If Only I Could Have Dimples

My best friend in my early grade school years had the cutest dimples on each cheek. As far as I can remember (that was 55 years ago) Jackee was the only one in our class of  20 kids that had these special features. I was so envious. I thought,  if I could just have dimples like that, I would be as cute as Jackee. Sometimes I would try pushing dimples into my cheeks with my thumbs, but I had the most stubborn cheeks!

Years past and it was in High School Biology class that Mr. Schuler talked about this very thing. My ears perked up and I thought this might be my chance to finally get dimples. What I heard was disappointing. I was never going to have dimples! He explained that these kinds of characteristics are autosomal genetic traits, meaning that it’s up to our genes that hang on to our chromosomes that determine whether we get a trait or not.  Mr. Schuler had been my favorite teacher before this. The only thing he said that made me feel any better was that  dimples are created by a mutant gene. I felt a little smug then, knowing my genes weren’t mutant.

These autosomal traits are considered either dominant or recessive. Dominant traits can be passed down from only one parent, where as recessive traits have to be passed down from both parents. Dimples are a dominant trait, meaning Jackee could have gotten them from her mother or her father. However, interestingly the dimpled chin (sometimes known as cleft chin or butt chin) is a recessive trait so both parents have to be involved to pass this on to their offspring. This would mean that Kirk Douglas’s well known dimpled chin could not be blamed on one parent or the other – they both contributed. I don’t think Kirk Douglas minded what was passed along.  It has been said that the costume designers on the set of his films picked out certain ties to emphasize his cleft chin, because he was proud of it.  Those of you that can’t remember back to the Kirk Douglas era, you may notice the cleft chin when watching Kirk’s son, Michael,  Ben Affleck, Sandra Bullock, John Travolta, or Dr. Phil.

A few other autosomal dominant traits that can intrigue us are widow’s peaks such as Paul Ryan has causing his hair line to dip in a “V” on his forehead, freckles, long eyelash length, and almond shaped eyes.  And if you are so talented as to be able to roll your tongue upward on each side, this is not a talent at all, but a dominant autosomal trait.  Any traits opposite of those mentioned would be recessive traits and would need to be contributed by both parents such as a straight hairline, no freckles, short eye lashes, and round eyes.

A very interesting syndrome known as the ACHOO syndrome, short for autosomal dominant compelling helioopthalmic outburst syndrome is now believed by some to be an autosomal dominant trait. It is characterized by uncontrollable sneezing in response to the sudden exposure of bright light following a darkened environment such as when coming out of a theater or passing through a long tunnel. Most people with the syndrome sneeze 2- 3 times, but there are those that can sneeze up to forty times. This is not a new phenomenon as Aristotle studied it as far back as 300 BC.

Forty five years ago (thanks to Mr. Schuler) I resigned myself to the fate of being flat cheeked. However, today, due to modern plastic surgery, dimples are within reach. It’s been something to think about, but I’ve come to the conclusion that dimples at 62 aren’t as important as they were at 10.  Instead of using my time to nurse sore cheeks, I think I’ll go down to the theatre on a bright sunny day. I’ll park where I can observe those coming out of the side door of the matinee and do some research of my own. It makes me sneeze just thinking about it.

Until next month – if you’ll keep on readin’, I’ll keep on writin’.

 

This Old House

It’s not been that long ago that I visited an old farmhouse where a good friend lived. She had painted the two story house a barn-red color and trimmed the long narrow windows in white. The house sits between huge swaying cottonwood trees – trees that are likely as old as the wooden structure they frame. On the drive to this house  you must cross a bridge that spans a quiet stream of water, then turn down a winding lane. It’s a quiet isolated piece of property; unable to be seen from the main road. My friend loved this old house where she and her husband raised their five children – where the walls ricocheted  laughter, love, and occasional tears. It’s just an old farmhouse with some character, but oh…how it bursts with memories.

I spent the first eleven years of my life on a farm in northeast Nebraska. It too had a creek, a lane, and an old house with character. It now resides in a deep corner of my mind and houses the memories that were made there.

Like my friend’s home, this was a two story house with narrow windows – and plenty of them.  The cold drafts that whistled around the edges in January and February have stamped this memory into that deep corner of my mind.  Each window was divided into four panes by narrow strips of wood – originally painted white – but now were rough and gray with only a few thin strips of  loose white paint – often picked off and dropped behind the couch when Mom and Dad weren’t looking.

Two large bedrooms and one storage area made up the top floor of the old farmhouse. My brother and I were given the largest room which we divided by an imaginary line into his side and my side. Woe to anyone that crossed the line! Three or four heavy comforters provided the only heat upstairs, except for a very small amount of heat that escaped upward from the stoves downstairs. My collection of unforgettable memories reminds me how I would snuggle down deep into the soft bed with only my mouth and nose visible. It was great fun to blow my visible breath out into the frigid  room. To this day I prefer a cold bedroom with ample covers. My brother and I shared this bedroom with one small turtle that took up housekeeping in a shallow aquarium that sat atop my brother’s dresser. Dave remembers the morning he awoke to find the turtle frozen in place with his small snout  barely poking above the ice. As the day warmed up, so did the turtle; no worse for wear.

