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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Connecticut Yankee In a Southern Box Plant

I come from a place in the South where grease is considered a major food group, biscuits beyond breakfast are as common as watermelon seeds in July, and sweet iced tea is always in season. I’ve traveled extensively from Macon clean up to Roanoke, so I was convinced that these were universal truths.

That is, until I went to work as secretary in a corrugated container plant in South Carolina, under the direction of the Human Resources Manager, a transplanted career woman from Connecticut who said “car-mel” instead of “caramel” and couldn’t use “y’all” correctly in a sentence, even if I spotted her the verb. This wasn’t just a culture clash. This was culture wearing a striped shirt and plaid boxers with Girl Scout socks and a seersucker blazer.

Our differences stuck out like peanut butter on pintos. I thought UConn was a territory in Canada. She had to read the comics out loud to understand the dialogue in Snuffy Smith. We debated mightily about whether it was proper to flip, flick, cut, or turn on the lights. And although there were many times she was starting, getting ready or preparing for something, she was never, ever “fixing” to do anything.

She ate fried chicken for the first time when she migrated South to study for her Master’s at the real USC. When fall holidays drew near she reminisced about Thanksgivings on Nantucket where they feasted on fresh lobster with drawn butter, and rolled her eyes like a hot dog on the Speedy Mart rotisserie when I insisted that a proper Thanksgiving meal boasted at least fifteen different carbohydrates and was smothered in giblet gravy. When I tried to explain about collards and black-eyed peas at New Year’s, she looked at me like I’d suggested wearing hoop skirts to Yankee Stadium.

Extending the hand of Southern hospitality, I invited her to a fine restaurant nearby to show off the local cuisine.

“Everything here is either fried or covered in gravy,” she announced, wiping a spot of yesterday’s special off her laminated menu and peering across the vinyl tablecloth at my plate of chicken-fried steak.

“That’s not true. Some things are fried AND covered in gravy. Have some cornbread.”

“What’s in it besides corn?”

“Bacon grease.”

“No, thanks.”

We straddled the Mason-Dixon line without serious injury for four years, teaming up on everything from safety promotions to company picnics. I discovered that UConn was a fine educational facility, even if it didn’t have a feral feline or saber-wielding rowdy as a mascot , that I could “turn” on the lights without invoking the mental stress clause of my health insurance, and that lobster is a festive and tasty holiday dish, although it doesn’t make for very rich gravy.

And even though my new friend never learned to fry vegetables or to appreciate the subtle humor of Snuffy Smith, she developed a lasting affinity for iced tea.

Sometimes life’s little victories are the sweetest.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Woman's Heart

When I wander through the house in the mornings, ricocheting gently from refrigerator to coffeemaker, sorting socks and lunch boxes, I often ponder esoteric subjects like what makes me a mom. Well, more often I’m thinking “How did I end up like this?” or “Am I really awake or am I dreaming there’s a catcher’s mitt in the microwave?” but eventually I drift on to headier stuff.

“Mom, are you mumbling to yourself again?” Son One is getting ready for work, hunting in the fridge for a can of carbonated caffeine. I reach deftly around the milk and pull a Coke out from behind the leftover Teriyaki chicken.

“Thanks Mom. Say, did you know you have one of those little yellow notes stuck to your ear?”

“What does it say?”

“Toilet Paper.”

“So that’s where the grocery list went. I thought my breath-easy strip slid off my nose during the night. But I couldn’t hear your Pop snoring, so it worked out pretty well.”

“By the way, Mom, have you seen my name tag?”

“It’s in the lint trap in the dryer. You left it in your pocket on laundry day again.”

“Thanks, Mom.” He finished his drink, crushed the can, and headed down the hall, belching the words to “We Are the Champions.”

So, what makes me a Mom? I can’t pose the question to the family, because they are adept at sarcastic replies that often involve words I have to Google to understand. On the other hand, there was the time they gave me the nifty short version of the sixth grade health speech on human reproduction. Who knew so many interesting words begin with the letter S? It was like Sesame Street meets Dr. Ruth.

