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MUSKRAT LOVE

Layce and I were listening to Captain and Tennille on vinyl. We were way old schooling it. I was just coming into an appreciation of C and T. There’s a lot more to them as musicians and singers than I had heretofore realized—a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, Toni’s vocal range and all that. But I’ve always had an issue with Muskrat Love.

 

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Tonight I gave it an honest listen.  I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the lyrics. I looked over at Layce, who was knitting and listening contentedly.  “Do you think Muskrat Love is really about muskrats or does it have a deeper meaning? Is it a euphemism for the vagaries of love?”

“I have no idea. I just like the song,” she said, not looking up from her knit and purl thing.

“I’m going to look it up.” Oh, the dangers of instant knowledge. I read, furrowed my brow and said, “It is about muskrats, anthropomorphized muskrats. The band America did it but Captain and Tennille made it truly famous.”

“Hmm…good to know,” Layce said, still knitting and purling.

“She makes it sound like they’re cute little otters, swimming around and shimmying. I don’t think otters or muskrats shimmy, much less have protestations of love. Have you ever seen a muskrat? They’re not cute.”

Layce refrained from comment. That just encouraged me. I mistook silence for agreement. “They’re swimming rats.” I looked up photos. “Big rats. They look like a cross between a guinea pig and  beaver with a rat tail that swims.”

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“You’re wrecking the song for me,” Layce said.

“They used to make nests under the docks at my parent’s cabin. Imagine swimming around and coming face-to-face with a large swimming rat that makes the top 40 charts. No wonder I have issues when it comes to swimming in lakes and rivers. Swimming rats, that why.”

I further perused the Internet. “And the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have winter hats made out of muskrat fur. Imagine wearing that on your head. I mean, who in their right mind wears rat fur on their head? What’s wrong with a nice knit hat?”

“I wouldn’t mention that the next time you visit your Canadian relatives,” Layce said.

The rats were now nibbling on bacon and chewing on cheese. “And muskrats do not eat bacon and cheese, nor propose marriage. I don’t care if they did it muzzle to muzzle.”

Layce put her knitting down and went over to the turntable. With one quick pluck of the needle, Muskrat Love was no more. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Did I ever tell you the story about me in the outhouse and the pack rat? Have you ever seen a pack rat? Imagine looking over in the dimness and seeing a pair of rat eyes?”

“I’m done with rats,” Layce said, putting on another album, one without muskrats.

“Well, at least pack rats aren’t immortalized in a song,” I muttered.

“Thank goodness or we’d never hear the end of it.”

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GHOSTS AND GHOULS

Halloween was a lot bigger than I’d anticipated. The whole thing started with going to the Haunted House. I am a perfect target for scary people. They terrify me. I run and screech and cling to the back of Layce’s sweatshirt, almost strangling her in the process. The ghouls, ghosts, and Freddie Kruegers follow us because I’m so much fun for them. I consider it a social duty. And don’t even get me started on the chainsaws.

Next came the pumpkin carving. I carefully chose the right stencil in keeping with the holiday theme—a ghost. It was a lot more involved than I’d figured on. I followed the instructions: tape the stencil to the pumpkin, take the pokey stick and poke holes, remove the stencil and carve between the holes. Easier said than done.

It took me three hours to get the whole thing right. My triceps ached, my forefinger and thumb sustained minor injuries, but the pumpkin was a masterpiece. Martha Stewart would’ve been proud.

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I was so exhausted from the pumpkin carving that I put off decorating until the following day. Em assisted. We hung lights and decorations. It looked good, but I could see that having people come to the house required a safety check list. The path needed to be lit, but the porch light couldn’t be turned on because it ruined the frightening ambiance.

I located a camping lantern. It was perfect. The orange lights we’d hung needed an extension cord which would have to be duct taped to the porch so no one would trip, (mainly me) because it was located in front of the chair where I would sit wearing my purple witch hat and handing out candy.

We won’t go into how long it took me to choose just the right one witch hat. Actually, Layce finally took over or we would’ve never gotten out of the store.

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Once it was all set up, I was very pleased with myself. This was my first real attempt at Halloween decorating. I was pretty darn impressed with myself. Until the doorbell rang at 4:30. I panicked.

