How I Learned to Wiggle My Ears

OPD 07/01/2006

© 2006 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

You might be amazed to know that you have muscles that you have not yet wired up to your brain.

When we mowed the lawn by hand, it was a simple matter to steer around the many large rocks in our fields. Once we automated the process, we needed to remove them.

We piled the stones behind the barn while we thought of a use for them.

“Ah hah,” my dad lit up one day, “We can paint them white and use them to line the driveway.”

He gave me a can of paint, a brush, and the mission.

I began by painting one stone behind the barn. Then I carried it to the edge of the driveway. I repeated this a few times. It was a cumbersome process as the stones were quite heavy. It was annoying since the paintbrush kept drying between each use. And it was messy. Since I wanted to get done that day, I didn’t wait for the paint to dry before moving the stone. I transferred a good deal of paint from the stones to my hands and clothes.

After observing my efforts, my dad took the can of paint from behind the barn and placed it by the driveway.

It took me quite a while to find that can. How annoying. Who asked him to do that? Sometimes my dad would play cruel tricks.

After bringing the can back to the barn. I repeated the process a few more times. Then my dad, for no apparent reason, took a wheelbarrow out of the barn and parked it squarely on the path from the stones to the driveway.

This was even more annoying since I was inconvenienced as I moved each stone. Taking a detour took nearly twice as long.

Finally he moved the wheelbarrow and placed it, inverted, over my pile of stones. Now I was infuriated. I angrily grabbed the wheelbarrow by both handles and flung it a few yards out of the way. What was he trying to do to me?

It was back breaking work and I was exhausted by the time I was finished.

That evening, after dinner, I overheard my dad talking about me to a visiting guest. His comment disturbed me greatly.

That night I had trouble sleeping. I was mulling over his words, searching for hidden meaning. Eventually I found the muscles that allow me to wiggle my ears. Feeling satisfied, I was able to doze off.

I had overheard the words my dad had used to tell his friend the message he had been trying to tell his son.

Learn to use the muscle between your ears.


Time to Get Married

OPD 06/01/2006

Time to Get Married[*]

© 2008 Brooke Allen


We had been dating for a year when I began to wonder to myself, “Is this the woman I should marry?”

I started asking everyone I came across, “How does one tell if someone is ‘the right one?’”

A young female squealed, “When you speak baby talk to each other. Isn’t that right daadeee?”

“Goo goo.” He replied.


“When your hearts join as one,” was the simultaneous reply of an old couple on a bus. I was enthralled… until a fight broke out between them. “I was speaking.” “You always interrupt me.” “Oh, shut-up.”

“You’ll just know.” A common but useless answer.

“Chemistry.” Another.

“When you can picture yourselves doing absolutely everything together.” I thought about that. I could even picture it. It wasn’t attractive… surely not everything?

“When you don’t have eyes for any other woman.” Not me. I have eyes for every other woman.

“When you think she is the most beautiful woman in the world.”  Nope. I’d rank her an 8.

I asked the most beautiful woman I’d ever met, “Gina, I’m thinking of getting married. How do I know it is the right thing to do?”

She said, “I wish it were me.”

“I didn’t realize marrying you was one of my options.”

“That’s not what I mean. I wish I were the one getting married. I can picture it perfectly… the house… the children… I even know what my kitchen will look like.”

She seemed to be in the advanced stages of something. I asked, “Does your boyfriend share your vision?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.”

I talked about this to Jack, a friend at work. He said, “It is a mistake to imagine your future with someone.”


“You’ll be disappointed. Besides, you’ll close off the opportunity for lots of adventure.”

I asked, “How did you know your wife was the right one?”

“Lack of imagination. I couldn’t imagine a future without her. That is why I had to marry her.”

On our wedding day I could not have imagined the children we’ve raised, the things we’ve done or the places we’ve been.

But it would have all been unimaginable without Eve.

I have no idea what the future will bring, but I still can’t imagine it without Eve.

Jack was right.

When you can’t imagine a future without a certain person, you have to ensure you have that person in it.

You can leave everything else to chance.




[*] Note: This photograph was not taken at our wedding (which took place at City Hall in New York) but two days later at a Fake Wedding conducted by Alan Abel, an internationally renowned prankster (but that’s another story). Alan’s shenanigans and my goofiness should have given Eve ample warning of what she was getting into. But I fear it has not.

