All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April Fool

I wasn’t going to post anything today, but it’s 25 minutes to midnight and I don’t want to write about April Fool’s day on the very day it happens. So here it is, the end of March and I am writing about jokes we used to pull on April Fool’s day.

It’s no good playing jokes when you are all grown up, unless you happen to have someone around who understands you perfectly, who “gets” your sense of humor, and whose sense of humor happens to be similar. In my life, that set of circumstances ceased when I left home.

My siblings and I all shared a the same sense of humor. We exchanged the salt and the sugar and got up early to watch Dad put salt on his cereal and blow his stack. We put green food coloring on all the butter and margarine. We short-sheeted each other’s beds. We put slimy creatures in the beds. We arranged “accidents” that would leave the victim either all wet, covered with something floury, or muddy. I admit, these are not funny to other people. You had to be one of the Andrews Kids to enjoy these things.

With my friends, practical jokes were not as satisfying. When we were little, my friends and I tried to make a snails-and-worms-and-mud pie, covered with ice cream, and feed it to the littler kids. They were too suspicious to take the bait. How irritating younger siblings and their friends can be!

Another snail prank was to gather a bunch of the slimy creatures into a pile, sit on the side of the street, and hope a car would go by with the window rolled down. The object was to throw a snail into the open car window as it went past, and then run like crazy into the nearest kid’s back yard to escape. It never did work. We always hit the side of the car, and that would make the driver stop and yell at us through the fence behind which he knew we were hiding. It turned out to be too scary to pursue. We tried to think up ways to get someone to taste a snail, but our imaginations failed us.

One time, after watching the monster movie Cal-Tiki on tv (sometime in the early 1960s), my best friend and I lured a neighbor girl to my best friend’s closet and assured our friend that it had been made into an elevator, and it was taking us down to another world where a monster lived. We ended up getting into trouble over that so-called “joke.” Our mothers told us to stop teasing our younger friend.

We did not. We tried hard to make our stories realistic enough to get her to believe us. Once my best friend and her older sister dressed me up in a wig and different clothes and passed me off at a neighborhood get-together as their cousin from the South. I tried to speak in a Southern accent, even though I didn’t know how one was supposed to sound. Our little friend believed us for a while, but I forgot my accent and said something that tipped her off, and she went and told her mother on us again.

To avoid doing things to people who would get us in trouble, we began the time-honored trick of calling random people using numbers picked from the telephone book. This kid rite-of-passage prank can’t be done anymore, now that caller I.D. has gone into effect, alas. We’d all crowd around the receiver, hear the phone ringing on the other end, and when the victim said, “Hello?” one of us would assume our most grownup voice and ask, “Is your refrigerator running?” and when the victim said, “Yes,” we would shout, “I think it ran out the back door!” Then we’d hang up and run outside ourselves to celebrate our success.

My brothers graduated to meaner tricks when they got into high school, and we stopped finding the things they did funny and stopped emulating them. Holding people upside down and sticking their heads in toilets did not sound remotely like something we wanted to be in on. I think the word for that is bullying.

Nowadays April Fool’s day is the day when I reflect on how little I know about myself, life, the universe, and everything. I know I am a fool and behave foolishly still. It’s a day for humility, not humiliation. Maybe that’s actually a form of maturity.

Happy April Fool!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Haunting House

I keep having a recurring dream. More specifically, I keep having different dreams that are set in a house that doesn’t exist but that has appeared over and over for the past 20 or so years. The town is there, the street exists, and the very block is where I lived in three different houses during my college years, but the house of my dreams doesn’t exist. Its location is where a house sits that I entered a couple times that I remember, where friends lived. My dream house has that same house’s front entryway and front rooms, but mine is far larger. That house is white; my house is dark bricks. The dream house changes from the real house when it comes to the upper floors and back porch area. Like the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, my dream house has stairways ending at ceilings and rooms that change your sense of balance and reality.

It’s haunted in a good way, usually, but last night it had rats and I was planning to call the exterminators before I closed the deal to buy it and move in.

