Al Batt: Here’s a bar of soap; will you be my Valentine?

Published 8:05 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I was lucky to be where I was when I was.

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I spoke at a Valentine’s Day gathering at Bonnerup’s Funeral Home. It was for those who’d had a spouse or significant other die.

I’d had college roommates who were mortuary science majors and I appreciate the good work done by the folks in that field. This Valentine’s Day get-together was a time of coffee, juice, rolls, candy, flowers and talk. It was a time for widows and widowers to tell their stories. Theirs were tales of lingering pain and blessed memories.

I couldn’t imagine their loss or their pain. I’ve lost loved ones, but not a beloved spouse — other than a few times in a store. I tend to tell troubled people that things will get better. That they must get worse before they can get better. It wouldn’t have been the most appropriate advice on that day.

A friend told the room of her marriage and her late husband. “If it hadn’t been so good, it wouldn’t hurt so bad,” she said.

Stories filled the room with beautiful moments. The words had little wobble to them. Everyone listened intently as a measure of understanding and respect. The stories were rabbits pulled from a magician’s hat. They made me laugh, cry, remember, think and appreciate. I understood as much as I could. Words are powerful. They can hurt, they can help and they can heal.

I told the wonderful people in attendance the story of my discovery of a new word.

I was in an entry-level position in school. I was mindlessly enjoying recess, that glorious embodiment of freedom that lasted about as long as bubblegum kept its snap, when I witnessed a kerfuffle between two older grade school boys. There were threats, but it hadn’t escalated to push or shove. Then one of the two uttered a word. A hush fell over the crowd. It was a harsh word and a hard word. It was one I’d never heard in my home. My parents were anti-cussing. My father used “cheese and crackers” as cuss words. Mom preferred something like “Oh, my” as her expletive.

The school bell rang, the argument ended and we went back into the school.

I sat at my desk and tried to concentrate on schoolwork, but that word wouldn’t leave me alone. It rattled around in my brain — as much as it could rattle around in such tight quarters.

By the time it came to our vocabulary lesson, that word had taken 10,000 steps in my gray matter.

My wonderful teacher emphasized the importance of having a substantial vocabulary. With each new word we tackled, she reminded us that if we wanted to own a new word, we needed to use it and use it often.

I figured that applied to the new word I’d learned on the playground.

Several times during that school day, that word found its way to the tip of my tongue. I didn’t fully understand the word’s meaning, but I knew it was one of those words better left unsaid.

By the time the school bus dropped me off at the end of our drive and I’d made my way to the house, that word and I had become all too familiar with one another.

I walked through the porch and into the kitchen where I was greeted by my mother the same way she hailed me each day upon my arrival home from an institute of learning. “Welcome home. What did you learn in school today?” she asked.

There were days when I hadn’t learned anything, but this day I’d learned something. I’d momentarily forgotten to keep it a secret. I blurted out the word. I tried to stop it, but I wasn’t quick enough.

The silence was deafening.

My mother got one of those mom faces — a combination of shock and disappointment.

Newton’s Third Law says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction involving soap.

Mom told me to open my mouth. I did as I was told. Before I knew it, I had a big bar of soap in my mouth. It was Lava soap with pumice in it.

The bar of soap blocked my ability to form all words, not just obscenities.   

Thomas Fuller said, “Good words cost no more than bad.” I know they cost less. Words have the ability to hurt, help and heal.

Mother taught me that bad words had the power to fill my mouth with a big bar of Lava soap.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday and Saturday.