Ed. — This column originally ran in the Friday, Sept. 20, print edition.
PUNGO — On Labor Day, the end of our summer, we are together in the madhouse, making coffee, figuring out chores, awaiting the start of the new school year and, as ever, watching talking cartoon dogs on TV.
The five year old’s favorite show is Paw Patrol, starring heroic pooches with a limitless budget for convenient gadgets. She is rapt while the team of anthropomorphic dogs fights a giant mechanical bad guy.
“Oh no it’s a fire-breathing robot monster,” a helpful cartoon farmer says just before the creature breathes a ball of fire into a silo.
“Not the silo. We just filled it with corn.”
That, dear readers, is why you take your harvest straight to the granary.
“What’s that popping sound?” the cartoon farmer asks. Suddenly, it’s raining popcorn, but the Paw Patrol arrives to cool down the silo with nozzles in their backpacks. Where the heck is the water coming from?
I can’t help myself. This is nonsense. I explain how field corn isn’t popcorn.
“It just catches on fire and burns,” the 13 year old says.
Not from experience, I hope.
The five year old is unbothered.
“That still has to happen,” she says.
I sip my coffee. The five year old sips her “coffee.” Hers is a mug of milk with a tiny splash of coffee. Tomorrow is kindergarten.
When I was a young boy, I made coffee for my mother in the morning, served it to her with milk before she left for work. I learned to drink my coffee black like my grandmother took her coffee in her small, busy kitchen. In the Navy, I retrieved our shop’s ration of “universal grind” from deep within our ship.
Coffee sometimes carries the weight of memory.
How will the girls remember it? As accompanying some half-forgotten cartoon they used to love? A scent that recalls the nerves of the day before school? What they pretended was in their mug when they played at being old like their parents?
The 13 year old speaks of a movie she watched. “Dad, Aquaman was not good.”
“Don’t be like your dad,” my wife says, poking her head in from the kitchen. “Always picking it apart if it’s not good.”
“It was not good,” the 13 year old says.
“There was a time when it was fun to watch movies with him,” my wife says. “That time has come and gone.”
“He doesn’t make comments at the movies,” the 13 year old says, horrified.
“He certainly did during Elizabeth,” my wife says, picking a very old scab.
Elizabeth looked great, but it took too many liberties with reality. It is, in my memory, the Paw Patrol of historical drama.
The 13 year old reads a quote on my coffee mug: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
“I don’t know what it’s from, but it’s funny,” she says.
It’s a quote from Yogi Berra. I start to explain how some of the things people say he said were not really said by –
“Yogi Bear?” the 11 year old asks.
Yogi Berra. He caught for the Yankees. He was a person and not a cartoon bear.
“Paw Patrol doesn’t make sense,” the 11 year old says.
“Yeah,” the 13 year old says, “even if you suspend disbelief about them being dogs talking like humans.”
The five year old doesn’t care what we say. The TV is on loud so she can hear Paw Patrol. It’s the last day of summer, so we allow it. The five year old is nervous about her first day of kindergarten.
“Don’t ever say that word again,” the five year old says. “There might be bullies there.”
“Creeds is a very safe school,” the 13 year old says.
“Look on the bright side,” says the 11 year old, about to start her first day of middle school. “You have five years until middle school. Five years until torture.”
“You can’t say that yet,” the 13 year old says. “You can start complaining about middle school tomorrow.”
The five year old eats slowly, listens to the brightly colored nonsense of Paw Patrol.
“It’s more like a spy rescue,” she offers, explaining the plot to her old man.
So why were they dressed like firefighters?
“Before the skydiving one, they were dressed like police. For the skydiving one, they were dressed like skydivers. For this one, they’re dressed like firefighters.”
There you go.
“I’m a grownup,” the five year old says, “because I’m drinking a coffee and I’m in kindergarten and I have brown hair.”
Kindergarten. Middle school. High school is around the corner. On it goes.
My wife joins us. We eat together on the last day of our summer.
On TV, a cartoon boy asks a talking dog to help defeat another challenge.
“Skye, do you still have that antenna?”
“You know me,” the dog replies. “I hold on to everything.”
And then the day is saved.
© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC