The Humor and Life, in Particular Web site
author:  Margie Culbertson

Your Father Has the Hay Fever


R. Anthony Powell

My father is obsessed with his nose, slave to it. In his mind, he believes God created the nose as a joke around the office and forgot all about it in the rush to finish up the universe before Sunday, His day off. My father and God have a lot in common:  God has the fate of all existence on his shoulders, Dad has hay fever. Dad figures it comes out about even. "He doesn't want hay fever. Believe me." Not a moment goes by that our household is not preoccupied with Dad's nose. How could it possibly be otherwise? It's like some kind of malicious presence that lives with us. Any little diversion we plan–an afternoon drive to the Dairy Queen, a game of Monopoly after supper–Dad's nose vetoes. And those we do manage to get underway while Old Faithful slumbers are invariably aborted when it awakens, like a cross wasp pinned to my father's face. We cut the picnic short or leave the movie in the middle and go home to follow Dad around the house, in search of his inhaler or nasal spray, like five ghouls patrolling their rooms, Dad leading the way with the litany, "My nose, my nose, my nose," like that is the object of our search. Anyone looking in the window would be a fool not to call the authorities.

He stands at the bathroom lavatory, both nostrils clogged beyond sanity. His arsenal is set out before him:  nasal spray, nasal drops, nasal plugs, nasal cream, Vicks Vap–O–Rub, camphor oil, olive oil, motor oil, 3–in–1, Liquid–Plumr, Drano, blasting caps. He has developed combinations requiring EPA approval, industrial permits, evacuation of the neighborhood. I stand at the door and watch as he mixes his snake–oils, administers them, then waits for the miracle, absolutely still, like he's listening for faraway hoof beats, the cavalry, coming to save him from his own nose. Invariably, the bugle never sounds, the army never arrives.

"My nose."

Sometimes it's a statement of resignation. Lying on the couch with his handkerchief on his belly, handy you know, he groans, "My nose." Other times, it's a declaration of war, especially when he is trying to do something which requires concentration, like repair the lawn mower. He squats beside the machine, threading a screw the size of a flea, his eyes watering, face crimson and swollen. Suddenly, with no more warning than would accompany an alien invasion, he slings the screwdriver across the yard, leaps to his feet, digging in his hip pocket for his handkerchief like it's a scorpion stinging his butt. He blows. He lifts his countenance to the heavens. He bellows, "My nose!"

I am six years old, Dad is trying to get the chain back on my bicycle. I am such a delinquent for allowing it to come off in the first place. Dad grumbles. I see a drop of clear liquid descend from his nostril and hang there like a pendant an aborigine might wear. I silently retreat a few steps. He sniffs, wipes with his sleeve, sniffs again, grumbles a curse to the creator of such an inanely–designed apparatus as the human nose. He blinks his eyes rapid–fire, yanks on the chain a couple more times for show. And then the nose is in control. Dad roars like a wounded grizzly, snatches the bike over his head and heaves it down the driveway. Out comes the scorpion. He blows. Birds take flight, small mammals urge their young deeper into their burrows, folks all over town look at their watches and wonder why the noon siren's blowing at ten–twenty–five. The blast echoes off the watertower to accompany his anguished cry. "My NOSE!!!"

My mother talks to her doctor about it. She misunderstands him and tells everyone, "Jerry has a deviant septum." she brings home brochures, puts them in his lunchbox. Like he needs reminding.

It is the summer of my ninth year, we are vacationing in Florida. Mom wants to visit Cypress Gardens. Dad is reluctant. "What about my hay fever?" Mom opens her purse:  inside is enough Contac and Triaminic to fill a beanbag chair. Interstate transport violations and border seizures flood my mind. I picture the five of us—me, Mom, Dad, and my little brother and sister—assuming the position along the side of the highway, traffic slowing to a crawl, the contents of Mom's purse strewn on the ground, photographers taking pictures of the stash.

We go on to Cypress Gardens. Before we have parked the car, Dad is well on his way to being inducted into the hay fever hall of fame.

"My nose."

Mom breaks out the medicine. "Here, take these." She even has one of those plastic collapsible cups and a thermos full of orange juice. She really wants to see Cypress Gardens. "They won't help," Dad says, gulping them anyway. They don't.

I remember it as a day of wrath and embarrassment. Dad's nose was in total control of our itinerary. Mom and us kids wanted to see the ski show; Dad's nose wanted to go home. We wanted to eat lunch in the picnic area beneath the weeping willow trees; Dad's nose threw a fit and asked us if we were all out of our minds.

I walk the winding paths, head down in shame, as Dad heckles the groundskeepers. "Keep it up. Kill us all! You probably never had to use a vaporizer in your life!" He approaches total strangers and asks if they have a pocketknife on them. "My nose!" he wails, to the strangers" complete horror. "Remove my nose from my face! Just lop her right off. I'm dying here. Put me outta my misery."

