I wasn’t sure what he meant. Then Uncle Saul explained it:
“You see, Jimmy… it begins here.”
Uncle Saul pointed to the place between the eyes and just above the bridge of his nose.
“Here. First the eyebrows get squinched in. See? Like this. And then these vertical lines form here. See? These are called the ‘lines of conniption’. It all starts here. You know something is going to burst. It drifts down to the nostrils. See? See how my nostrils move in and out? That’s what Allosaurs did before gouging flesh from an Apatosaur.”
My eyes widened. The nostril part gave me chills.
“Then the head gets gripped in firm, small emphatic shakes before the arm and hand gets lifted first to the sky. A definite gesture to summon the force and authority of the Heavens, and then dramatically the hand is thrust down in the opposite direction, to the nether world…”
I didn’t like the sound of this.
“Then the arm is leveled in your direction. Finger pointed. And repeatedly shot forward, stabbing the air.“
With each of Saul’s “stabs” I recoiled. A few of his stabs were accompanied by some foot stomps which caught me by surprise. He hadn’t prepared me for the foot stomps.
“We are nearing the supreme moment. Everything up to this is a mere ‘warm-up.’ First, she’ll tidy her hair, and then reach for a big book, like a copy of Michener’s Hawaii and bring it crashing down on to the table or the kitchen counter…”
The crash sounded like a rifle shot. I shook.
“And if she didn’t have a Michener volume handy, she would chuck a teacup into the wall. But only if the cup already had a chip in it.”
I had heard enough. I now had a good idea what Aunt Meggie’s conniption fit would have been all about. Something that, Uncle Saul advised me, would happen if I sat in Aunt Meggie’s Queen Anne chair in the formal “sitting room.” I thanked my lucky stars that I rarely stepped foot into the sitting room. I was more than happy to stick around the den and it’s adjacent hallways, closets and window seats.
I had never seen a conniption before… Meggie’s or anyone else’s for that matter. Saul’s vivid portrayal unnerved me. Meggie and a conniption? It seemed improbable. Anyone who can make oatmeal raisin cookies like Aunt Meggie could… anyone who could give me a huge hug and a kiss after Nicky Ross, the Elkhound from next door, bit me… having a conniption fit? I couldn’t see it. Not that I was interested in bringing one on. You couldn’t pay me to get within a yard of that Queen Anne’s chair.
But you can understand my overall concern. “Uncle Saul… is there anything else that would make Aunt Meggie have a conniption?”
“Herschel peeing on the drapes.”
Herschel was their Mini Schnauzer. Our entire family had dogs. And when Saul and Meggie hosted a family cook-out in July, we all brought our dogs for an afternoon of food, drink and outdoor entertainment. The dogs loved it as much as the two-legged family members. They were free to explore the large open area in the back of the house and the adjacent wooded fringe. The dogs had a blast, they knew they were part of the family. All, except for Herschel. Herschel remained indoors confined to his grooming crate. Herschel didn’t get along well with his “cousins.” Uncle Saul explained to me that Herschel wasn’t fond of Jews… or Jewish dogs.
I had to remind Uncle Saul, “But you’re Jewish…”
“Ssshhh!!! Ixnay!!!” He looked around and then summoned me to him. He whispered, “He doesn’t know it!”
Yeah, Herschel could be a bit of a “pill”. Hard to believe that any one dog could bark that much. And he threw everything into his barks. His front feet would lift off the ground, his ears would snap back, and he would take a hop backwards like a howitzer after a discharge. He tolerated me because I always gave him some of my oatmeal raisin cookies. And on rainy days we would play in-door hide and seek, a game he seemed to enjoy. I would stash a couple of oatmeal raisin cookies and go running off to hide. Invariably I would find refuge in the window seat on the landing between the first and second floor… One time I fell asleep in there for 20 minutes or so… my Mother and Meggie panicked when they couldn’t find me… but they finally figured it out when then saw Herschel curled up beside my hiding place.
I never did see Meggie have a conniption. But when I got to the 7th Grade, our English Teacher Mr. Hirata got real pissed when Ken Wynne yawned in class. In a blink Mr. Hirata winged a piece of chalk at Kennie; but he hit Marla Mogil by mistake. Hirata was a helluva teacher; but he was a bad shot. Maybe he was close to a conniption? The incident put me in mind of Aunt Meggie who taught 8th Grade Science in Bridgeport. Maybe she saved her real conniptions for the class room?
My story continues years later. Both of my parents had passed on. Uncle Saul had moved his game piece to the other side as well. I went to visit Aunt Meggie in her home on the Cape. She and Saul had bought a “retirement” house in Chatham… it perched on a small knoll that looked out on to the Atlantic. I need to see water, it restores me. I love my Aunt Meggie. I went to satisfy both my need and my love.
Meggie was a repository for the “old stories”… and to hear the old stories re-told help fill in the ‘gaps’ in my understanding. We usually chatted on the back patio. This time the weather had turned bitter with nasty clouds forming over the ocean so we took our conversation inside, leaving the patio for another time. There could be no better stage for Meggie’s stories than her den. The room had the familiar pieces that made up the den in Woodbury. The standing globe, the Sharps buffalo rifle, the blue club chair and the famous hat rack… all fit nicely into the Chatham den.
But a piece was added. The Queen Anne’s chair from Woodbury’s formal sitting room. I couldn’t resist, “You know Meggie… Uncle Saul told me that if ever I sat in your Queen Anne’s chair you would have a conniption!”
“He told you that did he?”
“Yes. And it scared the shit out of me. I didn’t want to set foot in that room. And I think I lucked out… I don’t think I ever saw you have a conniption.”
Meggie shook her head… and then smiled. The smile turned to a chuckle, which then moved into a lengthy laugh. “You know what would get me mad? Real angry? If someone called me Mirriam.”
“That’s the name on my birth certificate: Mirriam. You see, when I was in the 3rd Grade, my teacher, Miss Grudell didn’t like my name: Mirriam… so she changed it to Meggie. She would only call me Meggie… and then all my classmates did it, too. And what cinched the deal was when your Mother, who couldn’t pronounce ‘Mirriam’, started calling me Meggie. Then that was that. I was Meggie from then on… even in our home.”
Meggie paused. The room fell quiet. We both listened to the wind moving the chimes just outside the window.
“The only time I heard the name Mirriam was when my parents scolded me. I hated it. ‘Mirriam GO TO YOUR ROOM!!’ I couldn’t stand the name.”
“You know… it’s a really a pretty name.”
“Yes, I suppose so; but not if it is associated with punishment, derision and shame. You know… one time your Uncle Saul called me Mirriam. He knew I hated it. We were standing in the kitchen. We were having a discussion, and he called me Mirriam. I got so mad. I lost control and took a Spode tea cup and smashed it to the floor.”
She shook her head and allowed a small smile to take hold.
“The cup already had a chip in it.”
“Maybe that was an almost conniption?”
“Do you want to know from conniption? I will give you conniption! It was when Herschel lifted his leg on Saul’s precious blue club chair! Oh my! Saul had a conniption!”
We both laughed. “Well… Meggie I’m not itching to see a conniption, I promise not to pee on the blue club chair… and to be safe I won’t sit on the Queen Anne’s either.”
I glanced at my beautiful Aunt, “It’s a shame about Mirriam, though. Such a pretty name.”