Indiana

The meaning of ‘got you’

My first Christmas, 1962

Christmas, 1962

When I was 10, Grandma told me I was adopted. No, it wasn’t an elaborate setup for one of her practical jokes, and she really didn’t mean to tell me. But it was news to me, and I had no reason to doubt her.

It was a late fall weekend in the early 1970s at our home in Hartley, Iowa. Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Ellie were visiting us. Mom and Dad took advantage of having temporary live-in babysitters and went out that evening.

Shortly after my parents left, I lost my temper with Grandpa for an excellent reason: He sat in my spot on the couch. Yes, I beat “The Big Bang Theory” to that compulsive behavior by a few decades … they may owe me for that.

Instead of haranguing Grandpa until he moved, my response was to stomp from the family room to the living room, crank up the thermostat, sit cross-legged on the large floor register with an afghan blanket over my head and create a one-person, foul-tempered sweat lodge (another compulsive behavior).

It wasn’t long before I heard Grandma heading in my direction. Apparently, my family room exit hadn’t been as subtle as I really hadn’t wanted it to be. Grandma sat in the rocking chair in front of me and proceeded to give me the what-for.

It started as expected with much “respecting your elders” and “controlling your temper” – stuff I also got regularly from Mom and Dad – but I could tell Grandma was bringing more than the usual determination to this scolding. So I stayed hunkered under the safety of my blanket and, in my mind, converted her voice into an adult Peanuts character. She may have been delivering a stupendous dressing down, but it was mostly “wah wa-wah wah wah” in my head.

Even so, I was vaguely aware that her admonishment had gone back to my arrival in this world. At any age, you know it’s serious when a talking-to goes back that far.

Then she said it.

“… and when your parents got you …”

“Got you.” I don’t know why those two words stood out then. Any other time, I would have assumed it was just another example of the odd way adults occasionally talk – as if she were avoiding saying “had you” so she could also avoid any chance of getting into an uncomfortable “Where do babies come from?” discussion. She would have been safe with “had you”: By that time, I had secretly read from cover to cover my parent’s copy of “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask.” I didn’t understand much of it but, needless to say, the cat was already way out of the bag on the baby-making topic.

I flipped up the front of the blanket, looked straight at Grandma and cut her off midbluster: “What do you mean ‘got you’?”

Grandma froze. On the opening kickoff of the first football game my senior year in high school, I was hit so hard, I actually saw stars. You wonder where unusual expressions like that come from. Then it happens to you, and you get it. Those few seconds after I asked Grandma to explain herself helped me get how all the air could be sucked out of a room.

Grandma finally recovered and replied, “What are you talking about”? (She knew what I was talking about.)

“You said ‘got you.’ Don’t you mean ‘had you’”? (I knew what she meant.)

“Well … uh … what I wanted to say was … well … it means … ack! Boy, you’re adopted. There, I said it. Do you know what that means?”

“I know what being adopted is. But I don’t remember living anywhere else or with anybody else.”

To that point in my life, my concept of adoption was shaped largely by the movie “Oliver!“: Being an orphan waiting for adoption meant days filled with pocket picking, extravagant song-and-dance numbers and a severe lack of porridge.

Grandma clarified:

“No, you wouldn’t remember that far back. You were just a few days old when your mom and dad got you [those words again]. But that doesn’t mean they love you any less. They couldn’t have children of their own at the time, so they went to an adoption center in Sioux City. After a while, the center called and said you were ready and waiting for them. They were so excited. Your mom and dad have always been your parents and they always will be. You’re stuck with your ol’ granny too.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Grandma asked whether I wanted to come back to the family room.

“No, I think I’ll stay here awhile.”

So Grandma left, and I disappeared back under the blanket. I was sound asleep in my bed when my parents got home. Mom came into my room and gently awakened me.

“Grandma told me what she told you. Do you have any questions?”

“No, I’m OK.”

“Well, if you want to talk about it tomorrow, just let me know, OK? I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom. Good night.”

That night was 43 years ago, and that’s been the extent of any discussion of my adoption with anyone in my family … and that’s fine with me.

