Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Going a Little Bit Ape

            I am a patient mother.  Okay, I do not want to start the New Year out lying, so I shall rephrase that.  I am a forced-to-be-patient mother who doesn’t freak out at the first mention of disaster because I have four children who have dished up regular servings of so much disaster that I’m actually accustomed to it.  There.  Better?
            Our second son, Brandon, took a French class in high school.  
 Normally this would not bode catastrophe, but then the teacher gave an assignment which required creativity.  Parenting Rule #17: You do not give Brandon free reign like that.
            The prompt was to make a movie in French.  So Brandon and four of his buddies wrote up a Star Wars-type takeover of the world script, rented Gorilla costumes, and ran around town shouting lines from their script and waving swords from Brandon’s sword collection. 


 St. Bob was the driver, who carted these guys around Sacramento, dropping them off here and there to film their scenes.  At one point, downtown, Brandon and two of his friends wanted to work for a few more hours, and decided to call when they were ready to be picked up.  So Bob came home and we had a nice, quiet evening. Until about 8 o’clock.
            Suddenly the phone rang and Brandon asked if Bob could come and get them.  No problem.  “Good,” Brandon said, “because there are some state troopers who want to speak with you.”
            OF COURSE THERE WERE.  Isn’t this how every homework project ends?  Brandon told him they were at the Capitol Building, waiting.   

Oh, marvelous.  Turns out these monkeys—yes, that’s the word—decided to waltz into the State Capitol Rotunda to film a sword-waving, French-shouting takeover scene.  All at once the elevator doors opened, and six state troopers burst out, yelling, “Okay, put down the swords and take off the monkey suits.”  Trust me on this; I have videotape.
            And I, as a mother, was actually feeling grateful that these teenagers did not correct the troopers and explain that gorillas are technically apes, not monkeys.   Instead, they (wisely) obeyed, took off the costumes, and turned off the camera.  (But they were still monkeys, if you ask me.)

            St. Bob arrived, was recognized as a local TV news anchor, and learned that some of the troopers had attended the same high school as our film team.  The troopers could see these boys were clean-cut, albeit foolish, young men, and let them go with a warning.
            Today the Capitol is surrounded by sturdy fencing that I like to believe is due to terrorism, or to a fellow a few years ago who plowed into the building with a giant truck.  I hope (but do not want to research this) that it is not because of some sword-wielding boys.
            And we have often wondered how that emergency call went, from some guy watching the security monitors, to the troopers themselves.  
 He had to have said something like, “There are three gorillas in the rotunda, shouting in French and waving swords,” and the troopers had to have said, “What?” a few times.  And  “Are you sure?”  and then “Are you drunk?” Alas, we’ll never know exactly how that conversation actually played out.
            As luck would have it, today Brandon is so fluent in French, that in France people think he’s French.  But it’s because he later served a two-year mission there for the LDS church.  

Something tells me the high school film assignment didn’t have much to do with it.
(Portions of this story appeared in Funeral Potatoes—The Novel)
            I can’t promise you gorillas, but you’ll read about some amazing creatures and customs in Jungle, my romance/adventure novel on Kindle here and in paperback here.  It takes place on an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean.  Check it out!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Doggone Christmas Irony

            I love dogs; I fully expect them to march into heaven ahead of most owners.  I’ve always had pound puppies and I honestly think they understand that you rescued them, and love you all the more for it. From indistinguishable mutts to purebred Afghan Hounds and Danes, I’ve seen that similar glint of gratitude and that same devoted heart.

            But I have to wonder about the recent claim I heard, that if you stopped all breeding controls, within a few generations all dogs would look exactly alike.  The curly-tailed, rough-coated dogs that roam the streets in third world countries, are pointed to as an example of what happens when you simply let dogs be dogs.
            But I seriously doubt those areas started with a Toy Poodle and a Mastiff, and then in just ten years or so, ended up with a scraggly mid-size dog.  Our son, Brandon, always brings his Great Dane, Odin, for Christmas. 

