By Bettina Huseby
“Live and learn,” my Aunt Mary liked to say. It was one of my favorites. I’m approaching the half-century mark, but lately it’s teenagers who are teaching me stuff. I work shoulder-to-shoulder with ’em at home, at school and at my job. Nobody is particularly happy about it and it shows.
I was sanitizing in the Walmart Deli when a young colleague startled me, barking orders at high volume. I was indignant. She was not being respectful to me, her elder, and she frightened me so much I wet my Khaki uniform pants.
I can be loud too, and gave it right back to her, expounding on why I was right and she was wrong. For emphasis, I threw my cleaning bottle across the floor. My pitch was archived as evidence on the security camera. They didn’t call me into the office, but my scheduled hours were cut way, way down into the immature teens (those digits between 12 and 20) and they removed me from the Deli indefinitely.
This sort of thing has been happening to me since kindergarten. I’m playing nicely by myself when a bully strikes and withdraws. I react and get punished for my reaction while the bully gets off scot-free. Day jobs are for organized types, anyhow - people who keep their socks rolled in pairs and brush after every meal. I’m more of a night-job kind of gal. Maybe it’s time I quit Walmart and become a stage actress. The pay is probably comparable and emoting is in my genes. My mom could cry on command and my dad had a very short fuse.
In the comedy film Smokey and the Bandit, Jackie Gleason has my dad perfectly nailed in the character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He abuses his son, Buford, Jr., across several state lines as they chase bootleggers and Jr.’s runaway bride. Gleason spits orders and insults, “Do what I tell ya, you pile of #$%&! Put the evidence in the car!” When his fatherly patience has completed dissolved, Gleason mutters, “There is no way, no way that you came from my loins.”
My dad lost patience with me over tiny little things, like saving water. I liked to keep the tap on while washing dishes, but Dad said to fill the sink up and turn the water off. I refused. He called me Hard-Head and stomped off to do some figuring on paper. This, he shoved under my nose. I said he was wrong. He got even madder and shut the water off at the valve. Mom jumped in and stopped us. She said no argument was worth winning if it gave Dad a stroke. We knew he had clogged arteries, but even his doctors were unaware of the aneurysm growing on his aorta. This condition took his life in a split-second, a few months later. I was 18 years old.
I felt a callous first reaction: Relief. Now he wouldn’t follow me around the house anymore, dictating my every move. Then one day it hit me. We had suffered a terrible loss. Never again could I ask him for advice. For the rest of my life I’ve had to stop and think: What would Daddy do? I can usually come up with an answer. Maybe it’s because he spent most all of his free time with me, Hard-Head. Certainly it would have been easier for him to be anywhere else on the planet. But he had no other agenda.
Lately, the kids I run into (or have run-ins with) seem especially grouchy. But I can’t worry about them all. God assigned me two of my own, whose little minds I could warp any way I see fit. I’ve tried to do a good job. If Dad were here, I hope he’d approve. I think he would. But it really doesn’t matter what I hope or think at this point. They’re teenagers now, out there making their own choices. The evidence will speak for itself.
Huseby is a Jasper resident and an occasional contributor to the Progress.