I know not all adoptions are the same, but for me (even at 10), it was never a question of who “had you” or “got you” or whether a stork dropped you down the chimney. It’s always been about who loves you, who’s cared for you and who’s helped you become what you think you want to be. And I supposed if I hadn’t done anything bad enough in my first 10 years to compel Mom and Dad to trade me in for a less-temperamental model, I probably had half a chance of staying around another 10 years. I did test that assumption many times though.

I was fortunate to be “gotten” by loving and supportive parents and families. Although the Indiana side’s behavior has occasionally tempted me to play the adoption card (“Hey, don’t look at me – I’m not a blood relation to these goofballs!”), I know I’m just as culpable … “family” wears off onto you pretty quickly, and it’s something I’d never want to wash away.

The following is from a letter Grandma wrote to a niece in the late 1970s. Although I wasn’t the letter’s recipient, I think it’s close to what Grandma was trying to tell me that night on the floor register:

Isn’t it great to have family and to stay close to them? It’s such a little thing to be considerate to one another. One can go through almost anything if there’s love in the heart. Don’t ever let ‘family’ down. They’re the only ones who will stand by you in the end.

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Lost letters file: Loyal pets, dead bodies and severe wardrobe malfunctions

Although my parents intended to save every entertaining letter from Grandma, it was inevitable they’d lose some along the way. Really, the number of letters that did survive is remarkable considering our five relocations during those three letter-writing decades. Despite the lost letters, we have managed to keep some of their stories alive.

Grandma’s most notorious lost letter was one she wrote in the early 1960s. The letter arrived in the middle of the summer, and it told about the death of a local farmer. He was a widower and, other than his faithful dog, he lived alone on his farm. While working out in the field one hot summer day, the elderly farmer had a heart attack and died instantly. Several days passed before anyone missed him.

Finally, some neighbors stopped by his farmhouse. No one answered the door, but as the neighbors were leaving, they noticed in the field the farmer’s dog lying next to what they suspected was the farmer’s body. They walked out into the field to investigate but when they got close, the large dog sprang up, growling and baring its teeth to the approaching group. It wasn’t about to allow anyone near its fallen master. After several failed attempts to distract or scare the dog away, the neighbors decided it was a job for the marshal.

When Grandpa arrived, he quickly determined the only solution was to tranquilize the dog. A local veterinarian supplied a dose of sedative that Grandpa added to a handful of raw hamburger. After tossing the juiced ball of meat out to the dog, Grandpa and his posse waited under a shade tree near the farmhouse. A few minutes after wolfing down the medicated meatball, the dog collapsed into a deep sleep, and the men began the grim duty of removing the farmer’s body.

This is where the letter got interesting.

Although Grandma wasn’t there, she painted a vivid written portrait of the scene based only on Grandpa’s account. After lying in the blistering 90-degree sun for several days, the farmer’s body was in a severe state of decomposition. Grandma didn’t hold back: She wrote about the swarm of flies and other winged insects the men had to fight through to get to the remains. She told about how maggots and other creepy-crawlies had quickly inhabited the bloated corpse, particularly in its eyes and gaping mouth. She described how they shoveled the farmer part by part into a body bag. And she brought to powerful life the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh.

Mom read this letter to some family friends shortly after it arrived. At the maggots-in-the-eyes-and-mouth point, our friend’s 10-year-old daughter began dry heaving. At the stench-of-rotting-flesh point, she jumped up, ran into the bathroom … and garped in the pot.

Most writers try to elicit emotional responses from their readers. If causing someone to puke counts as an emotional response, Grandma could have been Hemingway in an alternate bizarro universe.

Several years ago, I put out a call to all relatives to scour their homes in the hopes of discovering some of Grandma’s lost letters. Nothing significant turned up, but my mom and Aunt Mae did have interesting replies with letters of their own.

Both told about an incident that happened when they were in their late teens/early 20s. Although Mom and Aunt Mae wrote to me independently, they told the same story nearly word for word. That might seem uncanny, but for anyone who knows Mae and Maudie, it’s no surprise.

