Every family develops its own mythologyâ€”stories that help explain what happens around the house, on vacation, out in the yard.
I could say the following to any member of my family and get either a laugh or exasperated sigh:
Â· â€œDonâ€™t knock out my contact.â€
Â· â€œStuffed crust pizza isnâ€™t any good.â€
Â· â€œIâ€™ll have the chicken filet.â€
Â· â€œYour face looks like you got attacked by a squirrel.â€
Maybe for you itâ€™s an old college injury of dadâ€™s: his knee cap came out of place and slid around to the back of his knee. Thatâ€™s why he never runs, only walks. Oh, heâ€™ll run down a Frisbee or trot after one of the grandbabies, but youâ€™ll never see him sprint. He doesnâ€™t have an MCL.
A family also builds its own private vocabulary.
About halfway through high school, I made up the word â€œstoinker.â€ It sounded bodily, euphemistic, vaguely offensive. My older sister Elizabeth was in college at the time and was so pleased with my neologism that she drew a sign on poster board and put it in her dorm window:
â€œHAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR STOINKER TODAY?â€
The response was favorable.
Certain personality traits lend themselves to mythologizing, and in light of certain events, even common words can take on mythic proportions and special connotations. Most of these small, quite ordinary happenings take place on the way to the grocery or church or baseball practice.
One of my familyâ€™s favorite stories took place my eighth or ninth grade year. Elizabeth was in the car, which meant she was still in high school. We were all riding in the blue Suburban one Sunday morning on our way to church.
Across Hillsboro Road from Hillsboro Church of Christ is my favorite field in Nashville. A small stream lined with tall hardwoods forms two of its angles and Tyne Boulevard forms the other. A scattering of large trees grow in the field and throw pools of shade over the tall grass. When autumn comes, huge bales of hay appear. Any breeze blowing from that direction smells of sunlight, and clover, and faintly of cows. Too few of these fields exist now in Green Hills and Forest Hills. One by one, they have morphed into developments with enormous brick houses sprouting like so many warts or toadstools.
Not this field though. This is the field that in your dreams draws you into its golden center. Your eyes feast on its tiny, delicate flowers; your hands, on its springy grasses; your ears, on noisy grasshoppers and happy birds. Even the purple-headed thistles are welcome, like an awkward cousin.
This is also the Field of the Wolf.
That morning, just before my dad turned right into the church parking lot, my mom drew all of our attention to a dark dot in the distance. It appeared to be moving.
â€œLook! A wolf!â€
â€œA wolf?â€ my dad asked.
â€œYes!â€ my mom said, â€œA wolf.â€
My dad took his foot off the accelerator. We all got a chance to take a good look.
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a wolf, Mom,â€ I said.
â€œYes, it is!â€
â€œItâ€™s probably a coyote or somebodyâ€™s dog.â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s a wolf! I can tell by the sleek look of the fur around its face.â€
â€œMom, itâ€™s a hundred yards away. You canâ€™t even see its face. We can barely even tell that itâ€™s in the canine family, let alone talk about its fur. Besides, I read in Field & Stream that wolves havenâ€™t lived in Tennessee for a hundred years. Theyâ€™ve only recently reintroduced small numbers into the Smokies with hopes that theyâ€™ll survive, and I doubt that one made it all the way over here.â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t care what yaâ€™ll think. I know itâ€™s a wolf.â€
She folded her arms, and by this time, the car was parked. We all went into church.
My mom has lived to regret that conversation. Her side of the family is known forâ€”how should I say this?â€”their tenacity. Okay, stubborness.
To give you another example, my great-grandmother, Nannyâ€”married name â€œPearl Legate,â€ no jokeâ€”told my maternal grandfather, â€œThere is no room for sons like you in heaven.â€
Ouch. This happened after he took her keys away because she vanished for hours one day. Sheâ€™d gotten lost in her car and couldnâ€™t remember how to get home.
I donâ€™t guess any of us likes having our independence taken away.
In the years following the wolf incident, whenever we see an animal that is obviously a horse or cat or whitetail deer, one of us will point and shout, â€œLook! A wolf!â€
Though she is finally able to laugh, my mom maintains to this day that the creature, possibly canine, did, in fact, though we could barely tell whether or not it was an animal, possess the texture and suppleness of fur characteristic of wolves.
Has my mother ever seen a wolf? No. Has she ever seen a nature show on television about wolves? Possibly. Is she willing to stake her credibility on superhuman vision and esoteric zoological knowledge? Absolutely.
Stubbornness. She may as well have said, â€œI could tell it was a cockatiel by its brilliance of its emerald plumage and the dramatic curvature of its beak.â€
Â You canâ€™t get away with anything in our family.
If youâ€™ve got any of your own myths to share, please do so in the â€œCommentsâ€ section below.