Getting to Florida in the first place was almost as much fun as being there. I never got much sleep the night before the big trip, I was too excited by the prospect of sixteen hours in the Buick—counting cows, breathing on my little brother and sister, peeing in a paper cup. "Your father won't stop unless he sees a Stuckey's," Mom says, nudging me out of bed at four AM, the departure time which Dad–in what must be a little preview of senilities to come–has decreed. "Do you have to go to the bathroom?" I shake my head and yawn. "Go anyway," Mom says. "There's not a Stuckey's until Chattanooga." Chattanooga is seven hours down the road. When Dad dies, they're going to put his bladder in the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! museum. Ron Powell, of Benton, Kentucky, had a bladder so durable, he whizzed only once in his entire a Stuckey's outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. Believe It Or Not! I stand over the toilet, swaying, still half asleep, and manage to wake my bladder for one feeble squirt, after which it turns over and refuses to budge till morning (when, no doubt, we will be at the precise mean distance between home and Stuckey's of Chattanooga). Dad is sitting in the idling Buick, reading the map by the dome light. Mom is still ironing clothes. She has told us–my brother, sister, and me–to gather up any toys or books we want to take. We take that as a cue to start dismantling the swing set. We each begin to fill a pillowcase like an evacuation has been ordered. When Dad sees us staggering to the car with our freight, he vetoes the entire operation, and we collapse to the ground, hysterical. Tantrums, threats, charlie horses, tears, bloodied noses, spankings, groundings, compromises. We haven't even backed down the driveway.

Dad always packed the car like it was a spacecraft carrying delicate, expensive experiments and NASA would be inspecting for wasted space. He loaded each item according to size, weight, tensile strength, and so forth, which was all well and good except Mom prepared these items for packing in no particular order whatsoever. An ironing board might follow a bag of baloney sandwiches, a pair of shoes might precede a steamer trunk. How many launches were aborted at T–minus two seconds because Dad's internal computers had detected a suitcase had shifted half a micron when he slammed the trunk lid? How many vacations did we take?

1974. I'm eleven. My brother's eight, my sister six. It's after five–thirty. We've been sitting in the car for forty–five minutes when Dad slings his door open to rearrange our cargo for the third time. Mom grabs his arm and tells him that if he doesn't get on the road that second she's going to rip up the traveller's checks. Dad gapes at her a moment then slams his door, stomps the accelerator, and backs over the three–foot dogwood tree he nursed all winter. He doesn't even get out to survey the carnage, so fearsome is his fury, so plump and red are his cheeks. Twenty miles down the road he pulls over and unloads everything onto the shoulder of the interstate. There we sit with our tennis shoes and toiletries, floats and flip–flops in a ring around the car for the world to see, semi–tractor trailers blowing past like sudden angry storms, Samaritans slowing and signaling—Need a hand?—and Dad waving them on with a scowl.

We spent the night forty–five minutes from our doorstep. In the motel, my sister, my brother, and I sit on the edge of the bed. Dad gives us the bad news:  "This room cost me fifty–six dollars. You can just forget about going to Disneyworld." The three of us, normally about as compatible as first–graders and flamethrowers, pull together for the common cause. Dad! Not Disneyworld! Let's skip St, Augustine, instead. Cut back on souvenirs. Hey, I know! Us kids won't beg for anything the whole trip! Dad isn't buying it, so we resort to the only truly effective weapon in our arsenal—we pout. We fight over the TV, stop up the commode, open the camera and ruin the film, knock the nightstand off the wall, break the door on the ice machine, and, on the way to the pool–where I believe Dad is taking us only so we can drown each other–we top off the evening by dropping the car keys in the crack between the elevator and the hall floor where they clink and jingle for a horrifying amount of time before falling out of earshot somewhere in the catacombs below Howard Johnson's. Dad roars, sends us squalling back to the room, dragging our HoJo towels behind us—"I don't even wanna catch you watching TV!"—and stomps off to find the manager. Mom can't quiet us, we're inconsolable, grief–stricken. "You said we could swiiiiim. You saaaiiid!!"

That night, Dad's nose tried to call a family meeting. He never could sleep in a motel. "Is it my imagination or is there enough dust in here to put in an acre of soybeans?" But the rest of us were sleeping like stones; we'd been up since four AM the night before and had put in a good day of insubordination to boot. Even Mom rolled over and told him to take a pill. Dad would just have to deal with his nose alone this time. We were on vacation.

©R. Anthony Powell

ABOUT the author

R. Anthony Powell is Manager/Editor of the Office of Publications atMurray State University in Murray, Ky., where, between redlining theses,professional journals and posters for football tickets, he giddilycomposes bizarre little stories about the human being's propensity tomake a mess of his life.

In his spare time Tony maintains a website dedicated tosatire called "The Gargarney Times" Click HERE to visit his site.

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©Margie Culbertson

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