Aunt Mae and Mom in mid-gab, 1991

Aunt Mae and Mom take a mid-gab breather, 1991

Born 16 months apart, they’ve often been mistaken for twins – not so much for their physical resemblance, but for the way they communicate on a level no one dares ascend (or descend) to.

To the listener, Mom and Aunt Mae’s verbal exchanges probably sound like the conversational equivalents of the blind leading the blind, but somehow they magically understand each other. It’s as if they share one brain … which means they each use only half at a time … which seems about right.

Here’s a compilation of Mom and Aunt Mae’s letters about an eventful shopping trip in the late 1940s. Grandma may not have written this, but coming from the next generation of letter writers is a close second:

We were shopping in Valparaiso with Mom and our nephew Steve, who was about 5 years old at the time. Everyone knows Mom never wore underpants unless she was going out of town.

We were walking down a busy street, and just as we were in front of a big store window, Mom felt something falling. Lo’ and behold, it was her underpants! The elastic band broke and they fell to the ground right in front of a crowded department store.

We kept walking as if we didn’t know her, but little Stevie stayed with her. She stepped out of her undies, and Stevie picked them up and carried them as they went into an office building’s stairwell to fix them.

We were in the doghouse for a long time after that.

For the record, I didn’t know about Grandma’s underwear-wearing policy, which is fine – I think it’s best I didn’t.

When it began

March 6, 1954, Fairbanks, Alaska

March 6, 1954, Fairbanks, Alaska

My parents married 61 years ago today. With Dad being from Iowa and Mom from Indiana, their wedding took place, naturally, in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Actually, it makes perfect sense:

In May 1952, during the height of the Korean War, the U.S. Army graciously extended a binding invitation to my dad to join its travel club for the next two years. He accepted. After basic and artillery training in Arkansas and radio mechanic school in Oklahoma, the Army decided his next stop should be Fairbanks to help defend (successfully) the soon-to-be 49th state against a Communist invasion. He repaired radios during the day and taught evening English classes on the side at the University of Alaska.

Dad and Uncle Bernie, Fairbanks, Alaska

Dad and Uncle Bernie, Fairbanks, Alaska

Shortly after arriving in Fairbanks in June 1953, he met another freshly minted private named Bernard Harris, from Medaryville, Indiana. “Bernie” also had accepted a gracious and binding invitation from the Army’s travel club. Being Midwesterners with plans to become teachers after their club memberships expired, they became instant friends.

Meanwhile, back in Medaryville …

Charlotte Mae Harris was making plans to join her husband Bernie in Fairbanks. They would live near the military base, and Char would find a job – she worked for a loan company in Indiana and assumed they had similar businesses in Alaska, what with all the igloo construction financing and such.

The plan had a small hitch: Char was uneasy about traveling 3,600 miles alone to an unfamiliar land where she’d know only one other person. And she didn’t speak a lick of Eskimo. One of her older sisters, Carol Maude Lowry, provided the solution.

“Maudie” (aka “Mom”) was single and worked as a nurse in a doctor’s office in Valparaiso, Indiana. Although she also lacked in Eskimo linguistics, Mom offered to move to Alaska with her sister and find a job in Fairbanks. She assumed they needed nurses in Alaska, what with all the igloo construction injuries and such.

On Sunday, Aug. 2, 1953, Mae and Maudie boarded a plane in Chicago and headed north to Alaska. The Last Frontier has yet to recover. “Sisters leave for Alaska” was the headline for an above-the-fold front-page story (with photo) in that week’s edition of The Medaryville Herald. Every day is a slow news day in Medaryville.

After arriving in Fairbanks, the sisters were soon surprised and somewhat disappointed to find a complete absence of igloos.

