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The Squirrel in the Toilet

11 Feb

Next week on Valentine’s Day my husband, Willy & I will have been married for 21 years. In 2017 we’d known each other for 30. I can’t imagine where those years have gone. I can remember almost every day individually but putting them all together in a string to add up to 30 years seems impossible. The one thing I’m very certain of is that it has been quite a ride!

It’s really hard to sum up a relationship & a marriage. We’ve had our moments but compared to other people, it seems we’ve had fewer than most. Perhaps that’s because we were friends before we were anything else to each other & that friendship remains today. It’s the one piece of groundwork I’d recommend establishing before marriage; you really HAVE to like each other if it’s going to endure.

Willy is unique in the universe. He is calm & logical & is my “balance” when I don’t seem to be either of those things. He’s helpful, resourceful, creative & he loves cats. All that somehow makes us a good match, especially the cat thing.

Way back a long time ago I knew I could never marry a man that didn’t have a sense of humor. It was probably the major prerequisite right up there running neck & neck with love & friendship.

Whether we’re married or not married – however we’re attempting to struggle through this life & especially getting around the bumps in the road, doing it with a sense of humor greases the road a bit & makes the slide through life a little easier.

One of Willy’s best attributes is that he has a talent for greasing the road.

He was able to show me the humor in being “on call” in the OR on our very first wedding anniversary. He helped me laugh while we both cleaned up the terrible mess in my new oven caused by a cake that exploded during baking & we’ve just laughed together over the years at stuff one of us has said because it felt good to be silly together.

Willy’s sense of humor has gotten us through some major difficulties. He was my strength & my teammate when I was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. I can’t remember exactly what he said that was so funny but I remember how much it helped when I leaned over to get French fries out of a very hot oven & melted my synthetic wig while it was on my head. There were so many moments that I am grateful to him for during that difficult time but perhaps the most memorable was when I began losing my hair after my first chemo treatment.  I tearfully asked him to cut it for me to a manageable length for someone going bald. With scissors in hand on that very difficult occasion he told me he thought he’d found a second career as a stylist, he went through some silly gestures & we both laughed … & then we both cried. It’s that part of his humor that I will be forever grateful for.

Willy really isn’t a practical joker. He’s something close to that but I simply can’t come up with the proper description.  The best way to describe it is that he enjoys “visual” & “auditory” humor.

We went through several years when Willy stumbled across some high-squealing, motion activated small toys that he kept putting in our kitchen cabinets. When I opened a cabinet door, whichever toy was in there would scream / squall / wail & scare me silly. Willy thought it added “interest” to the “cooking experience.” I finally reminded him of my high blood pressure & the possibility of him causing me to have an actual stroke & the “cooking experience” became routine again. While I never got use to expecting those screaming toys to be in my cabinets, once he removed them it took months NOT to expect them when I opened a cabinet door.

There have been other things but I don’t really have a lot of time or space for all of them & I really want to talk about what happened this morning before church.

We have a powder room on the main level of our home & I stopped there before we left. There in the toilet was a squirrel getting ready to climb out of the water & literally scared the, well …. bejesus out of me. On second glance I realized it wasn’t a REAL squirrel but a “squirrel facsimile” attached to the lid of the toilet.  Willy was close behind waiting for my reaction. He’d ordered the vinyl, decorative “Squirrel Toilet Lid Cover” from some goofy magazine, put it on the commode lid in the early hours of Sunday morning & waited patiently for me to see it.

I can’t imagine what reaction our cat would have had if she’d seen that toilet squirrel before I did …

In the end (almost literally), it was funny as hell. Willy took a bunch of pictures of the “me finding the squirrel in the toilet” event. Because it really WAS funny,  I’ve just left it on the toilet all day. We’ll probably leave it there for a while. We have a few friends who will enjoy Willy’s humor after they recover from the fright of thinking their nether regions are about to be attacked by a rabid, toilet-swimming squirrel.

