It came from beneath the cabbage leaf |

It came from beneath the cabbage leaf

Jon de Vos

I spent last weekend testing Einstein’s theories of time and relativity.

The relatives in question were my wife’s 8-year-old great nephew, Fred, and his 6-year-old sister, Lydia. The time was a weekend while their parents were out of town in quest of that rarest of commodities in child-rearing, mental health.

Sure enough, Einstein was right, the closer the kids got to our house, the longer time stretched out. Once they were actually inside our house, time simply stopped. To the casual observer outside the house, a normal 48 hours went by. But to the occupants inside the house, mountains crumbled. It was a physics experiment that put a whole new interpretation on the phrase, “shaky grip on reality.”

I was at the workbench, doing the manly things that guys do with power tools, when the garage door opened and my wife backed her car in, fresh from a trip to the grocery store. When she stopped, I opened the rear deck of her car to a pretty impressive array of meats and vegetables, fresh fruit, frozen popsicles, cheese, and pasta of several varieties.

“Hey,” I said, surveying the sea of plastic bags, “what’s up with the popsicles?”

She looked at me, disbelievingly.

“We’ve talked about this for months.” she said, “This is the weekend we volunteered to be stand-in parents for Fred and Lydia.”

Fred is in that frightening stage of development that child psychologists refer to as “eight.” Lydia, likewise, is “six.”

Search my memory as best I could, I could not remember actually volunteering anything of the sort, but I sleep occasionally, so anything’s possible.

“Wow,” I said, searching for words to express how I really felt. After some careful deliberation, I cleared my throat politely and said, “NOOOO, PWEEZE, NOOOO! WAAAAAH!”

I opened one eye and looked at her.

She was staring back. She tilted her forehead in my direction without taking her eyes off mine.

“When you’re done, bring in the groceries. Put the frozen stuff in the freezer, please,” and she headed into the kitchen. Then she paused and Baretta-like, looked over her shoulder and added, “Oh, yes, Fred’s requested a science-fiction movie this evening, nothing too scary.”

“Oh, sure,” I replied, “you’re the one that invited them. Make me entertain them while, what, you nap? Remember that time I emptied the dishwasher? How come I have to do everything around here? What are you going to do for them? “

She looked at me for several moments.

“I’m glad you asked,” she said slowly. “As soon as they arrive, I’ll help them unpack. My first project with the kids is to decorate and dye some cool Halloween T-shirts.

Fred and Lydia each have a dollar to spend so I’m taking them on a shopping spree at the Party Store where I will also help them pick out their Halloween costumes.

“We’ll walk the dogs as soon as we get home, then we’ll all wash our little hands and they’ll decorate sugar cookies while I make spaghetti for dinner. Then I’ll let the kids pick out the flavors for the ice cream that we’ll churn up for dessert.

“After that, I’m taking them bowling at the alley in Grand Lake followed by a drive into Rocky Mountain National Park to hear the elk bugle. When we get home, I’ll help the kids with baths and put them to bed because tomorrow’s a busy day. But don’t worry, we’ll do our best not to disturb whatever it is you do with all your little tools out there.”

“Oh,” I said, “I see. Well, in that case, I’ll just leave the frozen stuff here on the workbench. The temperature’s dropped by 30 degrees in here in the last couple of minutes.”

She makes it sound so one-sided but I did my part. I firmly believe that children should get a thorough grounding in the classics, so after a lot of careful deliberation, I dug deep into the vault for an overlooked gem, the final year of episodes in the 1940 season finale of Gene Autry’s, The Phantom Empire, among cinema’s earliest serial cliffhangers.

It was Gene Autry’s first leading role in what had to be the wackiest serial ever. Doggone the luck, if the Singing Cowboy didn’t buy a ranch that had a secret 5-mile elevator down to the lost civilization of Mu. Gene and his troupe of guitar-slinging cowpokes spend half of each hard-filmed episode above ground fighting evil research scientists, intent upon separating him from his radium-rich ranch. The other half of the episode is spent below ground unsuccessfully evading the mysterious, albeit noisy, Thunder Riders who keep dragging Gene and his sidekicks off to Mu where fantastic adventures wind them up in a terrible plight, usually ending in their hanging from a cliff.

I think Fred liked the movie better than bowling.

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