to be found. I announced to the assembled eight kids and nineteen moms, dads, grandparents and friends that as we were apparently opponent-less, but that I had come armed with plans B & C, just in case this had happened. Plan B was to take whatever Corcoran kids showed up, mix ‘em with ours and split into two teams. Now as our eight were the only ones on hand, 4-on-4 didn’t seem like a real enthralling idea, so after discussing it with fill-in coach (and team dad) Tom and getting his thumbs up, I proposed plan C:

The Bobbleheads versus their parents.

To their credit, the moms and dads were game; nobody had to be coerced, and most seemed genuinely enthused by the idea. The Bobbleheads themselves seemed mostly bemused by the prospect. All of them save young Keirnan, who ambled up to me after the announcement that plan “C” was a go and said, “Coach, don’t you have a plan ‘D’?!”

Coach Tom and I had decided that the Bobbleheads would let the parents bat first, and we took our spots in the field. It seemed that most of the kids were trying not to laugh at the parents coming up to bat, which was hard because some of them looked pretty funny squeezed into those smallish batting helmets. In all three moms, four dads, and one grandma batted – in a few instances escorted on their jaunts around the bases by younger Bobblehead siblings. Much whooping and hollering was heard from the parent’s bench, so we knew they were really into it.

It occurred to me midway through the top of the first that the ages of five, six and seven were good ones for watching parents (try to) play tee-ball. The looks of pride on the faces of each Bobblehead as his or her mom or dad (or grandma) hit the ball, ran to a base or thrust out arms in exultation upon reaching a base were the equal of any similar looks those same parents have had for their kids over the past month.

I spent the night stationed as the third base coach for Bobbleheads on offense and on defense, where I was privileged to overhear some of the great asides of the night.

Such as Rachel’s “Oh there’s my dad, he’s gonna do something goofy.” And showing mild disappointment when he didn’t. There was Keirnan’s repeated plea “Can’t you find a plan D?” Add in Joey’s mile wide grin when both his mom and his dad were on base simultaneously, Hannah’s incessant giggling, Bailey’s “Wow, my MOM!” when she got a hit, and Mali’s shear awe and pride at his grandmother gamely batting and running to first.

I personally declare plan ‘C’ a success. To use a common phrase from our household, “Hey, we’re making memories here!”

So to a red-shirted kid, the Bobbleheads as beamed with pride as moms and dads hit and ran with aplomb, shook their heads in disbelief when they missed catches and throws in Three Stooges-like grandeur while in the field, and just generally hammed it up. No petulance about “parental embarrassment,” no kid telling mom or dad to get off the field, nobody getting mad. Just the shared sheer joy of watching moms and dads goof off a little.

Now that’s tee-ball the Bobblehead way.

Good night, Diary

Us
(PS: Just between you and me I really don’t think Keirnan wanted a “Plan D.”)

autographed bat2

 

Thursday night, June 6, 2002. Late.
Dear Diary:

An era came to an end Thursday night. This probably goes against most any dictionary definition of the term era, but where the Bobbleheads are concerned, that’s kind of how this six-week season felt. This was one special group of kids and parents, Diary.

We said our goodbyes at the season-end potluck for the two tee-ball and two four-pitch teams from Sibley. Eight of our nine stalwarts showed up – and Bailey’s folks stopped by with a thank-you card and a gift certificate for the Coaches Lucker on their way home from the doctor where they had found out that Bailey had strep. They didn’t bring him in, but I went out to see the poor guy in his car seat. He was looking pretty rough until I gave him his participation ribbon and certificate and his sheet of Official Bobblehead Cards.

Bobblehead Cards are way cool, Diary.

Rachel’s dad Dan had brought his digital camera to our last game, and he took action pictures of the squad. Then with the help of his trusty computer, he whipped up a great set of baseball cards – just like real ones, with team name, player names & numbers and great shots of the Bobbleheads in action. Then he printed them all up in glorious color and stuck ‘em in three-hole punched plastic sleeves like real card collectors use. Each kid (and Amy and I) got a set and man, you should’ve seen their faces!

Thanks, Rachel’s Dad!