I’ve tried to analyze this experience. I used to have dreams that seemed to give me messages, and they all shared a certain quality of feeling, a sort of realism that made me wake up and not doubt that I should pay attention. I have never had a warning dream or anything of that sort. I have had dreams in which I’d learn something about myself or somebody else that would end up helping me cope with my waking life. The dreams with this house in them sometimes have that quality and sometimes don’t. I end up paying attention to them all because of how many times now the same house has appeared, but I haven’t yet had the corresponding “help” in real life.

I just hope rats don’t appear in my house this spring!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hair and Branches

Today the weather is drying a bit and the sun promises to shine so I can venture outside to finish pruning my fruit trees, which is something I enjoy a lot. I pruned the peach tree back when the weather was freezing, but I’ve had strep all week and don’t think I want to be chilled at this point in my recovery, so I’m glad to see the sun. I like finishing pruning and seeing the tree take shape for setting and ripening fruit. I have been teaching myself to prune for the past ten years or so by reading articles and looking at pictures on the internet, and then one year my uncle John came to visit from his Virginia apple orchards and gave me a huge boost with his advice and knowledge. First thing I know I’m doing wrong this year is pruning later than I should be. But better late than never!

Learning to prune my trees is akin to my learning to cut men's hair. I approach cutting hair rather like I've heard certain sculptors approach creating art. They see a shape in their mind's eye and cut away at the marble or clay until they see the same shape taking form. I see a shaped head of hair in my mind's eye and cut away until I see it happening under my fingers. Usually it works.

I used to cut men’s hair when I was going to college. I did it for free, for the experience. Once I cut an acquaintance’s hair shorter than he wanted. He was furious. I felt terrible, but when he wouldn’t accept my repeated apologies and made my life miserable for a week or more, I decided he had crossed the line. My friends agreed with me: he should get over it, and after all, it was a good cut they said, and it would grow out, and it had been free, so what did he expect now?

I didn't cut my husband's hair more than a couple times for many years after we were married. Now I cut it all the time. He is very particular about how he wants to look, and I am an amateur who will not guarantee a great job. Our daughter studied cosmetology and taught me about cutting hair, about how to hold the scissors and the hair, about growth and swirl patterns, about head shape and hiding problems. She also demonstrated how to cut a moving head, useful when cutting the hair of children.

That is the same approach I’m taking to our trees. I see what I want them to look like, and I cut until they do look like that. I’m a little frustrated with my second apricot tree. It resists becoming what I want. I think today I’m going to get drastic with it. The first apricot tree gave us twelve years of great harvests, but last year a borer killed it. It was the easiest tree in the world to prune. It started with a great shape, and that made it easy. The second apricot tree didn’t start with a great shape. It is determined to have a densely grown center section, and I am determined that it will have an open center.

Let us see who wins today.

Friday, March 26, 2010

An Editor’s Pet Peeve

I used to work as an editor, which makes me unable to stop seeing copyediting mistakes in the books I read. Bad editing is one of my pet peeves, especially when I discover mistakes in a book that comes from a supposedly reputable publishing house by a well-respected author.

First, it makes the author look bad. No matter how well I know how easy it is to miss mistakes in one’s own writing, I find myself unfairly expecting the author to be able to spell and punctuate correctly. The author has the final look at the proof text. Unfairly, the author is expected to go over the proof with a fine-toothed comb and find every problem that crept in during the production process, as well as everything that was inadvertently overlooked in the original manuscript. Yet I know that authors are not usually editors. They are the people with the ideas, with the talent for getting those ideas across, with skills of extraordinary expression—not necessarily with the skills of spelling, punctuation, and esoteric points of grammar, for those are among the skills of the editing staff.

Second, it makes me think the editing is being left to the computer to do, which can easily produce nonsense at the least. Do major publishing houses now not employ copyeditors? Is copyediting now relegated to the least-important of the editor’s duties? I’m finding more silly spelling errors (mostly homonyms that are both homophones and heterographs—the kind the spell check cannot correct) in more books lately. In David McCullough’s 1776, for example, most of the instances of the word principle in the book should have been principal instead. Most of them occurred within quotations of original documents, and since spelling wasn’t regularized in the 18th century, the originals probably spelled words differently every time they used them, but the editors or the author or both apparently had chosen to regularize all the original spellings in all the quotations, so I cannot believe that this word is the sole word spelled as in the original material on purpose. Besides, it was spelled wrong in two instances where it was McCullough's own words. It was spelled correctly once only, that I noticed.

