As dinner meandered on, the way meals with Skylar always seem to do, she began to spend more time reading than eating. When I asked her to take a bite of fish, she would absent-mindedly bring her glass of milk to an area in the general vicinity of her lips. When I asked her to eat some orzo, she'd pick up a green bean and hold it in the air like a pencil.
I was more patient with her than usual, in light of the difficulty of her past two weeks at school. But even a long fuse eventually burns down. Turning at one point to see that, while finally managing to bring a green bean to her mouth, she had failed to take a bite of it, I made my patented sound of exasperation -- sort of like the "h" that signifies rough breathing -- and started to say something in a mildly raised voice.
Yet Skylar managed to parry my thrust in advance by saying something that doubled me over with laughter. "My green bean is a cigarette," she began, then leapt across the gorge of context with the aplomb of a Surrealist in training. "Goofus asks his mother for a cigarette. Gallant knows that smoking will make his lungs turn black."We hadn't been discussing anything remotely connected to Highlights or its long-running comic strip. Nor had we been discussing cigarettes. Wherever Skylar had gone in her prandial reverie, she had gone alone. But that place was clearly the sort of place where future writers go. Her instinct to triangulate the two boy stereotypes, who are always shown to be responsible for their own actions, with a parent who sets a bad example is brilliant.
It's even more impressive if you believe, as I always did during my childhood reading of the magazine, that Goofus and Gallant are twins who share the same mother. Not being attuned to allegory at that point in my life, it never occurred to me that Goofus and Gallant might be the same boy in different moral clothing. Although I later came to suspect the error of my youthful interpretation, part of me still believes now what I believed then.
That's why I laughed so hard. The vision of Gallant judging his own mother disapprovingly while his brother bonded with her her over a bad habit flashed in my head before I remembered that I'd forsaken that particular narrative years ago. Oh, and the strip I've included above is from the June-July, 1962 issue, if any of you are curious.