It wasn’t dark yet. I hadn’t lit the pumpkins, the lights weren’t plugged in, and I didn’t have my witch hat on. Worst of all, I was hit with an immediate case of performance anxiety. I had to hand out candy and I didn’t know how.

“You have to hand out the candy,” I told Layce, thrusting the black, plastic cauldron full of candy at her.

“No, this is your deal,” she said, cocking her head in the direction of the front door.

The doorbell rang again.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” Layce asked.

“How do I know which candy to give them? We’ve got chocolate bars and low-fat healthy snacks. Who should get the healthy ones? Who gets the chocolate? Am I discriminating in some way? What if I’m contributing to childhood obesity? Too much sugar isn’t good for kids, but what’s Halloween if you don’t get candy? What if the kid doesn’t like what I give them? Will I be candy shamed?”

Layce rolled her eyes. The doorbell rang again. I stood paralyzed. Layce grabbed the cauldron, sighing, “I’ll do it.”

I took a deep breath. She was right. I would have to learn to do it on my own. I had to conquer my fear. This was worse than the chainsaw at the Haunted House. Then, I had an idea.

Layce shut the door. “See, how easy that was?”

“Next year, I’m setting up a self-serve stand. I’ll make a shelf like at the store. Then they can choose whatever they want. It’ll have to be on the honor system, which is a teaching opportunity for good citizenry.”

“Are you going to be like this every Halloween?”

“No, I’m going to get better at it.”

Layce walked out of the room, mumbling something that sounded like, “Well, you couldn’t get any worse.”

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ENCYCLOPEDIA BENNETT

Em came out of her black hole of a room with her new gauges in her ear. They’re neon pink and you can see through her ear lobes. I peered though. Layce’s head looks tiny on the other side. “How’d you get them in?” I asked.

I saw Layce roll her eyes and exhale heavily. It’s what she does when I’ve asked a question of that will inevitably require a long explanation.

Em launched into her explanation, “They didn’t come with instructions. I tried to put them in and they wouldn’t go so I looked it up on YouTube. Here, let me pull up the video and then you’ll know how to do it. You know, if you ever want to do it.”

I looked over at Layce who is hunkered down, intently reading, like her book is a blanket draped over her head, making her invisible. It didn’t work.

“Mom, you want to see it, too?” Em asked.

“No, Saxon can show me how if I ever have the desire to put see-through holes in my ears,” Layce replied.

Em pulled up the video and we watched it. It was very informative once the woman got around to telling us how to do it. I don’t have a lot of patience with blah, blah, blah, before you get to the actual learning experience.  Just get on with it. It must be the writer in me. I don’t need the YouTuber’s backstory. I want information, preferably in under 60 seconds.

“Now, watch me,” Em said, pulling one of the guages out.

“Oh, don’t do that, you just got them in,” I said.

“It’s okay. I’ll just watch the video again if I can’t do it,” Em said. She slipped it in perfectly.

“What did we do before YouTube? I mean, there was life before YouTube. How did we manage?” I asked.

“We looked stuff up in books. Or we talked to people and asked them how to do it. Sometimes you even had to get on your bike and go to the library,” Layce said.

Em looked horrified. It was archaic, almost savage in its suggestion. Leave the house to find stuff out? Have you lost your mind?

“Books were smart people’s YouTube,” I said. “We had an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica. I remember the power of knowledge sitting neatly alphabetized and dusted on my parents’ bookcases. I was their custodian.”

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“Of course you were,” Layce said.

“They had faux leather covers and gold leaf edges. On their green spines they had one letter of the alphabet.  And one time when I allegedly took LSD, I watched the entire set condense into the letter “E” and, for the life of me, I have never been able to unlock the mystery of what the universe was trying to tell me.  That secret goes along with the two other secrets of the universe that I’d like to know.”

“Which are?” Layce asked.

“If time travels really exists and if there are aliens.”

“Good to know,” Layce said.

“What’s LSD?” Em said.

“It’s a laxative,” I replied. “A mind altering laxative.”

