And Then There’s the One about The Lord’s Prayer and the Killer Table Saw

When I was a kid, we started every school day with the Pledge of Allegiance.  Not so strange, right?  Except where I went to school in the second grade, we followed it with the Lord’s Prayer.  I honestly thought it was all one spiel.

Imagine, if you will, a shorter, rounder version of me randomly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at home (for no particular reason, I’m sure).  I linked the pledge and the prayer with no fore- or afterthought; “…with liberty and justice for all. Our Father, which art in heaven…”

You don’t need to imagine what happened next, because I’m fixin’ to tell you, and here it is. My Dad, a man with zero social conscience (you’ll have to trust me on this one, I could fill pages with supporting evidence), a rebel without a cause, a sometimes-employed ad salesman, instantly transformed into a man so incensed by the mixture of church and state that he began a great debate with my school. But let me be clear, he did this by sending written notes through me (arguably the shyest child on the planet) to my school administrators.  How’s that for backbone?  He demanded they stop the practice which violated my constitutional rights – he was incorrect, by the way, as it is not specifically addressed in the Constitution, it is instead a philosophic and jurisprudential concept – but even that isn’t as important as the fact that I didn’t care about this supposed violation of my rights as much as I cared about the unbelievable position I was in as a terrified new kid forced to fight my dad’s battles.  I think that even as a little girl I understood it had nothing to do with the man’s core beliefs and I like to think that if it had, I would have sensed it and been a little less humiliated, and that, of course, if he really believed it all, he would have wielded his own sword and not handed it to an unwitting, stupefied kid.  I think I knew it had less to do with principles than audacity as he had few of the former and lots of the latter.  What?  Oh, the story, the story.  Sorry.  So, here’s what happened next.

The compromise between him and the school was that every morning, I had to step outside the classroom (which in that particular school was OUTSIDE) while the rest of the class droned out the pledge-prayer, probably not getting the meaning of either any more than I had, but they and I “got” the fact that I had been singled out.  And not in a good way.  I realized much later that if Dad truly believed his assertions, that this “solution” did not solve anything and that it created a very real problem for his bashful daughter, but that somehow never factored into his short-lived need to make the world a better place.  He never followed up, never sought to see if my later schools did the same thing, never asked me how I felt about it.

Of course, I survived the incident which, in the big scheme of things of Seley-life under a microscope, was really very, very minor.  But wait!  There’s more!  Of course, there is.  He was nothing if not predictable.

Fast forward to me in seventh grade (another town, another state, of course) and I had signed up for wood shop.  I had already started class and was getting into it when Dad slithered from beneath the rock he’d frequented more and more over the years, long enough to suggest that it was grossly irresponsible of the school to put me at the helm of potentially life threatening wood-working equipment; I guess I missed out on the news reports of hundreds of children being maimed and killed in the time-honored junior high wood shops of America.  Anyway, yes, you guessed it, with me as a deeply humiliated carrier of his ranting notes, he challenged the practice, insisting that they guarantee my safety or a fat check to cover the medical bills if they failed to do so (he had his priorities, after all).  If they didn’t agree, I was to be transferred immediately from the class.  I’ll never forget the look in the eyes of my very respected, very experienced shop teacher, Mr. Staack, as he signed off on my transfer and I fought back tears of embarrassment.  I later realized that, as before, if my father was genuinely concerned about the school policy, my removal from the class would have only been the beginning.  But, as before, it was the end.  I was ashamed, didn’t understand the fight, and Dad could beat his chest in victory from the safety of home.

In retrospect, considering the scope of his other actions, these incidents were so small, they hardly mattered.  I wasn’t hurt, I was safe (as always) from his most vile behaviors, and no one really cared but me.  And, I assure you, I got over it.  But as I looked over my list of much crazier ideas to share in this blog, these events stood out because I suddenly asked myself why he did this stuff.  And the answer was swiftHe did it because he could.  It was low hanging fruit for a control freak whose self-interest trumped all else, and these things must have popped up when he was feeling otherwise impotent. 

