Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Curse of a Functional Childhood

I'm beginning to regret the normalcy of my parents and the tranquil lives that we led when I was a kid. Yes, Daddy had a hair-trigger temper, but after perhaps 40 seconds of rant, that was it. Opinion offered, case closed. "What're you still mad about?" he could ask in true bewilderment. My Mother would simply go into silence-and-sigh mode for up to as long as three days. Thus my great awakening. If only my parents had been a little or a lot crazy, I would be making money today writing about them. Cases in point:

"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" by Alexandra Fuller The Penguin Press 235 pages $25.95

Fuller was born in England, but at age three, her parents, Nicola and Tim Fuller, bought a farm in southern Africa, the first of the homes they would rent or buy in Kenya, then Rhodesia and finally Zambia. Fuller lived through the mau mau uprising and the fight for Rhodesian independence. She was in her mid-20s when she left Africa.

Her mother Nicola was of proud Scottish descent and thoroughly schooled in Isle of Skye traditions - loyalty to blood, a passion for land and a strong belief in the healing power of animals. Nicola's best friend as a child was a baby chimpanzee improbably named "Stephen Foster." In fact, most of her pets were named for dictators (she admired dictators for being sure, not wishy-washy) - Che Guevara, Josip Broz Tito and Papa Doc among them.

"Disaster Preparedness, A Memoir" by Heather Havrilesky Riverhead Books 239 pages $25.95

Growing up in Durham, NC, in the '70s proved to be a harrowing experience for Havrilesky. It was the time of threat from Russian nuclear bombs, scary movies, planes being hijacked and the somewhat vicious practical jokes her parents, two sisters and a brother reveled in.

Her mother was quite pragmatic so thus not very comforting. When a pet or a person died and Havrilesky would ask her mother where they went? What happened to them? her mother would say, "Some people think that there's a heaven ... but I've always thought that was wishful thinking, honestly."

Ill-prepared at home for disaster (the second floor fire escape ladder, lay in its box in an upstairs hall, untested for years) Havrilesky who had noted that the people in disaster movies who followed the rules -use this exit, go calmly - were the first ones to get it, she set out on a lifetime of preparing for disasters.

Too bad they didn't have Community Emergency Response Team training in the '70s. She would have been all set!

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