On Thanksgiving Day, we were all sitting in the Brother Pista family room when my dad threw out a pop quiz:
"What was our code word?" he smirked, and looked at us.
I've written about this before. The code word was part of our family safety plan. It was to prevent us red haired freckle faces from hopping into any old windowless van willy nilly just because some guy with a mustache boasting the efficiency of a Swiffer Wet Jet wanted us to help him "find his dog" or "enjoy a handful of Jolly Ranchers."
We could only ride with the sicko if he knew the family code word.
Remember: Kidnapping was to the 1980s what Fanny Packs were to the 1990s.
I raised my hand and blurted out "OREO!" Next question, please. And make it tricky this time. Oreo. I don't remember why the code word was Oreo, but that was the idea of code words: Something no one else would ever guess. It was an illogical code word for children who never even saw cookies on the premises.
Unfortunately, Brother Pista shouted out a different word at the same time: "JOY!"
That word made me wince. I would have thought it was almost right if I hadn't know that the real code word was Oreo.
"Joy?" I said, scrunching my nose. "No. It was Oreo."
I've been playing this nostalgia game for a long time, recapping my life history on the Internet for almost five years. I'm a fantastic archivist. I pride myself on it. When someone remembers something that I don't remember, I just assume that they are drunk.
My mom's middle name is Joy. If she knew that I told you that, she would be about as excited as if the melon-sized butt bruise photo from my 27th birthday showed up on a billboard on Hwy. 52.
My dad indicated that my brother was right. Joy. Even then I could not bring myself to believe that I was wrong. What an easy code word. Why not just use our dog's name, or the last four digits of our phone number? Sheesh.
After all-but high fiving Brother Pista, my dad finally looked at me and said, "Oreo?"
"Why would our code word be 'Oreo'?" Brother Pista asked.
"Yeah," Ma Pista said. "We didn't even eat oreos ...?"
Even Chuck was looking at me. For the duration of our relationship, he has always assumed I knew what I was talking about when I said our family code word was Oreo. Now he was probably wondering if I even knew how to triple jump; if I'd ever seen Kelsey Grammer drunk.
"I'm pretty sure it's oreo ..." I gave it one last shot, a lot less confidently.
"It was Joy," my mom said.
We were nearing Sandstone, Minn., later that night. Chuck and I had been in the car for hours and hours and hours. I was starting to see orbs, and didn't even notice that we'd given the same CD about 18 consecutive spins.
"Oreo!" I said. I remembered.
Oreo was a code word. It was used like this: During high school boys basketball games 1990-1994, Princess Linda and I would sit within the sight line of the boys on the bench. For four years, whatever boy we liked most probably played on that basketball team. We would watch the game, and take turns watching the bench. If, for instance, I was looking at No. 54 on the bench, and noticed that No. 34 was looking up in the stands at Princess Linda -- whose turn it was to watch the game -- I would whisper to her: "Oreo."
It was all very covert and exciting.
I still have a code word with Chuck that means "Let's leave this place where I am uncomfortable and/or bored." It's more like a code phrase, though. I'm not telling, though. I might still need to use it.