How Grandmother Won Granddad in a Beauty Contest

by: Brooke Allen

OPD 05/01/2006

My Grandma Anne was a southern belle born and raised in Dallas. Granddad Tom was raised in Chicago and sent from home at 14 to earn has way as a man. They met in New York City.

Anne had entered a beauty contest. In those days (before the bikini) young ladies were judged on poise, grace and intelligence. She won.

First prize: a week in New York. All expenses paid.

At first she was excited. Then it occurred to her that she didn’t know a soul in that Yankee city.

A friend set up a blind date for her first day in the Big Apple. She was to meet him under the big clock above the 42nd street entrance to Grand Central Station.

She leaned against the western wall as she inspected the young man standing across from her.

“Gawd,” she thought to herself, “let it not be him.”

It was.

At first they weren’t attracted to each other but they were both desperately lonely, for Tom had no friends in the city either. What’s more, on Sunday he was to be shipped out to Cuba by the United Press International, his employer.

They spent all of that week together and on Saturday Anne decided not to return to her life in Dallas.

That is how it came to be that my father was born in Havana.

They had picked the path that promised the most adventure.

The Right Woman

OPD 05/01/2006

© 2006 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

I began trading in May of 1988. By the summer of 1990 I felt like I was ready for a change. My days were spent in the most exciting, least interesting work imaginable. At least we had some money in the bank.

Your mother and I made a decision. We would change careers.

Eve was accepted into a Ph. D. program in Marketing. I would take a Masters in education so that I might become a sixth grade teacher.

Then something happened…

One afternoon in mid-August at 2:00 PM, my boss swiveled in his chair to face me,

“Brooke, would you like to go to Japan?”

“Do you mean for a business trip?”

“No. I mean to do some work.”

“For a few weeks?”

“Nope,” he smiled, “For a few years.”

I was stunned. “That is a big decision. I have a family now and I wouldn’t spend that much time away from them. We could all move but my wife is starting graduate school.”

My boss nodded, “It is a huge decision. You must think about where the kids will go to school, what you wife will do, where you will live. I’ll tell you another thing; when you return from an overseas assignment you’ll probably have to start your career over again. Be thorough in your deliberations and consider all the alternatives. I’ll respect your decision whatever it might be. No pressure.”

“How soon do you need to know?”

“Oh… Just tell me by five.”

Wow! Three hours to decide.

So I called Eve on the telephone.

“Do you want to go to Japan?”

“Are you inviting me along on a business trip?”

“No. He wants me to go do some work.”

“For a few weeks?”

“No. A couple of years. We would all move to Tokyo.”

She was silent for a few seconds, “Gee. When does he want to know?”

“By five.”

“Well then, I guess we’d better discuss it now.”

We told him we would go within the hour.

If you’re going to pick the path that promises the most adventure, it helps to be married to the right woman.

Choose Adventure

OPD 05/01/2006

© 2006 Brooke Allen
Originally published May 2006 in International Family Magazine

In 1966 my sister, Ruth, and I spent eight summer weeks in St. Mawes, Cornwall, a sleepy fishing village with a population of perhaps 200 souls. My grandmother had fallen in love with a two bedroom thatched cottage that had been built in 1450 as sleeping quarters for the guards at St. Mawes Castle.

During that summer we had no television, no VCR, no CD player, no iPod, no Internet and no computer games. We didn’t even have a telephone; we used the payphone at the village square. (Eventually they did get a telephone and were assigned the number 414. In the USA we use 414 as the area code for the entire eastern half of Wisconsin.)

My sister and I did find a few books, but mostly we had our grandparents as entertainment.

We spent our days listening to their stories. I’d estimate: 4 hours/day, 5 days/week (assume weekends off), 8 weeks total. That comes to 160 hours of storytelling.

My sister and I were fascinated by their stories, however we were somewhat annoyed. In their presence we felt we had so few interesting things to say.

In that sleepy village, in that ancient house, we heard of how they: had survived three revolutions in Latin America, how they crossed the Andes on mules carrying short-wave radio equipment, and how they were in the Caribbean on a German tramp steamer headed for the Netherlands Antilles on the day the US entered World War II.

