It’s often said we turn into our parents. Thus, in a kind of sweet revenge, they get the last word, the last laugh.
Time and again, I hear myself “channeling” my parents’ words and phrases:
“Where does the time go?”
“Oh sure, you might know!”
“If it isn’t one thing, it’s another!”
“What is this world coming to?”
My parents were forever voicing such laments in the “Dalman” style. That is, they would pronounce each word in a slow woebegone drawl, with an exclamation point after almost every word, with the phrase followed by a world-weary sigh or, in dad’s case, one or two curse words:
“WHAT! is. this. World! COMING! to?!” (long exhalation of breath, %**##@#!).
We kids would make fun of them, calling them pessimists – Mama Gloom and Papa Doom.
I can still hear them say, when something went wrong, “You! Just! CAN’T! WIN!”
And now, I hear myself, too, often saying those same words, in the same way, along with all the others.
“It’s! always! something!”
“You. Just. NEVER! Know!”
“Six ‘o’ this, half dozen of another!”
Actually, my parents were not always down in the dumps. In fact, they were mostly happy, often laughing, with a wild sense of humor, making wisecracks, playing practical jokes, having fun, loving life.
But when trouble came – watch out! – it barged in with baggage, like a dreaded uncle. Dad was a St. Cloud auto mechanic and a musician and played in old-time bands. He didn’t make a lot of money. Mom was an elementary-school teacher who quit teaching shortly after meeting dad. She was a stay-at-home mom for most of her life.
Like many other parents in our working-class southside neighborhood, dad and mom had to pinch pennies, struggle to pay bills and use improvisatory genius to fix broken things in the house since we couldn’t afford repair bills. One day, dad was trying to fix something to do with our living room’s kerosene stove. All of a sudden the stovepipe had some kind of seizure, belching a gush of pitch-black soot into the living room and right onto dad’s face. He looked just like Louis Armstrong. Without the trumpet.
“What! NEXT?!” he said, sputtering, followed by a cascade of curses.
“Look at the floor, the walls!” mom exclaimed.
“Look at me!” dad shouted at her. “What about me?!”
We kids all burst out laughing, although it took dad awhile to see any humor in the soot-black situation. When he did, finally, he laughed harder than the rest of us.
Those were the kinds of mini-disasters that so often happened in our house: pipes freezing, windows breaking, no hot water, hand-me-down appliances on the blink.
“NOW what?” I can still hear mom say when her old Maytag wringer wash machine would act up. “If it isn’t one thing, (sigh) it’s another! Always something.”
Mom was forever telling us kids to stop and think. Every time we did something naughty or stupid, which was quite often, she would say sharply, wagging a finger, “Alright, you kids, just stop and think!”
And, of course, we little hellions did not stop, we did not think.
Not a day goes by but what I don’t hear my parents as if they’re in the room next to me as I’m channeling them.
“What’s this world coming to?!”
I’ve been saying that a lot lately as this world – at least on some days – seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.
And if my parents were still among us, all of us – all of the Dalmans – would be saying in a chorus of woe: “What NEXT?! WHAT. is. This. World. COMING To?!