I’d like to welcome my author friend, Lisbeth McCarty, who shares a heartwarming family story laced with humor and solemness. Enjoy!
By Lisbeth L. McCarty
Every other Friday night, when my dad got paid, he brought home pretzels, potato chips, Pepsi, and an oversized Hershey bar for us, his five children. Of course, we quickly figured out that his generosity was merely a cover for his own personal purchase of whiskey. Nevertheless, we children celebrated by eating junk food, while Dad celebrated by downing way too much alcohol to erase his memories of action in World War II. His gift to us was attempted distraction with junk food. Some of the time, it even worked.
The night of feasting also came with a night of playing cards. Mom relegated us all to the kitchen in an effort to keep us away from Dad’s drunken stumbling around the living room as he alternated between yelling and mumbling. Sometimes, we could hear him screaming at Nazis, as if back in his WWII army days. Other times, we heard him quoting Robert Frost.
Dad was a brilliant engineer who worked forty hours a week for Bell Telephone, then spent his evenings reading. Mein Kamp and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich were always on his nightstand, serving as further indication that he was haunted by his military service and how the war even started. He rarely spoke to any of us except when he was drunk, which only occurred once every two weeks.
Twice a month, he indulged, in a devil-may-care abandonment of his family duties. After he had bought his whiskey and our treats, he turned over the rest of the money to my mom. When I had to cross his path during these besotted weekends, I would notice the overly-sweet breath that pervaded at least three feet of space around him. I would run past him as fast as I could, trying to avoid any interaction whatsoever.
Like Dad, Mom also had a gift for us. Her gift was to do all she could to build an invisible wall to keep us away from the darkness within my dad, including ensuring that we were physically as far from dad as possible. Sometimes, if the weather allowed, she would pile us all in a car and drive us to a few places that had big bumps in the road. We would drive back and forth over these bumps, astounded at the asphalt-made roller coasters. Mom’s gift was to use fun to distract us from the deeper problems surrounding us.
When the weather of the dreaded weekend was bad, however, all five of us sat at the red Formica table in the small kitchen, and the four oldest children sat in the padded, red chairs with the silver backing and steel legs. Jeff, being the youngest, was relegated to the unpadded, black metal chair that had come with the folding table which was only used on holidays when far too many relatives showed up to feast in our small house. Jeff’s chair was always squeezed in at the back of the table, directly across from the kitchen window.
In order of birth, Jim, Mari, and I were known collectively as the Big Kids, and Alicia and Jeff were called the Little Kids. Even with those designations, all of us were only a year apart or less in age. If the card game involved skill, the Big Kids usually beat the Little Kids. Otherwise, luck dictated the win.
On one of these nights, Jeff introduced us to a new game he had learned during first-grade recess. He said the name was called, “Shark.” One at a time, we would draw a card from the deck but not look at it. Without seeing the card, we would place it on our head, like a shark fin sticking out of our forehead, then try to guess what the card might be. If you had not correctly identified the card after ten guesses, you were out.
Jeff won the game in each round, with accurate guesses for each card on his head, and on the first guess, no less. We were amazed.
Alicia said, “Maybe Jeff has ESP.”
Jim looked dubious. “I don’t think so. Something is fishy.”
“Something fishy about a shark?” I said, then laughed at my own joke.
Mari said, “So, how is Jeff doing this?”
I said, “Obviously, he knows right away what card he has drawn. But I don’t know how.”
“Yeah,” Mari said. “Jeff is just drawing from the deck and not looking at the card like the rest of us. How does he know every single time what card he has?”
Jeff laughed. He seemed to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that he—the youngest, the least respected, the one relegated to occupy the bad chair—could win every time at this game of Shark. We were perplexed by his success.
Suddenly, Jim said, “I know how he is doing this!”
“Tell us!” Mari exclaimed.
Jim pointed to the window. “He’s seeing the card in the reflection of the window!”
Sure enough, the light reflected from the window formed the perfect mirror for Jeff to identify his own card. We all laughed. Jeff had fooled us all!
In the background, we heard Dad cursing at an imaginary Nazi. We shared knowing looks with one another. Then, ironically, Jim suggested that we play the card game of “War,” and he dealt the cards.
Lisbeth L. McCarty has a B.A. in Professional Writing and a J.D. in Law, both from the University of Oklahoma. She has been published in various newsletters and journals and has received awards from her colleagues in the law related to legal writing, plus numerous awards for her freelance writing. She has twice won the Norman Galaxy of Writers Bonnie Speers Crème de la Crème prize (drawn from the best of all the first-place contest entries).
Lisbeth’s nonfiction, fiction, and children’s books are all available on Amazon and Kindle. Besides publishing under her name, McCarty has also published two romance books under the name Lindley O’Vannigan East, a western book under the name Kyle Boyd, and a slipstream book under the name KJ Katsuji. Her website is www.lisbethmccarty.com. She publishes two free and one paid newsletter available at https://lisbeth.substack.com/.
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I’m always looking for more family stories. You know, the kind where family members are sitting around the dinner table casually chatting, and someone says, “Remember when Charlie . . . ” and sometimes that same family story is regaled again and again at family gatherings. I’d love to feature one of your family stories for others to enjoy. You can write it, I can write, or we can do it together! Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You could be next!