This is a time of year when many people unite around a common story, whether it’s the miracle of a temple flame burning for eight days, the tale of young couple far from home when the new baby arrives, or the sharing of cultural roots that reach past a period of enslavement to the rich and varied histories of West African societies. I can’t recall a major holiday in my childhood that wasn’t in some way associated with storytelling.
One of my family’s favorites was that time when Grace tried to weigh her head. You read that right. I was five or six, and I got taken with the notion of figuring out how much my head weighed. I laid on the bathroom floor and put my head on the scale. There’s a problem with this approach: With my head on the scale, I couldn’t read the scale. What to do?
Had I chosen, say, the middle of a Saturday afternoon to research this vital fact, then there were would likely be no story. I chose a weekday morning at about 7:30 am. At this time of day, my oldest two brothers would have been trying to get out of the house to attend their college classes. Three other siblings had a bus to catch, and my dad needed to get to the office.
And the nine members of the Burrowes family had to execute the morning routine with one bathroom between us all. The other half bath, being in a more or less renovated garage, was colder than a well digger’s boots, and saw about as much use as would a two-seater at the back of the hog house.
Because that one full bath was in constant demand, it also had one of very few locking doors in the house. To conduct my head-weighing experiment, I required privacy, like most great minds when wrestling with a profound question. I locked the bathroom door, and commenced to study on how to weigh my head and read the scale. The problem was complicated.
A brother pounded on the door. “Grace, hurry up! I can’t be late for class.”
As if that was my problem? Genius takes time. Another sibling thumped on the door. “What the heck are you doing in there?”
“None of your business.”
This went on–five older siblings make a lot of racket–until my mom realized that our usual early morning ballet had hit a logjam. “Grace, unlock this door.”
“No. I’m weighing my head.”
Except I wasn’t. I was trying to weigh my head, but no matter how quickly I peeked, the scale didn’t register the actual weight of my head. An estimate for such vital data would not do.
“Open this door immediately, young lady. You can weigh your head some other time.”
“I want to know how much my head weighs now.” To this day, I have no idea why I had to know the weight of my five-year-old head. Nor do I know what guardian angel of reckless five-year-olds inspired me to climb up the shelves and get the hand-mirror, because using that important tool, I could both lay my head on the scale, and read the resulting weight.
When my mom’s magic bobby pin unlocked the bathroom door, I was putting away the hand-mirror, and quite pleased with myself. My family was enormously entertained–genius is often misunderstood–but I bet they don’t know how much their heads weigh.
What stories does your family tell about you? What stories do you tell when you get together with old friends or family? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amex gift card, but you have to say nice thing about me if the topic of how to weigh your head ever comes up.
One of my favorite stories involves one of my nephews who is now in his 40s. He was about 7 years old and I took him Christmas shopping with me at one of the big department stores in our area. Some of his friends had told him that there was no Santa and he was torn between believing them and believing his heart which didn’t want to deny Santa. As we were walking down an aisle in the store, the store Santa was coming towards us. As he got within a foot of us he boomed out “Hello Bill.” My nephew’s mouth opened and his eyes got as big as saucers. Santa lived at least one more year in his mind.
Turns out Santa was actually Billy’s baseball coach. The man was a bit rotund and when he put on his Santa outfit you could not recognize him. Even I could not recognize him. He almost made a believer out of me (smile).
That is priceless and precious, and exactly the kind of story that makes Santa real. Thanks!
Haha, that’s a great story! Most of my family’s stories about me are pretty embarrassing, so I’m going to keep them to myself
Make, I think the story about me weighing my head is supposed to embarrass me–that silly, contrary Grace!–but to me, it’s a testament to how much my curiosity has defined me. Without that curiosity–what if, is an author’s favorite question–I’d never have written a single story.
My dear departed uncle nicknamed me Rusty Foot as a child due to my predilection for going barefoot at their house all summer. The clay contained high iron concentrations and stained my feet a bright orange up to the ankles (I love playing in mud to this day). The orange didn’t wear off until school started and I was forced back into shoes and socks.
