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.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Cough Drop - A Thanksgiving Miracle

This is for my longtime friend Beth who lost her home in a fire this Thanksgiving.  Sometimes when times are tough you need a reminder that miracles still  happen. If you have a warm home and full table this Thanksgiving, consider helping my friend find out how bright the future can be.  There is a fund set up by her community to help her family reclaim their future: 
First Community Bank, ATTN: Karen Halper, PO Box 231, Eureka Springs AR  72362.

Bill and I were sitting in that special kind of traffic jam that comes just before the holidays and is the result of a small town growing like an overdose victim of Jack’s magic beans, leaving mundane things like convenience and city planning behind. The roads were packed like the straw in a peach milkshake. Fruit gets stuck in the end, all movement stops, and nobody gets any relief. With a milkshake you can pull out the straw and suck out the peach pulp. With overburdened roads, the obvious answer is to block off one lane with orange cones and commit to a ten-year construction project.

We'd dropped our kids off at a mega-bookstore at what seemed like a short time earlier, doling out the last bite-sized candy bars from Halloween left in the bottom of my pocketbook to hold them until we got back and could hit a nearby buffet extravaganza. Sometimes eating out, even with two teenaged mouths to feed, is a better idea than a sound investment plan.

In the meantime, the Highway Patrol issued an all-points-bulletin to every mall-bound traveler in the area, describing our location, destination, and current state of irritability. That’s the only reasonable explanation for the fact that our car began to attract morons like a pan of biscuits attracts men named Bubba. Traffic stalled and Christmas shoppers begin to share the joy of the season with their fellow travelers one finger at a time. I attempted to retain my normal good nature even though Bill was getting testy. He always gets that way when he misses snack time.

Bill: Do you have any more candy in your pocketbook?

Me: Why? Are you hungry?

Bill: No, I thought I would toss some out the window to lure people out of our lane.

Me: You’re being sarcastic because you’re too hungry. (Pointing across six lanes of stationary traffic.) There’s a Wendy’s. And a Chinese buffet. And a pizza place. I'll bet that gas station has candy bars.

Bill: Are you hungry?

Me: (Fumbling through my pocketbook.) No. Why do you keep bringing it up? Look--there’s that place with the wonderful barbecue ribs. I could walk there and back before you got to the red light.

(I find a cellophane-wrapped object which I pull surreptitiously from my bag. I wince as a tiny crinkling sound gives me away.)

Bill: What’s that?

Me: Nothing.

Bill: What is it?

Me: Nothing. Leave me alone, willya?

Bill: You have food.

Me: No I don’t. It’s a cough drop. (Here I wave the cough drop with a flourish. It’s of a nondescript color somewhere in between magenta and pink eye.)

Bill: I want half.

Me: It’s mine. I found it. (I fondle the cough drop like it was the One Ring.)

Bill: We can take turns licking it.

Me: (Pensively) I don’t think I’ve bought any cough drops this season. . .not since I had the flu that year we had the big snow.

Bill: You can have it.

Me: No you. I can wait.

Bill: I can wait, too.

We laughed together, the warm laughter of two people coming together over misfortune.

Under cover of laughter, I shucked the paper off the cough drop like it was a peel and eat shrimp and popped it in my mouth.

Just then, in a holiday miracle moment, traffic parted like the men’s restroom line for a father-daughter combination. Nothing clears the tracks like a man doing daddy-duty with a lace-clad toddler in tow. We picked up the boys, and wheeled into a nearby restaurant.

Bill: See, it all turned out okay because we made sacrifices and worked together. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.

We all smiled at each other like the Brady Bunch on the 29th minute of a 30 minute show.
Secretly, I gave thanks for a cough drop appetizer that kept me from acting like a turkey.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ho Ho's for the Holidays

Basking under the lights, skin as brown and buttery as a ginger snap, the star of the layout sprawled across the centerfold like she had stock in staples.



“That’s the one I’ve always dreamed of.”

“Don’t drool on the recipe.”

It’s girls night out and we’re gathered around the table checking to see what the beautiful people are having for Thanksgiving dinner.  Glossy pages are open to a shimmering feast. There’s not a fried onion ring or can of mushroom soup in sight.  The turkey is as flirtatious as a '40’s pinup girl, wearing nothing but a brown sugar and paprika rub.  It’s enough to make me want to be a Spice Girl.

Every diet that has ever been tested and tossed aside is represented by our group.  Elizabeth is low carb. Kaitlyn is high protein. I represent the “sugar raises your metabolism so you can eat Ho Ho’s for breakfast” school of thought.  If the road to hell is paved with whole wheat good intentions, the highway to heaven is coated with brown sugar.

“I’m tempted to give this one a go,” I said, scanning the ingredients for recognizable items. “I have a guy bringing me a fresh turkey and I want a fancy new recipe.”

