Giving a spit

November 12, 2013

By Pat Detmer

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Long ago, our fraternal grandmother told us that our great-great-great-grandfather was the famous Cherokee Yellow Bird. Of course she also told us that my grandfather discovered radar but that his secrets were stolen, which explained why there were no statues of him in the town square.

That should have put me on my guard, but I craved a more exciting background than the one provided by our known German/English heritage, which was filled with brewery workers and pattern-makers and was as boring as sturdy shoes and white bread.

A trip through the Internet a few years ago advised me that Yellow Bird had had a daughter, but she’d produced no children. So that was that. But the search made me want to know more about where we came from, and with DNA kits easily available, I could now discover my ancestry for the mere price of a round of golf up on the hill, so I ordered one.

When I got my kit and eagerly opened it, I found a 6-inch tube with a thick black line across the center of it and the notation “Fill the tube with saliva up to the line.” Were they kidding???

I hadn’t had that much moisture in me since I was a dewy-eyed and plump-lipped youth. But after closer inspection I realized that they didn’t expect me to provide that much of my drool, because underneath all of the printing on the vial I could see a little plastic barrier about an inch below that line, meaning that they only needed an inch of me instead of three or four. But still…

Filled with performance anxiety, I allowed the kit to sit on my desk for months. I’m not sure what I was waiting for. A day when I was feeling particularly drippy and moist? But I finally read the instructions and noticed some fine print at the bottom: Most people take as much as five minutes to gather a saliva sample. Some find it helpful to relax and gently rub their cheeks. That sounded like far too much work and required patience, so I opted for their second suggestion: Place 1/4 teaspoon white table sugar on your tongue.

The Sainted One was out of the house when I opened the sealed tube and began this process, and after I sugared myself I wondered: How will I know when I’ve produced enough spit? The instructions clearly stated, underlined and boldfaced: Do not overfill. I was beginning to produce a pretty decent amount of moisture when he came home. Since I couldn’t speak, I hastily scribbled a note and pushed it at him: Tell me when my spit hits the line!!!! Perfectly used to these kinds of moments with me, he nodded solemnly, watched me drool into the tube, and told me when to stop. Then he walked me into the bathroom and showed me this marvelous new invention called the “mirror.”

Clearly Einstein is not a part of my lineage.


You can reach Pat Detmer — who discovered that the German/English thing was correct, but that long, long ago, we came from Scandinavia. I’m a Viking! — at


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