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Click any letter for a look at my prize-winning essay from the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. You don't even have to buy a vowel.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Stepping Out


“I do what?”
  
“A half step. Like a baby step. But with bigger feet.”

 The Captain and I are standing face to face in the living room. We’ve decided, after a half century of ignoring choreographed moves, that we should learn the proper way to do the Carolina Shag, the official dance of the South Carolina coast.  Around these parts children learn to Shag before they learn to blame broken dishes on their little brother.
  
Just now we’re stuck at the most difficult part. Getting started.
  
“Which direction do we step?”
  
“I guess toward the beach.”  We are presently five hours and six more weeks of winter away from the shore. We pause and gaze serenely eastward in honor of the ocean.
  
“What are you doing?” The Captain wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his Jimmy Buffett t-shirt and peers at me.

 “I’m gazing eastward.”
  
“You’re gazing toward the kitchen.  East is the other direction.”

 “It’s the thought that counts.”
  
 “You’re thinking of the cheesecake in the refrigerator.”
  
“It reminds me of the beach”

 “Because it’s round like the sun?”
  
“Because they both remind me my swimsuit doesn’t fit.”

 We observe a moment of silence in honor of the good things in life and traitorous swimwear.

 He takes my hand.  “So where were we? Half. . .”
  
“Step.”
  
“Okay.”
  
We immediately step in opposite directions, then back, then smash each other’s toes into the biological equivalent of strawberry jam.  Our arms are locked around us and we’re stuck together like purse-bottom postage stamps. Every time he breathes, my glasses fog up in a half moon shape.
  
I glare at him through a sliver of light at the bottom of my right lens. “The men on the video were light on their feet.”
  
He grimaced and limped to a chair.  “I wish you were light on my feet.”
  
“You need to practice. You’re supposed to look like you’re hovering just above the ground.”

 “The last thing I saw hovering was just above swamp level in a bad science fiction movie.”

  “What happened in the movie?”

“The hovering thing got beat up before I got the butter on my popcorn.”

 “So you don’t want to learn the Shag?”
  
“I’d rather line the bed of my truck in taffeta and throw an afternoon tea for the Sugar Tit chapter of the Hell’s Angels.”
  
“The only motorcycle in town belongs to Old Man Pirkle, the Volunteer Fireman and Assistant Mayor.”
  
“We could just watch You Tube demos and eat cheesecake.”

 “Turn on the laptop. We have six more weeks to buy a swimsuit.”

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Legacy


As far as legacies go, my tastes lie with something simple, like a check. Or stock. Or heirloom china. Unfortunately Mama wasn’t the heirloom china type. What I got when she departed for the peaceful place where mothers don’t have to cook, clean, or say, “If I told you once, I told you a million times,” was not the inheritance I assumed was my birthright. What she left me was the very thing I was the least qualified to handle. Wisdom.

Giving me a lapful of life lessons is like tossing me a copy of the Atkins diet and a size six sheath dress and telling me the party starts at seven. You may as well shove the plans for building a biplane into my arms and tell me to be in Paris by midnight. When it comes to legacies, it’s best to just go ahead and hand me a gold bar.

Now that I’m in the stage of life where good advice usually involves a recipe loaded with fiber, I realize that what Mama left me was a handbook for life. Thanks to the seeds my mom planted in the rocky garden of my mind over the years, I’ve sailed through many of the stormy seas of life without having to evacuate to life boats. Turns out Mom knew best all along. Here are Mama’s Rules to Live By—along with some of my own observations for those who, like me, have trouble following directions.

1. There is something to love in every person. However, there are some people who hide that something really well. Actually, Mama just said that first part. I learned the second part from my sister.

2. If you rip a page out of your brother’s comic book, he can rip a page out of yours. This is a mother of four’s version of The Golden Rule. I learned to treat friends, family, and their possessions with respect. And I’ll never know what happened to Archie and Jughead that day at Riverdale High.

3. Give a child two cookies; one for each hand. This is a smart idea because it keeps the child busy for twice as long, diverts him from "helping" with your biscuit dough and prevents you from having to walk every morning for a week to work off two cookies that you would have eaten to relieve stress if your child had two hands free to plunge into the dog's food.