I don’t know that I have ever been tempted to apply the word noble to a bunch of five, six and seven-year olds – but these guys certainly were that. Never had to scold anyone of them in six weeks of practice or games; never an admonition to stop something, never an altercation amongst the kids themselves. They came every week; they came to play every week. They showed joy in the game, glee in each other. And dang, Diary – they could play! They could all hit like crazy. Heck, everybody batted 1.000 with multiple home runs.

We will remember the way the girls played the field (so to speak.) Week in, week out Angel, Hannah and Rachel all made great plays defensively. Kiernan and Sebastian can also flash some mean leather. Bailey was everywhere, every game – smiling ear-to-ear every minute he was on the field. Will’s love of leading calisthenics was matched only by his ease at being distracted by crawling bugs and other stuff in the infield dirt. He misses a lot of plays, but he sees more of things and life than most. And you gotta love Joey and Mali, the two youngest, two littlest guys we had – and with two of the biggest hearts on any diamond, anywhere. It wasn’t lost on me that the name chanting for batters by their teammates from the bench started with a spontaneous, enthusiastic focus on Joey and Mali.

At the end of the potluck we coaches each got to introduce our team and hand out their ribbons and certificates. I explained to the crowd our penchant for high-fives every time a kid got to first, third or home. We got in one last high-five as each kid came up to get their stuff and then we ended our team turn in the spotlight with one final group crouch leading up to a cacophonous “Goooooooooooo Bobbbbbbleheads!!!” I personally will admit to a couple of tears, and could rat out more than a few parents who were dabbing at their own eyes.

Funny what you’ll get from a bunch of tee-ball playing kids.

That’s it for now, Diary. See you next year.

Us

bobblehead bat

May, 2016.
Dear Diary

Epilog.

Alas, there was no ‘next year’ as we moved out-of-town. While I do know at least one set of our parents went on to spread the Bobblehead gospel at another south Minneapolis park, save for my own son, I have no idea where any of these kids are now, but I’d like to think that somewhere, deep down inside each one of them, at least a little bit of the joy of being a Bobblehead still remains.

Because man…could those kids play ball.

autographed ball2

Blind sided

The other night, son Will, the high-school-junior-to-be, was assisting me with a handyman project. We had to hang two new blinds in our living room windows, after removing the hardware for the old, broken ones. Those with engineering degrees need not apply.

We got this.

One of the blind brackets needed to go in the inside far right corner of the window box, which was problematic because it caused me to use my cordless drill with my left hand, and I am not left-handed, (though Will is. Next time, he gets up on the barstool!) Add in the fact that I had to get the elongated screwdriver drill bit up through a hole in the bottom of the bracket, and it was a hassle, and I was having little success.

So I did what I usually do in such situations, which is to devise a plan ‘B’ on the fly.

In this case, that meant a (seemingly) convoluted maneuver of using a regular screw driver and a dry wall screw to start an extra pilot hole to hold the bracket in place for a moment, then holding it in place with a regular screwdriver. Add in the fact that I was doing this while standing on a bar stool and not a step-ladder, using a sectional couch for occasional balancing purposes…

I glanced back and down at Will and saw his quizzical look as I asked him to hold the drill for a moment. Hence, as I turned back to futz with the new blind bracket,the following conversation.

“Yeah, this little set up probably has my junior high shop teacher rolling over in his grave.”

“You said that about him last fall when we were working on my I.R.P. project.“

“Well, he probably still is.”

“I hope he’s had a chance to stop spinning for a while, get a break.” replied number-one-son, quite dryly.

“Yeah, well, one can hope. Hand me the drill.”

Mr. Clark was my junior high shop teacher, circa 1975; a stereotypical former Marine with a barrel chest and buzz cut and an ‘inside voice’ that could overpower a running band saw. He usually carried a slim, steel ruler with which he was known to whack perceived miscreants on the rear end with – but never while a piece of equipment was running. Safety first, dontchaknow.

As you might presume, Mr. Clark was also a stickler for details and doing things the ‘right’ way. I am quite certain using a barstool instead of a step-ladder would not have been okey-dokey protocol with him. I figure I’ve spun Mr. Clark around enough the past couple of decades that he has permanently scared away all the local moles.