The old farmhouse had a built in alarm system; every bit as good as the high tech camera surveillances we have today. The creaky old staircase would have alerted us of any burglars in an instant. (Can you call them burglars if you never locked your doors?)  I became highly skilled at determining the family members ascending the stairs as I laid in my bed and listened. Dad’s heavy footsteps created a thud amongst the creaks while Mom’s steps generated a light patter. Dave had a hurried gait, sometimes taking two steps at a time, and my three year old sister possessed a slow, cautious step as she heaved herself up from one step to the next.

The living room became the hub of the home, especially through the winter months. An  oil stove kept the room comfortably warm. By opening up one of the two doors on the front of the stove, it was easy enough to assend to my favorite perch. Many cold evenings found Dave and I warming our bottom sides on the top of the stove.  The only TV in the house – a black and white Zenith – sat near one wall of this room.  A well used, but comfortable couch sat on another wall and a soft chair or two rounded out the furniture. Often the card table was set up near the stove where a Monopoly game or Uncle Wiggily took residence.

New houses have charm, but old houses have character and memories. This is why my friend posted the “For Sale” sign at her current residence. She hopes to move back to the old barn-red house she loves.

Until next month… keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

 

 

Heroes

Heroes aren’t always clad in pressed suits and fashionable ties. Most aren’t. Mine have worn everything from hairy coats to Egyptian tunics to overalls.

I’ve had several heroes in my life. Let me tell you about a few of them.

There is Joseph – the one thrown in the pit by his brothers. He was a well dressed hero in that fancy coat of many colors that Dolly Parton sings about. Only problem was it caused a Grand Canyon full of resentment in his brothers’ hearts and landed him in a deep dark hole, which eventually led him to a strange land and Pharaoh’s home.  Joseph didn’t do everything right – but one thing he did do right, was flee the advances of Pharaoh’s wife. Unfortunately, Pharaoh believed his deceiving wife and Joseph was thrown into another dark hole – this time the prison dungeon. Long story short – he eventually got out of prison, was made overseer of all the land, and even saved his undeserving brothers from starvation. The thing that makes Joseph a hero in my book is not that he became Pharoah’s right hand man or even that he forgave his brothers for the wrong they did to him. The reason he is a hero to me is that through the valleys of life – whether in a pit, prison for being falsely accused, or isolated from the ones he loved (his father and youngest brother) he continued to trust God. When the world’s crashing down on you, that’s not so easy.  This hero inspires me to try my best at doing the same.

I had a hero when I was in grade school – even got my picture on the front page of the Omaha World Herald with him when I was six. His name was Barney. He was a true friend and every  afternoon when running down the lane after getting off the school bus, he was waiting for me. He was the best listener! He would stand quietly by as I cried out my woes about getting picked last for the kickball team or getting less than a B on my arithmetic test. He wore a suit of soft brown hair and he had the biggest and warmest brown eyes in all of Pierce County. He was the most patient plow horse anywhere – always content to wait for his ear of corn until I had unloaded the wagon of woes on him. He was an unforgettable hero as proven by the fact that I am writing about him today.

There’s another hero in this story. The one that heard the wails of a little girl when she found out that her Barney was of no use in the fields anymore and would be going to the “glue factory.”  Instead, Barney lived out his life in the green meadows of our farm.  This same hero not only saved Barney but he saved a frog from the shaft of a windmill and a toad from the mouth of a snake  – all because he was willing to do something that was important to those he loved. This hero knew my heart. When it was time that I could be in 4-H, he came home with two Brown Swiss calves in the backseat of the car – calves that would stay with us, grow up to be fine milk cows, and never have to be sold; which in the process would have broken my tender  heart.  Dad didn’t often tell us he loved us, but we knew.

Max Lucado puts it nicely when he says, “Something tells me that for every hero in the spotlight, there are dozens in the shadows. They don’t get press, they don’t draw crowds. But behind every avalanche is a snowflake and behind every rock slide is a pebble.

These are just a few of my heroes. Who are your heroes?

Until next month – keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

 

 

Give Me Black and White

Have you ever wondered how difficult it would be to learn the English language if you hadn’t been brought up with it? I’ve never thought to much about it, because thank goodness, I was indoctrinated into it from birth. But even so, as a writer I have daily moments of doubt. Did I use the correct word in that sentence? Should it be between or among, that or which, lay or lie, who or whom? Can I use two tenses in the same sentence? And maybe my most perplexing dilemma…when do I use a semi-colon and not a comma?