4. Don’t honk your horn at anybody. At first I assumed this was Mama’s version of traveling etiquette, but now I realize that she understood road rage long before anyone held up traffic trying to read road signs through the wrong part of skinny designer bifocals.

5. Always have a skill you can fall back on. By this, I know now that she meant a skill that will continue to be of service to the Community of Man. Unfortunately the skill I chose was typing, which caused typewriters to immediately become extinct.

6. If you’re not tall enough to see out the car window, sit on a pillow. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Even the Marines agree with her.

7. If something particularly unpleasant is happening to you, there’s probably a lesson involved. Wade through a puddle or two on the linoleum and you’ll remember to let the new puppy out. You’ll also remember to buy a mop.

8. Don’t sell things you can give away. That might not make sense in an e-Bay world, but knowing that someone who needs it will have a warm coat for the winter goes a long way toward offsetting the thrill of bagging $1.50 for your old hula lamp in an online auction.

9. Play to win. Unless that gets in the way of playing for fun. When playing Scrabble with an elderly woman who can’t see past her elbow, give her a break if she thinks she drew five blanks. Come to think of it, that’s how Mom always won at Scrabble, so there’s probably an extra lesson tucked in there.

10. Always take time to watch the birds at the birdfeeder. Time spent with nature is a peace of mind investment. And last winter, a tiny chickadee who muscled his way through a crowd of rowdy cardinals to have lunch gave me some great ideas for handling the next family reunion. And the big project due at work.

11. Don’t worry, it’ll get worse. This was my mom’s slogan. When I was three and ran to her with a skinned knee, she said it. She was right. I broke my arm. When I was thirty-three and getting divorced, she said it again. And soon my kids became teenagers. But by then, I had it figured out. If things can get worse, the problems that seem overpowering right now aren’t the end of the world. Things can also get better. So if teaching two teenaged boys to drive and adding them to my insurance is the worst life has to offer, I can handle it.

But I sure wouldn’t turn down a check.

 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Siisterhood of the Stretchy Pants


After almost half a century, I’ve finally figured out my identity. It came after a lot of finding out what my identity isn’t.

I’m not the customer that strolls into a highbrow boutique to have all the salespeople cluster around her cooing, “I’ve been waiting for you to come in. I have a clever little cocktail dress in a size 6 that would be just perfect for you after we take it in.”

I’m the customer who wanders into the store, fumbling through her purse for her bifocals and casting about nearsightedly for the chubbies department while Twiggy the sales girl adjusts her shoulder pads to give the illusion of a three dimensional shape and mutters through her nose, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” Meanwhile I can hitch up my stretchy pants and find the perfect dress to wear to the class play on the clearance rack.

I’m not the employee who writes a clever computer program that allows the CEO to unsend an e-mail that distributes company secrets to everyone in his address book, including the Soviet spy that highlights as a janitor.

But I am the employee that can unjam the copy machine with a raised eyebrow, a push of a button, and a hip check in less time than it takes the culprit to hijack the elevator to the third floor to jam their copy machine.

I’m not the wife who can pull together a catered luncheon for 150 when my husband offhandedly invites the rained-out IT Teambuilder Weekend group home. But I know the way to a man’s heart is paved with meatloaf and mashed potatoes and I have a secret ingredient that gets his attention faster than an advertisement for a car that runs on beer.

I’m not the health-chick who can order a three-leaf salad for lunch and be too full to pack in another bite. I’m the one who reaches for the dessert menu as soon as her stretch jeans hit the cushioned seat of the booth and orders her entrĂ©e by saying, “Whatever goes with the Death by Chocolate.”

I’m not the Mom who can whip up a fairy princess costume out of two doilies and a handful of glitter that consumes the under-five crowd with envy. But I can juggle two soccer practices and a baseball banquet on a single Saturday without losing shin guards or sanity.

I’m not the daughter who can buy her parents a mansion on fifty acres of Kentucky bluegrass or a nice retirement villa in the South of France. But I can make sure they get to every doctor’s appointment, including that awful dentist who makes dentures that stick to a candy apple like the Sword in the Stone.

