Category Archives: Iowa

The Straw Man

In debate and discourse the “Straw Man” is the character the debater draws up in his narrative that he will use to represent his opponent which he will then be able to knock down as easily as if he were a scarecrow made of straw.

So, Mickey will make a straw man to represent Republicans. He is looking forward to knocking that straw man down to the ground or below.

And Mickey will make the scarecrow out of Iowa Senator Charles Grassley. Made out of corn husks is almost the same as made out of straw, right? And Grassley is around nine hundred years old, so if there is any of the old iron left in his soul, it has long since dissolved into rust. Mickey’s verbal fists will not get broken bones in them.

I once shook Charles Grassley’s hand back in the 1970’s at the Wright County Fair in Eagle Grove, Iowa. He asked me to vote for him because I lived in his district, and he meant to do the right thing in Washington for the average hard-working farm family. So, I voted for him in 1976. And I did not regret that vote. Of course, that was the real Grassley. Not the corn-husk man Mickey is making for this essay.

I used to respect Republicans. Certain Republicans, anyway. The ones that still stood for something good. The ones who supported the Eisenhower Administration’s platform.

This was the Republican Party in the year that I was born. These were some of the principles that Mickey’s corn-husk man promised to uphold.

But then came Ronny Ray-Gun.

And the Republican Party got remade. They became the party of rich people. Ronny Ray-Gun introduced Voodoo Economics (a theory given its name by George HW Bush.)

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” said Ronny.

Of course, he meant, “If you’re not rich enough to own a boat, you can drown and we won’t care.”

And the corn-husk man, Mickey’s Straw Man in this argument, could’ve objected, and insisted Congress did not go down the yellow-brick road that Ronny laid out for the GOP. Instead, he said Ray-Gun was a truly great President, and he proceeded to make himself rich enough to buy a boat, something his average farmer-constituents did not have.

And when the conservatives on the Supreme Court handed an election victory to Lonesome George the Rodeo Clown that he probably didn’t actually win, Mickey’s corn-husk-filled Straw Man thought, “Isn’t it wonderful that we get to be in power without winning an election first!”

And the Straw Man went on to help the GOP faithful (now less the Grand Old Party, and more the Greedy Old Poopheads) put a justice on the Supreme Court who sexually harassed a black woman and never apologized for it, and a justice who likes beer enough to not remember trying to rape a teenage girl at a party when he was also a teen and caused Mickey’s Straw Man to be outraged… not at the Justice’s attempted crime, but at the fact that Democrats wanted to investigate the crime he committed.

And then came the years of The Donald, allegedly born of an orangutan and allegedly the winner of the 2016 election, and all the monkey poo that the king of all monkeys could fling. And Mickey’s Straw Man failed to remove him after he was impeached…. twice in fact.

Such is the nature of Straw Men. All of the Republican Straw Men are pretty much the same. I have a grudging respect for Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowsky, Jeff Flake, and Liz Cheney. And I haven’t made up my mind about Susan Collins… because she, like any Straw Man, can’t make up her own mind. But even those few believe in Ronny Ray-Gun’s boat theory.

So, now Mickey should deliver a haymaker or two on the corn-husk-filled Straw Man. He should be easy to knock down. But all the Iowa voters… and Texas voters too… have straw where their brains ought to be. This is why the party of the farmers was once-upon-a-time known as the Know-Nothing Party. So, knocking down the Straw Man has no visible effect on the votes of any of them. Oh, well… Mickey tried.

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Filed under angry rant, humor, Iowa, Paffooney, politics

No Way Home

I went to the Spiderman movie yesterday whose title provides the title for today’s post. But this is not a movie review… other than to say that it is, in my opinion, the best Spiderman movie ever made. It is the best Spiderman movie because is brings together so many story threads from so many other movies that, like the previous Marvel movie Endgame, it creates an ultimate completeness that satisfies the needs of someone like me who needs stories about life that have a beginning, middle, and end. That’s what this story is about.