Maudie and Mae, December 1953

Maudie and Mae, December 1953

But they were relieved to learn Alaskans were very friendly and spoke fluent English … not their Indiana hillbilly brand, but close enough. Char found a job with the Alaska Railroad Corporation, and Mom worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Meanwhile, back at the base …

The guys in the communications platoon were making plans to attend Dog Days, a late-summer event that gave area dogsledders the opportunity to show off their teams to the locals before the mushing season began. Bernie suggested to my dad that he stop by their place afterward and meet his “old maid” sister-in-law (Mom was an ancient 25 years old at the time). So he stopped by. Dad’s standing joke is that he went to Dog Days that afternoon and came away with the best in show. Mom chooses to take that as a compliment.

Dad makes his first, but not his last, friend on Dog Days

Dad makes his first, but not his last, new friend on Dog Days.

That was in September 1953. They got engaged three months later and married three months after that. And today, they’re celebrating their 61st wedding anniversary. That’s how it makes perfect sense.

With everything happening so fast, friends and family members from the lower 48 couldn’t make it to the wedding, so nurses filled one side of the church and soldiers filled the other. I’m guessing it was one helluva wedding reception.

The day before the wedding, Grandma and Grandpa sent a telegram to Dad – a person they’d never met who was about to become their son-in-law. Considering the true writer was Grandma, the telegram was uncharacteristically brief, but to the point. It was just the start of hundreds of cards and letters Grandma would send over the next 30 years:

MARCH 5, 1954

HOWARD SHE IS YOURS. GOD BLESS YOU BOTH. MOTHER AND FATHER LOWRY

2006, Jan. 26, Howard and Carol, Spirit lake

‘Nothing much ever happens in Medaryville …’

Marshal Lowry

Grandpa served Medaryville, Indiana, as its marshal and jack-of-all-trades for 20 years. Before that, he’d been a farmer and had worked in area factories, including an ordnance plant during World War II. I was 3 years old when he retired in 1965, so the only occupation I remember him having was as a full-time grandpa. But being married to Grandma meant he was often on the receiving end of her many practical jokes. Therefore, “Victim” was another job title he frequently found thrust on him.

Although Grandpa was also a prankster, he couldn’t match Grandma’s outsized efforts. For him, these Grandma-engineered practical jokes sound especially impractical:

  • After a hard day at work, Grandpa asked Grandma whether she’d massage his back and shoulders with a hot liniment. She agreed, so he stripped to his underpants, laid on the bed, and Grandma started working the liniment into his aching muscles. Just as she was finishing, she pulled down the back of his shorts and slapped a handful of the fiery product on “his boys.” Grandpa got to know an ice bag intimately the rest of the night.
  • For a short time, when Grandpa was working a late shift, he would come home and sneak into the bedroom without waking Grandma, quietly change his clothes, jump as high as he could and belly flop on the bed, startling Grandma out of a deep sleep. It didn’t take her long to fix this behavior. A few nights later, Grandpa came home and began his routine: He tiptoed into the dark bedroom, slipped out of his clothes and into his pajamas, leaped into the air … and landed face first on the bedroom floor. Grandma had moved the bed over a few feet before she’d turned in for the night.
  • On one of the first pleasant spring days in the late 1930s, Grandma and Grandpa decided to take the family on a picnic. Grandpa had to run some errands in town before they left, but he promised he’d be back in a few minutes. So Grandma got the kids dressed and ready to go, filled the picnic baskets with food and waited for his return. Nearly two hours later, Grandpa stumbled through the front door, took a quick look at his furious wife and, without saying a word, plopped onto the couch and passed out. While in town, some friends had intercepted Grandpa and, with little effort, persuaded him to have a couple quick drinks with them at the tavern before he headed back home. A couple of drinks became several, and they hadn’t been very quick. Grandma’s response? She found some rope and hogtied a still-passed-out Grandpa to the couch. She took the kids on the picnic and left him tied up for the rest of the day.

Yes, Grandma usually had the advantage with Grandpa, but perhaps he was just born to be an easy target. Some evidence for this was there well before he and Grandma married. As a youth, Grandpa once fell for the old snipe-hunting ruse. In this case, the quest was for “ring-tailed” snipe. After ditching him out in the country holding a burlap bag under a tree, Grandpa’s tormentors sneaked back to town and waited for his return. Their wait was longer than usual for this gag, but eventually they spotted him trudging back with his empty burlap bag – no ring-tailed snipes. His “friends” got a good laugh at Grandpa’s expense, but they also were impressed with his snipe-hunting determination. They quickly christened him “Ring,” and that nickname stuck for the rest of his life.