 

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TRAVELING WITH MOM

“We got evicted,” my mother said, hauling her suitcase through the front door.  My cousin, her sister-in-law, and my sister-in-law followed her in with their luggage. Evidently, evicted as well.  We were having a women-only reunion in Kelowna, B.C. at my cousin Leslie’s house. Half the crew was staying down the street at a Bed and Breakfast. Or rather they had been.

“This isn’t about that thing at the border?” I asked my mother quietly.

“No, love, we’d have been deported, not evicted,” my mother said. She patted my shoulder. “It’s fine.”

“What thing at the border?” Leslie asked.

I looked at my mother. She was unpacking her knitting. I lowered my voice, “We told the border guard that we weren’t leaving anything behind in Canada. Then my mom had an IBS attack and was forced to leave her underpants in the Canadian restroom. I’ve been concerned ever since.”

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(Yes, those are porta potties. According to my mom you should never pass up a restroom even if it is portable.)

Leslie offered me a plate of watermelon. I made a cup of tea. That’s how the Canadians deal with unpleasant incidents that tend to surround the Bennett family when we travel together. We’ve got history.

“Where are we going to put everyone?” I could feel my blood pressure elevating.

My ever-calm cousin said, “We’ll figure it out.”

I looked around for my mother. She came down the hallway from the bathroom. “The toilet won’t flush,” she said, passing me by in the hallway.

“You didn’t put your underpants down the toilet?” I asked.

“Of course not, but I did leave a little piece of myself behind. It’s barely noticeable.” She picked up my cup of tea and went to sit on the deck.  “I better go check this out,” I told Leslie.

Toilets are the bane of my existent. I stood looking down at the “little piece of myself,” my mother mentioned. I took the back off the toilet, jiggled the handle, played with the float and tried to flush. No go.  I sighed and went back to the kitchen.

“The toilet won’t flush,” I told Leslie, sparing her the sordid details.

“Just get a bucket of water from the tub and empty it into the toilet tank,” she said, worry-free.

I followed her instructions. It worked.  Now, I needed to find out why they got evicted from the Bed and Breakfast. I went out on the deck. “Why did you get evicted?” I asked my mom.

“A pipe burst upstairs and flooded us. I got a nice photo of Jenna trying to mop it up. That happened around four this morning.  We went back to bed once the water flooding stopped.”

“You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?”

“Of course not,” she said, looking rather affronted.

I leaned over to Leslie. “We’re going to have to watch her around the plumbing.”

“Here, have a piece of cantaloupe,” she said.

You’ve got to love the Canadians.

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It was Emma’s birthday and we were going to Big Splash Water Park, out to dinner, and cake with her grandparents. It was a big, big day. And we were packing. Em had to pack for the water park and dinner and then for pirate bonding on the river for the weekend and then for camp. She had lists for each bag and what needed to go in it. I think she may have gotten that from me and perhaps the importance of always having first aid kit. But I was keeping my mouth shut on those two accounts. It could just have been a coincidence.

I only had to pack for Big Splash and dinner and I was stressed. I had to pack my swimming suit and accoutrements and clothes for the restaurant afterwards. I stood arms akimbo in the living room, deep in thought. I looked over at Layce who was calmly reading.

“I’m going to have to pack a toiletry bag because I’ll be all sticky from the sunscreen and chlorine which will rinse off but still be there if I don’t thoroughly soap up, which means I’m going to need soap, shampoo, lotion and all the rest.  I should probably pack an extra towel because my pool towel will smell like chlorine and be dampish.”

“I’m going to take a shower when I get home. It simplifies things,” Layce said not looking up from her book.

I considered this approach. It would simply things but that’s just not my style. Em was packing her suit, towel, sunscreen, and various other items. “Don’t forget your thongs,” I told her. (I admit that under duress, I had a retro-moment back to the days when flip flops were called thongs before skimpy underpants appropriated the word.)

“You mean flip flops,” Em said.

“Yes.”

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“Okay, but you have to remind me to put them back into my Tortuga bag, (that’s what the pirate thing is called) and then move them to my camp bag,” Em said.

“Will you two please go do your pack thing and leave me alone. I’ve read the same page five times now.”