This little girl in this old picture is my distant cousin Patty Berilla. She was older than me by about three years. She was the first non-sister girl I ever saw naked. I was five, and I was talking to her, and I followed her into the bathroom. She had to pee and had no younger brothers and mostly older sisters. So, she was not shy, and kept right on talking to me. Until one of her older sisters got mad and pulled me out of there and made Patty close the door. I remember being good friends with her during that week’s vacation at the Opal and Louis Berilla home in Cleveland, Ohio. We saw seals and polar bears and a baby giraffe at the Cleveland zoo. And when we went to the Museum of Science and Technology, there were two statues on either side of the main door, a man and a woman, both of them nude. Patty thought that was very wrong to be naked in public. She was even more shocked at the invisible woman medical presentation inside. The nude woman was made of glass. And they lit up the parts inside with colored lights, showing first the muscles under the skin. Then the organs, respiratory system, nervous system, and finally the skeleton. Patty told me that that awful woman got naked down to the bones. For some reason the adults laughed at that more than Patty and I did.

She became a nurse. My mother was also a Registered Nurse. There are a number of nurses in our family. I never saw Patty more than twice in the intervening years of our lives. But in 2020 she caught Covid 19 while working in the ER. She died on a ventilator in that same ER. I actually cried when my mother told me about this last summer. It surprised my family. I was crying for someone I was distantly related to that I probably wouldn’t have recognized if I saw her again as an adult. All I really knew about her life was what she looked like naked when she was seven-and-a-half years old. But I loved her not just for who she was and what she taught me about life when I was little, but for what she sacrificed and how she died.

I wonder if anyone holds on to a memory of seeing me naked at seven and a half riding my bike in the Bingham Park Woods. No one saw me that I know of.

I lost both of my parents in the Covid pandemic. Neither of them died of the pandemic virus. Dad was lost to late-stage Parkinson’s disease. Mom died of complications with both her heart and her kidneys. Covid interfered with both of their hospice stays, but they never got the viral infection.

When the pandemic began, I anticipated that I would catch it and die. When my number two son came down with it that first summer, before the vaccine, I figured my last week of life had come. But when the quarantine was over and I got tested, the test was negative. But I began to see then that it would be impossible to ever really go home again. It was not just a matter of travel restrictions and quarantines. The home I knew was no longer really there. It’s like John Steinbeck said, “You can’t go home again
because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.”

The Spiderman movie, No Way Home, is about Spiderman’s identity as Peter Parker and everybody who knows his secret identity as a superhero. Peter Parker does not get the chance to go home again even more severely than my own sad case.

So, what I have to do is salvage my own secret identity. I am a story-teller and a cartoonist. But very few people know that. Mine is an identity easily erased by my looming demise.

There is no longer a hope of going home again. It’s the mothballs of memory situation. Now, the thing that remains to be done is to finish weaving together the threads of the story of my life and times, and make of it a masterpiece of a tapestry… so that it can go into the mothballs with flair.

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Filed under family, feeling sorry for myself, heroes, insight, Iowa

In Defense of Corny Jokes

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It will probably be clear that I am writing this post because I am currently reading 1941 daily strips from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner.

But I am definitely going to talk about corny jokes, not cheesy jokes, because I grew up in Iowa, not Wisconsin.

And, yes, that is example number one.

There is a certain way of telling a joke or tall tale that is unique to the farmyard.   And it does not contain chicken poop, but rather, corn.

Untoitled

Of course, as you can see by this corn-colored definition of what corny means according to Collins Online Dictionary, the word is supposed to be an insult to corniness in jokery.  That doesn’t sit well with the people of Iowa, where the tall corn grows.  We are also obvious, sentimental, and not at all original.  And we are proud of it.  Corny360_2017-06-19-17-17-44-339

To tell a corny joke right, you have to set a simple scene, and make it clear what happened, and give the audience a simple cue for when to laugh.