I’m scratching the surface here…

At the end of that summer I asked my grandmother, “How do we ever get to have so many stories of our own?”

She said, “Live an interesting life and collect your stories. Do that and when you are our age you will have plenty to say to your grandchildren.”

“But, what do I have to do to have as exciting a life as yours?”

She said:

When you are faced with choices that are the same in all other aspects, choose the path that offers the greatest adventure.

If I Were Running for President

Last night’s presidential debate depressed me.

EmptyStageI slept poorly.

I awoke this morning upset and tearful.

Must we be treated like shareholders in a proxy battle for the management of the largest enterprise on the face of the earth?

Do none of us want our passions stirred for our own good?Is there no leader here who might motivate us with their thoughts on how we might collectively be a nation?

If I were running, I would say:

My fellow Americans,

We once had terrorists and their sympathizers in our midst, yet we did not hire a foreign force to invade Chicago to find the Chicago Seven.  We did not inspect every black looking for Black Panthers. And we were able to forgive Patty Hearst for taking up with the wrong crowd. We did pursue those terrorists and we made them ineffective and marginal. When aging 60’s radicals finally came out of hiding they were more the subjects of our pity than our scorn.

Japanese prisoners of war thanked us for saving their lives for they had been the products of an evil indoctrination that advocated suicide over a change of heart. Our goal is for middle aged Muslims to thank us one day for saving them from the evil indoctrination of their youth. Our goal should not be to hunt down and kill every last one of them. I doubt that they will ever thank us for bombing their villages as we looked for evil doers among them. We can deal with terrorists for we have done it before, and hopefully war never need be used to that end.

A nation should not take the decision to go to war lightly, and it is not the equivalent to hiring some professional police to maintain the peace. A nation at war requires complicity from all its citizens in the violation of the Golden Rule as it makes it a national mission to kill other people’s loved ones. If the day ever comes when we need go to war, I shall hold hands with you, kneel, and beg forgiveness for our own failure to find an alternative. In the meantime, I solicit help from every one of you in seeking a better path, and I shall never say that, just because I personally can not think of an alternative, then there are none.

Many of you wish to import American made drugs from Canada because our drug companies sell our drugs cheaper there. As chief executive I intend to vigorously enforce the unjust law that prohibits such importation, and as you leader I encourage all of you to violate that law as an act of civil disobedience. Then collectively we will present ourselves to those drug companies, millions strong, as their own customers who have been criminalized in support of their greed and we will stop them from perpetrating the biggest injustice of all by charging what the market can bear, rather than working for our best health. When we are victorious, I promise to pardon all of you of your crimes. My approach does not require the consent of Congress and the drug lobbyists will be powerless against us.

Our desire to litigate is out of hand, and we all must reassess our relationship with responsibility and risk. A life may be of incalculable value, yet accidents do happen. We do want our doctors to have insurance in case their negligence causes us harm, yet we want them to be able to afford that insurance. The solution to these problems may involve capping awards but it also involves us capping our own expectations and behaviors. If you wish to be reflective, I suggest that you decide if you personally have enough insurance to fairly compensate someone if you cause them harm. I also suggest that if you hate ambulance-chasing lawyers who advertise on TV then you tie up their toll free numbers with your opinions of them.

We do have a health care crisis in this country, and part of the problem is that we are becoming increasingly unhealthy because of the choices we are making. As your President, I intend to protect your investment in me by exercising every day. I ask C-SPAN to cover it live. If your President can find time to keep fit, so can you. Won’t you join me?

I am pro business, and it has been said that the business of America is business. But when it comes to your relationship with your government I do not want you to think of yourselves as shareholders of a corporation entitled to benefits without liability, and voters in an occasional proxy fight for a change in management. I want you to think of yourselves as partners in an endeavor sharing not only the benefits but also the effort and the responsibilities. I want you to wisely identify leaders in your midst.

God has blessed America and I hope we can act in a way to justify his continued blessing. Like many of you, I am not even sure I believe in God, but I say these words because they best express a feeling in my heart.

As I write these words, I cannot help but cry. As I listen to our presidential candidates, I cannot help but cry out.

Note: This was originally posted on October 9, 2004 under the title A Friend Writes on

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