“She just doesn’t understand the importance of  proper packing,” I told Em. We scattered each to our own packing issues.

Em called upstairs. “I need that small black bag for my camp toiletries.”

“I’ll be right down with it.”

There was a heavy sigh from the living room, which we both ignored. Such is the nature of those who pack ten minutes before a trip. I refrained from mentioning that she forgot her belt last time we went out of town. I figured it was best.

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I went to Washington State to see family and friends. It was fun but I missed Layce and Em. That was the only downside. I worried that when I left them that they might discover I was extraneous to the household. When I came out with my luggage and Layce kissed me, I knew I was missed. I did not yet know I was seriously needed.

As we drove away from the airport, I noticed a glass of iced coffee sitting belligerently in the cup holder in the console. “What is this?” I said pointing at the glass. A glass! I couldn’t believe it.

A glass.”

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“We have cups with lids, they’re called travel cups because that’s what you use when you’re traveling with liquids so they don’t spill and you don’t accidentally drop a glass of which is one of a set of six—an important number to me because it’s a multiple of three. I leave for thirteen and a half days and you turn savage.”

“I didn’t spill and I didn’t break it. No harm no foul.” She entered the freeway.

I harrumphed. “Did you buy a new can opener?” It was malfunctioning when I left thirteen and a half days ago.

“Not yet. I just used a hammer and a screw driver.”

“I bet you ate straight out of the can.

“Not always, sometimes I just drank it straight out of the can.”

“Standing up?” I said, imagining her by the sink, guzzling soup.

“Why not?”

“Because at meal times we set the dining room table with place mats and linen napkins  and the glass you’re currently using.”

No comment.

“What would happen if I was gone for a whole month?” I asked.

“I’d probably turn feral.”

I smiled. “You need me.”

“I do, but you’re still kind of a pain in the ass.”

“I take that as a compliment to my strident housekeeping skills.”

“Knock yourself out.”

She reached over and squeezed my hand and I knew I was loved and needed. Ah, it was good to be home. God only knows the tangles I’d have when I got home. I couldn’t wait to resume my dharma as Keeper of the House. I sat back in the seat and sighed contentedly. I even forgot about the glass transgression–temporarily.

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Em is taking Driver’s Ed and doing well. After the first lesson, Em regaled us with student driver’s snafus. I gulped and winced a few times, but stayed relatively calm and did not quote safety statistics.

“I was so afraid he would make me parallel park. I mean I just started driving. I can’t be expected to be perfect. It’s only my first day,” Em said.

“Why’d you think he’d make you do that?” Layce asked.

“Because I was driving and had to stop and wait for a lady who was parallel parking and having a hard time. The instructor said women can’t parallel park for some reason. I was kind of insulted. I mean, you guys can parallel park.” She caught the look that passed between Layce and me. “Right?”

“I can,” Layce said.

“She’s really good at it,” I added.

“Are you good at it too?” Em asked.

“Saxon can’t even park at all,” Layce said.

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It’s true. I can’t regular park. And you can completely cross off parallel parking. I either park badly or it takes me at least three threes times with multiple openings of the door to see how close I am to the white line or I have to get out of the car, gather my bearings, and try again. Layce sits patiently until I’ve decided it’s the best I can do under the circumstances.

“What do mean she can’t park?” Em asked.

“I mean she can’t get the car into a parking space correctly to save her soul.”

“Even if there’s no other cars around her?”

“Even if.  In fact that makes it worse,” Layce said.

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“It’s genetic. I didn’t get a parking gene. My father can’t park either. One time someone left a note on his car. It said if you have sex like you park…” I left the rest off. “I’m a victim of my DNA. So, no I can’t parallel park.”

“Maybe the instructor was right. Women can’t parallel park. What if I can’t?” Em said.

“I’ll teach you, and we’ll practice a lot, so when he makes you do it, you can knock his socks off,” Layce said.

“Which would make us two for three. That’s not too bad,” I said.

“What about Saxon? Can’t you teach her too?”

“No.”

I nodded. There are some things I have to acknowledge I can’t do. We all have our limitations. Parking is mine.

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