For instance, there was the time that Cudgel Murphy had a cat problem with his car, the 1954 Austin Hereford that he has driven since dinosaurs walked the earth.  It seems there was this time in 1988 when he kept having engine trouble.  The engine would sputter and cough and die, and when Cudgel opened it, he would find a half-eaten dead pigeon or other random bird carcass gumming up the works.  He couldn’t for the life of him figure out how dead birds were getting into his car engine.  But his grandson Danny happened to see the neighbor’s big tabby tomcat carrying a pigeon he had killed under the front of Grampy’s car, apparently enjoying a fowl meal in the dark with a nice warm engine to lay the food on.  Sure enough, when they checked the engine later, there was the half-eaten dead bird laying across one end of the fan belt.

So Cudgel set up a vigil, assigning times for himself, Danny, and his younger grandson Mike to watch for signs of that damned cat taking another bird under the hood of the Austin. With only two day’s worth of watching under their belts, Mike came running into the Murphy kitchen with the news.

“Grampy!  I seen that damned cat taking a dead bird under your car!  He’s in there right now!”

So Cudgel rushed out, turned the engine on, and stomped on the gas.

cudgels car

There were some worrisome thumps and bangs under the hood, and then the cat shot out from under the front of the car spewing howls and cat curses all the way up the nearest tree.

Cudgel laughed hard and finally caught his breath to say, “How about that, Mike?  I’ll bet James Bond doesn’t have a car that can shoot angry cats out the front!”

Now, before you chastise me for enjoying cruelty to cats, I hope you will remember that Cudgel Murphy is a fictional character, and I am merely illustrating the idea behind corny jokes.  And, besides, that cat really had it coming to him.

 

 

 

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Filed under goofy thoughts, humor, Iowa, Paffooney, satire, Uncategorized, writing humor

The Beginning of Night

Yesterday my 89-year-old father went into the hospital. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and a heart no longer strong enough to keep his blood pressure up. Apparently yesterday he lost the ability, possibly only temporarily, to recognize my mother.

This is not a good time to lose my father. There is never a good time, but now my health is failing. I had to make deals with relatives to get someone to drive me up to Iowa for the annual visit to the family farm during the pandemic which is now spiraling out of control in Texas. My wife and I are both diabetics and at risk. If we accidentally take COVID 19 up to Iowa, I could wipe out all four of us. And I developed a cough and chest pain overnight. At least now I can make a case for getting a COVID test.

I know a post like this goes against the rules for a good blog post. It is entirely too personal and self-focused. But it is necessary sometimes to confess your fears before you confront them. I have had my father and mother in my life for the entirety of my 64 years. They have both lived good, long, and fruitful lives. And a time for passing comes to us all. I have been far luckier in holding back the night than the vast majority of people. But the only immortality we can ever hope to have is through passing on the small part of the universal story that belongs only to each of us individually. “I am a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, I have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to me (And at this moment… it is not) the universe is unfolding… as it should” – a paraphrase from Desiderata.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, family, insight, Iowa, the road ahead, Uncategorized

What Is Making My Ears Bleed?

Don’t panic. I’m okay. Or if you don’t like me at all, don’t get overly happy in anticipation. I actually know why my ears keep bleeding. It is the skin on the top and sides of my ears peeling off and bleeding because of moderate-plaque psoriasis. I just like the way that title sounds. All dripping with ill omens and horror-movie anxiety. I am not becoming a zombie or anything. I just look and feel like one.

I am feeling a little bit old and pointless, what with the pandemic worsening in Texas, my father’s health deteriorating in darkly concerning ways, and the upcoming decision about whether or not I get to return to Iowa this summer. It’s definitely in doubt this year. My parents are both octogenarians and there is the risk of carrying virus anywhere near them. Not to mention the risk of death the virus presents to me. And I am feeling ill. Not with Covid 19. I have no symptoms of that. But I have a stomach virus. My psoriasis is fierce. And I do not have the physical energy to drive myself all the way to Iowa. The prospect of not being able to go home again for another year is weighing heavily on my soul. That is why I have been busy with maudlin posts about dead movie stars like yesterday’s post.

There’s a certain minimum amount of time needed for re-connection with my roots, my childhood, the people and places that gave rise to me. The picture above is one of my Great Grandmother, Nellie Hinckley. She is one of the founders of my world. A Goddess responsible for giving life to my mother’s side of the family. She passed into the World of the Remembered in 1980, when I painted this picture. Soon my parents will be joining her and my grandparents from both sides of the family in that world where everything is summed up in old photographs. And I shall surely follow soon… if not proceed them. I wonder if anyone will lift a brush to Remember me?

