On Heffalumps, Hookers, and Humor

Here’s a (sort of) Christmas story I’ve never posted before. I wrote it for a writers’ group holiday party a few years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

On Heffalumps, Hookers, and Humor

mMugZTSQ4XYjmDRF06mOI1g PoohThe winter when I was four, I wasn’t supposed to know how to read, but I did. When Mommy read me stories and had to stop in the middle, I read ahead. Sometimes I forgot to turn the page back and lost our place.

One day in December, just before Christmas, I sat on the floor playing by Daddy’s bookcase. Daddy was getting a P-H-D. His books were boring. They had lots of numbers and squiggly lines that weren’t letters, and were called “Metal-lurgy” and “Ther-mo-dy-nam-ics.”

That day I saw a new book on Daddy’s shelf called Winnie the Pooh.

My grandma’s name was “Winnie.” Her real name was “Winifred Hooker,” but everyone —even Daddy—called her “Nanny Winnie.” Except for Mommy—my mommy called Nanny Winnie “Mother.”

Mommy often told her friends she used to be a “Hooker.” The grown-ups always laughed at that, but I didn’t know why. “Hooker” had been Mommy’s name until she married Daddy, so I didn’t see why that name was funny.

Sometimes Nanny Winnie called herself “Mrs. Claus.” She wrote on all her Christmas presents “from Santa and Mrs. Claus.” I could tell it was Nanny’s writing, because it was very messy. That’s how I knew the presents weren’t really from Santa—they were just from Nanny Winnie. (Besides, Santa didn’t wrap his presents.)

Now I’d found a book about “Winnie.” And about “Pooh,” which made me giggle.

I pulled the book off the shelf and opened it. It had pictures. But they weren’t boring pictures like in Daddy’s books. These pictures were of a bear, and a boy, and other animals. This book looked like one of my books.

I took the book to Mommy. “See what Daddy has,” I said. “Is it for me?”

She didn’t want to tell me, but finally she said, “Yes, it’s one of your Christmas presents. Since you found it, you can have it now.” Even though it wasn’t Christmas yet.

Daddy started reading it to me that night. Mommy had read the book when she was little, but Daddy never had.

Winnie the Pooh wasn’t like my Nanny Winnie at all. He was a boy, not a girl. And he was a bear. And he had a friend named Piglet.

And he was dumb. The book even said Pooh was a “bear of little brain.”

In one story, Pooh went round and round a clump of bushes in the snow with Piglet. They were tracking heffalumps. Every time they went around the bushes, more tracks appeared. Daddy laughed so hard he couldn’t read.

Why did Daddy think the story was funny? I didn’t think it was funny—I thought it was stupid. The pictures showed Pooh and Piglet following their own footprints in the snow. There weren’t any heffalumps. Heffalumps was a made-up word.

I decided Winnie the Pooh was a silly book. I couldn’t understand why my very smart Daddy thought it was funny.

It’s taken me sixty years’ experience with some people of little brain to understand why Daddy laughed.

And why Nanny Winnie signed her presents “from Santa and Mrs. Claus.” Because Christmas is a time when everyone is Santa.

This story raises lots of questions: When have you found a present that was hidden? Or when have you played Santa for someone else? And when have you had to deal with people of llittle brain? 

On Birthdays and Owls: Remembering My Mother

Mother with owl pin

My mother wearing one of her owl pins

Today would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. One of my most popular posts on this blog is the one I wrote to mark her 80th birthday. By that time, she was in assisted living because of her Alzheimer’s, and she could not really celebrate her birthday that year.

Last year—her 81st birthday—was even worse. She didn’t know that it was her birthday. I sent birthday cards, but my father had to read them to her. I called, but she didn’t do well speaking on the telephone. “Hello” and “Thank you” was about all she would say.

Still, this year, I miss making the effort to mark the day as hers. And I miss my father, even knowing that today would have been hard for him if he were alive, as last Christmas was hard for him without her. He had already marked March 4 as her birthday in his Day-Timer. He and I would have talked today and reminisced about my mother.

One thing I did recently to remember my mother was to take out her owl pins. My father gave them to me last summer after she died.

She had a thing about owls.

owlI don’t remember when or why she started collecting owls. It might have been because she liked the Owl character in Winnie the Pooh (who, though the wisest being in the One Hundred Acre Wood, spelled his name WOL). But my mother always considered herself more like Eeyore than like Owl. It might have been because owls are supposed to be smart, and she knew she was smart. It might have been because an old barn owl lived in the fields behind our house.

All I know is that her collection began before I went to college, because the first needlepoint project I made my freshman year in college was an owl for her.

Mother's owl pins

My mother’s owl pins

Anyway, she had two owl pins that she wore frequently through the years. One bird is gold-plated with green shiny eyes. The other is iridescent white like mother of pearl and intricately carved. The white pin was one of the last pieces of jewelry my mother wore (other than her engagement and wedding rings).

Neither pin is of a style I am likely to wear, but I like having them, because of the memories they bring to mind.

MTH owl pin

My owl pin

At some point during my professional life, I acquired my own owl pin. I’m pretty sure I bought it, but I don’t remember why or where. I think I bought the pin about the time I was thirty. That’s about when I realized how much my personality was like my mother’s—and as a daughter struggling for independence I finally accepted our similarities as well as our differences. I am an introvert, as she was an introvert. I am smart and disciplined, as she was smart and disciplined. I love to read, as she loved to read. I am a writer, as she wanted to be a writer (and ultimately she did let herself write, as I have let myself write).

I haven’t worn my owl pin much in the last fifteen years or so. But when I take out her pins, I take out mine as well. And I remember how much I am like my mother, and how most of the time now I am glad for our similarities.

How do you resemble the generations that came before you?