“Funnies?” Son Number Two has entered the kitchen. Some people can’t live without caffeine; he can’t start his day without the comics. He’s been the family computer programmer since he was six, but he can’t head off to his 8:00 class at Community College without checking out Garfield’s quest for lasagna. I extract the morning newspaper from underneath a sleeping cat, and turn to the proper page with a flourish.

“Mmph,” he grunts.

“You’re welcome,” I answer, patting his head and deftly inserting a kitchen chair under his descending backside.

Somewhere between Shredded Wheat and shower time, I trip over the cats and find the lost student ID while picking Cheerios out of my cheek, exercise the dogs by forgetting to lock the door when the neighbor bicycles down the driveway, and manage to get everybody out the door without any lost essentials except my peace of mind.

As the last kid peels out of the driveway, laying down tire tracks that resemble Jacob’s ladder, I smile and wave. Later on I’ll find my coffee in the microwave, my keys in the door, and the hamburger thawing quietly on the dryer. But for now, everything’s good.

This Mom job may be tough, but the rewards are out of this world. And the five minutes of quiet when everybody leaves the house is worth the 20 year wait.

Just then, a horn sounds in the driveway, a series of staccato blasts that echo off the neighboring houses, loosens the fillings in my teeth, and wakes up every baby in the subdivision, not to mention old Mr. Sloth who naps on his front porch every morning until his teeth fall out and remind him to eat lunch.

“Mom! I need gas money!”

It figures. You’d think the one thing growing boys wouldn’t need Mom's help with would be getting gas.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Sometimes as parents we laugh to keep from crying, laugh until we cry, or just go ahead and cry. But we shouldn’t have to feel helpless when it comes to helping our children. Today I’m linking to a very special site, Simon’s Blog. Simon is an angel born too early, so early he probably still has his tiny wings hidden under tubes and blankets in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of a Denver hospital. But he’s a champ and a fighter, and takes the attentions of doctors and nurses in stride with all the courage his 1 pound, 9 ounce body can hold. I want Simon's mom to have the chance to give up the last fiver in her wallet for a young man with a mop of unruly hair who needs gas to get to class. So check out Simon’s Blog, updated with the loving hands and heart of his Mom, Mysti. And if you can find it in your heart to help them out, it’ll be a personal favor to an angel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Paper & Scissors Rock!

On the whole, I’d rather give my teenage son a Platinum MasterCard and send him to Wal-Mart on Saturday night than do the Back-to-School shopping myself. His gym locker is in better shape than the Three-Ring Binder section of Wal-Mart after the list-bearing hordes have swept through. Back-to-school shoppers invade discount stores in August like a swarm of fire ants in a field of sweetgrass, and they’re not leaving until they’ve crossed the last bottle of hand soap off their list and called in their relatives to find the pink lunchbox they hid behind the Pepto Bismol display back in June.

Anyone who thinks a mother in search of a pack of Crayolas and a bottle of Elmer’s isn’t dangerous has never had a kid in 4K. Here’s a woman who has visions of getting a toddler-sized tornado out of her kitchen and Dora the Explorer off of her television and there’s not a force of nature that can stop her from climbing over two Kleenex displays and a store manager to get that last glue stick. And as sure as a drink box shoots a stream of blue goo in your eye when you punch in the straw, she’s gonna have a kid that wants a Batman backpack after she bought Iron Man on clearance during the summer. Put 500 copies of this woman in the safety scissors section of a discount store and in less time than it takes for Junior to lose his lunchbox, they’re fighting over the last pack of construction paper like so many Edna Scissorhands. Desperate Housewives are Stepford Wives by comparison.

Don’t even get me started about book bags and blue jeans. You’d think that one pair of pants made out of faded blue denim would be pretty much be like the ones you found for ten bucks on the clearance rack at Target. Just because the hem hit mid-ankle and the waistband tucked neatly under his armpits, Teen Boy at my house went all white around the shoetops and refused to have his yearbook picture made.

