Balderdash! – Or is it?

March 10, 2010

This is another article I wrote some time ago.

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Recently my bride and I had the pleasure of playing the Mattel board game called “Balderdash™”. Owning one of the shortest definitions in Webster’s dictionary, balderdash is defined simply as “NONSENSE!”

To play the game, participants take turns selecting a card and a category. The person selecting the card announces the category and reads a word, a phrase, the name of an obscure movie, or the name of an obscure person. The other players immediately write a definition of the word, describe the plot of the movie, or tell what the person did to become famous. (Well, maybe not famous in the truest sense of the word; let’s just say, “known well enough to have his or her name included in the game.”)

The original reader then reads all the other players’ answers as well as the correct answer. Finally, everyone guesses as to what the correct answer might be. Points are awarded based on guessing the correct answer or having others guess that your written answer is the “official” answer. In other words, you can gain points by making up something totally preposterous if you make it sound believable to other people. I liken it to being a grandfather. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed playing the game so much.

I don’t think being a grandfather is required to be good at balderdash, but grandfathers are usually better at it than other people. To be honest, I’ve met very few grandmothers who even participate. Mostly, they’re the ones telling the grandchildren not to listen to that old so-and-so.

Take, for instance, the modern shopping carts designed especially to entertain toddlers while mama does the grocery shopping.

Modern shopping cart - designed especially for children

Whenever I see such things in the presence of my grandchildren I point out that we never had such things when I was a child. “In fact,” I go on, “We didn’t have shopping carts of any kind. We had to ask the person behind the counter to get the items off the tall shelves using a long-handled squeezy thing. Then after ringing up the items on a cash register that had row after row of numbered buttons, we’d pay the cashier, pack up everything in paper bags, and walk home.

Old fashioned shopping "cart" - I had to carry it 3 miles up hill

If we were lucky, we might have a Red-Flyer wagon to help us with our burden, but we didn’t own a car and the trolley didn’t go by our house.”

Now, for some, that’s pure balderdash. For others, I’ve just brought back some great old memories. And that, my friends, is the secret to balderdash. Whatever is said must sound possible.

A few years back I was walking with a friend along the sea wall in Galveston, Texas. As a seagull flew over our heads, we barely managed to avoid being hit by the “bomb” the bird dropped. As we continued our stroll I wondered aloud, “Considering the diet of those birds, one has to wonder what makes their droppings come out pure white?”

My friend proceeded to amaze me with his knowledge of a bird’s digestive tract and the chemical process involved. I was impressed and demonstrated my interest by saying, “Is that right?”

“How in the world would I know?” was my friend’s response. “I’m making it up as I go!” Needless to say, he was a grandfather.

Some balderdash is more factual than a young person could begin to understand or believe. Try explaining party lines to your pre-teen grandchildren. Many youngsters wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what it means to “wind” a wristwatch. The world has changed dramatically over the last fifty years and it has happened so quickly that many of us have totally forgotten the way things used to be.

Some folks continue to tell their grandchildren of how they had to walk three miles to school and it was uphill both ways. I think the little rug rats have caught on to that tale and have told all their friends. The new-fangled cellular phones and electronic mail have made it more difficult to use the stories our grandfathers used on us. We have to be more creative. Thankfully, the modern world has given us more than enough raw material.

For example, I went to the store to buy my bride a tube of toothpaste this morning. She prefers a different brand than I, but I knew the name, so how could buying her a tube be a problem. All I had to do was worry about the size of the package – right?

Wrong! When I was young, we had a choice of Colgate, Ipana, and Crest if we wanted the paste or Arm and Hammer if we wanted tooth powder. There was one size of each. There were no “travel” or “family” sizes. You simply picked the brand you wanted and you were done. Now each brand comes with and without mouthwash (in various flavors), with or without whiteners, and in numerous sizes.