“So do you think he is still spinning, or spinning again?” asked Will, ever-so-chipper, as I exchanged the drill for the second bracket to position, scooting to my left, pivoting on the barstool, and balancing one foot on the back of the other sectional couch.

“I think I have given Mr. Clark enough opportunities that by now he has bored his way out of his grave and is probably encroaching on the neighboring plot. Buzz cut acts like a drill bit.”

“Think he’ll get much farther?” Will said dryly, his implication perfectly clear.

“I think if I tackle too many more projects like this he’ll move far enough that either G_d or the Devil figures he’s making a break for it,”

“Nice, dad. Really nice.” Will deadpanned with cocked eyebrow as he passed me the drill.

Okay, that may have been a little excessive, even by my standards. I suppose before I go making pronouncements such as this I should clarify one thing above all others.

Is Mr. Clark even dead?

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.

Digging in the Dirt Pile of Memories

The other day I was standing on the front porch with my sixteen year old son Will, waiting for his family car pool ride to school, sophomore year now in the homestretch. I was on spring break from my school and was savoring the opportunity for a little morning one-on-one we don’t normally have; younger son Sam and wife Amy were already off to their respective schools.

Mug of coffee in hand, I watched Will sitting on the porch swing, organizing his contemporary teenager-self: loaded, full-size backpack, small, nylon pull-string backpack, insulated cooler lunch bag, personal electronic device (with ear buds dangling from his neck) and cellphone. His school I.D. badge and flash drives dangled on lanyards beneath his beatnik-hearkening goatee. He was texting his girlfriend and I could see him smiling beneath the brim of his ever-present grey baseball cap.

Leaning against the porch post and looking down the block I motioned to the big pile of dirt two lots down; another new home for the neighborhood as the post-Katrina revitalization continues. I jokingly mentioned that the big pile of dirt made me want to “Get some old Tonka trucks and go play in the dirt for a few hours.”

Will finished his text and glanced at the dirt pile. “Do you remember that crane we had in our yard back in Marshall? That thing was so cool.”

I nodded, remembering the homemade wood-and-steel contraption: a small, square, carpet-remnant covered seat attached to a couple of wooden runners hat made it look like a really small sled – except for the two-foot long arm with a two-levered metal crane bucket attached to it. One lever made the crane arm extend, the other made it curve inward like a hand and wrist, which allowed the actual digging to occur. A kid could sit on the thing, dig a hole, swivel around (360 degrees, even!) dig another hole, then another. Homemade and won by Will’s uncle Ted at a church raffle after his own sons were past sandbox stage, we placed it in the sandbox beneath the ‘crow’s nest’ of the big, wooden playset we had built in our backyard when we moved to Marshall, Minnesota – when Will was seven.

Will gleefully dug a few holes in his day with that thing, as did three-years-younger brother Sam. We more than got Ted’s dollar raffle ticket worth out of it.

“You remember that thing, huh? Uncle Ted won that in a church raffle, if I remember correctly.”

“That’s where we got that? From Uncle Ted?”

“I think so.” I nodded, taking a sip of my coffee. Just then, Will got a text from his girlfriend Lien. Without looking up from his cellphone, fingers flying on the tiny keyboard, he added, “That thing was so cool.”

I nodded, and got to thinking…

A few years before the crane, some friends of ours found a swing set being dismantled and put on the curb by neighbors. With their help and a borrowed pickup truck we got it, took it apart and brought it to our yard in south Minneapolis.

Nothing fancy, just two plastic swings on chains, a short sheet-metal slide, a plastic glider and a swinging trapeze. Four-and-a-half year old Will was fascinated by the prospect of the pile of spot-rusted metal actually morphing into a swing set. He would pick up the yellow seats and then stare at the pile of tubing with a quizzical look on his face. But a few dollars’ worth of new nuts, bolts, bushings and three hours of re-assembly later, there it was.

The shiny new hardware stood out more than the rusty old ones, highlighting its age and hand-me-down nature. No matter. It became Will’s pride and joy, the thing that he most looked forward to coming home to. Even after full summer daycare days in the park, with the big swing sets, Will wanted to come home to “his playground.” On Saturdays, Will would take his lunch outside and eat it while sitting on his favorite swing (the one next to the trapeze.) It became a focal point for Will’s friends on the block, and became a trusty companion when they weren’t around. It was also a refuge on those days when the world got a little gloomy, and many were the nights it barely got to rest while dinner was consumed.