 This has not always been Mickey’s favorite part of the holiday, because Mickey is our Taco Terrier (Chihuahua mixed with miniature fox terrier) and I think she senses that she resembles an hors d’oeuvre to a dog the size of Odin.

            But, just like Marmaduke, Odin is a loveable lug.   We had a black Dane years ago, and she was equally cuddly, a good example of why they call this breed “the gentle giants.”  Odin just wants to play.

            However, Mickey, like a lot of small dogs, wants to establish the pecking order with herself at the helm.  So she throws hospitality to the wind, growls and threatens, and soon has Odin delicately side-stepping her food (while she unabashedly steals his).  

            Alas, the true top of the pecking order, of course, is where we humans perch, as witnessed by the fact that we dress our dogs in Christmas costumes.  Odin arrived with an elf suit and we couldn’t resist taking pictures with Mickey, who just happens to have a Santa costume.  Yes, a wee Santa and a giant elf.  

Dogs are nothing if not marvelous comic relief to their owners.  But there is no way on earth you could erase the breed distinctions of these two, and have a Great Wah Wah in a few generations.  Mickey would never stand for it.
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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Few Hilton Christmas Traditions

Among our cherished family traditions is The Christmas Rat.  This all started when I began painting our front windows with Tempra paint, just like you see in supermarket windows this time of year.  I painted fairly easy motifs—candy canes, Christmas trees, snowflakes.  And then I decided to paint a wreath.

            It went surprisingly well.  After all, a wreath is just a fluffy circle, right?  Then I got the wonderful idea to paint a little mouse, asleep on the bottom curve, with a tiny stocking hanging on the holly, waiting for Santa to fill it. 
The kids, busy painting snowmen, came over to see what Mom was doing.  “Isn’t that mouse a little too big?” one of them asked.  Sure enough, they decided it was a Christmas Rat, and no explanation could budge them from this opinion.  Not only that, but they insisted on a Christmas Rat every December thereafter.
To this day, Richie maintains the tradition of rearranging my NOEL letters to read LEON, when I’m not looking. 

They also wrap each other’s gifts in so many layers of duct tape that you virtually need the jaws of life to open them.  And the year our graham cracker gingerbread house collapsed they fell off their chairs laughing, and insisted on a Collapsing Gingerbread House every year after.
            These are the same monkeys who, in the picture of pure irony, fought so passionately over who got to place Baby Jesus in the nativity scene, that we finally had to write up a yearly schedule, and post it on the box of ceramic figurines.
            As Bob would read the story of the first Christmas, our boys would dress up as shepherds and wise men, while Nicole would play Mary, and gently cradle one of the pets to represent Baby Jesus.  An argument would usually erupt, about the appropriateness of a guinea pig playing the part of the Messiah, and Nicole would insist that a living creature was better than a plastic baby doll.   
At that point a cat would generally climb the Christmas tree and knock it over, at which point the quarrel would get sidetracked and we’d all end up in the kitchen with cookies and eggnog.  Every year I would wonder if the real meaning of Christmas was even getting through.
            When the kids were younger, they would sneak toys into the manger scene—tiny penguins, Lego people, Mario Brothers and Ninja Turtles.  When Brandon was five he loved to make things out of clay, and one day I noticed he had placed some little clay triangles by each figurine.  The triangles had tiny loops, like handles.  Mary had one, Joseph had one, everybody in the crèche had one.  When I asked him about it, Brandon said, “After traveling so far I thought their clothes would be wrinkled, so I made them each an iron.”  Indeed.
            On closer inspection I noticed a little two-inch Superman visiting the Christ child as well.  And there it was, the perfect message for Christmas.  Here was a super hero visiting the greatest super hero who ever lived.  Maybe, just maybe, the kids were listening after all. 