Grandpa apparently learned a thing or two from his snipe-hunting experience and years of Grandma keeping him on his toes: As town marshal, he once earned another nickname and some notoriety for being diligent and as determined of a lawman as he was a snipe hunter. People began referring to him as “the pajama-wearing policeman” after this story hit the newsstands:

Chicago Sun-Times, Monday, June 10, 1957

A town marshal catches two after 70-mile chase

Nothing much ever happens in Medaryville, a hamlet in Pulaski County, Indiana, 70 miles southeast of Hammond. But Ogle Lowry, the town marshal, proved yesterday his alertness during a disturbance of the peace.

His peace was disturbed at 2 a.m. by a telephone call from Dewey Wayne, owner of a garage and filling station. Suspicious hammering had awakened Wayne in his home next door to the garage.

The marshal rushes

Lowry pulled on a pair of pants over his pajamas, leaped into a motor truck, and reached the garage in time to see two men emerge and drive away.

Lowry raced after them. The night chase – at 80 miles an hour – led through Gary, Indiana Harbor, East Chicago and finally into Hammond.

There the fugitives stopped for a traffic light and Lowry, pulling up alongside, drew his gun on them.

Ex-vets charged

At the police station, his captives identified themselves as former servicemen, both from Hammond. Earlier in the day, they had held up a rural movie theater and obtained $165. Police found this and $126 taken from Wayne’s safe in a paper bag under a seat of their car. They also found a loaded gun.

Over the years, family lore has varied the amount of non-pajama clothing Grandpa was really wearing at the time of the arrest, and I doubt the long-lost letter from Grandma that accompanied the newspaper clipping added much verifiable clarity. But I am sure that when Grandpa returned home that night, he didn’t request a hot liniment massage.

‘Worse than a disease that’s incurable’

1970s, Grandma

As for most of us, getting old was one of Grandma’s archenemies. She accepted its inevitability, but that didn’t mean she cared for it one bit. In her letters, she took every opportunity to express her disgust with everything that came with advanced age. She also had little sympathy for everyone growing old right along with her – their getting old was their problem, not hers. And in her final year, she took Dylan Thomas‘ advice and showed no intention of going “gentle into that good night.”

After Grandpa died in 1974, Grandma and their youngest child Ellie, who had Down syndrome, continued to live in their home in Medaryville, Indiana. After Aunt Ellie died in 1977, Grandma would come to Iowa and stay part of most years with us. With Grandma around, my mom often complained about having another ornery kid in the house – although this “kid” was a sharp-tongued, practical-joking senior citizen who saw the opportunity for dirty play in every card game, even if it meant cheating her grandkids. We caught her most times … she was a determined but poor card cheat.

Grandma described living with us in a letter to my Aunt Mae:

“This family is the goingest family I ever saw. Carol works in the mornings, plays bridge Thursday afternoons, gets the boys to ballgames, runs to the store, gets meals ready, tonight there’s a party here for Howard’s customers, supper out another night for his employees, Monday afternoon is her PEO Christmas party here and what else is coming up, I don’t know. The world just buzzes around me, and I do as I please.”

During Grandma’s last stay with us, her heart landed her in the hospital twice. Her first “spell” happened on a Christmastime evening. It started with Mom asking me to help her in Grandma’s room. Grandma was a plus-sized woman and, as she got older, she occasionally needed some help getting out of her chair. Sometimes it took two of us pulling on both sides with Grandma huffin’ and puffin’ and cussin’ the whole way up. But when I got to her room this time, Grandma was in her chair with her head slumped to her chest, unconscious and panting for air. My mom, a registered nurse, was kneeling next to her with her stethoscope to Grandma’s chest. She calmly told me to call 911. A great thing about living in a small rural town: A paramedic heard the call on her scanner, grabbed her medic bag, ran down the street and was at our front door almost before I’d hung up with the 911 operator. It took the ambulance another 60 seconds to arrive. Slow pokes.