Going barefoot… by the time winter is ebbing, I’m so done with even my cozy organic merino wool socks… gimme bare feets and a cold drink, and for a few weeks, I might not even complain about the flies.
Cute story! My story is not about me, per say, but about a Christmas Eve dinner when the youngest of my six brothers and sisters were about six and under.
My Dad was a ballet dancer and so every year he danced, taught and directed a Nutcracker. Rehearsals started sometime in October and continued until a week or so before Christmas and the performance. Dad staged this ballet for a friend’s dance studio and their community and the friend’s husband was a sport hunter. In addition to being paid, Dad was given pheasants and sometimes venison.
It became our Christmas Eve tradition to have the pheasants, and whatever else Mrs. C gave him, for Christmas Eve dinner. My sister L and I became the pheasant buckshot removers (with tweezers)after one of the Grandmas broke a tooth on a Christmas Eve. This particular year, that Grandma was called upon to make something from the ground venison. We didn’t know what it was but Grandma seemed to and made meatballs.
We had our usual feast and when asked why the meatballs seemed to be more *reddish* than normal meatballs, Dad remarked they were Christmas meatballs. But what KIND of meatballs were they, the youngest brother asked. Venison, Dad replied. What’s that, the next older brother asked. Deer, Dad replied. Mom was not looking happy–in fact, she was looking daggers at Dad. Baby sister started to get teary—deer, you mean like Rudolf? And then started to sob. Soon all three of the younger kids were crying…..were we eating Rudolf? How would Santa fly his sleigh? What about Christmas and presents?
I mentioned Mom was not happy and the Grandmas were not pleased either but Dad thought it was hysterical. Mom and the Grandmas took the bowl of meatballs into the kitchen and dumped them and told the kids everything was fine, these meatballs were not Santa’s magical Raindeer but regular deer so they should worry. And Dad got the cold shoulder for the rest of the evening. From all of them. It remains one of my favorite family Christmas stories. The kids were fine once Santa came….and *someone* put a note with one of their gifts…”I heard you were worried about Rudolf. You are good children to worry so extra chocolate for you!”
We tell that story every Christmas Eve and so, now I have. I hope your Christmas is merry and your New Year is bright, Grace!
Way to blow it, Dad… but nice save!
I recall the year one of my brothers “got a deer” with a bow and arrow, and the utter horror I felt that he’d DO something like that. A very odd memory–I was probably four or five years old–but vivid.
Happy Christmas Eve! My family has two favorite stories about me. Apparently I was an infant and toddler who loved peas. I saw my mother had a bag defrosting on the table and managed to get the bag to fall on me. Somehow I got the bag open and was happily eating frozen peas when I was caught in my felonious act. I still love peas. My other story was when I was in First Grade. I loved wearing those lacy tights but my teacher’s chosen activities caused me to develop holes so my mother asked me to be careful because the tights were expensive. Apparently my teacher chose an activity in which we could have to crawl all over the floor. After giving us instructions, she asked if there were any questions. I politely raised my hand and asked if I could do the activity in an alternative method explaining about my mother’s instructions and the tights. Though flabbergasted, my teacher agreed. This came up during Open House and my mother was so embarrassed but the teacher stated that she was impressed with my sincere efforts to obey my mother. Thank you for all of your great books! Have a blessed holiday!
What an interesting intersection of events: A teacher who let kids crawl all over the floor, a mom who’d buy lacy tights, a kid with the savvy to balance the need to participate in the classroom with the need to keep mom happy… Great minds in action.
When I was about 7 and my sister 5, she threw a neighbor girl’s shoes over a fence into a hog pen. My Mother made me get them out since I was the oldest (and should have prevented it). I don’t even remember if my sister had to get in the hog pen or not, but I do remember how big that hog was and how afraid I was!
Love the stories!
Early one morning, I was found downstairs looking at the books and magazines in my dad’s pharmacy. I was about 15 months at the time. I think Mom & Dad found it funny after they found me.
I still get lost in the books. Grace, please keep writing. Also a very merry Christmas, a healthy and prosperous New Year.
