Penance

Sometimes the best laid plans blow up in your face. Sometimes you think you have a brilliant idea, but there is hell to pay.  And sometimes the ones who volunteer to collect in behalf of hell are your very own family members.

First, Lorrie glared at us for the rest of the night.  Mel kept sniffing and asked if we were sure that she wasn’t going to jail for not doing her homework.  They both told on us and Martha came storming in to give us her two cents worth.  And my lovely wife, coward that she is in the face of ankle biters with runny noses and perturbed expressions baled on me and said it was my fault, entirely.

See if you get any tonight Ms. Walters!

So what happened was this.  Mel was crying because we were making a point about her not doing her homework and misleading us to think that she’d done it at school.  I guess that’s why it’s called homework, right? You do it at home.  Maybe that reminder would have been enough.

But, we went all out and made up a story about a guy who tried to swindle us and for his neglect when it came to fact checking property rights; he got caught and ended up in the slammer for at least 15 years. Sounds plausible, right?

It was plausible enough that poor Melanie ran crying to her sister and pleaded with her to not let the sheriff take her to jail. She promised to do her homework, in between sobs and wiping at her runny nose, and I’m not sure which thing set Lorrie off the worst. That we freaked out her baby sister, who she is very protective of, or that it caused her shirt to be covered with tears and snot.  Of course, our deception was mixed in there somewhere, and the little turd got a full confession from Lex, who was an emotional mess, even worse than Mel, for causing her baby such distress.

But it didn’t end there.  At dinner, Lex insisted on holding Melanie on her lap and fed her bites in-between kisses on the forehead and enough apologies to last a lifetime.  I reluctantly apologized, too, and admitted that we made up the story to teach Mel a lesson. 

Trouble was, our Lorrie is brilliant at holding grudges.  She is positively the best at figuring ways to get even. It reminds me of when Jeannie and I were kids and I’d do something to piss my sister off. She took extreme delight in making my life hell until she figured I’d suffered enough. Then she gave it to me again just for good measure.

So, the next afternoon, I was putting away Eddie’s clean clothes and straightening up his diaper bag when Martha and Charlie followed Lex into Eddie’s room. 

“Amanda Walters! How dare you scare that baby girl like that! You should be ashamed!”

You know, Lex nodded her head in agreement.  “Hey, you’re just as guilty as I am.” 

“Both of you should know better,” Martha insisted. “Remember when you were trying to teach our sweet Melanie to tie her shoes? Amanda, you told her that she wasn’t going to be able to turn five years old if she didn’t know how to tie her own shoes, because every kid had to learn that before Kindergarten.”

“She learned, didn’t she?” I thought it was a brilliant suggestion at the time. Twenty minutes later, Mel was demonstrating her skill with her shoe laces.

Martha harrumphed.  She never harrumphs.  But she harrumphed just the same. “And the time that you told her that she couldn’t start school until she could say her address?”

I was feeling particularly picked on, while my wife tried to blend in with the paint on the wall.

“Well, Ms. Walters. You’ve gone too far!” Martha nodded at Charlie, who leaned into the hallway and whistled. I looked at Lex to see if she knew what Charlie was up to. We heard Lorrie’s voice telling someone to come on up the stairs. Suddenly, Jeremy, who succeeded Charlie as sheriff, came in dangling two sets of hand cuffs.

“I’m sorry to have to do this,” Jeremy said. “But relating a false police activity is a misdemeanor.  I’m afraid I’ll have to take you both in.”  He held out one of the pair of hand cuffs and gestured for me to go first. “I hear you’re the ringleader,” as he snapped the cuffs around my wrists. “I’ll put you in the squad car and come back for your accomplice.” And he marched me down the stairs and led me outside and stuffed into the back of his car. Then he went back inside and emerged a few minutes later with Lex.

Lex and I looked at each other. “Any more bright ideas, Lex?”

“Nope. None. I’m sure this is a mistake.”

Martha and Charlie came out to the car to bid us goodbye and to promise to look after the children. Martha still had an indignant expression on her face and Charlie’s face was unreadable. Lorrie was looking a bit too smug, though. I smelled a rat.

Guess what happened next?