The next evening, while my brother and I were visiting Grandma in the hospital, she mentioned how annoyed she was with the monitor beeping out her every heartbeat. She had an idea: “Let’s see if I can get that infernal racket to stop.” She took a big gulp of air and held her breath. At first, we thought she’d just hold her breath for a few seconds and let it out … joke over. But she continued, and the beeps from the heart monitor were indeed slowing! Only after we yelled at her to knock it off did she finally take another breath and start cackling. Besides practical jokes, gallows humor was another of her specialties.

A second heart episode followed three months later. Grandma was in her room knitting while my parents and some friends were playing cards in the kitchen (yeah, we play a lot of cards). Suddenly, a loud “THUD!” came from the direction of Grandma’s room. Everyone rushed back to find her on the floor, flat on her back and seemingly unconscious. Someone said, “Call 911!” My dad knelt next to her, and noticed she wasn’t breathing and her complexion changing quickly to a very dark shade of purple.

“Forget the ambulance,” he said. “I’m afraid we need to call the funeral home this time.”

No sooner had he said this than Grandma gasped loudly, opened her eyes and, like that, she was back among the living. After another short stay in the hospital, she was back at our home, knittin’ afghans and mittens, and cheatin’ death and card players.

Early that summer, Grandma had recovered enough to make the return trip to Indiana. She died a few months later. The news of her death was something I was prepared to hear. After her heart episodes with us, it seemed just a matter of time before she’d have an unrecoverable event. Still, when Mom told me she’d died, the first thought that crossed my suddenly numbed mind was, “Are you sure?”

Here are a few of her written opinions and observations about getting old, death and proper denture care:

“Those old farts from the center took two buses and went to the state fair Sunday. They were in wheelchairs and using canes. I could just see someone pushing me around in a wheelchair. They’d say, ‘Mary, give it up!’ Old age is worse than a disease that’s incurable.”

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“The strawberry patch is loaded, but I can’t pick them. I tried hoeing around the tomatoes, and now I’m pooped. I also tried pulling some weeds, and I see I can’t do that either. I guess I’d just as well give up and sit the rest of my life out. But I’m like an old bull … I keep trying.”

______________________________________

 

“I must of caught Lynn’s cold, and I’ve really had a siege of it. Can’t get my breath and at times I cough so hard, I began writing my obit. Now today, I have an appointment to have my head put back in place.”

______________________________________

 

“Everyone’s going to Indy this weekend and seems like they think I could go too, but taking two Lasix a day and with the pot in the basement there, I’d never make it and I don’t think my heart would take it either. So if anyone wants to see me, they know where I live.”

______________________________________

 

“Well, I must stop now. I have to find a couple flashlights and help your dad in the garden. He was bent over pulling weeds and his teeth must a fell out of his shirt pocket without his noticing. Now it’s dark out and he can’t find them. The old fool needs to keep them in his mouth where they belong!”


Besides not wearing his dentures, Grandpa also had a hearing aid that spent more time out of his ear than in it. I assume the low audio quality, discomfort and bulkiness of hearing aids from that era affected how often Grandpa used his. I also suspect that not using it was a convenient way to amplify his selective listening with Grandma.

By picking out the few words he thought he heard, he could fake his way through many conversations with well-timed nods of the head and grunts of understanding. That approach also left him open to some spectacular misunderstandings: One summer day when my cousin Rhonda was at their house, Grandma asked her to tell Grandpa that an alert on TV just said a funnel cloud was heading in their direction. Grandpa was outside admiring the garden, so Rhonda went out on the front steps and yelled, “Grandpa! There’s a tornado coming here!” Grandpa looked up at her and yelled back, “Oh, I think the tomatoes are doing great this year!”

