The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

Lemon Tree

lemon blossomDuring grade school, I was friends with Lisa MacDonald. She lived in the house just down the street with her parents and brothers. We weren’t BFF’s. I don’t think. Were we? Well, of course not, because as soon as her mom and dad split, and Lisa went to live with her dad and changed her name to Lisa King, we lost touch.

I saw her only once afterward. She dropped by unexpected. This was in the early 70’s. I didn’t recognize her. There, on the front porch was this beautiful young woman with her long straight hair, bell-bottom jeans, leather blazer, a Doberman in tow… she was right out of a fashion magazine.

We were unable to spend time together that day, I imagine because I had chores or part-time job obligations. But something tells me, as I write this, it was because I was too intimidated by her to accept her invitation. Not that she was over-powering or aggressive. It was my social anxiety that made me uncomfortable. She was a fashion plate. She was from Toronto! She was a child of divorced parents!

She held me in thrall when we were in grade school. She had a certain spirit, a confidence that I found very appealing. We’d play at her house since ours was off-limits thanks to Dad’s nap schedule and general orneriness. That was fine by me. The MacDonalds had better toys and a rec room, too!

Most of our play was out-of-doors in the summer time. We two girls and our brothers would play in the school yard just across the road from Lisa’s house. One particular night stands out from the rest. We were playing a make-believe game of one sort or another. Spies? Lost Kids? Cowboys? During one moment of pretend conflict between me and Lisa’s brother, things went sideways. He had his hands around my throat and he squeezed. Too hard and too long. I panicked and fought back.

The game ended abruptly and we all trooped back to the MacDonald house. Lisa’s Dad wanted to know why we were home so soon. It wasn’t time for the street lights to come on, after all. Someone, (me?) spilled the beans about the pretend throttling. Father set upon his son and “taught him” a lesson. I remember feeling a mixture of satisfaction, horror, and regret.

The memory prompted this morning, though, by Lin and Jazzy was of an event that took place several years before the school yard incident. I was maybe seven or eight when I joined the MacDonalds on a trip to Storybook Gardens in London. My recall of the day’s events is sketchy, but I remember seeing the famous Slippery the Seal. Or at least I saw his pool. I don’t know, I might be making this up. I learned most of what I know about the sea-lion from my time in London as an adult, twenty years later.

What I do remember is the drive home in the family car. The windows were all rolled down because it was a hot summer day. The radio was cranked up and Lisa’s mom was singing along to Lemon Tree, the Peter, Paul, and Mary tune that was popular in those days.

I also recall tension. Between Mr. and Mrs. Of course, how could there not be tension in a carload of hot, tired, and no doubt cranky kids? But Mrs. MacDonald sang the song with an emphasis that in hindsight I recognize as a taunt.

Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet,
But the fruit of the poor* lemon is impossible to eat.
Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet,
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.


*Thanks to Jenny from the comments below for catching the missing word “poor”. That slipped by me in my cut-and-paste haste.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Thanks to Lin and Jazzy for inspiring this post! I was at a loss (who, me?) and couldn’t think of anything new for this week’s WEMon challenge about childhood stories. 



Categories: Blog Blog Blog


45 replies

  1. I think we’ve all been in that car at some point in our youth. Thanks for the memory jog.


  2. I remember that song well. No tension involved, though, just the whole P,P &M era.


  3. My memories are of Storybook Gardens in London too! I don’t know why my uncle thought his country niece would be thrilled to see three little pigs, etc, but my city cousin loved it. So I decided I would too.


    • I wondered if they were the same Storybook place! I was back to the gardens several times in my London years – walking trails along the Thames River too me from my neighbourhood right past Springbank Park. Thanks again for the memory jog!


  4. I remember Blue Mink singing ‘Melting Pot ” and being horrified once I really listened to the words. It’s funny how songs and smells bring back memories.


    • I rarely, RARELY was able to discern the lyrics of the songs from my day, and many times have been surprised by the words when I finally heard them spoken or saw them printed on the page.

      I was thinking about exactly that, on my walk this morning while I was humming the tune Lemon Tree. I think the emotionally charge atmosphere in the car is now linked permanently with the song. Otherwise, it’s just a song. Nothing special to me.


