Webster’s defines the word “literal” as “in accordance with, conforming to, or upholding the primary or exact meaning of a word or words”.
There are some people who take everything literally. Like Greg. Remember Greg from the Brady Bunch? Remember the episode where he wanted to use “exact words” and it back fired on him? What? You don’t remember that episode? Tell me then, just what were you watching after school back in the 70s and 80s? The Brady Bunch was in syndication and it ran on nearly every television channel there was, so I don’t know how you could have missed that. But anyway…
There are those people who take things literally, and there are those who just…. don’t.
I’d say I tend to fall into the latter category but my son, at age 5, he falls into the former, like Greg. Or, at least he does some of the time. It might depend on the situation or on who’s doing the talking. I’m still trying to figure out the pattern.
He doesn’t seem to take ME literally when I tell him that it’s time for bed or that he needs to clean up his toys. At those times, he apparently thinks I’m joking. Half the time he doesn’t even acknowledge that I’ve spoken. Certainly moms aren’t serious about bedtime or toys, right? However…
Last November as we prepared to visit Disney World, I told my son all about the Haunted Mansion ride. I told him how, when I was a kid I used to like to go through the haunted mansion and how, at one point on the ride, the car rolls past a mirror and a green ghost sits in your lap. I told him you had to be sitting in the middle seat for this to happen.
So when we got to Disney my son was all HURRYUPHURRYUPLETSRIDETHEHAUNTEDMANSIONNOW! and so we rode the Haunted Mansion and when we came upon the mirror, the one where the green ghost was to appear, my son would not look up, he would not raise his eyes. I wondered if he was scared. Up until that point I’d been busy looking all around and thinking about how this or that aspect of the ride had changed since I last rode it. I hadn’t noticed my son as much. Had he been staring downward the whole ride? I didn’t think so. He wasn’t crying. But still, he wouldn’t look in the mirror.
That was the first time we rode it. He did the same thing the second time, and the third time, and the forth time. I couldn’t figure it out because he assured me he wasn’t frightened. So if he wasn’t scared, then why wouldn’t he look in the mirror?
Eventually, he complained. “I sat in the middle seat like you said!” he grumped. And I’ve looked in my lap EVERY. TIME. But I never saw the ghost! Why won’t it sit on my lap?”
That’s when it hit me. Snags had told the truth. He wasn’t scared of the ghost, he was looking for it in his lap, when in reality, the image is projected onto the mirror and he needed to look there if he was going to see the green ghost sitting with him.
I explained again how the ride worked but made it clear that the only way he was going to see the ghost was to look in the mirror, not at his lap. At the end of our trip, on our final ride through the Haunted Mansion, he looked in the mirror and smiled with awe and relief: the ghost was there! On his lap!
Most recently we spent a day in Philadelphia. We saw many things and did many things, including taking a tour with Ride the Ducks. The ducks, if you aren’t familiar with them, are vehicles that look like a boat on wheels, which is, actually, what they are. They tour the city on land, driving up and down streets and then they stop, the driver moves aside to let a Captain on, and they drive the duck down a boat ramp into the Delaware River for a short water tour. It’s at that point the bus turns into a boat.
The tour includes Wacky Quackers; they are plastic duck bills that you can blow into and generate a quacking sound. Each person is issued their own Wacky Quacker as they board the duck at the start of the tour. Snags was happily quacking away as the driver boarded and he stopped to ask my son if he would like to be his helper on this tour. I wondered if maybe there were going to be rules about quacking and perhaps Snags was going to be the example of what not to do. Maybe Rule Number 1 was going to be: No over-exuberant quacking!
Instead, the driver called my son to the front of the bus and asked him, “When we go in the river, if you see water coming up through the floor of the boat here, what do you think that means?”
And my son, little smarty that he his, replied, “It means we have a leak.”
“Right!” The driver said. Then he pointed to the floor again and pointed out all these little handles along the floor that seemed to open hatches every so often. Trapdoors, if you will. The driver told my son that his job would be that of “Cork Boy” and he was to watch for water seeping through the floor and if he saw any he’d have to open the hatches and go underneath, find the leak, and plug it with a cork. He handed my son a large cork to do this with, then sent him back down the aisle to us.
The tour started. We drove past Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We saw the Betsy Ross House and a firehouse museum. We rode down South Street and saw the famous (yuck) gum trees, and other tourists, and a tattoo shop, and Condom Kingdom! We headed back to the historic district and rode along Society Hill and saw famous churches and other spectacular Philadelphia sites.
Then we splashed down into the river. After a few minutes I started to worry that my son might be sick. He wasn’t looking around at the sites. He didn’t see the Penn Arch landing which is famous only for the fact that it’s builder went bankrupt. He didn’t see Camden, NJ across the river. He didn’t see the Navy ships or the historic boat with three large masts. He didn’t look at the building where Will Smith lives when he’s in town. He wasn’t even sitting up. Rather, he was very nearly strewn across the seat, his head near my husband’s lap. Concerned, I asked my husband if Snags was okay. He assured me he was. Snags was only looking down, at the floor. The entire time we were on the river he stared at that floor. He was looking for leaks.
Thankfully, the boat was sound. There were no leaks and we returned to dry land and the end of the tour without incident. Before we disembarked, the driver called Snags to the front and thanked him for his steadfast watchfulness. “You saved our lives,” he told Snags. “Or, you would have if we’d had a leak.” Snags turned over the cork and the driver gave him a parting gift. A little rubber duck wearing a life vest. And Snags, he beamed! And by that I mean he smiled broadly. You know, just in case you are one of those people who take everything literally and thought I meant he was emitting light. Although… I have to say his smile was pretty bright!