And yet, no matter how it turns out, I have much to get on with. I am not done telling stories. I have had little success in selling my books so far. I can barely give them away. But the work of it gives my life just enough purpose and meaning to keep me alive longer than the insurance industry, my Texas teacher retirement plan, and the mortuary companies of the world would like me to. But, I promise to continue frustrating them further.

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Filed under family, feeling sorry for myself, humor, illness, Iowa, Paffooney

Living in My Head

Rowan, Iowa is a place full of memories. I was a boy there, from the time I was four and began remembering life until I was 24 and life in the real world moved to distant parts the focus of what I called “Home”.

As my life continues, long past the time I figured I would be allowed to live by my six incurable diseases, I find myself living more and more inside my own head. Truly, my failing physical health has isolated me more and more from the people I know and have relationships with. Instead of spending hours upon hours at work every week, I find myself confined to my bedroom where I maintain breathable air, doing little beyond reading and writing, watching movies and shows on Netflix, dreaming, remembering, and imagining. My “real-world” life has been ever the less active and ever more confined to a small space. But in my head, the opposite is true. I have lived in memory; revisiting places that have been changed or torn down since, and spending time with people whom I still see as children even though they are now grown in real life with children of their own, and spending time talking to people who live no more, anywhere but in my memory.

Some of those to whom I am talking are actually me, fictionalized versions of me, imagined as if something different had happened to me, or I had chosen different roads less traveled than the ones I actually walked upon.

Some are, naturally, people whom I have loved, seen through different colored lenses than I saw them when I saw them with my physical eyes.

And it is most definitely possible to see and re-interpret the things that happened to us in a very different light than the ones I saw it all in during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It helps to be able to put on the old time-traveler’s glasses to look again, not at how it really was, but how it really ought to be.

Everything I have just rambled on about in run-on sentences of purple paisley prose, is writer-thinking. It is the very thing that most probably goes on in your head too, since you are likely only reading this blog post because you are a writer too, and you find value in the ramblings of an old man who used to be a writing teacher and is now, very definitely, one of the goofier varieties of writer whom you can learn significant lessons from (even if only what not to do, because you are not as stupid as I am when it comes to writing).

Many of the things that happen now in my silly, stupid old head happen in places like the planet Mars or on board a star-ship headed to other parts of the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

I often live, as well, in the part of my head that is entirely made-up from galvanized, sauteed, or even moldy pieces of imagination. I live in places like the Mothership of the Telleron Explorers now in orbit around the planet Galtorr Prime. Or Animal Town in the middle of the country of Fantastica where I met my wife, seen here as Mandy Panda from the Pandalore Islands.

Or even in the Willow-Tree Fortress known as Cair Tellos, the Capital of the Fairy Kingdom of Tellosia in Wright County, Iowa.

Living in the world when your body betrays you constantly can be horrible and hard. But living inside your head is easy. And I actually plan to do more of it before the final page is turned in the Book of my Life.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, goofy thoughts, Iowa, irony, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Waiting for the Curtain to Fall…

Firefang

The Amazon rain forest is burning. It filters our atmosphere, removing carbon, and producing about 20 percent of our breathable air. The Latin Trump, newly elected leader of Brazil, wants it to burn to make arable land for growing soybeans to sell to China and profit over the Pumpkinhead President’s stupid trade war.

I already worry about having a heart attack at any moment. I can’t afford insulin for my diabetes, or another trip to the emergency room. The next concerning chest pain may well be the onset of the end of everything for me. If it is just another mystery pain caused by the inflamed joints in my rib cage, or the arthritic bones pressing on my spinal chord, I will not be able to pay for the inevitable surgery I discussed with doctors before. Better for my heart to go boom and the suffering to end.

But I believe in the Dylan Thomas solution. “Do not go gentle into that good night, rather, Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!”

So, how do I do that? How do I rage against the end of days? Whether for the entire planet facing heat death and a destroyed environment, or just for myself?