Melanie had been on a play date and got a tummy ache so Wanda brought her home early. They pulled up to the house within seconds of Lex being put into the back of the squad car.  She freaked.

“Please don’t take my mommies to jail!”

Suddenly, it occurred to me that there were a couple of family members that were about to get their come-uppance. “It’s okay, sweetie. We did a bad thing when we made up that story about a police case, and now we have to go to jail, just for a little while.”

Mel screamed, “No!” and she pulled at Jeremy who gave it up right there and helped us out of the car and removed the handcuffs. Without a word, he got into his car and drove back down the drive like a bat out of hell.

Martha suddenly had an intense interest in an ant hill a few feet in front of where she was standing. Charlie seemed to be preoccupied with the weather. And Lorrie was stealthily sneaking up the porch steps.

Melanie, the poor traumatized kid, threw herself into our arms and cried, which of course made the guilty parties feel even lousier.  We wiped her face and Lex picked her up and carried her inside, right past Charlie and Martha.  I stared at them both until they looked back at me.

“Couldn’t that be called, false arrest, sheriff?”

Charlie rubbed his stubbled chin while trying to figure out what to say in his defense.

“I’ll let it go this time, but don’t let it happen again.”

Penance is such a lovely word.

For the next week, we had all the cookies, cakes, and pies Martha could turn out.  She baby sat the kids so that Lex and I could have a few romantic nights alone.  And Melanie has not missed even one homework assignment.

As for Lorrie—the stables have never been cleaner.

Amanda.

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Do Your Homework

Lex and I received a note that Melanie’s teacher pinned to her shirt, and dared her to take off, to make sure that we saw it.  It appears that our happy-go-lucky daughter has developed a serious aversion to doing her homework.

“I did it in class.”

No, our little Mel did not do her homework in class. She did work like it in class and decided that she didn’t need the practice of also working on it at home. Consequently, she had nothing to turn in when she got to school in the morning. According to Mel, her outside playtime would be seriously “compomiced” if she had to stay inside and do homework instead of playing on her new tire swing in the front yard.  Poor Mel.  She really does try, doesn’t she?

We could have yelled, we could have put her on restriction. We could have done a lot of things. But we decided to scare the crap out the little con artist instead.

We rummaged through the files and found some old court documents from several years back when Hubert was trying to get the ranch away from Lex.  They still looked like they were in good shape, so we sat Mel down in the den and started the Lex and Amanda Community Play House’s version of that new stage play, “Do Your Homework.”  And we made sure that Lorrie was at Martha’s so that she couldn’t interrupt and blow our story to bits.

“Do you know what this is, Mel?” Lex asked as she sat Mel on her lap. She handed me the document to unfold.

Melanie shook her head ‘no’.

I unfolded the document and gave it back.  Lex quickly passed the court document in front or our daughter’s eyes so that she could see that it was official.

“There is a man in prison right now who should have done his homework and found out that this exists. Because he didn’t, he did something that got him arrested and convicted and put in prison for 15 years.”

Mel’s eyes widened and she swallowed hard.

Lex looked at me, because she couldn’t lie to the kids without them knowing it immediately. I, on the other hand, had no such problem.

“Mel,” I said, “a man came to our house and asked for your Momma. When Lex came to the door, he handed her a paper like this and said that she had been served.”  When Mel’s expression showed that she didn’t understand, I said, “That means that she was being taken to court because the paper said that another person claimed that her land blocked the neighbor’s land from having access to water. And the neighbor needed water for his cattle.  It was all a lie, Mel.”

“He lied?”

“Yes. The way the document was worded made it look like we had done something very wrong. But it also said that the neighbor would settle for a half-million dollars so that they could bring in their own water source.”

“What did you and momma do?”

“We did our homework, which is something that the man should have done. You see, he used the name that he had seen on the fencepost at the entryway to that property when he made up his phony story and tried to sue us. But, when your momma bought that land eight years ago, she never got around to painting over that name.  We double checked and, sure enough, the man was trying to fool us into paying him a lot of money for what turned out to be our own property.  We also found out that no one had filed any lawsuit against us, and the whole thing was an attempt to get his hands on our money.