  5. As soon as I read the title, I started singing it too, though I remember one of the lines as “But the fruit of the poor lemon”, which adds an element of sadness for me.


  6. Lovely writing, thank you. You know that fresh lemons are nothing like as bitter as those that are kept a while. 🙂


  7. I’ve been thinking about childhood friends lately, too, and thinking how little I knew of their family lives, except when you catch these glimpses that you don’t understand fully at the time.


    • Now that you mention it, what I’ve written in these less than 700 words encapsulates my meager understanding -slash-recollection of the MacDonald family dynamic. Enough to draw conclusions? I sure do want to. Especially after overlaying my life experience onto their story. Therein lies the potential for error, I suppose.


      Just how many variations of family dynamic are there, after all?


  8. Your words are pure magic. I felt like I was there.


  9. When I was a kid in a car with windows rolled down and my father driving, he deliberately ran over an innocent snake. For some reason he hated snakes. That snake must have been hit in the tail because it’s head and most of it’s body flipped through the window and landed on my lap. Dad never drove over snakes after that.

    Great response to the challenge.


  10. My dad used that song as a way to teach me his philosophy for dealing with romance. The other song was “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” He was right but as I got older, I also realized what he was revealing about himself. This was a fascinating and mysterious and well-written story!


    • Thank you very much, Martha! I consider yours high praise.

      Up until a few moments ago, when I googled “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” I was unaware of the full lyrics. (You know me and my NOT listening to lyrics!) Now the minor mood to the tune makes sense!


  11. I was always highly attuned to the lyrics in music and I remember the melancholy behind this song. Now thanks to the video, I’ll have the tune stuck in my head for a while. Thanks – I think.

    As you said in one of your comments, it is sad that this is what you remember of this family and even more sad that a child can be so intuned – intentionally or not – to the underlying melancholy in the adults around them.


    • This “in tune” thing that I do… I don’t know whether it was learned or innate, but it surely got lots of exercise living with my dad. I used to “sniff” the air to get a reading on his mood.

      Yeah, sorry about the earworm thing. It’s still scrambling around in my noggin today!


  12. Your personality growing up continues to surprise me: Total confidence and then insecurity. You performed in public, no problem. You weren’t embarrassed of your voice on tape. But here, you had social anxiety. It is sad that this may have interfered with a renewed friendship that day. But there it is–we can’t help what we feel, and don’t know how to deal with it or cover it up at that age.

    As others have said, this was a very well-written post.

    Just an aside: I have noticed finally that the casual font of your theme for me tends to lighten the impact of some of your more serious pieces, and I have to adjust my perspective to compensate so that they may be understood in the light in which they were intended. Other readers have no issue with this.

    Uber-nerd, signing off…


    • I’ve been thinking along these lines lately, OB. Here’s my off-the-cuff theory: humans are as mature and ready to deal with the world as they ever can be when they are young kids. Sure they need to learn things like driving a car, or whipping up a world-class lasagna, but as far as being equipped with what it takes to deal? They got it. Until it is removed from them, one chip at a time. As soon as curiosity is squelched, as soon as voices are silenced, as soon as inner wisdom encounters self-doubt… boom. This little human is now handicapped and needs to spend a great deal of the rest of her life regaining her balance.

      Interesting feedback about the jarring juxtaposition of content and theme. I understand that. I guess that’s one of the drawbacks of being a “anything goes” kind of blogger.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmmm…Al-most agree with you except for…epigenetics. Really f#cks things up, Maggie. Or enhances them in an equal number of cases, one hopes! It seems the mom’s fears can be passed on to the children, and triggered by scent. The grandmother’s experience of stress or extreme hunger can cause damage in the grandchildren. We don’t know as much about what the fathers and grandfathers may pass on.

        So, no tabula rasa, or, rather, tabula rosa : )

        Re: font, I don’t see it as a drawback for any of your non-autistic fans, nor, I think, is the wide variety of your post topics–even within the same post. For you clearly have loads of fans–and are deserving of them.

