True Tales of Human Childhood

Recently, I have been indulging in the many joys of maturity. I have been buying my own K’nex sets and eating Toaster Strudel, Snack Packs, and Drumsticks. I drink a Mello Yello every day. Purchasing and consuming these things at my age almost makes up for never getting them as a child. In particular, the boxes of Toaster Strudel help compensate for one of the most common Nickelodeon ads:

“Maria’s parents give her delicious, flaky, sweet Toaster Strudel for breakfast. Jimmy’s cheapass parents only buy him Pop-Tarts. They must not love him as much.”

At least, that’s how I remember it. On the other hand, they did let us watch Nickelodeon.

It might seem strange to people who know me, but as I kid, I hated soda. I would drink Sprite or 7-Up when I was sick (or better yet, cola syrup), and I occasionally had an A&W at my grandpa’s house. Later, I went from being a known soda-hater to listing “soda” as one of my favorite things when I was expected to write a list of my favorite things.

My history of soda has two major turning points. The first followed a routine trip to McDonald’s. When I was 11, my brother and his friend Tim came home from parts unknown with a greasy sack of McDonald’s and 2 extremely large drinks. They had not offered to bring my anything, but for charity’s sake, Tim offered me some of his soda. Despite my prejudice, I said yes. I must have been compelled by the coolness of an older dude and disappointment with their lack of consideration.

So I took a sip. I was amazed by a flavor I had never encountered before, and I incredulously asked, “What is that?” Tim thought I was just trying to clear up what kind of soda he had, so he simply said “Dr. Pepper.” I doubt he realized that I had never tasted it before. Either way, I was a soda drinker from that day forth. Within the next few months, I nearly tripled my body weight. My health has suffered immensely ever since.

The other event was a competition during a New Year’s Eve lock-in at the church. My friend Markos and I had to chug (slang for “quickly drink”) a 2-liter bottle of unlabeled soda together. We met the challenge head-on, and began drinking immediately. After about 20% of the bottle was gone, we finally tasted it. When you’re in the zone, flavor takes a back seat. However, I never forgave the youth pastor for choosing peach-flavored soda.

I’ll say this, though: we won. Also, I didn’t barf. I probably should have. To this day, I can’t eat peaches without nausea, because they are just too damned sweet. Soda, on the other hand, is just sweet enough.

In lieu of vacations, my parents would take us to my grandparents’ house in a tiny town near St. Louis. (My dad once said, “I loved going to Disney World as a kid, but it’s really not the same as an adult.” At the time, I was 19.)

We did get to enjoy doing “several” things in Elsberry. I got to swim in 3 different pools (only one was above ground), play Nintendo (and I do mean the Nintendo Entertainment System), watch TV (before Grandpa woke up), and play 2 games after dinner (yes, the same two). I always took a lot of books. Elsberry is also where I bought most of my Beanie Babies, but I’ve written about that before.

After my grandma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she lost a lot of mobility. She had to stop being constantly active and needed help getting around, which meant she couldn’t tend to her visitors. None of this stopped her from trying, however, and we were forbidden from getting up early because she would try to get up and help anyway. It didn’t always go well when she tried, but I’ve written about that before. My parents slept in until 8 or so, and I was forbidden from going downstairs until 7:30.

Like most 10-year-olds, I usually woke up around 6 in the morning. I had to get in my TV watching before grandpa got up and checked his stocks. (The stock market, that is. There were very few cattle allowed within city limits.) At my bedside, I had a vintage alarm clock with an actual radium dial. At least, the dark moles on my neck assume it was radium. The hour hand (that’s the smaller one) was about half an inch long, which meant it was roughly 3 feet from the numbers on the outside. My estimation skills were somewhat off at that age, so when I looked at the tiny hand and large numbers, I read 7:30. I went downstairs immediately, let out the dog, and fed her. Then I looked at the microwave. It had a digital clock, like the rest of civilization, and it read 6:30.

At this point, I was in trouble. My grandmother was asleep in a room about 20 feet away, and boy and dog were loose. The only option I could see was lying down on the ground and petting the dog so she wouldn’t move. I implemented the plan immediately, and the dog and I got bored quite quickly. Neither one of us could go back to sleep at this point, having just gotten up, and I was too worried to move. I’m not sure if I was more worried about waking Grandma or upsetting my parents, but they both seemed like bad ideas. After a long hour of waiting, I got up “officially” and started watching TV. The dog probably went back to sleep.

Grandmothers do a lot for their grandkids, but we make sacrifices, too. Once in a while.