I’m not the sister who picks out birthday cards with enough flowers on front to kick your hay fever into high gear and has it delivered to your office in a pot of seasonal blossoms that I’ll drop by your house to plant in the garden for you later.

The bouquet I send you will be made of assorted chocolate bars; at least one will have a bite missing and another will be an empty wrapper. But I’m the sister who goes shopping in the petite section with you even though the only thing petite about either one of us is our patience with all the clothes made for small, slender women.

So if you’re looking for the one who will stick by you through bad manicures, haircuts gone wrong, and spray-on tans that look like a summer sunset off the coast of Florida, I’m your gal. But try and pull on a pair of skinny jeans after a post-romance feeding frenzy and you’re on your own.

Or save a gallon of cookie dough ice cream for me.

Because there’s one important thing I’ve learned from stretchy pants.

They give.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Holding On to Letting Go

What do you do when your baby (Mom, I'm 27!) decides to hop a plane to a country where chocolate milk is not the drink of choice? You wring your hands and then you write about it! Join me at Sasee for a Mom's-eye view.  http://sasee.com/2018/03/01/holding-on-to-letting-go/

Friday, December 29, 2017

Fire When Ready

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I didn't lose my sister. If you're sitting around putting off taking the tree down, do me a favor and just for kicks check your smoke detector. Then I can check that one off my New Year's Resolutions list.

This isn’t so much a New Year’s Resolution as it is a Voiceover in the Great Commercial of Life. As a general rule, the Voice is recommending the Special Meal Deal or taking care of the heartrending choice between Original or Extra Crispy. This time, however, the Voice is saying in a big booming voice:  “Smoke Detectors Are Totally Worth It.”

Bill and I are standing in the kitchen of my sister’s house.  It smells like a cross between Overdone Liver Day at the corner diner and a game of “Who Let the Wet Dog In?”  The night before, during a driving rain, moisture made contact with wiring in the wall of her turn-of-the-century Saltbox mill house, and with a Snap, Crackle, and Pop, a hot spot appeared that Smokey the Bear would be leery of. 

But nobody was in the room to see it.

It was three o’clock in the morning the night before New Year’s Eve. Most people are happily dreaming of party plans on the horizon or the breakfast special at the pancake house at that time.

Suddenly, a sound like a million angry bees sawed through the murky air.  The smoke detectors. The smoke detectors she had installed the year before when Dad gave up the good life at the nursing home to come live with someone who could make coffee just like he liked it. Pop has gone on to the corner of Heaven where every cup of coffee is bottomless, but the smoke detectors still decorated the walls of the house.

She grabbed her cell phone and laptop – even fire can’t stop the will to Facebook – and she and her husband landed in an icy backyard, breathing frigid air, and called the local fire department who contained the fire to two rooms.

Back in the kitchen, I looked at Bill who was declaring a soggy bag of sugar a total loss. “Hey, where’s the best place to be in a fire?”

He tossed the sugar in the huge trash can we were using for dead-on-arrival perishable pantry products. “Where?”

I grinned. “Outside.”

And thanks to the smoke detectors that’s exactly where my sister and her husband were. A tiny spark may have started the trouble, but the Important Things in Life didn’t go up in flames.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving Bounty


 
I am thankful for paper towels, because I have six animals, all of whom live inside and consider going outside to take care of their personal needs to be a savage exercise in cruelty.  They do it, of course, or they have to watch me go all white vinegar on their shedding hides and listen to lecture number 3,712 about what animals won’t get to do inside if they’re not trustworthy and responsible about going outside.  We all agree on that one, even though if you don’t think a Dachshund can roll her eyes, pull up a chair and watch the fun.

But I’m pretty sure all animals can empty the contents of their traitorous digestive systems onto the Karastan at will.  If an expensive area rug isn’t available, my tennis shoes, sewing basket, or the polished hardwoods in the living room will do just fine.

So when the weather gets cold, and your furry mafia comes in from the bracing chill of winter with a look of revenge in their eyes, do what I do.  Carpet your house in paper towels.

It will make for a Bounty-ful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Cough Drop

Follow the crowd to Huffington Post and get ready for a Fall classic. The crinkly wrapped bite that saved my marriage. The marriage that wasn't in trouble before this trip.