I was a get lost in the books kid too. I would have been about five and tagging along with my mom on one of her endless grocery runs. She was in the habit of giving each kid a magazine to page through as she started through the store, then she’d replace the magazines (unpurchased) on the racks as we went through the check out.
I was so engrossed with some comic book that I read it right through the check out, and walked out of the store, head down, reading, reading, reading, with the magazine in my hands. When my mom realized I still had the comic book, she went back and bought it for me.
Apparently, when I was two years old and we were living in Washington DC, I managed to escape from the apartment (I had a baby sister so I wouldn’t be surprised if my folks were watching her) and my parents found me outside in the street directing traffic (I’m still trying to direct everybody–may be eldest sister syndrome). Fortunately, no one person or vehicle was hurt (fortunately, this was the 1950s so there wasn’t as much traffic as there is now).
Another time (but I was definitely less then 5 years old), also Washington DC, I, too, locked the bathroom door and would not open it. There’s no story about why, just that I did. I think my Dad ending up climbing through a window to get in the bathroom.
Must be a kid tihng–to lock the door for the heck of it. I never did figure out HOW my mom’s bobby pins tripped that lock, but she could get the door open in the blink of eye.
Just tonight my in-laws were going on about the time my daughter fell out of the hammock when she was 5 or so. She would have forgotten if they didn’t remind her at least once a year. Every Easter the time we were on elevator with the Mall Easter Bunny and helper comes up. You could see inside the mesh ‘mouth’ of the Bunny and my daughter loudly stated that the Easter Bunny had eaten a person. I will never forget the horrified looks on the faces of the other children and some of the adults in the elevator. There are several other stories we bring up and many when I’m with my dad and siblings. Just a month ago when my niece got married we talked about the time one of our cats stole my dad’s steak right off his plate! (The cat did live a long healthy life afterwards.)
You made me laugh–the Easter Bunny ate a person! That’s such a kid conclusion–utterly logical, given the evidence.
My cousins and I decided it would be fun to ring the fire bell at a big community picnic … got caught of course and taken to our dads – they only laughed because they did the same thing when they were our ages.
And in some communities, that might have resulted in delinquency charges… depending on your ages. A kid in my class did the same thing at school–pulled the fire alarm “to see if it worked,”–and he got a stern talking to from the fire marshal.
I was the youngest child in my family, the youngest and smallest in our neighborhood group of playmates. I didn’t like always being last. And I used to tell my Mom I wanted to be the “Leader” — though at that age, it sounded more like Lee-La. My family never passes up the chance to remind me of that! Thanks for a fun post.
A kid in my neighborhood growing up ended up with the name “Judder,” because his baby sister couldn’t get any closer to the word “brother.” He’s geezin’ and gray now, but we still know him as “Judder.”
My favorite re-tell stories are usually the ones that involve animals. There’s the bat in the attic on Christmas Eve story. (This involves me chasing it out the window with a tennis racket while Santa cowered nearby.) There’s the chipmunk running around the family room until I pointed the way out, and he took it. Then there’s the baby coyote on my front doorstep in a standoff with the neighborhood tough cat. (The cat won.) I still say that the cat gave me a look that clearly said, “I got this, hon. Go back to bed.”
THAT is a tough cat. I know we have coyotes around here, but you never see them. They slink around after dark, doing their Wile E. thing, and in the morning, fewer bunnies…
But you remind me of the time I was out picking raspberries and I came upon a possum that wasn’t doing too well. It kinda wobbled up to me, which I took for request to help. I carried it over the river and through the woods to my neighbor, a former game warden. He about had kittens, because it’s possible, though highly improbable, the little beast was rabid. I was fine, but I’m pretty sure Mr. Game Warden put the possum out of its misery.
My favorite story is about my mother, not me. She was a fabulous cook; my cousins used to come and visit and watch her cook or bake and write down her every move.
One year at a Passover Seder, she served her popular matzo balls, but the soup was awful and tasteless. When she went back in to the kitchen, she realized that she had served them (they are like dumplings in terms of how they are prepared) in the water that had been used for boiling them. The soup sat unused in a different pot on the stove. Basically, we all were served salty water.