• Young people’s novelist William Sleator grew up in a family of nonconformists at a time when conformity was a part of American life. (Unfortunately, that description doesn’t much narrow down when he grew up.) His best friend’s mother was a typical 1950s TV sitcom wife with a very clean house (and plastic covering the furniture), perfectly made-up face and hair, and no job. Meanwhile, William and his friend used to go to William’s house and do such fun activities as standing on the back porch railing and peeing into the backyard. (It’s a guy thing.) William’s mother was definitely laid-back. After William made the mistake of asking his best friend to spend the night, his best friend’s mother came over to meet the rest of William’s family. She was not impressed by what she saw. Mrs. Sleator was potting plants in the kitchen table, meaning dirt was present. Vicky, William’s sister, came into the kitchen, dropped an apple accidentally on the floor, then bit into the apple without first washing it. The best friend’s mother was shocked, but Mrs. Sleator — who worked as a pediatrician — explained, “It’s good for them to eat dirt off the floor. Dirt builds up immunity. I never wash food, never sterilized a bottle in my life. And my kids are never sick.” This did not go over well with the best friend’s mother, who was also shocked when Danny, one of William’s younger siblings, came into the kitchen while sucking his thumb. The best friend’s mother told Danny, “It’s not good to suck your thumb, dear.” Danny slowly took his thumb out of his mouth, but by then Mrs. Sleator was fed up and told her young son, “Danny, put your thumb back in your mouth.” Not surprisingly, the best friend’s mother decided not to allow her son to stay the night at the Sleators’ house.
• The mother of Anne McCaffrey, author of the Pern novels about telepathic dragons, had certain feelings that she ought to do one thing or another. For example, she once had the feeling that she ought to take the family’s money out of the stock market, so she did — right before the October stock market crash in 1929. Because of her special “sight,” her family escaped the brunt of the Great Depression. Anne’s father also had the “sight.” While serving in Italy during World War II, he felt that he should stop the car he was being transported in, so he did — then he discovered that the bridge that was supposed to have been just a few feet ahead was gone. If he had not stopped the car, he and his driver would have plunged into a ravine.
• On a voyage, Mark Twain and Chauncey Depew were asked to speak after dinner. Mr. Twain spoke for 20 minutes and was a huge hit with the audience. Mr. Depew then arose and said, “Mr. Toastmaster and Ladies and Gentlemen, before this dinner Mark Twain and I made an agreement to trade speeches. He has just delivered my speech, and I thank you for the pleasant manner in which you received it. I regret to say that I have lost the notes of his speech and cannot remember anything he has to say.” Mr. Depew then sat down to much laughter. The next day a passenger on the ship said to Mr. Twain, “I consider you were much imposed upon last night. I have always heard that Mr. Depew is a clever man, but really, that speech of his you made last night struck me as being the most infernal rot.”
• After becoming famous, Erma Bombeck was often asked to do more public speaking across the country than any one person could do. Being a humorist, she found a comic way to politely say no to many requests: “I can’t be gone more than two days because that’s all the underwear we have.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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