Josh and Jerome on Grandpa’s tractor–the Shoofly Ranch
I came home from a weekend away to several versions of the event.
Andrea told it first: Little Mona and Jerome were caught kissing. Josh told it with umbrage because he was being blamed for it. Gil, my husband, put it in perspective: Butch and Joe–the fathers–had not come to blows, but came close, and it is now established for all time that neither had better ever correct any of the others’ children without clearing it first with the respective father.
I hadn’t been home ten minutes before each of the kids involved made their appearance. Josh said, “Thank you, God! Grandma Mona you’re home!”
Jerome didn’t say anything, which was saying quite a lot.
Little Mona said, “They won’t let me kiss my cousin. Grandma, why?”
By this time, the clan had gathered: All sat within earshot, all ears were tuned. The air, as they say, was electrified, while the family group waited for my response–Joe and Dalia, Andrea and Butch, Gil, Grandma Neve (my mother), and the grandkids–Josh, Jerome, and little Mona. Georgia, Hanna and Madeleine were sitting in laps around the room, but these three were all too young to be carded relative to the consumption of this particular controlled substance.
For the first time, maybe in my life, I felt like a Shaman. I admit, perhaps, to wanting to be thought wizardly, but I never really expected it would happen.
“Mona,” I say looking at her mother, “they won’t let you kiss your brother either, I suppose.”
“Grandma, I don’t have a brother!”
“I mean, if you did. I don’t suppose they’d let you kiss him.” Mona looks at her mother phrasing the question with her eyebrows.
“Yes. Sure. That’s different,” Andrea, answers her daughter.
“That’s dumb!” my granddaughter counters, true to form. “I don’t think it’s different.”
“Don’t be smart-mouthed to your mother,” Dad has the last word in this round, and the match is back in my corner. Little Mona steadies her gaze peremptorily on me again.
“Umm,” I say with all the wisdom I can muster.
Josh is getting excited, bouncing up and down on his side of the loveseat where he sits beside Dalia, who, it should be noted, protectively wraps her arm around his shoulder. “What I want to know is what anything has to do with me!” he says, getting the sense of perceived insult across rather well, I think. Josh’s outburst is challenged by a menacing throat-sound from Butch across the room: It is not a stretch to imagine hair rising on the back of his neck; this offended father knows a culprit when he sees one!
We live in the country, all of us, on a kind-of-ranch, with animals anyway, and when the hair rises on the back of anything’s neck, you know it’s cause for alarm. In this instance, I decide to intervene.
“What exactly happened here?”
“Grandma,” Mona says, “we were just playing Truth or Dare.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Josh–the instigator–restates his case.
Jerome–the undisputed actual kisser, the perpetrator–decides to sit on the other side of his mother, and pretty close, too. He understands this to be an inquisition: There will be a body. These people apparently have never heard about the noise one hand makes clapping.
I look at my daughter Andrea, and ask again about the hypothetical brother; could Mona kiss him?
The answer is something like, “Yes, no because, maybe when, where in the, because sometimes, this isn’t, I don’t think, just wait a minute, what do you, when will you, can’t you, why you don’t, you gotta be, that’s crazy. . . .” This was said about all at once, by about every adult present.
I could see the kids were amazed.
Andrea, though, makes a decision. No, little Mona can’t kiss her brother–if she had one. Not in this sense. Not in Truth or Dare.
The ugly little head of pessimism lurks somewhere rather close in the recesses of my kitchen–that room everybody wants, rhetorically, to be in: friends, guests, family; all basking in sweet, sentimental brotherly love over cookies and milk. You know, Grandma’s quintessential environs.
I wonder when anyone would ever kiss anybody except in truth or dare.
Little Mona goes for the juggler: “But I like him. Jerome is my favorite cousin! So there.”
“Don’t be smart-mouthed to your mother,” Dad has to say it. I sense hairs rising on the neck of fatherhood at both ends of the room. Grandpa Gil chuckles so only I can hear.
“Umm,” I say again, realizing I’ve decided to take sides. “Mona,” I continue, “I have a favorite cousin. Once we were caught together sitting under a hedge. We may have been kissing. I think so. Everyone thought so at the time, and it was probably true because I wanted to grow up and marry him, He was just wonderful. For one thing he had red hair, not carrot red like his brother’s–just red, red! Bud was so, so smart. He used to read history books this thick,” I hold two fingers four inches apart. Mona wags her head up and down; she understands.
“He still does,” I tell her.
“Is Bud still your favorite?” she asks.
“Oh, yes. And because of all the commotion over the two of us kissing under the hedge, you know what happened?”
“He grew up and married someone else!” I let outrage flood my voice.
“That’s terrible!” Mona visibly trembles.
“Well, yes. But cousins, you know, aren’t supposed to be what’s called ‘kissing cousins.’ It gets people upset. They want you to love your cousin but don’t kiss him.”
“That’s pretty silly!” the light was dawning.
“That’s just the way people are–especially parents,” I say. “Everybody’s parents, not just yours. Mine were like that, too.” Mona looks for confirmation toward Grandma Neve, who is enjoying this thoroughly through her encroaching dementia.
Jerome’s chin is rising. His instincts are good; he doesn’t want to miss this next part.
“There’s a word for it, “ I say. “Want to know?”
The word reverberates in every parents ears for the eternity that each pleads silently with me, “Don’t say it! Don’t give it a name!” I scan the room with a glance. My husband Gil looks tentative. Andrea, next to him, is horrified–or something close to it; she reflexively squeezes Madeleine who starts to cry. Butch wears a this-is-getting-interesting sort of look. Joe makes himself inscrutable–Joe Cool, we call him. Josh is beginning to believe he’s off the hook. Hanna and Georgia, the twin terrors, are suspiciously quiet. Jerome is on the edge of the chair; Dalia has relinquished him figuring he’s almost, if not positively, safe. She continues to hover.
“Taboo,” I name it. “It’s an Indian word. Nice, isn’t it? It sort of rolls around in your mouth. Taa-booo.”
“Taa-booo, taa-booo” the kids chant in unison.
“No kissing cousins on this ranch. It’s taa-booo,” I pull little Mona to me. “But it’s okay to kiss your Grandma Mona.” She does, to a collective sigh.
I tell her that now, when I get together with my cousins, someone in the family is sure to remark about the time when I wanted to marry my cousin Bud. They think it is just too cute now.
“That’s pretty funny, isn’t it?” I ask.
Little Mona plays the dramatic moment for all it’s worth: “If people would just mind their own business, this world would be a better place!”
Mona L S Baisch