Kids today need to understand that yesterday’s highwaters are today’s Capri pants. But that argument doesn’t even work with girls. It certainly didn’t mean much to a seventeen year old boy whose regular uniform consists of 50 pockets spread across a bolt of camouflage material and a faded T-Shirt that reads, “I’m Up and Dressed. What More Do You Want?” So why do those clothes cost more than it takes to gas up a Suburban? Abercrombie & Fitch must charge by the letter.

And when did a backpack become a designer accessory? Today’s bags have room for everything except books, which—according to my son who is a High School graduate, and therefore an expert in these, and all other, matters--are optional in the classroom these days. I can understand filmstrips going the way of ancient technology, but books? They take up valuable space needed for everything from MP3 players (I don’t even have MP 1 & 2) to cell phones, which are very important so you can call your friends between classes to see who did the science homework.

Which brings us to the main source of our school woes. Friends. It is a principle of life that a true friend will not buy the very last pair of torn blue jeans at the mall. Nor will a friend refuse to eat school lunch and choose to hang out at the drink machine after I’ve shelled out $300 in advance for the pizza line in the cafeteria. Last year I discovered that I was feeding three random boys and the school rabbit, while the only things my child ate off his plate was apple peel and barbecue chips.

This year I have resolve. I will not buy clothes just because people my child doesn’t even like wear them. I will not buy trading cards just because the people my child does like would rather duel than eat lunch. I will not volunteer to chaperone the school dance just so my child can go and eat free pizza.

But if I get free pizza, that’s another story. I’ll have to buy something cool to wear. Maybe some designer jeans.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gold Medal Glitches-Part I

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course, so did platform shoes.

The girls in my gym class took turns attempting to mount the balance beam in a Chinese split, a form of torture perfected in the Far East many years ago to punish women for attempting outlandish and dangerous feats like voting, or cooking meals that didn’t involve rice.

Nobody made it. Too timid, I thought, gauging the distance and velocity ratio with as much accuracy as I now figure my daily calorie intake; an amazing display of mental dexterity that explains why I wear tent dresses and stretchy pants today.

Two hops and a judicious lack of common sense later, my priorities underwent a drastic change as I reconsidered my strategy and position, both of which suddenly seemed to have tiny flaws I overlooked in my original calculations.

Hanging upside down from a balance beam isn’t much different from hanging upside down from the roof of a cave, except the bat hanging in the cave probably doesn’t have much to fear in the way of peer pressure. As my personal dignity trickled out my ear, and just before I hit the floor, I gave some thought to trying to figure out how to dismount gracefully without introducing wandering dust bunnies into my hairdo.

That was the moment when I realized that the closest I would come to Olympic gold would be to hang a Wheaties box on a ribbon around my neck.

Luckily the whole thing took place before the onset of teeming hordes of paparazzi or Funniest Home Videos. But the whole memory stirs my competitive spirit and inspires me to excel. Perhaps tonight I’ll try and find my toes.

I’ll need a large pile of safety mats, six rolls of gauze bandages, and a map.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I'd like to express my thanks to the alert reader who noticed I've been missing in action this week, although I'm not really sure how Bo the Dalmador Labmation is logging on. He's partial to the mouse, so he's great at the point and click parts, but typing in the login password usually gives him trouble. He probably bribed the cat to do it for him. Justin will do anything for a sniff of crazy cat weed.

I'll be back this weekend with my salute to the Olympics: Sports Injuries I Have Known. I'll lead off with my Bat on a Balance Beam vignette and finish up with the Broken on the Bars episode.

So, I'll see you soon. I've had a bit of a medical emergency in the family, but it shouldn't take any longer than Saturday to find a place to hide the bodies.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My Car and Welcome to It

I was almost robbed once. The burglar mistook my vehicle for a real car. I would have been embarrassed if I hadn’t been so busy being depressed that he didn’t get away with it.

Although I consider myself fortunate to have a means of transportation that is the same in purpose, if not in scope as that of Britney’s Mercedes, I couldn’t help feeling slighted and somewhat downtrodden. The thief, apparently Smarter Than a Fifth Grader on a Nascar scholarship, abandoned my car, complete with key in the ignition and my old Reese Cup wrappers and empty YooHoo cans in the floorboard at the end of the driveway. My driveway. He only got as far as the mailbox. He didn’t even have the decency to leave a note promising to try harder the next time.

