My latest copy of the Reader's Digest came today, along with a reminder of why from time to time I allow my subscription to lapse. Don't get me wrong - I love the magazine. What annoys me is that almost as soon as you subscribe, they start sending messages that say "Act now!" "Renew your subscription!" "Two years for $5!" These messages tend to make me nervous, thinking my subscription is about to expire. And it's hard to find the expiration date buried in all the code they print on the address labels. When I did find it this afternoon, I realized that no panic was necessary, since my subscription is good through August of 2012. Yet they want me to "Renew now!" for two more years. Hell, I could be DEAD in three and a half more years, and THEN who would read the Reader's Digest?
We had the Reader's Digest in our home all my life, I guess. I remember our mother sitting and reading it (on the rare occasions she sat down and allowed herself some relaxation), and she would just HOWL with laughter. She would try to read one of the jokes or stories to us, but she couldn't speak for laughing so hard. There was this one joke that I STILL remember because Mom never could tell it. She would be doubled over with laughter, and she never got it out. I think I was grown by the time I heard the end of that joke, and somebody else had to tell it to me. I guess it lost something in translation, because I didn't quite see that it was THAT hilarious. (Sisters, it's the one about the guy falling in the grave, in case you don't know which one I'm talking about.) What I do remember is the tears that would stream down Mom's face and her gasping for breath.
Mom was peculiar about her Reader's Digest too. No one was supposed to read it before she did. I don't know if she thought we would take all the funny out of the stories and jokes or if we would read the print off the page. Nevertheless, the rule was you didn't open her magazine before she got it. So naturally that was what we (or at least I) wanted most to do. That was back in the days when it came in a brown paper wrapper (not like Playboy, smaller than that). It was an easy enough thing to do to slip the wrapper off the magazine, but for some reason it was a BITCH to get it back on. How did they design it that way? I would take the wrapper off very carefully, but I'm damned if I could ever get it back on. Even if I did, she could tell. Somehow she knew someone had tampered with her Reader's Digest.
Believe it or not, I clearly remember one of the first stories I read in RD. We still lived in the trailer park, so I had to be younger than ten. There was a story about a family whose members all became ill except the baby. They were listless and exhibiting symptoms that resembled the flu. But the baby didn't get it. They finally determined that everyone in the family (except the baby) was drinking orange juice from a clay (?) pitcher, and the orange juice was leaching lead out of the pitcher. The family was basically dying from lead poisoning. (An ironic twist would be if they had thought they DID have the flu and in turn drank more orange juice, but I don't remember that being in the story and I don't want to be accused of making it up. Or being insensitive for thinking that would be just a little bit funny.) I remember after reading that story I grieved for the family, concerned that everyone would be all right. I also became wary of every pitcher I came in contact with, and orange juice itself was not above suspicion.
I used to dream of having a story published in RD. I thought that would indicate I had really arrived as a writer. I was too ignorant to realize that many of the stories I read in that magazine had already been published elsewhere. I also didn't realize for many years that the Reader's Digest Condensed Books that I loved to get every couple of months were abridged. So sue me that I was a kid and didn't realize what CONDENSED meant. I used to wish I could have a "Drama in Real Life" occur in my own life and have something happen from which I could rescue my family (or a friend or a perfect stranger, I wasn't picky) and be the hero. Heroine. Whatever.
We made fun of Mom all the time for sitting with her RD and cackling. Because that was what it was, cackling. It did no good to ask her what was so funny, because A) she couldn't tell us; and B) it wouldn't be that funny to us.
Hubby has learned not to ask me what I'm cackling about when I'm reading the Reader's Digest.