Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Averages

Exotic is a relative term. Growing up, we were all so alike on my street -- pale, Northern European types, kinda smart, kinda athletic. Exotic required nothing more than, say, red hair, a Cuban mother, or double-jointed thumbs.

The neighborhood held few mysteries for us. Even our houses shared the same floor plan. Most dads worked for a corporation, most kids belonged to a team – swim team, tennis team, forensics team. Most moms didn’t work, they volunteered.

Parents planned for two children, one of each. When that didn't work, a third attempt often proved successful. And if not, the family settled on three of a kind and a dog.

The McGillicutts broke all the rules. To begin with, they didn’t look like any of us. They were tall, I mean, really really tall, like sequoias in the middle of a citrus grove. My dad, normally an imposing presence, looked small next to Mrs. McGillicutt, his head thrown back and hers forward when they talked, like student to teacher. And Mrs. McGillicutt did not wear the regulation fluffy Clairol bob, her hair formed a massive shiny black bun on the back of her neck.

Then there was religion. In the land of casual protestants, the McGillicutts were practicing catholics. That’s why they had so many children, my parents explained, and why they continued to have more children – a total of six boys and one girl -- even though two of the kids, Brad and Brian, had a genetic form of retardation. That’s what it was called at the time.

I could go on and on. Mr and Mrs were rocket scientists, but even better, the Mr. had six toes on his left foot. Something he showed us on our demand.

Aside from Brad and Brian, members of the McGillicutt tribe weren’t smart, they were crazy brilliant, including my friend Maureen. At a sleepover, Maureen would attempt to discuss particle acceleration while the rest of us took the Do Boys Think You’re Cute? quiz in Tiger Beat. Maureen was a 9 year old learning the beauty of calculus, the rest of us were 9 years olds learning the effect of scotch tape on frizzy bangs.

In spite of it all, because of it all, aside from it all, the McGillcutts were easily the most popular family around. They brought a huge sweetness to the neighborhood; a giant chocolate chip to our oatmeal. They enthusiastically liked all of us, we enthusiastically liked all of them and their swimming pool. Because of the sweetness and the pool, and because two of the boys were slow, we didn't hold the rest of the family's massive intelligence against them. It all averaged out.

As rude little hellions, we yelled “Retardo!” across the playground when someone of our similar talent screwed up. But we never yelled that to the two brothers, anymore than Maureen would have yelled that to us, or their parents to our parents.

These were the single digit years, when we just started to learn that, around any corner, we might find ourselves far ahead or far behind. Pain and grace waited everywhere, even in the middle.

35 comments:

  1. That final paragraph: Fitzgerald. This piece is the beginning of a novel.

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  2. Hi Karin !! You have become a write now before this your occupation was Between Engagements.:).

    Nice words !!

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  3. damn, girl! you have taken my breath away yet again! despite my jovial exterior, I hate your superior writing talent with a cold, bitter fire!

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  4. Are you typing this first on a vintage typewriter, KB? It just somehow feels like you are...

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  5. Your writing creates a wonderful scene in my brain - one I never knew but have imagined. Living overseas, we were ALL McGillicutts without knowing it.

    I love your love of this family!

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  6. Maureen, have you written about her before? A sweet story. I especially appreciate the sixth toe. I would have wanted to see that repeatedly.

    I know a woman from a similarly brilliant family but her's is more of a "running with scissors" story.

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  7. Girlfriend you are one helluva writer. I'm like Sage, you've taken my breath away. As always you can make me laugh out loud in one sentence and tear up the next. It's a gift I tell ya, a real gift you have. You should be screaming "Retardo" at moi!
    V

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  8. I'm so glad you like this. If it makes you feel any better, Sage, this one didn't come easy at all for me. At one point I was working with five pages.

    WV: endsif

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  9. You cut it down just right. The detail is fabulous - I think I had a subscription to Tiger Beat, but I'd forgotten all about it. I agree with Mr Earl - that last paragraph is something else.

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  10. I don't know if this is partially in response to Sarah Palin's grumblings about the the Down's Syndrome girl who played a Down's Syndrome girl on Family Guy but it just goes to show that life is not about sound bites, name calling, and finger pointing, not a full life anyway. And vernacular is what it is. Who would have thought that calling someone gay could become as common as calling each other retardo? Children just seem to know how to make ugly adult words more layered AND in a strange way somewhat endearing.

    What a lovely, complex portrait you've painted in just a few words about the wonder of childhood. More, more, more.

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  11. We were a three of a kind and a dog.

    GG

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  12. These damned early birds say all the good stuff.

    Note that what we see and like is unanimous -- interesting and appealing throughout, then that final paragraph. Wham.

    I assume and hope there will be more.

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  13. Wonderful!!! I saw myself and my neighborhood...

    and I'm with Virginia...you make me laugh and tear up, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph!!!

    You are a wonderful writer!!!

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  14. Could we say: Everything in life is a relative term?

    Anyway, a nice picture!

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  15. I echo all the praise!!! What more can I say? Wow!

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  16. i like the second and third paragraphs, a perfect description of that safe time we thought would never end, like we were entitled to perfect prosperity and assurance forever. We were Americans! so long ago...

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  17. Like this story immensely, KB.
    As others have mentioned the last paragraph, to me, it leaves space for the reader's imagination and own conclusion.
    Like what you said, too, Ken Mac. I think your comment may have hit on the essence of it, or at least in part.

    Despite all the more recent hype of "diversity", and how we should all be constantly vigilant of how we interact with one another, as far as our society goes, we've all pretty well had a handle on it as long as I can remember.

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  18. I LOVE your superior writing talent. Love it. Did the schmucks at The New Yorker wake up yet??

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  19. PS - your neighborhood sounded what I (as I'm sure everyone else in foreign lands expected 'Amerika' to be like. But wasn't in wider LA. Which was disappointing to a 12-yr-old, but OK to a 14-yr-old 2 years later.

    WV: sessessw - what's up with that?

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  20. Thank you, all of you. Your comments meant a lot to me.

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  21. Dang, I'm late to this fabulous party. Let me pile on, girlfriend. This IS the beginning of a novel. Write your memoir. Then remember all of us when you win the National Book Award!!!

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  22. Chiming in late once again, but had to add to the gooey gushing: This is definitely going in my list of my favorite posts from you. It's just perfect.

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  23. If you've seen one No Euro, you've seen them all?

    An Above Average blog article!

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  24. I like the ones that don't come easy.

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  25. For the record, this is at the top of my list with about 50 others.
    V

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  26. I think I lived in your neighborhood!

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  27. For these comments, I'm buying you all breakfast.

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  28. Like Bandit, my ditto to Ken Mac. Excellent observation.

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  29. I am proud!

    Foreigner

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