Afternoon Aliens

Any exhaustive research into my childhood would reveal several close encounters with aliens.

 You would learn that these encounters occurred primarily on Sunday afternoons but also sometimes on Saturday nights.  You would read that the aliens would slowly pull up in front of my parent’s home and then park right smack in the center of our view, a view framed by our front room picture window. (I wanted to say “frontroom” because it’s the Chicago way.)

 For our family Sunday mornings meant going to church – the hell-fire-and-brimstone-preaching-shouted-from-revved up lungs-quivering jowls-and-leaps and-bounds-of-a-Baptist-minister-kind of church.  Such a fire-breathing monster would let us know in no uncertain terms that redemption came only by turning from our sins and by walking down the aisle or raising our hand. I did wonder why he didn’t sell exercise videos out in the foyer – “Pilate Your Way Out of Purgatory:  Fit and Fundamental Workouts.”

 Now my mom and dad are God-fearing people who have always been very hospitable. Often, after a Sunday morning service or an evening service, my folks would invite friends, speakers, missionaries or relatives over for a meal.  As I said, this happened a lot.

 There were also a few Sundays when my parents decided to have an afternoon home alone with the kids. On those days we would come home from church to the salivating smell of pot roast.  The roast would cook while we sat in church pondering our short comings and our eternities.  The record will show that I had aromatic visions of pot roast as I turned from sin, walked down the aisle and raised my hand. 

 Back at home my mother would take the pot roast out of the oven and cover it with aluminum foil. Apparently the fat needed to rejoin the roast in a final cattle roundup. Mom and dad would then prepare the sides – all kid friendly: corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls.  And, upon occasion my mother would make butterscotch pudding for dessert.  As a devotee of such fine cuisine I sat in the basement far out-of-the-way of the chefs. Down there I watched Warner Oland play Charlie Chan on our B & W TV:  “So sorry.”

 Besides being wafted to Kid Heaven by the smells I knew that my parents were not just making a scrumptious Sunday meal.  They were not going to take any chances with me going far from the straight and narrow.  They knew that the way to tether a kid’s soul and keep him close to home was with pot roast and butterscotch pudding.

 Well, on one of those blissful Sundays when my tummy was ballooned to its fullest pot roast-iest extent I lay on the floor rolling and reading the funny papers.  Nancy and Sluggo. Dick Tracy and Flattop. Brenda Starr and…my brother. 

 Daryl ever the antagonist always wanted to read the same few square inches of the comics that I was reading. I swear.  He would daily invent ways to aggravate me.  That day his pointed elbow to my side almost burst me.  In retaliation I poked him back and then he poked back harder.  This went on for ten minutes until my father said, “You two cut it out or no butterscotch pudding for you.” That settled things for the next five minutes. The thought of Butterscotch pudding had a calming effect on me. An added dollop of whipped cream would also keep me in check – for at least a half-hour.

 It was within the cautious serenity of those five minutes that I saw my father suddenly leap up out of his swivel rocker.  The Chicago Tribune fell to the floor splayed open.  My dad turned to my mother who was sitting on the couch half asleep.  With a look of petrified horror he said, “The Gephardts are here!” That was the day I would have my first sighting of aliens in our own front yard.

 Absolutely beside himself, my dad thought for a moment:  perhaps we could make it look like we weren’t at home.  But then he saw the visitors looking at him through the picture window.  The alien father on the front lawn was yelling “Hi Bob.”   My dad then looked down at his two young children, children who just came home from re-dedicating their lives to Jesus and to pot roast looking up at him.   Instantly changing his mind my dad scrambled in two directions at once.  In the same step he first bolted toward the kitchen but then turned and flew to the back of the house.  Things were put away, hidden from view.  Rooms were “straightened.” Food stowed deep in the refrigerator. Our Schnauzer Bobbie took the cue and hid under my bed whimpering. My brother and I hid all of our toys.  The quiet afternoon had morphed into the afternoon of the living Gephardts.

 Now the Gephardts were good people my folks said, “They’re just a little different.” Yeah, as different as earth and mars I would soon find out.

 After greeting the family of five, my dad said he had to get “some things” at the grocery store.  An hour later my mother looked concerned, abandoned concerned, angry concerned.  As the time crept, my mother sat patiently listening to Mrs. G. wonder out loud if her little “Ronnie was really over the chicken pox.” (I kid, (scratch, scratch) you not.)

My brother and I stood across from the three alien kids, two boys and a girl, and wondered what to do. Mom suggested that we go to a nearby field and play baseball until the FBI had located our father. So off we went.

 I can not recall whether it was my brother or whether it was me who was hit in the head with a baseball bat by a Gephardt boy. It must have been me who received the carom because great a swath of my memory has been forever displaced. The oldest kid swung right though an imaginary fast ball which was in fact my head.  Let the record show that silly remained intact though.  (I have had three concussions in my life:  one from a right-handed batter on sugar, one from a concrete wall that halted my fifty yard dash at 55 yards and one as an adult when a humongous lead pipe-carrying truck used my car as a brake – my head bounced around like a pin ball in a Dukes of Hazzard pinball game. Three concussions may explain my David Lynch-like persona, my dream-state reality and my stuttering posts.)

 At some point my dad came back from the store with a pie, a cherry pie and a can of whipped cream.  He offered to heat it, slice it and even remake it -anything so as to not have to talk to Mr. G who I now know was dead ringer for Randy Quaid.  Mr. G sat in our front room – greasy tee shirt, flys buzzing and all.  The three G kids all could have walked off a page of the Addam’s Family comic strip.  It’s all a blur.  On purpose.

 Mr. G was a junk collector by trade.  He collected “fine” items no longer of use to their owners. He resold his JIT inventory on Maxwell Street. Did we have anything that we didn’t want any more?  I imagined that my father wanted to say “Yes, you here.”  But my dad, a generous and good man, kept to his busy ways and went looking for a ‘fine item” that would spur Mr. G into immediate sales activity.   My dad “sacrificially” retreated to the basement where after a half hour of searching everywhere including a Walter Cronkite newscast he found a lamp on its last light bulb and handed it to Mr. G. who was pleased with his salable good but continued to eye my mom’s china cabinet.  My mother seeing Mr. G’s honed gaze locked onto the china cabinet stood up between Mr. G and the cabinet as she continued to talk to Mrs. G.  The “over-my-dead-body” look must have told Mr. G all he needed to know.  He backed down.

 After some warmed cherry pie and coffee and a shake down of each the kids to see if they had taken anything from our rooms we said goodbye to the G’s and to the afternoon. It was now evening.  Exhausted we all fell back into the couch to watch a “really big shew.”  We had seen the Outer Limits.

 Over time the Gs would show up again and again unannounced.  Somehow we were ever on their radar though my parents only slightly knew them as neighbors at a previous address in Chicago. But finally these afternoon aliens did stop showing up.

 I suspect they stopped coming when our house looked eerily uninhabited:  with all the curtains pulled my dad started taking long Sunday afternoon naps on the couch in the dark, cool basement of our house.  My mom who loved our dad took us three (by now) perturbing kids for a long drive in the country – all of us far from afternoon aliens.

(Any truth in this account, real or perceived, is totally up to you.)

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

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