Ocean Isle, NC, Summer 1984
MOTHER: Don’t you boys run down the hall like that. Someone could open a door, pull you in, and have your stomachs cut open before I even knew you were missing.
(My brother and I blink blankly.)
MOTHER: Let me tell you about Adam Walsh.
Sunset Beach, NC, Summer 1982
FATHER: If you don’t turn around and clean your plate, Norman Bates’s mother will come. Right to that window behind you. No, don’t turn around. You have to sit with your back to the window. Come on. Eggs only get worse the colder they get. Do you want some Worcestershire sauce on them?
Iowa City, IA, Spring 1983
MOTHER: No, you can’t go down to the pool by yourselves. Do you know who Charles Manson is?
(My brother and I try not to look at her.)
MOTHER: Let me tell you about Sharon Tate.
Bowling Green, KY, 1981
ME: (Pointing to underside of mushroom.) What’s that?
FATHER: Oh, that’s how mushrooms eat people. They suck you through there and you get sliced up.
(I push the plate away.)
FATHER: No, no. Africans don’t get to decide what pizza they will eat and what pizza they won’t eat. Plus, mushrooms are poisonous if cold.
Land Between the Lakes, KY, 1987
MOTHER: Boys, boys! Don’t you get into the hot tub. Did you just see that man that got out? Those places on his skin—AIDS.
Philadelphia, PA, 1985
FATHER: (Taking my arm.) I don’t know what it is. It looks like the start of what the Elephant Man had. You remember when we watched that movie? You haven’t been drinking milk, have you?
Boston, MA, 1987
MOTHER: If you don’t wear suntan lotion, your skin will rot off like that dog’s that we saw by the side of the road.
Danville, KY, 1984
MOTHER: Say goodbye, children. Your father is leaving for a business trip.
ME: On Christmas Eve?
FATHER: That’s right. Just a business trip. We are not getting divorced.
Fort Meyers, FL, 1987
MOTHER: (To my stepfather.) Don’t you realize that the children are going to have to deal with anti-Semitism their whole lives?
ME: (Interrupting.) I thought we were Presbyterian.
MOTHER: No, you’re Jewish. At least as far as most people are concerned.
Danville, KY, 1982
FATHER: Here, I have a friend I want you to meet.
ME: It’s dark.
FATHER: Just stick out your hand.
(I stick my hand out and take something in it. Father switches on the lights. It is a skeleton’s hand that I am holding. My brother runs off down the hall.)
FATHER: Look, it’s my friend Slim.
London, KY, 1987
MOTHER: Boys, I don’t want you all getting salad. Do you see that man getting the crouton? Let me tell you about his earring. You don’t want those croutons. Trust me.
Danville, KY, 1982
FATHER: Do you see anything in the water there?
ME: (Pointing at my brother.) Daddy!
FATHER: No, the Creature from the Black Lagoon has him now. We just have to try to go about our lives as best we can. Come on.