There used to be a commercial for a well-known brokerage firm designed to establish trust among the masses. It always ended with the slogan,
“When E.F. Hutton talks people listen!”
And that was the very first thing I noticed about you. You had an E.F. Hutton quality. You didn’t say much, but when you did, people listened.
The first time I became fully aware of it was when I introduced you to my very own parents.
It was bizarre.
They didn’t care for any of my previous boyfriends. And a smattering of promising and potential suitors had trickled in. So I was more than resigned to the fact that there was no way on Earth they were going to tolerate the likes of you.
You had long blonde hair, pulled back into an almost-ponytail that you tucked in under a hat that had the words, “Loaded Zone” emblazoned across the front. To add insult to injury, you refused to remove the hat when you walked into their traditional southern home, because you sufferred from an affliction you diagnosed as “Hat Hair.”
(Hat Hair was a condition you perpetually claimed to have after you wore a ball cap which, according to you, prevented you from removing the offending cap, causing me to wonder why you wore balł caps to begin with, but I certainly didn’t challenge you much in those days…indeed that emerged later.)
You also wore something on a chain around your neck that I naively assumed was the logo for the popular sports company Adidas, but later learned was a pot leaf. When I eventually discovered what exactly it was you were endorsing, I prayed my parents were oblivious.
It was years later before I realized that since my Dad served in Vietnam, he probably knew. Dad was an Officer and a straight arrow, but apparently unbeknownst to me, he owned an original Cheech & Chong album.
You met my folks in the middle of a south Louisiana summer, sporting a muscle shirt and corduroy Levis. (You clearly deemed corduroy “seasonless” at age 18.) You were barefoot, rode up on a motorcycle, spoke maybe 20 words the entire evening, never smiled, couldn’t be troubled to shake my dad’s hand and spared Doris any superfluous compliments on her pot roast. Nor did you give my parents the least bit of encouragement that you had the slightest interest in their daughter. And yet…
For Mom and Dad, it was love at first sight!
My folks couldn’t wait to see you again. They were giddy like pre-teen schoolgirls. I swear the next day, they wanted to know if you liked them. They wondered throughout the folowing day if they made a good impression. I suspect poor little Doris obsessed until the day she died that you might’ve found her pot roast a bit dry.
I continued to witness you having this remarkable effect on people your entire life. You had a way about you. It’s something your French ancestors referred to as “JE NE SAIS QUOI!” Loosely translated it means “something inexplicable.” One can’t quite put their finger on it. People can sense power and leadership, but to your credit, you never used your powers for evil.
But, man, I sure did!
And who could blame me? I tapped right into it. I was a red headed freckle-faced girl, who had never been cool a day in my life; dating you was akin to having a Genie in a bottle. Invoking your name was a slam-dunk way to win any debate.
No one seemed to have the giblets to go against you on anything. I first noticed this little detail way back in the 80s with my Dad. He and I were arguing about something. I don’t even remember what it was. But, I suddenly blurted out, “Well, Jimmy said blah, blah, blah…”
The next thing you know Dad caved. Maybe not entirely. I don’t remember. He was a force-to-be-reckoned-with back then in his own right. He was around 50 years old, retired military, quite formidable and at the height of his second distinguished and successful career.
My “Jimmy said...” parlor trick continued to served me well through the years in countless ways, on countless people in countless situations. And I abused it on:
The Chief of Neonatology at Children’s
But never was it more effective than when we were raising our small innocent offspring together. Our formula for child-rearing was pretty solid. It was a classic spin-off of the Bad Cop/Good Cop Model, one might liken to Cool Parent/Nerd Parent.
I was the insufferable nerd parent who would never actually ground a child, but rather lectured them for weeks after an infraction. My disciplinary tactics ran the gamut from beseeching to crying to story-telling. I wore ’em slick with anecdotes, song lyrics and inspirational quotes.
And when alł that fluff you referred to as my “Paper Tiger Parenting” style inevitably failed me, I would simply revert back to, “Daddy says…”
It never failed me. Since you passed, I know for a fact our 5 kids are counting their blessings that they’re mostly “raised.”
We all loved your way. Every day.
“Je ne sais quoi!” I never could quite put my finger on it…