It’s easier to forget that emergency tonsillectomy when you were ten than to forget your first car. The wishy-washy window that wouldn’t make a decision—was it stuck halfway up or halfway down? The gearshift that only shifted with the aid of a handy pair of needlenose pliers. The windshield wiper that didn’t wipe, just sort of meandered across the windshield like the Mississippi River on noncommittal trip to the Gulf.

My first car didn’t actually belong to me, but I had squatter’s rights. It was important to squat just in case one of the minor functions, such as braking or steering, either of which was subject to a moral failure of responsibility, refused to answer to repeatedly hysterical demands and I needed to execute an emergency exit through the small gap where the window used to open.

The Green Demon I called it, and it guzzled gas and followed with an oil chaser like it was whiskey and soda. A chronic gastrointestinal disturbance caused it to spew plumes of white smoke whenever I happened to make a successful start off the line at stoplights.

But because my Daddy had the magic touch to coerce miles out of that malfunctioning motor, that car got me through college and landed me successfully in the right place on graduation day. That crazy car was just the first in a long line of little engines that couldn’t.

But isn't it always the bad relationships that make the best memories? I'll check with Britney on that.

Monday, August 4, 2008

It's a Wash

Moving from last week’s baby poop extravaganza up the time line to indoor plumbing, we come to public potties, where I also have issues. Now you can tell if you ever drop by the house that I have no tendencies toward a cleanliness fetish of any kind, so that’s not the problem. I don’t panic over germ infestations unless they present themselves in the form of a creature that is hopping, flying, crawling, buzzing, or of course rubbing its little hands together menacingly in my direction.

But let's move back down the pipes to the potties. My problem is the trend toward installing automatically flushing toilets in public restrooms. I’m not sure what sort of fiendish mind conceived of such a device. Obviously the same mind that thought of squirt cheese or miniature cookies that come in tiny packages labeled 100 calories each. Everybody knows it takes a quart-sized baggie of cookies to equal 100 calories, particularly if chocolate is involved.

Now when it comes to plumbing, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the advanced technology that takes away the need for manual flushing, but I can’t seem to operate the things. When I open the stall door to enter, they inevitably begin their erratic tidy bowl dance, complete with crashing tidal waves and whirlpools. Not having thought to bring along a change of clothes, I favor an approach most often used by a goal-oriented runner approaching a closely guarded second base at Yankee Stadium. I slide in low and hope I don’t need laundry detail.

Next, I settle onto the nest like a laying hen, my pocketbook clutched tightly in my lap. I realize that as a good citizen and a proponent of clean living I should hang my pocketbook daintily on the hook provided, but I don’t do that because a) I'll generally forget it when I leave, b) I intend to reapply my lipstick, Blushing Berry, available for $7.98 at Wal-Mart, while seated, and c) I never remember the hook until the optimal time to arrange for its use has passed. This immediately leads to a logistics dilemma requiring remarkable dexterity in reaching the necessary accesories. I lean forward to place my purse on the floor, in spite of agitated e-mail circulations that implore me to choose a better option.

Immediately with a roar and the crash of waves of water, the auto-flush option jumps enthusiastically into service, cleaning more surface area than I find comfortable. I involuntarily leap to attention, realizing too late that quick attention should be accompanied by returning all possible garments to the upright position. My knees are bound together by nylon and elastic lace and a sizable amount of yardage in the form of stretchy pants as I hop awkwardly in an attempt to avoid the purse obstacle situated on the floor like a hungry mouse trap ready to snap to work given the slightest provocation.

I bend to remedy the fabric situation which sets off a renewed frenzy of water fun. By this time, bystanders are bending to peer under the door to see if distress requiring the jaws life of is taking place in Stall Number 1. After repositioning all my garments to their accustomed areas of coverage, retrieving my purse, which once again sets off a tirade of flushing action, I hold my head high and exit the stall.

Now to wash my hands. Which I would do if I could figure out how to activate the automatic faucets long enough to reach the soap. I wet my hands and wipe them off on my pants. I'm not about to attempt the automatic dryer.