A very merry Christmas to all my readers.  And may you pause amid the presents, the visitors, the feasting and greeting, to express your thanks to God, for sending His Son, the Savior of the World.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas with the Paramedics

            Folks, I do not make this stuff up.  The last three blogs have been about horrendous holiday disasters, and this one just might top them all.
            When Bob and I bought a house in L.A., we happened to choose one in famed Candy Cane Lane, in Woodland Hills.   

That’s not the real name of the street, of course—but Mickey Rooney started the tradition years earlier, for all the streets in a little cluster there, to rename themselves at Christmastime, and then decorate to the hilt.  When the realtor explained this to us, it was like looking at the tragedy/comedy drama masks.  I was elated and Bob was aghast.  I couldn’t wait to decorate with a zillion lights and wave to the happy tourists, while Bob could only imagine the traffic jam as he tried to get home every night.

            It was everything we both had hoped and feared it would be.  Policemen on horseback patrolled the hundreds of cars that crept by each night, oompah bands and carolers got in on the act, popcorn and hot chocolate were sold by enterprising kids, and the nightly news gave a traffic report of the amazing homes decorated by Hollywood set designers and special effects folks.  I loved it.  Bob renamed himself Scrooge McBob.

            And then I threw a party.  I was Relief Society President (the women’s group) of my LDS church congregation, and I wanted everyone on the board, plus husbands, to come to a Christmas party/potluck at our home.  I chose an early December date so the traffic wouldn’t be crazy, and almost everyone came, including a member named Betty.  I was especially hoping Betty’s husband, Lou, would come.  He was not active in the church, and Betty’s eyes just sparkled when she rang the bell and told me he was parking their car.

            This is when St. Bob decided to come to the rescue.  Our steep drive was tricky to navigate, and he offered to park the car so others could pull in as well.  Except for one, small problem.  Our backdoor neighbor had a huge cattle ranch in Central California, and Bob (who claimed he could ride when he couldn’t) had just come back from a roundup on horseback and was so tired his body and brain were both hammered.   

When Bob got into Lou’s Buick he was so disoriented that he pushed on the gas when he thought he was braking.  The car sailed out over the slope, then went crashing and rolling down the hill.  Pine trees and coyote bushes cracked and broke under the tumbling metal.  Over and over it rolled until it finally landed on its wheels on the lower part of the drive.  Incredibly, it didn’t hit anyone walking up the drive to the party.
I heard the crashing sounds and came running, fearing the worst.  As I stood at the top of the cliff I could hear Bob calling that he was okay. My heart began beating again.  The car, of course, was not okay.  All the windows were smashed out, the frame was bent, the body was totaled.  A German Chocolate cake that Betty had brought, was in pieces all over the interior. 

And then paramedics came.  And police cars.  And an ambulance.  It turned out that all our neighbors were out on their lawns decorating, witnessed the accident, and called 911 at the same time.  

Bob was checked out and pronounced fine, except for a few minor scratches.  I turned to Betty.  “Oh, Betty,” I said, “I owe you a car and a cake.”  This was not how I had hoped to get Lou to attend church again.  But St. Bob told Lou to let him know what insurance wouldn’t cover, and promised to write him a check. 
Some friends gave us a stunt driver trophy, and for several years every social announcement ended with, “And Bob Hilton will not be parking the cars.”   
When Lou reported the cost of replacing his car, Bob wrote him a check for the full amount.  And Lou later wrote us a thank-you note, expressing his amazement at Bob keeping his word to the penny.  In fact, Lou began coming to church again.  So Bob surviving the double rolling of Lou’s car was one Christmas miracle.  But I like to think Lou was the other one.
Keep your loved ones from rolling down hills this Christmas by giving them a nice, safe book to read in the comfort of their own home.  May I suggest Jungle, Pinholes Into Heaven, or Sisters in the Mix?  These are my latest novels and you can find them all here.  Or, buy Wishes for the LDS Child here.