As a grandfather, I’d take this opportunity to tell how, when I was young, we had a choice of corn flakes, Cheerios, or Wheaties. We didn’t have pre-sweetened cereals because they had not yet discovered how to refine sugar. Milk came in two basic flavors – sweet or butter. If you were lucky enough to have a brown cow in the neighborhood, you could also get chocolate milk from time to time.

Why, when I was your age, Kentucky Fried Chicken only had three herbs and spices and Heinz had only fifty-four varieties of pickles. At McDonald’s, you could buy a hamburger for 10 cents or a cheeseburger for 12 cents. The rest of their menu consisted of French fries, coca-cola (one kind and only one kind) and milk shakes – chocolate or vanilla.

Arby’s sold roast beef sandwiches and nothing more. If you wanted melted cheddar cheese on your sandwich you stopped at the grocery store on the way home and melted the cheese on your own stove.

We didn’t worry about designer clothes back then. We were lucky if our parents could afford to dress us in something other than feed sacks. I didn’t know I was a boy until I started the seventh grade. My mother didn’t know how to make pants, so I wore dresses all through grade school. It wasn’t until I had to take physical education and wear appropriate outfits that my mother broke the news to me and bought me my first pair of knickers.

I could go on and on, but I think you might have already guessed why I liked that game so well. Come to think of it, I was on the winning team! Now, go back over what I’ve said in this story and see if you can separate fact from balderdash.


Life’s a Beach

February 16, 2010

Edisto Island Beach

I’ve been going to the beach ever since I was a toddler. Because my father was raised in South Jersey and we had relatives living in Linwood and Somers Point, my family vacationed near the beach every year.

We never stayed at the beach; that would’ve been too expensive. We would rent a small apartment or stay on my uncle’s cabin cruiser (also small) a few miles in from the shore. Most of our time was spent fishing and crabbing in the inland bays and marshes. Once or twice during our stay we’d go into Atlantic City or Ocean City to spend some time on the beach or stroll along the boardwalk.

Fishing and crabbing with nephews and nieces

I recall one vacation when my parents did something different. I believe it was 1955 or 1956. Instead of going to South Jersey, we went to Cambridge, Maryland and rented a cottage along the Choptank River. We arrived shortly after a hurricane had passed through. Not only was the river running fast and deep, many of the surrounding fields were still draining. We saw a number of people holding chicken wire at the end of irrigation ditches. They were catching some very large fish that had been driven inland by the storm surge.

On that particular trip, the beach wasn’t quite as convenient. But on one of our days in Maryland, we drove over to Ocean City, Maryland and enjoyed their beach and boardwalk.

I have been to beaches all up and down the East Coast, Mississippi, Texas, California, and Oregon. I’ve also visited Brighton Beach in England and some beaches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. They all speak the same language as they invite us to either walk along the water’s edge or sit down and watch the waves rolling in.

Without even closing my eyes, I can hear the sound of the surf, the wind, and the sea gulls.

I’ve often thought about living closer to a beach. I wouldn’t want to own a home on the beach. Hurricanes might not hit a particular beach that often, but once would be more than enough for me. I’d like to live about twenty miles inland so it would be an easy trip to get close to the ocean.

However, with most of our children and grandchildren living within thirty miles of us, I’d find it difficult to move anywhere.

Perhaps we could win the lottery. Then we could move the entire extended family.

My bride and I on Tybee Island

I have been to the beach so many times in my life that I consider it a God given blessing and wish everyone – especially children – could visit a beach on a regular basis.

Twice we were able to stay at rental properties right on the beach. Once was in Ocean City, New Jersey and the other was on Edisto Island. My bride and I rented the place in New Jersey at the end of the summer season (reduced rates) and my nephews and nieces chipped in. On Edisto Island, we were fortunate to be the guests of John and Debbe Mize. That was in November a couple of years back.

Based on those two experiences, I’d say the best time to go to the beach is after Labor Day and before June. The temperatures are much milder and there are no crowds.

We’re hoping to get to at least one beach in 2010, but I think I’m already there mentally.