How’s this for a Birthday Greeting – Not your usual Birthday Card
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Today is the honored birthday of my one and only sister, Shelby Burleson. It is my privilege, as the very much older brother to a very much younger sister, to stand up for the rights of older brothers everywhere to ridicule, torment, point at, deride, mystify, distort, and thousands of other activities which belong to elder brothers and to no one else. I know that my sister will feel a tinge of red embarrassment about her cheeks when she sees me at my brotherly work, for I am giving her a present that increases its value year by year.
It is called:
‘M’ is for the million things she gave me. Of my mother,
my sister, and ‘Shut The Door’, once pretty in pink.
She would, I know, wish that a fierce gust of wind would pick up the pages while I was reading them on the veranda, and that those mischievous papers be the only recollection of this article. But of course she would be mistaken, for brothers and all of our ilk do things which are embarrassing, and of course, hilarious in the extreme… getting away with murder our palpable right.
And so, on this birthday day, I make use of my well established privilege to remind her that I once let her invisible animals loose, whereupon my mother was forced to enlist the support of the neighbors and the postman to capture what only Shelby could see.
I put her in the clothes dryer once, just to prove that the Bendix cycles were the most gentle of all.
I wrapped her firmly in a carpet, a la Cleopatra when she was presented to Julius Caesar. I own to feeling an acute satisfaction when she said, in terms completely unmistakable, that she couldn’t move her arms. Aha! Another success.
I drive her crazy, or as near about as doesn’t matter, on every subject known to man (and woman). What is the point after all of having a little sister if torment is not exercised at frequent intervals with joy and exactitude.
As it says, as it reminds us in the story that follows, my ingenious plots and plans for her started early in her life, when I launched the canard that she was going to be exchanged for a goat. Luckily for all, that deal fell through.
I also mooted the proposition that she be Christened Zenobia, so that her nickname would be Zany. That too, failed. But when I named her Prunella, that stuck. Should you ever wish irritate Shelbita, simply point to her and say as sweetly as possible, “Deeeaaar Prunella!”
Like all little sisters, she has her ways of tormenting me back. Thus we provide justification, one for the other. She was a lively child, a lively young adult, and a lively adult, consumed with all aspects of birth, animal or human. I told her the day she went into labor, that the filming of the arrival of her eldest son for her nursing class was perhaps a bit unorthodox, but really, I admired her ingenuity… although I could not bear to watch the birth myself.
Shelby you are now old and gray, yes it’s true, says I, who am older and grayer. You have kicked during your lifetime any number of behinds for any number of worthy projects or causes. I admire you, I admire your matronly skills, and constant stream of ideas, some quite ludicrous. But what can you expect from a younger sister?
What, I ask you? I’ll tell you what I expect. Love, consideration, and the occasional ear… and with Shelby, I get them. For, you see, I no more intend to give up my rights as senior brother than she will give up her rights to torment me from now until eternity.
So, with gratitude and love, and just a touch of asperity and condescension, I give to you an article which you may have never read before. But I ask that you read it now. For no one knows better than I the shrieks that greeted your discovery that “Shut The Door” was gone forever. In God we trust… all others pay cash.
Happy birthday, and do what I know you will do… kick up your heels, and make a fearful fracas. And I, to the extent one can at such a distance, will add to the mayhem and confusion as I have always done throughout your adventurous and affectionate life.
Happy birthday, Prunella.
Listen in for Dr. L ant reading and read along with the text below.
‘M’ is for the million things she gave me. Of my mother,
my sister, and ‘Shut The Door’, once pretty in pink.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author’s program note. If you were alive on any Saturday night in 1915 and were of good family, soon after the dinner dishes were removed, soon after the gentlemen’s secret potation was poured and savored, you gathered in the drawing room with its spotless antimacassars and the hapless canaries trapped in eternal flight under the great glass dome that Cousin Billy, aged 8 and dangerous on roller skates, had managed to crack so noticeably one day a long time ago.
You, and that meant all of you from Great Aunt Freida whose dentures came from the Montgomery Ward catalog and were obviously askew, to Miss Elizabeth Ann who, aged 12, had received special permission to stay up late “just this once” so she could enjoy and learn from the “improving” ballads, for she was a sweet child given special treats because she had the consumption (and the tragedy that might so easily bring); all these, each a recognized and important part of the living family tree, which would always and forever have a place for you. It was the one place in the world where, no matter how negligent and selfish you had been, you were home —
Cousin Fannie, honored in the family for her feminine achievements at the near-by Ladies College, had asked whether she might sing this night. The lady of the house knew why and approved. Mr. Benjamin Lowery, aged 28 and an up-and-coming businessman, was accounted the reason and so this evening graced the board, trapped and well and truly polished off by the succulent weapon that was Fannie’s rhubarb pie.
Thus, at an appropriate moment, Miss Fannie was asked if she would favor the company; was allowed to demur and nominate others for notice, thereby demonstrating her gentility and fine manners, only then to be persuaded. Her skirts beat a graceful rhythm against the highly polished oak floor and its worn Turkey carpets. She positioned herself for best advantage, where Mr. Lowery could see her just so, imaging the delights of “tea for two” to come.
