when i was a kid, my dad was larry tate, the buttoned-up business half of the ad-biz duo on “bewitched,” that 60s (or was it the 70s?) sit-com starring samantha.
well, he wasn’t really ol’ larry. but that’s how i had to explain it, whenever i said my dad was an ad man, and the follow-up question was always: “is he darrin stephens or larry tate?” darrin was the creative dude, the one who married the nose-twitching daffy-hearted witch. larry–and, yup, my dad–was the one who kept the creative types in line. but, at least in the case of my dad, that didn’t mean he was so buttoned-up.
my dad loved nothing more than a great laugh.
if there’s one sound i can still hear, it’s the sound of his big booming guffaw, breaking the air in a room, filling the space between walls, flicking the switch in my heart, making it glow.
i LOVED that my dad was an ad man. fact is, i loved everything about my papa. but knowing he rode downtown on the train, carried that briefcase filled with top-secret memos to clients like betty crocker, mcdonald’s, even the folks who made play-doh, well, that made me feel like i was plugged into the nerve center of our times.
heck, my dad brought home a plain cardboard box, marked X, and it was a test sample of hamburger helper. we were some of the first kids in america to spoon that glop in our mouths. and we lived to give him a thumbs up or thumbs down.
the stories at our dinner table would swirl with stuff that mattered to kids growing up in suburbia in the hair-raising 60s, and the dick-nixon 70s.
we knew the ins and outs of big macs, and all about all the sugar-coated cereals packing the grocery-store shelves.
pop tarts? we had ’em early, had ’em often.
we didn’t screech on the taste-testing brakes when we crossed over the sharp lines of whatever “the clients” had fobbed on the market.
why, it was our job, our patrimonial duty, to invade enemy territory. we were the spies, me in my pig tails, my brothers in freckles and iron-on patches on knees.
we guzzled whatever the ’60s and ’70s offered. we didn’t much mind (although, for the life of me, i was deadset against hamburger helper and its ilk from the get-go, not yet appreciating the ease of dumping, stirring and filling the tums of five hungry kids).
which, in a round-about way, brings me back to the latest episode in the tale of the boys we call our double-bylines, meaning the poor little fellows (one, now not-so-little) who get to grow up in a house with a dad and a mom in the news biz.
which, on rather regular occasions, means i lope home from the office with a satchel stuffed with curiosities and delights and general conversational stimulants.
like this week, when it was my job to corral the best cookies in the land. or at least among readers of the newspaper where i type three days a week.
yup, it was the annual tribune holiday cookie contest, and someone had to be in charge of getting those cookies into the great gothic tower that is the tribune. and someone had to rustle up the 16 judges, put out the paper plates, the cups of water, the pens and the score sheets.
that someone was me.
and so, when the long hard day of nibbling and scoring was over, i asked if — please! — i might be allowed to haul home just one plate of each one of the 11 finalist cookies, so my own personal judging panel could convene.
and that’s where the sugar-saturated plate up above comes in.
that was homework for my fine little boy who’s pretty much convinced that sweets is one of the food groups. if not the most essential of the lot.
just after dinner (yup, we actually held off till after the protein and veggies; give us brownie points for that, please), we lined up the contest with great ceremonial pomp.
just like back in the tribune test kitchen, i set out cups of water, pens for each judge, and the nibbling began.
in fact, i knew full well that this was yet another one of my ploys to exercise that boy’s descriptive ways. i swooned when he launched in on the first, a glimmery snowflake of a cookie, which he described thusly: “it looks like a snowflake has just fallen with sugar and sparkles dancing on it.”
or, of a chocolate-swirled marshmallowy number: “it looks like a collage of butterflies.”
find me a full-fledged tribune judge who dished out such poetry. and this from my boy who has tussled with words in his day.
while he nibbled and spun his sugary stanzas, his papa chewed and scribbled in silence. in the end, once the last crumb was licked off the plate, we wound up with a three-way tie for first prize.
but for me, the very blue ribbon i pinned on the day was the glorious fact that, for little more than my train ride into the city, i could bring home a piece of the world far beyond our little town’s walls.
in the same way that once upon a time my daddy’s job made me feel like i had a window onto something big, something exciting, i hope my sweet boy feels just a tad more engaged with the wheels of the ever-cranking universe.
i hope that while i’m the one with the measly paycheck, he’s the one who catches the magic. who sees the power of words. who tastes the thrill of civic engagement, even when it’s just a cookie contest.
if he listens–and i’ve reason to think that he does–there’s not a page from my day job that doesn’t somehow rub off him. if not in ink, then surely in stories, in laughter. and sometimes, come the start of november, in cookies that make for fine poems.
when you were growing up did someone in your house have a job that made you look at the world in a particular way? it’s a curious marvelous thing, not oft considered perhaps, how all the ways the grownups lead their lives, are all a part of the education of the little ones who grow up so closely, thoughtfully watching. it adds a dimension of meaning to the every day. and makes that ol’ trainride not nearly so onerous. tell us how you learned to look at the world?