“He should have gone to the county assessor’s office because they have the name of the owners of all the land in this county. Then he would have known not to mess with us. But he didn’t do his homework.”

Mel gulped. Her eyes started to show that she knew we were going to talk about her homework.

“It turns out that this man had made a lot of money from other people who believed what was in his phony court summons. They paid him off so that they wouldn’t have the expense of a trial.”

“But you knew he was lying, right mommy?”

“Not right away. But when we did our own homework, we realized that he was a very bad man and we sent the sheriff after him.”

I took a glimpse at Lex’s face. She seemed positively captivated by my story. In fact, she said, “What happened next?” Then she realized that she had been caught up in the story and cleared her throat and tried again. “You should tell Mel what happened next.”

“Mel. Because he was such a bad man and had taken so much money from people that he had no right to sue, the judge put him prison for at least 15 years.”

“Do you know why we are telling you about this, Mel?” Lex asked. Sure, I go though concocting all these details and Lex gets to bring it home and tell Mel the moral of the story.

“You should always do your homework. You may have done the same thing before, but you should always do your homework so that you don’t get into trouble one way or another.”

Mel started crying, sobbing, snot running down her face. “I’m sorry, “she cried.  “I’ll bring my homework home.”

Guess whose impeccable timing caused her to return from Martha’s just then?  Mel ran to her sister and clung to her and pleaded, “Don’t let Sheriff Jeremy take me to jail!” Mel was inconsolable and her sister was pissed off.

Lorrie held her sister while she cried and asked us accusingly, “What did you two do this time?”

Amanda.

Now Who Doesn’t Love John Cleese

To my sister Jeannie’s dismay, I do not get British comedies. The closest thing to a British comedy that I enjoyed was the movie, A Fish Called Wanda.  Jeannie insists that it wasn’t really a British comedy, but it had John Cleese, and who in their right mind doesn’t love John Cleese?

So she recorded a few of her favorites for me to watch when we dropped Teddy off after school one afternoon.  I’d picked Teddy and my girls up and met Jeannie at the front door. She pressed an iced tea into my hand and relieved me of my purse and keys before steering me to her living room and starting up the DVR.

For an hour and a half, she made me watch her favorites, Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served, and Keeping Up Appearances.  I stared at the television for an hour and a half while my kids seemed to catch on right away and loved them all.

From time to time, their giggles would fill the air and Jeannie would look at me to see if I got the jokes. I didn’t.  First of all, were there jokes? All were situational comedies about people that I’d rather not know by any means, and the last one really got my hackles up.  About half-way through Keeping Up Appearances, Jeannie put her finger on why I was becoming more and more hostile toward the main character, Hyacinth Bucket, who insisted on pronouncing her last name as “Bouquét”.

“Doesn’t she remind you of mom before she went bat shit?” Jeannie asked.   “Always wanted to impress people with her wealth and social connections?”

That was it. Before she started embezzling corporate funds, hiring hit men to kill my wife, burning down our home, and kidnapping my daughter.  If she hadn’t gone down that path, would I have found her social climbing activities to be as funny as Jeannie thinks Hyacinth Bucket’s are?  No, I don’t think so.  I never did find her funny.  I guess, Jeannie, being the younger of the two of us and married to someone that my mother found acceptable, didn’t have to go through all the trauma that my mother put me through. And later, Lex and our family.

Thank god she had the good graces to run out in front of Lex’s truck and put an end to all our suffering. Poor Lex. She really felt guilty about leaving tire tracks on dear old mum.  But I was relieved. And thankful.  Even though it was an accident on Lex’s part. She had no way of avoiding my lunatic mother. But at least it stopped all the insanity.

I bet Richard Bucket has had similar thoughts about pushing Hyacinth in front of oncoming traffic. It reminds me of Dad, always trying to make peace while my mother ran roughshod over him.  Turning away from the man my grandparents raised him to be in order to please his psycho wife.

Afterward, I explained how Keeping Up Appearances brought back so many painful memories and my sister understood.

But what about Are You Being Served?  Torture. No bad memories, but it’s just plain god awful.

And John Cleese in Fawlty Towers?  I could learn to hate John Cleese.

Amanda.