I’m a “black and white” kind of person. I like absolute rules… not those on a flex schedule. What kind of rule is it if it’s only followed at certain times?  I abhor rules that have the phrases: in most instances, probably, and or  permissible, within their context. How are writers to know whether to use a comma after an introductory phrase when the rule makers tell us it’s permissible to omit it if the phrase is brief. Is brief one word, two words, three words? I prefer a rule that says…do it or don’t do it.  Then there are the rule makers that say that placing a comma after an introductory phrase depends on the writer’s sense of rhythm. Everyone in my line dancing class would agree I have NO rhythm at all, so that rule is of no use to me.

How do new learners of the English language learn all this stuff, when I, as a 62 year old veteran, am still Googling any number of “English” questions on a daily basis and or texting my niece who is an English major?

And then there’s the issue of words used to describe various things. For instance, let’s look at words to describe groups of animals. It would seem logical to me that every group of animal on four legs should be called a herd and all birds should be a flock, fish should be a school, and insects should be a swarm. Wouldn’t that be tidy? But, you guessed it – no rules apply. Cattle congregate in herds, rhinos in a crash, hippos in a bloat, and pigs in a drift. Bass gather in a shoal, cod in a lap, goldfish in a glint, and herring in an army. A group of butterflies is labeled a flight, gnats are a cloud, and flies are a business. And get this – game birds travel in a covey, ground birds in a flock, and sea birds in a wreck. To complicate things even more, geese on the ground are a gaggle, but when they are flying they become a skein.

It all seems quite complicated to me. I can’t imagine what it seems to someone that is trying to learn English as a second language. However, on the political side of things, it is my opinion that folks relocating to our country need to learn our language. I don’t ask for perfection – just a work in progress. And, we are all that. I’m convinced I will still be a work in progress until the day I say goodbye (farewell, so long) to this world and hello (hi, howdy,greetings) to a new one.

Keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.

 

 

 

Waxing or Waning on the Outhouse Door

Last evening while traveling home from Nebraska on I-90 through South Dakota, I was leaning back in the passenger seat with not a lot to do. I had already used  all my thread I had along and could no longer work on my needlework project. When dusk began to override daylight, John Grisham had been put aside too.

It was then that I noticed the thin sliver of a moon making its appearance at the top of the darkening sky. With no pressing issues to occupy my brain, the small scientific portion of my mind began to exercise. Was this a waxing moon or a waning moon? At some point in time I had read about each, but it must have been stored in the deep gullies of brain matter and smothered with more urgent knowledge – maybe how to distinguish an Eastern bluebird from a western bluebird or ten tips to cooking the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.  I asked my husband if his gullies were less deep, but apparently not.

With all this pondering about waxing and waning moons, I began to wonder which one it was that took a place on the  old outhouse doors. And why did outhouse doors have one in the first place? From personal experience I am certain that not all outhouses did have a moon. As a kindergartener I spent a lot longer in the old schoolhouse outhouse than I had planned on when I had asked to be excused. When the rusty lock on the outside flipped down and locked me inside, I had ample time between unheard screams of “help” to study every characteristic of each bare board that made up the rustic shelter.

With the use of laptop computers and smart phones, there is not a good excuse to remain ignorant, so this morning with a cup of coffee on the stand beside me, I settled into my large comfy chair and opened the laptop. My first ambition was to find out what a waxing and waning moon is. I learned that waxing means increasing; a waxing moon is in the process of becoming a full moon. Waning means decreasing; a waning moon is in the process of becoming a new moon. In the northern hemisphere, a sliver of moon in the shape of a backward “C” like we saw last night, is a waxing moon and is on the journey of becoming a full moon on January 11th. Had it been in the shape of a true “C” it would have been a waning moon.

Now, with that straight in my mind for the time being, my curiosity still kept me captive with the question of the crescent moon on the old outhouse. Come to find out, years and years ago, a crescent moon was placed on the women’s bathrooms, and a star or sunburst was placed on the men’s. The moon stood for “Luna” and was a symbol of womanhood. The male counterpart was “Sol” symbolized by the star or sunburst. The women’s bathrooms of old were better maintained than the men’s. The outhouses with the stars and sunbursts became in such disrepair that they soon became a thing of the past. Both genders began using the same building. For whatever reason, my research claims that most of the moons placed in the doors were waning moons, but no explanation is given as to why. Maybe waning moons were easier to cut out with the types of saws they used – that’s my theory.  The practicality of a moon in the outhouse door was that it allowed for some fresh ventilation and enough light to tend to business.

There were many outhouses that didn’t have the good fortune of a moon in the door. I  remember back to 1960 to that outhouse I was imprisoned in south of Osmond, Nebraska. It had no moon, no ventilation, and no light. I was never so happy to see my brother when Miss Libby finally sent him out to check on me.

Until next month, keep on readin’ and I’ll keep on writin’.