Grandpa, Charley and the vagaries of health insurance

Charley wasn’t a deputy, but he was Grandpa’s right-hand man. I never met him but from what I’ve heard, he was a combination of Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle with a healthy dose of Goober thrown in. Here’s Grandma’s description (words and spelling) of life on the job for Grandpa and Charley:

“Your dad’s out reading the meters. He ought to wind that up today. He has such a time with Charley. He can’t remember where the meters are from one time to the next. Charley’s not back on the job fulltime yet. He went to lift a barrel of cans up on the truck and in some manner he got his peenis caught between the can and the truck and mashed the end of it. Then when it healed up, he couldn’t make water, so they had to operate and correct it. Anyway, he was showing everyone his operation and by the way they talk, he must be built like a stud horse. They said they could cut half off then he’d still have more than the ordinary man. Anyway, the doctor won’t release him to go to work until he stops passing blood on account of the insurance.”

I’m not sure how his insurance was controlling his blood passing … and “a barrel of cans”? Maybe she meant “a can of barrels”? Is there even a difference? Regardless, it was always best not to overthink a crazy letter from Grandma.

‘Who garped in the pot?’

My family spends an inordinate amount of time talking about their “bowels.” Always have and always will. Whenever a group of the Indiana kinsfolk gathers, the discussion invariably heads in that direction … usually sooner than later. All it takes is for someone to blurt, “Oh, what a time I’ve had with my bowels!” and suddenly it’s an Activia commercial on steroids. These days, the bowel-fixated standard-bearers are my parents and my Uncle Bernie and Aunt Mae. These are all well-educated people … sitting around talking about their bowels for hours at a time. It’s grotesquely fascinating. But what’s truly scary is that as I get older, I’m beginning to feel I could add something meaningful to the discussion.

If an outsider or two happens into one of these conversations either by choice (their fault) or not (still their fault), it helps to have a working knowledge of the lingo before wading into the conversational cesspool. For example, “pot” is not something you smoke: It’s a universal term for any sort of toilet bowl fixture or a bathroom itself, and you can use it as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb … you name it: “He went to the pot.” “I hav’ta go pot.” “All they had were them porta-potty pots.” A “winder” is an unproductive fart (usually, but not always, a good thing). A “crack” is a loud fart with more treble than bass. “The shoots” is projectile diarrhea. And although “bowels” technically refers to the plumbing south of the stomach, my family uses the word loosely to refer to any (dys)function of the digestive system. So “garp” – a favored word for “puke” or “vomit” – is a bowel issue. Once, at a family gathering, I actually heard the phrase, “All right, who garped in the pot?!!” announced loudly. Thank you, Aunt Mae.

As I mentioned, the family’s current generations are doing a fine job of keeping the bowel-discussion “movement” going. Although they’ve had moments of pure genius – “garped in the pot” was a real pole-raiser – the undisputed potty-mouth champion was Grandma. Here are a few of her many bowel updates. In a previous post, I noted that Grandma’s letters often contained material unsuitable for the dinner table. Well, the following falls firmly into that category – consider yourselves warned. I guess I also should remind you that Grandma was a large woman … she didn’t move very fast. That might help explain a couple of these … maybe.

“Hello Iowa! Mammy want to write so much and take up all your extra time reading, but you know me – I’m loose on both ends.”

______________________

 “I had that pork from Jean’s last night, and I think that’s the darn stuff that gives me the shoots. I woke up this morning with such a headache and after I got up, I started with loose bowels and what a mess. I didn’t make it to the bathroom once in time, and now I’ve got such a backache from cleaning it up.”

______________________

 

“I got my stomach in a heck of a mess. My mouth is so sore from garping, I can’t wear my lowers.”

______________________

 

“Yesterday was my weigh-in day and I lost 6 pounds this time. I told the doctor that wouldn’t of happened if I hadn’t been like a goose for over a week. The doctor said it was a virus, but where in the heck did I pick up a bug like that and why don’t anyone catch it from me? It’s been 10 days and I still can’t trust a winder.”

______________________

 

“I had to get medicine yesterday for my bowels. I’ve had a shitting good time. What a mess. Ran clear down in my shoes.”

Like I said … maybe.