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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Secret Codes

I love it when as friends or family, people develop their own sets of code words and phrases. They may mean something sweet and lovely or something akin to a curse word, but they seem to bind us together by having special words to define our experiences. My first experience with a code, or euphemism, if you prefer, was in my Aunt Alice's household. Her son, Dave, announced that something was a "shutter." This caused a round of uproarious laughter, but I had no idea what was going on because this term predated my arrival in their home. Eventually, though, I found out what Dave was talking about. A few years earlier, Alice had gotten one of her famous big ideas, and decided that she wanted to install shutters on some of her windows. Having a teenage son, she saw no need to hire anyone to do the labor. (This reflects the general opinion in those days that if you had servants, also known as offspring or children, you always had someone to do odd jobs for you.) So the project began. After much work and stress, and I am sure a great deal of cursing, the project was taken as close to completion as it would ever be. I never saw said shutters. They never worked properly, and were removed from the house. But from that day forward, if Dave wanted to refer to a project or a thing that was way more trouble than it was worth, he always called it a shutter. Enough said; it was clear that Dave was not going to be involved in that project!

When I got really sick and Gram thought that I was going to die, and I was too ignorant to realize how sick I was, she really tried to coddle me. She'd ask if there was anything I needed, and tried to do everything for me. I was stubborn (yeah, there's a shocker!) and wanted to do everything I could possibly handle by myself. It wasn't a matter of being ungrateful; I was frustrated at being unwell and was determined to do as much as my body could handle. In my mind, having her do everything for me was like giving up. Also, I was taking high doses of Prednisone, and that stuff will seriously mess with your head. You can go from zero to hysterically crying, to snarling like a rabid skunk, and all within 4.2 seconds. I didn't want to let the drugs cause me to lash out at her, so I suggested a code. When she was being too kind, I would say what a baby says when trying to be independent. I would say, "Self!" As in wanting to do it myself. On the occasions that I did use this code, it softened the situation and made us both smile. In that sense alone, it was a great success, and well worth using.

A fun code I really like started with me teasing my friend Jill. We would go out to lunches or dinners, to get our nails done, to see movies...all kinds of fun stuff. One time while we were eating a delicious meal at a restaurant that I had chosen, I looked across the table at Jill with a huge grin on my face. I said, "Coming here was a really good idea! I'm glad you thought of it!" She stopped for a moment, briefly confused, and then caught up with what was going on. She agreed that yes, she had really picked a good one. From that day, it became a fun part of our friendship. I haven't seen Jill in years, but Trent and I use this silliness all of the time, and I've also spread it to my friend Marie.

One of our all-time favorites has to do with our little dog Paris, who has been gone from us for a year and a few days now. If you haven't read about her before, she loved to be in the kitchen, or just outside the kitchen entryway, whenever I was cooking. She had great faith that whatever her Mommy made, it would be wonderful. And she never knew when Mommy might be making something special just for her, like her favorite "chicken stew," two words that, when spoken aloud, caused a riot of excitement. As my cooking progressed, she would come closer and closer. When the smells of the food just got too good for her to bear any longer, she would stand on her hind legs and gently lean on one or both of the front paws that were now on my leg. I'd ask her if she wanted to see what was cooking, and she'd make it pretty clear that her answer was yes. I'd scoop her up in my arm and she would wait for me to lift the lid and waft the steam toward her. She'd sniff it and look at me, and lick her chops, wagging to tell me it seemed pretty good.

Trent and I would laugh and tell each other, when the food was ready to eat, that Paris had secretly told us that the food was disgusting and unfit for humans. It should only be eaten by Poodles. She would take that burden on herself, as awful and possibly dangerous as it was, so the food would not be wasted, and we would not have to suffer through eating it. I imagine that for the rest of our lives, as well as for some of our friends, disgusting will be a code for something that tastes really, really good. Instead of an insult, it is praise of the highest order. I won't tell you that we also have a special way of saying it, since dogs don't always pronounce things the same way we do.

I'll leave you with one final, brief code, which is sort of an "I said it first" thing. Here's how the conversation goes.

Trent/Me : Guess what?
Me/Trent: Me too! 

And that, my dears, is how you manage to say "I love you!" first. But then again, you could always use, "As you wish." Yes, I threw in a Princess Bride reference...