I will write the next home-town novel about the boy who cannot die. I am calling it A Boy Forever… at least for now. That’s a working title.

The Paffooney for today pictures Firefang, a girl who comes to the little town of Norwall, Iowa, against her will with her adoptive oriental father. She is not the protagonist. Young Icarus Jones is that. Rather, she is the antagonist, the fire-breathing troubled teen dissatisfied with life and longing for chaos and escape.

This will not be a teen romantic comedy. Well, not only that, anyway. It will be a book about an imprisoned dragon, the undying, and the undead. It will be about murder and the quest for immortality. I am working on the plot of it as an epistolary novel, made up of letters, interviews, and first-person accounts. And it will be both funny and sad, both an allegory and a farce, a parody and a prose poem.

Okay, I know it’s a tall order. But when faced with imminent death, you gotta do something, right? I intend to write another novel.

The picture is modeled after a girl from Brazil that I met over the internet, on Twitter. The character is not based on her. I barely know her. But I used her internet selfie to draw the picture portrait of Firefang.

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Filed under horror writing, humor, Iowa, novel, novel plans, Paffooney

Where the Heart Lives

Every year that passes, life becomes more challenging, more difficult.

Ill health denies me many things. The poverty that comes with ill health and teacher retirement denies me even more. But I made it home to Iowa to visit the family farm once more. It could well be the last time. My parents are in their 80’s and more ill than I am. I lost my aunt a little more than a week ago. She passed away one day after her 80th birthday. Nothing is permanent. But those things that resist the ravages of time, the places, the people, the culture, the wind in the corn…

…Give me comfort, give me peace.

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Filed under autobiography, family, Iowa, sharing from YouTube

Generations Gone Before

Of the people in the school picture from Rowan Rural School #4 (a one-room schoolhouse from Midwestern history and lore) all the ones who survive are octogenarians. Three of the survivors were at our family reunion for Great Grandma Hinckley’s descendants. My mother and uncle were there. Their cousin was also there. The school house stood on the Aldrich corner, near the house where my Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived, the farm house of a farm that’s been in the family for over a hundred years. My mother and Uncle Don and Uncle Larry could easily walk there. The rest came from country miles around by horse-drawn wagon.

This is not a school-bus wagon, but rather, an oat-seed spreader. So, almost the same.

Uncle Larry is now gone, but they have survived from the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the time of Criminal President Doofenschmertz Jehosephat Trumpennoodle. Things have changed. The house I now sit in was, back then, a place with a windmill and hand-pump for water, an outhouse for bathroom chores, and a radio for entertainment.

If they hadn’t endured through World War Two, and Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, and the assassination of JFK, we wouldn’t even be here. We are the children of hardship, endurance, and conviction of the rightness of life on Earth.

We saw progress through the creation of Disneyland, landing the first man on the surface of the moon, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Scooby Doo, and the Pink Panther… Nixon and his Watergate break-in, Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk, Laugh-in… President Ford falling down stairs, Saturday Night Live, the Peanut-farmer President, Reaganomics… the Iranian hostage crisis… Saved by the Bell, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones… The invasion of Panama… Operation Desert Storm… the second war in Iraq… the downfall of Saddam Hussein… Thundercats, Jerry Seinfeld, Friends, the Wonder Years…

I am especially impressed that they lived through all those Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons. And Leisure Suits… Aagh!

Mother’s entryway table with pictures of Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich in the back

And their time is not completely up. Mother and Dad and Uncle Don still move on and go to reunions and bury loved ones… and tend to the needs of grandkids and great-grandkids… And pass on the good things to the next generation… and the next. So it goes, towards times not yet dreamed of.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 5

Canto Five – Everyone is Naked Under Their Clothes

The night was typical.  Six nasty old hens pecked Valerie’s hands as she searched under them for eggs.  The last one of those took a girl-fist to the side of the head.  That, of course, didn’t faze the stupid hen.  Chickens apparently have their brains hidden safely in their butts.  But chores always came to an end.  Mom was always sympathetic about chicken-stupidity-caused peck marks, and rubbed salve on them, visible wound or not.  Then it was time to finish any homework needed, and up to bed.  And Val always slept naked under the quilts and comforters.    She slept well because… well, because naked was good when you were asleep.

