Ways With Words
When the meaning is relative
LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION
Me and my daughter Gladiola are trying to figure out how she did on her history test. “There was a question about President Abraham Lincoln — what happened to him at Ford Theatre,” she says.
“And you said...?”
“He was circumcised,” she tells me.
“Nooo. He was shot in the head,” I say.
“Also circumcised,” she says, and rolls her eyes like she can’t believe how dumb I am.
I tell her I think maybe she got that wrong.
She says, “Maaa, it’s right here in Wikipedia. She reads from her phone out loud, “‘He was ass-ass-a-nated.’’ And then she adds, “For your information, that means circumcised. ”
“You meant ‘assassinated’ but you wrote down ‘circumcised’?”
“I knew how to spell it. Ass-assinated is harder. All the ‘S’s’ ,” she says.
Then I explain very gently what ‘circumcise’ means.
“Ewww!” she says. “I don’t know if I believe THAT!” I can see that she ain’t in no mood to be impressed by facts.
“Besides, that’s not what Gargoyle said,” she informs me.
Aha. I put in a call to my son Gargoyle, who is working a couple jobs in Baton Rouge while he figures out what to do with his English degree.
“Any idea why your sister thinks Abraham Lincoln was circumcised at Ford Theatre?” I ask.
He says, “Say what?”
We go back and forth like that for a while.
And then, comes the dawn. He remembers.
He says what happened was, back years ago, when she was seven or eight, Gladiola was looking at a newspaper, and she come across the word ‘circumcised.’ So she asked Gargoyle what it meant.
“I panicked,” he tells me. “I didn’t know how to explain. So I picked a word out of the blue. I think I was reading a book about John F. Kennedy. So I said ‘assassinate.’”
Years went by, and he forgot about it.
I hand the phone over to Gladiola so he can explain it to her, and she listens, and frowns, and says, “Thanks a LOT!” in a way that don’t seem grateful, and hangs up and says to me, “Great. Now I’ll get a bunch of points off my test and it’s all his fault.”
I am trying real hard to not laugh. I can see why she’s mad. But I can also understand why Gargoyle said what he said.
They say kids who are only children tend to turn out smarter than kids from big families. I can see why. I remember what my sisters had me believing.
Once when I was five, Visine and Geraldine were babysitting me while mama went somewhere, and they told me I was leaking. They said I would die of Deflation Disease if I didn’t keep my finger in my belly button. They would take turns going “psssst” when I took my finger out. Now THAT was evil.
Also, Visine once told me dogs never had to worry about having a cold, because they could breath through their ears.
Years later, when I brought my own kids’ puppy in for his shots, I mentioned that to the vet. Well, he set me straight in a hurry. I was so embarrassed. When I got home I called Visine to tell her off, but I couldn’t finish for her laughing and snorting and laughing some more.
I still haven’t gotten even with her for that.
Actually, there were all kinds of alternative facts I used to believe. My father told us that the ice cream truck only played music to show it was OUT of ice cream. So we never chased it down.
And Mama said we couldn’t get never more than three presents from Santa, because that was how many Jesus got from the Wise Men. And when I said I knew kids who got way more presents than that, she said she guessed they weren’t Catholic like us.
Gladiola listens to all this with a stone face.
“But what’s there to show that Lincoln wasn’t circumcised at Ford Theatre?” she asks. “Can anybody actually prove I am wrong?”
She narrows her eyes. “I’m taking it up with the school,” she says.
So that’s how conspiracy theories get started.