Then she turned, nodding to her accompanist Sister Jane from the Reformed Methodist Church on Third Street; such a pity her squint was quite so apparent. A social rite was about to commence, here and around the Great Republic and a grand new song by Howard Johnson and Theodore Morris sung with such deep and abiding feeling by Eddy Arnold (among so very many) started on its certain work of touching every heart.
It was called “M-O-T-H-E-R (A Word That Means The World To Me”), and you should find it now in any search engine. It was this song I learned at my Illinois elementary school, Puffer School, half a century later. It brought tears to my eyes the day Mrs. Hazel Knight, erstwhile music teacher of tenacious optimism and purpose, resplendent in the opulent orchid she always wore on recital days, sat down at the piano to provide the accompaniment to the tune which never failed to find its rapt audience. It is the tune that with another half century brings the bittersweet memories and the insistent tears I cannot help and shed without embarrassment.
My mother, the gift of springtime.
My mother, Shirley Mae Lauing, was named after the spring into which she was born. It was singularly appropriate for the duration of her life she, like the very season itself, brought renewal, optimism, hope; a festival of joy and revival. Yes, she was very like that which you, too, would see at once if you would bend over my shoulder and help me sort the raft of unmarked photographs, a project I say I will do someday, but without conviction.
There she stands, her smile marked by brilliance and an unmistakable touch of insight and wisecrack, never demur, always forthright, smart, a smart aleck; the ’40’s girl fun on a date in bobby socks; the young suburban matron in Eisenhowerland circa 1955 scrubbed young sons in tow; alluring, provocative a la Elizabeth Taylor in 1960, sun drenched in the ’70’s in a California which she came to love fiercely and where, despite life’s obstacles and hindrances, many of her many aspects came together, as they sometimes do, producing happiness, bliss, satisfaction, a woman whose radiant smile summarized who she was and what she could
It was in this time that Je t’adore was born…
Pink, plush, poodle, a present…
My mother gave gifts as easily as she breathed… although there were moments when we wished she hadn’t; like my primo collection of cat’s eye marbles she gave away when I was in college “because you won’t be needing them any more, love” and my extraordinary and much loved Lionel trains which were used, amongst so many ways, to transport my Roman gladiators to the battles at which they made all the difference. She gave those to a “poor boy who had so little. I knew you wouldn’t mind, darling.”
I can imagine how Je t’adore joined us, seen in a store window, arresting her attention, saying, siren-like, “Shelby would like me”. And so an American toy, still in those far-away days made in the USA, was liberated for an American girl… Shelby Allison… aged about 4… at whose birth I told my teacher we intended to swap her for a goat. It says volumes that this same teacher, a friend of the family, called POM (Poor Old Mother) to see. Now this sunny child (the goat deal having fallen through) was given a gift that was also a clarion declaration: Je t’adore, “I adore you.” Of that there was never
any doubt. And so Je t’adore joined the family where Shelby gave her unstinting love and a lasting name, “Shut the door”. It stuck.
From the first moment, Shelby’s passion for Shut the Door was obvious, total, a thing of joy and rapture. Of course this obsessively loved friend went everywhere Shelby went; no possible excursion could occur without this object of her affection. Thus, favored friends learned to inquire about Shut the Door and her well being while wags like me, quips and cracks always at the ready, inimical to family serenity, were warned off as a menace. Thus did Shelby and Shut the Door, tied to each other by more than the string on Shelby’s arm, become an item and a veritable smile machine.
But in time, pure love was sullied… Dragged hither and yon, Shut the Door became an object not welcomed but banned; noisome, unhealthy, a cautionary tale even I, saddened, disdained to deride. And so Shut the Door’s fateful encounter with the washing machine began. Just 30 minutes in the wash cycle were about to change everything…. As soon as she opened the hatch, it was immediately apparent that she would be spinning this story.
Shut the Door lay before her, clean to be sure, never cleaner, but limp, shapeless, lifeless, inanimate, defunct, her eyes not as amiable and loving as before. Immediately POM, who had literary propensities, thought of Princess Lise in “War and Peace.” “I have loved you all. Why have you done this to me?”
POM was frantic and applied applications grave and frivolous to solve the problem, but of course nothing could be done; the saddest words in any language. “Why have you done this to me?”
In due course, with Shelby expected home far too soon, POM resolved on the subterfuge of deceit and so dashed to the store where once Shut the Door had resided. The problem was solved… Shut the Door had a twin… cost was no object with so much at stake.
Thus, when Shelby returned and at once asked for Shut the Door POM (role perfect) opened the drier, where lay Shut the Door, plump, prosperous — a plausible fraud. Shelby’s screams, never stinted at any time, now alarmed the neighborhood. This was not Shut the Door, the beloved. No facsimile could possibly deceive any true lover; certainly not this one. And so Shelby, her shrieks masterful and piercing, learned what I already knew, with love…
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be, Put them all together, they spell ‘MOTHER’ a word that means the world to me… especially at Christmas, when I miss her so.
The author’s dedication… to Veronique Van Der Linden — “Nicky”, the good mother who loved this story so because it makes her laugh and remember the good times. At Christmas, 2012.
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 40 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com
His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a successful writer. Be sure to sign up now at www.writerssecrets.co
More can be found on Dr. Lant on his author page at: http://www.amazon.com/author/jeffreylant/
plus the “Writers Secrets” channel on Youtube.
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