Morning came, as mornings do, with a stupid rooster crowing the sun up.  Of course, if hens are stupid, roosters, having the additional mental handicap of being male, were stupid times ten.  No, stupid times twenty.  Beau the rooster always got it wrong.  The sun was never actually up until at least a half hour after the stupid rooster claimed it was up.  Chicken pot pie.  As Valerie pried her eyes open, she imagined chicken pot pie cooking on Mom’s stove.  Beau-flavored chicken pot pie.

When she got to the bathroom, Daddy Kyle was already in there shaving.  No problem.  Once again Valerie marched in naked as the day she was born, though with considerably more hair on her head.  She went straight to the shower, grabbed the shampoo off the shelf, and twisted the water on to just the right level of warm she always used.  Warm, soapy water all over your body… piles of foamy shampoo in your longish hair… it was a little like Eden must have felt to Eve.  And Eve liked being naked too… at least, until the mistake with the snake.  Of course, Eden had to end when the water began to grow cold.  Even in the summertime the well could put out near freezing levels of cold once the water heater was drained.

Kyle looked at her when she stepped out and grabbed a towel.

“No hot water left for me again, huh, Princess?”

“Sorry, Daddy.  I need a good hot shower in the mornings.”

“Shouldn’t you put on a robe or something, dearest?  You come in here every morning completely naked.  You are getting too old for that.”

“Old?  Too old for what?

“When a girl reaches a certain age, she starts to change.  When that happens, well…”

“But, Daddy, you are used to seeing me naked.  You changed my diapers while Mommy and I were still in the hospital after I was born.”

“I know… I know…  And it isn’t that there is anything wrong happening.  It’s just…”

“You can’t be getting shy.  I’ve seen you naked too… a lot.”

Kyle’s face reddened.   He was apparently trying hard to stutter on.

“When a girl reaches a certain age… well, she…”

“Yeah, she changes.  I know Dad.  Mom told me what to expect.  But honestly, I don’t even really have boob bumps yet.  I look like a little boy when I’m naked… except I don’t have one of those water hoses to pee with.”

She was standing with the towel in her hand, looking at him while she was completely bare and being mildly amused by his extreme discomfort.  He finally sat down on the closed cover of the commode, completely defeated.  She decided to push things a little.  She dropped the towel and went to sit on his knee even though she was a little damp around the edges and quite sincerely still naked.

“Princess…”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

“No… I mean, yes, I love you… but this is not a good thing for a big girl to be doing.  I worry you are getting so used to being naked around a man like me… even though I’m your Daddy… and one day… when boys, um… get curious… the way boys are… and, well…”

“If that’s what worries you, Daddy, no boy besides you has ever seen me naked.  And I won’t let a yucky thing like that happen… until the time is right.”

“Okay, but promise me the time is not right until you are thirty.”

“Daaaad!    You know everyone is actually naked under their clothes.  Everyone has a body… so no one should be ashamed of it.”  Surely he recognized that bit of wisdom.  After all, it is what he’d said to her on the subject more than once.

“Okay.  I trust you and believe in you.  But develop a little modesty maybe?  Put on a robe when you come in here.  Or wait till I’m done.”

“Don’t you like me like this?”

“I love you.  But you are getting to an age where you being naked like this around me… well… begins to get… um, uncomfortable.  And your little wet behind is making my pants wet.  I have work to do today, and now my pants have a wet spot shaped like your butt.”

“Oh, Daddy!”  She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.   He put an arm around her shoulders and gave a squeeze.

“I hope we can start getting some better habits going, Princess.  We don’t want to get your mom mad or anything.” Valerie hopped off his damp lap and padded over to retrieve the towel.  She wrapped it around herself and then gave him one more grin before she barefooted it out of the bathroom and toward her waiting school clothes.  You never knew anything for certain.  Maybe one day she would just have to go to school naked… to show Daddy that… well, okay… maybe not to school.

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