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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)

TITLE: Mountains out of Molecules
By Julie Paulsen


Life was good in 1961. Greenwood School was packed with baby boomers, so my sixth grade class moved one year early to a new school building, Jack Benny Junior High. That was cool. The old gothic and neoclassical style of school architecture was out and a new steel and glass modular design was in. Sunday nights we watched the Jetsons on TV, and Monday morning we went to school in a “Jeston” looking building.

Mr. Nix was our science teacher. He wore sharkskin slacks and looked like the newest member of the Rat Pack. He was cool. Two years later, in Mr. Nix’s classroom, I heard the intercom announce President Kennedy was shot. If I only knew then how my years with Mr. Nix would affect my future, I would have studied harder, especially the table of elements.

It’s been years since studying the periodic table. If I searched through the box of old school papers which mom saved, I might discover the familiar colored grid with C for carbon, I for iodine, etc. Those two are about the only ones I still remember. But, one I will never forget is H2O, two chemicals essential for the survival of life, physical life and the life of my family.

Time passed quickly through the 60’s. Eleven years after sitting in Mr. Nix’s classroom I gave my parents their first in-law, James. The great H2O debate was primed and ready to explode.

The “water” discussion began harmlessly one evening during dinner. “Fantastic dinner Mom, a real treat!” I loved living near my folks and gathering around their table. “I sure do miss this great well water…yours just tastes better than our city water.”

My mother, a self-taught health nut, who loved to share newly discovered facts declared, “I just found out that H2O is more than hydrogen and oxygen, it’s minerals and other things!” Mom read just enough about alternative medicine subjects to use the terminology, but not enough to prove a hypothesis. That night her limited knowledge put Mom at odds with her first in-law, my husband.

“Ahhh, Mom, I think water is just plain H2O, pure and simple!” James cautiously replied as the newest family member.

Oh, no it’s not!” Mom, snapped back. “I just read somewhere…or heard somewhere that H2O is not just H2O, there’s minerals and such!” Those of us at the table, we who knew mother best, laughed nervously, shifting in our seats. We had just witnessed the “Big Bang” of the great H2O debate.

For years to come, mother-in-law and son-in-law continued the discussion. One year Uncle Jack, a chemical engineer, was consulted and that conversation turned into a debate on two food additives, nitrates and nitrites! Each year found the water debate lessening, grandchildren came along and more in-laws married into the family creating a great diversion. Finally, the subject appeared to be extinct.

Mom and Dad were aging and decided to move into a planned, adult community. Everyone helped with the move, kids, grandkids; the whole bunch of us. Exhausted and hungry we ordered pizza. Gathering outdoors around the picnic table and spread out in lawn chairs we stopped to give thanks for the day, the food and for family. As our mouths were busy eating, a lovely hush emerged. Birds were serenading, crickets chimed in and the wind rustling through the trees was calming. Still tired from the day’s work, enjoying satisfied stomachs, the mood was very relaxed.

The grandchildren began making memories at “Grandma’s new house” by playing Frisbee, as the adults chatted, enjoying a break from lifting and unpacking.

“Beautiful new home, Mom and Dad,” sister Julie remarked.

Sweet sister-in-law Lora, the newest member of the family echoed, “yes, lovely, but I will miss your good tasting well water.”

James eyes found mine and we both drew a breath of anticipation. His mouth curled up ever so slyly and we both knew what the other was thinking. In that split second mother replied, “Oh, Lora, I know, I’ll miss it too. But you know, I’m reading about distillation and learned that all water is plain and simple H2O, so there’s no difference, only in the taste!”

Restraining our laughter, James and I could only communicate with our eyes, and they were laughing uncontrollably…our own private little mother-in-law joke. Why make a mountain out of a molecule?

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men…and mothers-in-law!
Romans 12:18 NASB

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This article has been read 412 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Debbie Wistrom05/15/08
Your style is easy to read and it flowed well.

I always like this when it happens and you captured it perfectly "As our mouths were busy eating, a lovely hush emerged."

Keep writing.
Carol Sprock05/16/08
The title caught my eye and it fit well with the story focus. Although the first couple paragraphs were full of interesting details and nostalgia, I didn't find them useful for the purpose of the narrative. Other than the Mr. Nix reference, I think I would have liked to hear more of the debate over the years. Nonetheless, I did like how you summarized several decades--very skillfully--in order to highlight the change in your mom's response.
Dee Yoder 05/16/08
This was a fun read-love all the little flashbacks to a simpler time! The title is very clever, too.
Phyllis Inniss05/16/08
This is a cleverly written article. You introduced us to your limited memory of science bcause you paid little attention in Mr. Nix's class and then to your mother's interest in reading of things outside her cooking that she was unable to defend in an argument and your husband's defence of his stance of the H20 debate with your mother. I like the way your mother capitulated in the end.
Marlene Austin05/17/08
Good personal narrative. Interesting how little barbs reappear with additions to families, isn't it? :)
Karin Beery05/21/08
Entertaining! I would have liked to have read more about your mom's interest in alternative health than about Mr. Nix (I think it may have been more relevant). I also enjoyed the adding of in-laws; I never looked at it that way before!
Joanne Sher 05/23/08
Congratulations, Julie, on placing seventh in your level with this piece. Great job!