The room got quieter than the fifth grade gym during ballroom dance week.

“You’re going to cook a fresh turkey?”

“Sure. How hard can it be?”

“Ever tried to put pantyhose on a squid?”

I pondered my history for possible matches. “I dressed a toddler as a noodle one Halloween.”

 “Close enough.”

The day before Thanksgiving I stood in front of the sink. I wasn’t a fan of Dallas during its TV run, but I’ve named the turkey J.R. Ewing because it has the largest spread I’ve ever seen.  J.R. is sprawled in the kitchen sink like a centerfold model. One drumstick is propped coyly on the hot water faucet, and the toe of the other is stuck in the spray nozzle.  There are so many pin feathers left, I feel like I should shave it instead of roast it.

A fresh turkey is different from a supermarket bird that has had its legs trussed together and frozen into shape. Left to its own devices, the bird in my sink could probably out cancan any Rockette at Radio City.

I was trying to wrestle the thing into position to lash the legs together when the Captain and his faithful companion, Bo, a sleek, by which I mean obese, black dog, half Labrador and half Dalmatian sauntered into the kitchen. 

“What’s up Master Chief?  Can’t you get the bad guy under control?”

“I don’t know if I’m cooking this bird or doing the cha-cha with it. It could take the mirror ball on Dancing With the Stars, drumsticks down.”

“Need a hand?”

“Sure. I’ll hogtie it and you smear on the rub.”

After a few minutes we paused for breath.

“You were supposed to smear it on the turkey.”  I flicked brown sugar from an eyebrow.

“This thing fights back. Are you sure it’s a turkey and not a kangaroo with a grudge?”

We dove back into the fray, and emerged, a half hour later, basted in sweat.

If generations follow the Thanksgiving tradition we set that day, there will be Rockwellesque paintings hanging on future walls with a man, woman, and big black dog covered in brown sugar, eating snack cakes stuffed with artificial flavoring.

Everybody is thankful for something. I’m grateful for a husband who doesn’t mind Ho Ho’s for holiday lunch.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Singing in the Drain . . with Erma!

A gaggle of us raised our families with Erma Bombeck, and we wore our Girl Scout socks to the grocery store with pride.  We didn’t sweat family vacations when the kids packed a duffle full of comic books and no clothes.  And found out life would go on when we had Angel food and no angels to feed it to.  My thanks to Terri Rizvi and the folks at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop for letting me share a moment on their blog. I should have known it would all go down the drain. . .
Come join me on the Titanic. What could it hurt?  It's Monday anyway.

Just send a plumber and tell him NOT
 to bend over!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

An Open Letter to the Undead Among Us

Dear Zombie Nation,

There’s something about living around the corner and down the street from St. Nowhere to make you appreciate the Zombie Apocalypse. Throw a two-doors-down cemetery into the mix and come dusk, the idea of meeting the undead on an evening stroll is not something to discount out of hand.  All in all I decided over the last couple of years that an exercise program involving the fresh air of Zombie twilight was a deal breaker.  No evening strolls around the freshly dug graves for me.

Now that new evidence has come to light, I am convinced that we are receiving mixed messages from the Zombie population. Before the Neighborhood Association Committee starts posting zoning rules, I’d like to get the facts straight so that I don’t slight the undead. When it comes time to pick teams, it seems unwise to offend somebody who can win the tortoise and hare race hands down. So let me just check a few things.

What is the main staple of your diet?  I don’t want to show up at a Zombie potluck with a potato chip-topped brain casserole only to find out I’m with a group who can’t believe they ate the whole thing.  I recently viewed a documentary, “Night of the Living Dead,” only to see zombies munching on arms and legs like they had a combo dinner from Kentucky Fried Children.  If it’s spare parts you want, we can work out a deal with some unwanted telemarketers, cable TV repairmen who are never on time, or the folks in charge of the Affordable Health Care website.

Are you strong enough to break a car window, or do your arms fall off in a stiff breeze?  Because, really, you can’t have it both ways, and I don’t want you leaving limbs around the doorway if you try breaking into my pantry after I’ve just mopped.  And the first time I step on an eyeball, your sorry behind is headed straight back to the graveyard.  Show some respect for other peoples’ homes.  We decorate your living space with plastic poinsettias and this is the thanks we get.

Do you accept animals?  I’m just asking for the neighbor, who sometimes pools listlessly in the driveway until the fog has lifted.  I’m not one to take advantage of God’s creatures, but when it comes to brains, the Labrador at that house runs the show. That man’s fog hasn’t lifted in forty years.  I’m betting any brain cells he has left don’t even add up to fun size.

Once a zombie, always a zombie, right?  Movies that show a lovestruck girl and a rehabilitated zombie boy are surely the stuff dreams are made of.  True love can only do so much.

Just ask Dracula.