Third, it makes the publishing house look bad. I remember how much trouble we copyeditors got into if we missed something at the newspaper where I worked, and especially if it ended up causing the paper to get into trouble, such as when a crime story confused the names of the culprit and victim, and the victim sued for defamation of character. At the two other places I worked in publishing, at the least, mistakes could cause us a lot of embarrassment. There are people like me out there who see the mistakes, ready to pounce on the misplaced apostrophe in genitive it’s when it should be its, and happy to skewer the intelligence of everybody in the industry over grammatical errors and typos.

I want to be given leeway to make mistakes, but I don’t want to see them in professional publications. I expect publishing professionals to be, well, professional about their business. Now I have to put in a caveat lector. I will probably make mistakes here in my blog. I am not treating this forum as I did the book I wrote or the family histories that I compiled, for the simple reason that it isn’t intended to be on that level of professionalism, nor do I expect it to reach beyond a few people whom I know will be lenient with me—as lenient, I hope, at least as we all have to be with the books we read that no longer get the same level of attention to detail as they did in years past.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I just finished reading David McCullough’s 1776. What a compelling book! Of course I know the ending. Of course I know what happened after. The story line is nothing new. David McCullough’s writing style, however, is so suspenseful that I found I couldn’t put the book down! I read and read and read until it was done, and then I didn’t want it to be done, I wanted him to go on and describe 1777 in the same style, and then 1778 and so on, clear to the Treaty of Paris in 1783. I know this book was written as a companion to his prize-winning biography of John Adams, but I wish he had written a biography of George Washington instead. Maybe he still will. Meanwhile, I am going to march myself right down to our little basement library and get out all the other David McCullough books that my husband loves so much and start in on them.

Usually I read murder mysteries. I love murder mysteries for what P.D. James described as their ability to restore the order in a universe threatening to disintegrate into chaos. My favorite murder mystery writer is Anne Perry, although I also enjoy P.D. James, Ellis Peters, and a lot of others, especially those writing historical mysteries. Maybe it is because I enjoy the historical mysteries so much that I am now moving over to historical nonfiction. Sometimes when I've been reading a historical mystery, the details of setting and atmosphere spark an interest that I find I’ve just got to satisfy by doing my own research into the period.

There are a lot of dull history writers out there, that’s for sure. But in the hands of a master storyteller, history becomes as compelling as any plot-driven work of fiction. Perhaps the reason David McCullough succeeds so well is because for me, he makes sense of the beginnings of this nation of ours, and his sense of what happened in those times reflects upon what is happening now, when we are so torn by what our leaders are or are not doing. Perhaps in the pages of history I will find truth that restores order to the universe threatening to disintegrate into chaos.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Important or Insignificant

Last week I was reading entries to judge a high school writing contest and read a short story that made me think back to my teen years.

In one story I was reading, a teenage girl's boyfriend is in an accident, and she is invited to ride in the ambulance to the hospital, and she is the one with him as he passes away, and she is the one who breaks the news to his shocked parents. I thought with a sneaking tad of amusement how angry I would be in a world where my teenage son could be dying and after everything was over I be told by his high school girlfriend. However, I recognized that the writer's dream was to be of supreme importance to someone. Can't I understand that? Don't I want to be of supreme importance too?

When I was young I thought I was pretty important to everyone I knew, to my school, to the town I lived in, to just about the whole universe. Moving to a new town taught me differently, for suddenly I had nobody at school or in my neighborhood who sought me out. Most people learn their relative insignificance through similar experiences. And yet, I think today that I am irreplaceable in my own sphere, and that my sphere has impact on other spheres about which I am not conscious. Have I learned anything since my teen years about my relative importance or insignificance? Why am I writing a blog, if not to proclaim that my thoughts are important? I have to laugh at myself, trying not to take myself seriously. I shall have fun with this blog.