He did it because he could.  And that’s why I’m telling this story.  Because I can.  And now I have. Neener, neener, neener!  Immature, perhaps, but soooo gratifying!

If you’ll excuse me, now I’m going to go recite the good ol’ Pledge of Allegiance and tack on the dang Lord’s Prayer.  And I’m going to do it as I use a table saw — unsupervised!  Why?  Because I can!

Dad, Mommy Dearest, and The Great Santini

Once upon a time, on the Navaho reservation outside of Gallup New Mexico, we lived in an old adobe house with a leaky roof. It was there that I learned that when it rained inside, the natural response is to place a pan or bowl on the floor to catch the water. I also became accustomed to the strangely comforting percussion sounds of the house-wide dripping.

It was our first exposure to living in a desert, having just moved from Kansas, and for kids whose parents worked all day, it was paradise. After our chores, we were free to roam the desert, and we learned all about rattlesnake avoidance, horned toads, and rock climbing. This was in the era before bike helmets, child vitamins, or electronic kid tracking; helicopter parents of today would wonder how we survived.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, it won’t surprise you that, in many respects, we were probably safer outside than beneath the leaky roof. The gaudy plaid-suited salesman who doubled as man of the house ensured that the great outdoors, dangerous rock crevices and poisonous snakes aside, was often a better bet. Besides his bad fashion sense, sometimes he just wasn’t very nice.

The little adobe house was the first place I remember Dad throwing his notorious fits, Great Santini style. It was all our fault, you know, for stuff like not getting the dishes clean enough. Poorly made beds were also grave offenses. Of course. Right?  Right. At least according to Dad, Mommy Dearest, and the Great Santini.

The kitchen indiscretions resulted in dramatic rants as every dish, glass, and pan in the house was yanked out (unless it was catching rainwater). Next, the poor suckers who were on dish duty had to wash, dry, and put everything away for inspection. Often, none of us kids could see the offending speck on the plate or saucer, but as you might have guessed, there was no appeal process. The bedroom delinquencies resulted in his tearing our rooms apart, bedding was ripped off, clothes thrown onto the floor – you get the picture. Then, like the kitchen, it had to be reassembled to his satisfaction. No biggie, it was just an occasional Seley family activity, kind of like doing a puzzle, only not as fun.

I remember little else from that house other than catching tons of tadpoles from the huge puddles when it rained, my siblings and I pretending we were the Monkeys (the band, not the primates) and performing on the little back porch, and my mom crying sometimes for reasons we didn’t understand. As always, I wasn’t privy to the thing that made my siblings cry, but they also weren’t privy to the funniest and most time-enduring thing that happened to me in that house.

Dad realized that at the age of seven-ish, I had no idea how to tell time and he harassed me for not being able to do this mysterious thing. Maybe he figured out it had something to do with our changing schools so much that I missed the magic tell-time lesson and felt badly. Regardless of his motivations, he took it upon himself to teach me right then and there. Unfortunately, the only wall clock we had was a funny bar clock. I’m not sure what was funnier about it, the fact that my parents didn’t drink much, let alone have a bar, or the fact that the numbers were backwards on the clock face, which was on a backdrop of a drunk leaning on a lamppost. Let me repeat, the numbers were backwards; they went counterclockwise (no pun intended). Yes, he taught me on that clock. It was just him and me; him impatient, and me anxious and terrified of some possible Santini action if I didn’t catch on. But, alas, it worked; I learned. I learned to tell time backwards.

 To this day, when I glance at a clock, I sometimes see nine o’clock instead of three o’clock, etc.

These are the things I learned from living in the leaky adobe house:

  • Unless you’re into water-percussion, live under a good roof.
  • Use a dishwasher, so you can remain blameless.
  • Never let a crazy man in a loud plaid suit inspect your bedroom.
  • And for the love of God, only use digital clocks (unless you want to show up six hours early or late because of a random childhood encounter with a backwards bar clock).