        (Don’tcha’ love the way I make pronouncements–both negative and positive ones–as if I’ve already been voted Queen/King of the World, even though you-all haven’t quite arrived at that inescapable and eminently logical choice…

        …yet? My own Aspie pomposity embarrasses me (yeah, Babe, blame it on the ASS-perger’s), but it also cracks me up : )

        Plus, I’ve been blogging forever, anything goingly as well, and drawn Likes, comments, and Follows but from a few. Don’t think the anything-goes nature is why. Think it’s style, content, posting frequency, personality. Your finger is on the pulse. Mine is on the trigger. It is, I suspect, off-putting.


        • Hm. You have a point there. Due to genetics we are born with a set of “chips” either removed or enhanced. So, from the get-go, some are already encumbered, shackled, [insert your favourite euphemism for emotionally handicapped here]. There it is, right? Nature and Nurture.

          “Your finger is on the pulse. Mine is on the trigger.” Did you make that up or borrow it? I love it!


  13. The internet makes the world so small, I wonder if you’ll bump into LInda McDonald/King here 🙂


  14. Your post jogged my childhood memory. In grade school, Max and I were friends. Just happened, I guess. Anyway her mother was a stay-at-home mom as was my mother, therefore, over the summer months we would have sleep-overs. This went on from grades 5 to 8. Then came high school and synergies changed. I remember two sleep-overs both to inform me that the other girls in our class did not like the way I dressed, did not like the way I sang, did not like the way how my make-up was applied and most of all should stop speaking with the boys. Then her mother made sure to inform me that my scholastic grades should be kept “at arms length” (low grades) – which meant, “my husband is a high school teacher and his(my) kids are raised in an educated environment not from the scum of the earth “low-class” whose dad was an uranium miner – meaning me. The sleep-overs stopped. And I kept up with my goals for higher & competitive grades which surely pissed off Max’s mother. Lesson learned – mind your business and be wary by “lightly trusting” those who claim to be friends by infusing you with banal compliments to manipulate you in doing their work ..


    • Wow, Normande – I am so sorry that Max’s mom felt compelled to treat you that way. Unacceptable. You were on the receiving end of so much BS in your childhood. You are a remarkable woman.

      Tell me, have you ever heard from Max or of her, in recent years?


  15. “… seeing the famous Slippery the Seal. Or at least I saw his pool. I don’t know, I might be making this up.”

    Isn’t it awful when you cannot be sure that your memory is a real one. I come up against that a lot, and wonder if a photo or postcard is all I really have, not the memory itself. Scary!


    • Oh how right you are, Christine! Since you mentioned it, I have a confession to make. Lisa and her family lived on west side of the street and then moved across the road about the time of “strangulation” incident.

      I think.

      Or did they live on the east side and move across to the west before they moved away altogether?

      It makes no difference to the story… or does it?


      I was also friends with Donalda Finch who moved into the house on the east side of the road after the MacDonalds moved out.

      I think Donalda had siblings, brothers. I don’t recall if her dad lived with the family or not. Could it have been that we were playing Spies/Lost Kids/Cowboys with the Finch clan and not the MacDonalds? Could it have been Mr. Finch who clobbered his son?

      It makes no difference to the story… or does it?

      NO!! I remember now!! THANK YOU Christine for helping me solidify this memory! Donalda had one younger brother, still in diapers.

      I think.

      Yeah, it’s scary all right.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It doesn’t actually make any difference to the story, Maggie. Unless you’re talking to a nitpicker. It’s the feeling of the story that matters. Even when the fine detail is hazy, the emotion evoked remains strong, and that’s what counts. ❤


        • Know what? The only nitpicker in the crowd is the author!

          Now that I’ve started to write, I have a new appreciation for the caveats at the beginning of novels, you know, the disclaimers that the stories are loosely based on fact, but don’t count on a highly accurate accounting. 😀



  1. WEMon: Aug 11, 2014 – Mistakes, Gaffs and Goof-ups | Writing Essential Group
  2. Fresh Lemons | franmacilvey's blog
  3. Because. Modess. | The Zombies Ate My Brains

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s