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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/12/10

If Only I'd Been Switched at Birth

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Do you ever think about your past and wonder how things might have turned out differently if you had changed a single decision, choice or direction in your life? Walking down the aisle both times comes to mind for me. Do you ever think you were born in the wrong era? I don't. My era was tough enough. Anytime sooner, I might have been Lizzie Borden, and we all know how that turned out. Elizabeth Montgomery even starred in a movie about her. Nobody wants to see Brenda Vaccaro play me. Nobody wants to see Brenda Vaccaro at all.

I don't believe I was born before or after my time or even in the wrong city or state. But today, I'm going to make a confession that I have never revealed to anyone else. I came up with it just a minute ago.

I think I was born in the wrong hospital.

If I had been born in a different hospital, things might have turned out completely different for me. But no, I had to be born in the hospital where they give you to the correct parents.. Ah to have been switched at birth! My childhood might have been like a fairy tale instead of a nightmare. I might have gone to sleep away camp instead of having to earn .25 an hour baby sitting for infants with colic that liked to vomit on my shoulder two or three times a night. I might have learned how to use a hula hoop or a baton instead of how to burn the feathers off of a chicken. I might have taken piano lessons instead of learning the tuba.

Three years of playing that monstrosity (while wearing braces on my teeth no less) guaranteed me six years of chasing after boys who thought my perfume was "Raid". Now, of course, my perfume of choice is "Off".

Back to the movies.

Do you remember that house that everyone wanted to hang out at because the parents were really nice and friendly, there was a great pool, a rumpus room with a ping pong table and a pantry full of Twinkies, Coca-Cola and potato chips? I do. It wasn't mine. As I young girl, I bemoaned the fact that kids rarely came over to my house to play more than once.

It wasn't like I could extend a great invitation by saying, "Wanna come over and play "read a book' this Friday? We have a whole box of oranges for snacks. And my dad will be home because he has the day off so he can quiz you on your geography." You get the picture.

Mine was the house with the plastic covering on the sofa that stuck to your thighs when air-conditioning didn't exist. We had not one, but three fireplaces that were filled with books instead of firewood. Yes, our fireplaces were libraries. No happy hearth, smokey charm or warm and friendly fireside chats for us. It was more like a screaming at the top of your lungs match. I swear I once heard the TV asking my parents to turn the volume down.

At our house, if you weren't yelling, you were reading a book, suffering through geometry or learning about germs. We had a pet vacuum cleaner named "Spotless". Our house was so clean that it looked like it was wearing a condom at all times. Unprotected visitors had to be cleared through an agency known as my mother before being allowed to enter our hallowed hallways.

"What are you doing on Saturday?" my friend Sally would ask.

"I'm learning how to shine and polish shoes," was a better response than "My sister and I are cleaning the mosaic tile in the shower with a toothbrush" .

Unfortunately, both were true.

Now do you understand why I was born in the wrong hospital? If I had been switched at birth, I could have been polishing my nails when I was seven years old instead of reciting Abraham Lincoln. Hell, I could have had parents that didn't resemble Abraham Lincoln. I was always saddened by the fact that the ugly stick had beaten my parents to a near pulp and feared that my fate was going to be equally as unfortunate. I often prayed at night for a handsome father and a prettier mother. Instead, I got a dad who looked (and often behaved) something like this:

(Image by Unknown Owner)   Details   DMCA

And trust me, he's the better looking of the two of them. I'm almost positive Jim Unger modeled his cartoon "Herman" after my parents. My siblings and I referred to my parents as "Herman" and "Mrs. Herman" behind their backs. They didn't bicker so much as they cut each other down with quick quips. Mrs. Herman gave my dad a run for his money. She is still waiting to outlive him so she can collect it. With each argument, the louder of the two was declared the winner. And then we discussed Winston Churchill. In short, there was a lot of yelling that went on in my house. There was some occasional axe throwing too. Maybe Lizzie Borden and I are related after all.
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Patricia A. Smith is a writer and artist (and sometimes both at the same time). A former columnist, restaurant critic and cruise line executive, Smith has lived in London, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, Egypt, Costa Rica and France. She returned (more...)
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