My Dad’s Old Flame


Yesterday I won at the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest that was given at the Area level in Yorba Linda, CA.   Here is the text of that speech… 

When people ask me about my family heritage, I first give them the simple answer: I’m half German on my mother’s side and half Irish on my Dad’s side. But in reality, many of the so-called Irish side of our family originally came to Ireland from Scotland. So, a more accurate description would be to say that many of our family members are half German, half Irish, and more than a fifth of Scotch.

Fellow Toastmasters and welcome guests, there was a family reunion on my Irish side that happened 20 years ago that I remember as if it happened yesterday. It’s when I found out how well my sister was able to keep calm in a crisis and how much my father cared for my mother. I had just graduated with my Master’s Degree from the University of Illinois, and my sister Nora had just finished her residency as an emergency room physician. She and I were ready for a vacation. That opportunity presented itself when Bob and Betty, our cousins in Indiana, announced that were holding the Rowley family reunion on the 4th of July weekend at their farmhouse in Indiana. My Dad’s birthday was on July 3rd, so we decided to combine the celebrations.

My Mother made his favorite cake, German chocolate (naturally), and I drove Nora, my Mom and my Dad from Chicago to Bob and Betty’s farmhouse in Indiana. We all had a great time catching up with news from our relatives over lunch.

After lunch, my sister Nora and I went to Betty’s kitchen to decorate Dad’s birthday cake with candles. Cousin Bob was in charge of the fireworks for the 4th of July, and he loved his fireworks. When he saw us putting candles on the cake, Bob said, “I’ve got a great idea!” “Let’s put sparklers on it instead!” Nora had this dubious look on her face, but Bob insisted. By the time he was done, there were so many sparklers that, had they been on the underside of the cake, we could have delivered it to the astronauts orbiting up in up in space on the space station.

Bob lit the first sparkler, and about five seconds later–WOOMPH! I was alarmed to see giant ball of flame that had once been my Mother’s cake. I didn’t want to set off Betty’s kitchen fire alarm, so I grabbed the biggest oven mitts I could find and ran with the cake towards the pavilion, singing “Happy Birthday to You! Happy Birthday to You!” in double time. I got halfway across the lawn to the pavilion when I encountered the skateboard belonging to Bob’s son Ben.

I pitched forward and the cake flew out of my hands at 45-degree angle like a shot of a shovel, straight towards the pavilion—and my mother. My mother didn’t see it coming because was walking towards the pavilion and had her back to me, but Aunt Charlotte saw it and yelled, “Duck, Duck!” to warn my Mother to get out of the way.

My mother looked confusedly to the left and right, but just stood there. Luckily the cake just grazed her head and hit the far wall of the pavilion. While the cousins were cleaning up the sparklers and the chocolate and coconut shrapnel from the cake, Aunt Charlotte ran up to mother and said “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, child you gave me such a fright! Why didn’t you get your head down when I told you to duck?”

My mother, asked “Duck?” and then it dawned on her. “When you said, ‘Duck, duck’ I was looking around and trying to see where was the duck.” Aunt Charlotte thought this literal-minded interpretation of what she had said was hysterical, and she doubled up in laughter. She laughed so hard that she could scarcely breathe, and then after about a minute, the expression on her face changed—she said she felt a little faint, and worse, said she felt “palpitations.” Uncle Joe heard this and started yelling “she’s having a heart attack!” at the top of his voice.

This got the whole pavilion in an uproar, and Nora walked through the crowd like the eye of a hurricane. “Excuse me; I’m here to help Charlotte.” Uncle Joe said, “Nora, thank goodness, you’re just in time—we need you to go and get a doctor.” She said, “I AM a doctor,” and gave Uncle Joe a look which told him that he would be the next casualty if he said one more word.

“Aunt Charlotte,” she said, “did you have anything to drink with alcohol this morning?” She then realized where she was, at a Rowley reunion, and she rephrased the question. “Did you have anything to drink OTHER than alcohol this morning?” “Oh, yes, dearie, I had two Irish coffees right after breakfast.” “Your pulse seems okay, but I would like to take you to the hospital for a test just to make sure, is that okay? I promise you we’ll have a party for you when you get back.” “Okay, dearie, let’s go!”

I was Nora’s wingman as she drove Charlotte to the hospital and two hours later, we returned and told the Rowley clan that Charlotte was fine—she had just hyperventilated from all that laughter and would be released later on during the day. She related the story of the nurse who was taking Charlotte’s medical history told her “Now, I apologize for what I have to ask you, but it’s a standard part of our medical history—we are required to ask you a question or two about your … sex life.” “Well, dearie, I’ve got a question for you first.” “What’s that?” “How much time you got?” Everybody agreed that Charlotte was indeed feeling like her old self.

They in turn told us the news that while Nora and I were gone, there had been a bit of a row between Bob and Betty. Betty had come to realize that those sparklers had almost set her kitchen on fire, impaled my mother, destroyed the entire pavilion, not to mention indirectly almost causing Charlotte to have a heart attack, so she had HAD it with Bob’s fireworks. She had the boys secretly gather them up, and she sent straight to their ignominious grave … in the outhouse. I remember thinking that I hope Betty told that to Uncle Joe, because he likes to smoke his cigars back there.

Driving home on the way back, I said to Nora how impressed at how well she did in handling this little family crisis—but she was asleep after all that excitement. I looked at my Mom in the rearview mirror and said, and “Mom, I’m so sorry that I caused your cake you made for Dad to be destroyed in that ball of flame.” She put up her hand as if to say, “macht nichts”–“it’s nothing.” Dad took her hand, kissed it, and said to her, “just remember, Dorothy, you’ll always be my old flame.” My mother, being the stoic German she was, said nothing. But you should have seen her smile.

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