2006.06.14 Cultural revolution coming right up?

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Every now and then I get a glimpse of how our family’s daily living habits influence my children’s interactions with the world. You know how it is—your family does things a certain way and you grow up thinking that’s the norm. But really, you belong to a bizarre little enclave with a culture all its own and you just aren’t aware—until you hit the real world. OK, maybe it’s just my poor children who belong to such a family.

As we were cruising along I-75 on yet another trip south returning my daughter Rozee to Berea College in Kentucky, the driver in the car ahead of us threw a cigarette butt out of his window.

“I don’t understand why people do that,” I said. “It could start a fire.”

“Well, what else are they going to do with it?” asked Rozee.

“Put it out in their ashtray,” I responded.

She looked at me quizzically.

I gestured toward the ashtray on the dashboard.

“I thought that was a money holder,” she said.

Since neither my husband nor I have ever smoked, we’ve never needed to use the ashtray for its original purpose. We keep our spare change in it, and in her 20 years of life, Rozee hasn’t ever seen it used for anything else.

I was amused enough to make note of the ashtray-money holder exchange and wondered about other of our confusing confounding daily living habits that might be off the beaten path. I began to worry that we might have really warped our children in unknown ways.

My mind immediately fixed on the freezer of our fridge and the several bags of uncompostable foods we stash there until garbage day. I hate the smell of rotting food, so I collect the daily odd bits of orange and banana peels, moldy bread, scraps of uneaten cooked food, and the like, in used bread bags and store it in the freezer so it doesn’t ferment and putrefy in the garbage can.

“You all know it’s not normal to put garbage in the freezer, don’t you?” I directed my question to Maddie, sitting in the back seat, as well.

“Yeah,” said Rozee. “But composting and recycling...I thought everybody did that.”

She was surprised to learn that not everybody participates in those activities.

I recall that same sort of incredulity when I left New York City for college at Michigan State and discovered that not everybody cursed—and that some were even very offended by my “colorful” language. The usual stream of swearwords was business as usual for me and it took awhile to realize that my fellow college students weren’t speaking my language.

A few days after we returned home, Maddie and I were watching Ebert and Roeper as they showed a clip of the new movie, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

“What’s that?” Maddie asked in a “come-again?” tone of voice.

“It’s Prairie Home Companion,” I told her. “They’re making a movie of the radio show.”

She had a perplexed, almost bemused look on her face.

“I didn’t know people actually knew about it,” she said.

And by “people” she means people who would think the show is worthy of making into a movie. People like Robert Altman and Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan. And the common people across America who would actually pay money to see the movie of the radio show that’s been background noise most every weekend of her life. I guess she figured if her parents listen to the show there’s no way the rest of the world would know about it.

I doubt that all our weird habits and way of life will ever become mainstream, (most parents aren’t going to fill Easter baskets with prunes stuffed with almonds, for example), but I think the world should be poised for a ripple effect.

I was talking with Rozee last night about the ashtray/money holder incident. She said none of her friends has ever smoked and she’s never been in a car with a smoker who used the ashtray for its intended purpose.

“I asked Taylor [her boyfriend] if he knew what the ashtray was for because he had money in it,” she said.

“He said, ‘It’s in there because you told me to put it in there.’”

Hmm, imagine if I had had that kind of impact on my college friends.

– June 14, 2006
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