Came our first snow, and I hadn’t removed the swings yet. It didn’t much matter. Our parka-clad boy brushed off the seats and got in a few minutes of action before dinner, and another ten or so after, till it just got too dark. The cool air accentuated every creak of the metal, chains and “S” hooks that made it all work. Spring eventually returned and become summer again and Will continued swinging away until we moved, leaving the swing set out on the curb for someone else to claim as their own – which they did within a day.

Once we moved, Will had his big, wooden playset and his gift-crane…

“Here come the Worthylakes.”

Will’s carpool had swung into view from around the corner, and in a few quick seconds he, seemingly in one, fluid motion and without getting tangled in multiple lanyards, effortlessly threw on both backpacks (lunch bag clipped to the big one with a carabiner) adjusted his cap, stuffed his PSP into his pocket, threw his arm (with hand still clutching cellphone) around my neck, gave me a hug and said “Love you dad” before bounding down to the steps and out to the S.U.V. at the curb.

“Love you, bud. See you this afternoon.”

“Bye.” He threw the farewell over his shoulder, hopped into the backseat, gave me a quick wave as they drove off.

I took another sip of coffee and went inside, lacking any old Tonka Trucks ® and figuring I had had my dirt pile enjoyment for the day anyway.

Building a More Varied Vocabulary in 2012, Lesson 1

I recently got another lesson in accidental parenting – one of those I-didn’t-know-he-had-picked-that-one-up from youngest son Sam, nearly thirteen. While driving back to New Orleans from our Christmas in Minnesota, Sam was laying casually in the back of our mini van playing a video game, and something that occurred apparently surprised him. His blurted response?

“Son of a Bisquick pancake!”

I take complete ownership of the phrase, I know where he got it and I smiled with something resembling satisfaction, I suppose, as  (I believe)  I coined the phrase somewhere back around the turn of the century.

But until Sam’s recent vanclamation, I wasn’t aware he had picked up on it, though to be honest, he used the abbreviated version. The full phrase is actually, ‘Well I’ll be a son of a Bisquick pancake!”

To be sure, there are far shoddier rejoinders he could have uttered, and there are much worse (in my opinion) examples of phraseology that have somehow made their way into daily American vernacular and that I hear kids Sam’s age and younger uttering daily: ‘Oh snap’ and ‘Flippin’ coming immediately to mind.

We’ll just add “Son of a Bisquick pancake!” to the Thesaurus of Luckerisms available to the general public. It’ll be dog-eared in the volume somewhere along with these perennial favorites:

FAAA-reee? Did somebody say FAAA-ree?”
“I hear ya cluckin’ big chicken!”
“Hey, buddy! Only one shade of green in this town!”
“Somebody get that, it might be a phone call.”

As it is a far more versatile phrase along the lines of the former (‘FAAA-ree?’ of course referring to any situation where you are getting something for free, and the ever-affirming/esteem building ‘chicken’) and not nearly so limited as the two latter (‘green’ when you’re stuck in traffic behind someone who won’t move when the light changes, ‘phone’ obviously the choice of phrase whenever a phone rings) I see a bright future for this latest ‘Those Linguistic Luckers!’ innovation.

As we are not seeking a copyright, feel free to use it yourself. You’ll be surprised at how quickly and easily it will flow into your daily conversation: “Son of a Bisquick pancake!”

It’s as versatile a phrase as the product it borrows from. Play with the inflection in various forms for better effect and more conversational flexibility. You’ll find the phrase can be used to connote everything from basic surprise, ala Sam, to outright repugnance with someone or something.

And best of all, it’s not like your swearing. ‘I’ll be a son of a Bisquick pancake!’ doesn’t even nudge the needle on the vulgarity meter, so have at it with gusto.

I’ll make a prediction: About a week after reading this, you will use this new-found vocabularic gem without thinking about, and only when you realize what you have said (possibly due to a puzzled look from a fellow conversant) you will place your hands on your hips, and with some sense of wonder/disgust proclaim, to nobody in particular:

“Son of a Bisquick pancake! Lucker did it to me again!”