As we get ready to celebrate our 21st. year of marriage I can’t help wonder what the next 21 years will hold & how many other furry creatures I will find crawling out of one of our toilets. If nothing else, life is never dull here.

I’m still forever grateful for a husband with a sense of humor; for his love & for his friendship. I’m only hoping he hasn’t subscribed to catalog completely devoted to toilet ornaments.


Groundhog Day and Other February Stuff

1 Feb

February is one of those months that just begs for even the smallest hint of excitement. It comes right after January & somewhere around mid-January things start getting very dull & very long.

If it’s a rough winter with a lot of snow that keeps us all inside for days on end, I start getting cabin fever. Heck, if we have very little snow & a fair amount of sun I start getting cabin fever. That stretch from mid-January through the end of March drags & is possibly the longest part of the year. One of my seasonal dreams is that spring & maybe summer could just once seem to take as much time as mid-January through the end of March. Maybe it’s an astrological thing somehow tied into cabin fever…. & possibly menopause.

I was making a lemon meringue pie just now, looking out the kitchen window & thinking about February, here on the eve of that month.  Once I gave it some thought while whipping meringue, I realized it’s really a fairly OK month, even if it is draggy. There’s Valentine’s Day & my husband, Willy & I were married on that romantic day 21 years ago.  At the end of the month we always go to a really cool science fiction convention, so it’s not a total loss. Somehow February redeems itself a little when I really think about it.

Then I remembered that my maternal grandmother was born on February 2 & my parents were married on February 2 a bunch of years later. AND … February 2 is GROUNDHOG  DAY.

As weird as it may seem, I LIKE Groundhog Day. That’s probably because I like furry little animals & the groundhog falls right into that category. I like AND respect him because I like the way he kind of toys with us. For that one day a year the groundhog has the upper hand (or paw). He controls us as surely as if he dangled us on puppet strings because somewhere in his furry little brain he KNOWS we’re suffering from cabin fever & likes to make us squirm. There’s something about having a bunch of people depending on him, at just what time he steps outside on a particular day & what the disposition of the sun is at that specific time & place. He has to be a mathematician, a weather aficionado & a very talented prognosticator. It all adds up to that furry little groundhog-person not only controlling the moment, he somehow controls the WEATHER. It’s all about the power & I respect that.

While there are groundhog SURROGATES in a number of states (not unlike the ones the President of the USA has) & even Canada, only one is assumed to be the REAL Groundhog Day groundhog & that’s Punxsutawney Phil who is an actual resident of Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He’s rumored to be immortal.

Punxsutawney Phil admirers & members of the Punxsutawney Phil Club swear the same groundhog has been predicting the weather for the past 132 years. Now that’s one really OLD groundhog. Those same club members also swear he’s never wrong, even though we ALL know that’s not true … that he’s not RIGHT even half the time …  but knowing how old he is, we just give him a pass.

Club members credit his longevity to a “hit” of  groundhog punch they allow him to drink every year, or maybe that’s force him to drink. Whatever, I’m happy Phil is still around & keeps showing up at just the right time every February to entertain us, help us speculate about the arrival of spring & to make me happy because I love little furry animals who wear silk top hats, jerk us around emotionally & hit the “juice” a little too heavily once a year.

I’m beginning to think that Groundhog Day was made up by someone exactly like me who was suffering from cabin fever & needed a diversion. Probably saw a groundhog minding his own business out in the back yard scavenging for food. My cabin fever friend probably went out, introduced himself & invited that furry little creature in for a drink. After they both got good & sauced they contrived the whole idea of Groundhog Day. Because the backyard groundhog was pretty bored & suffering from cabin fever, too, he went along with what was to become a universal joke … or at least a joke throughout the US & Canada.

A few years ago our local TV meteorologist held up a sign on the evening weather portion of the news that said, “I’m a meteorologist, not a rodent.”  Beside him stood a groundhog with a sign of his own that said, “I’m a rodent, not a meteorologist” to the delight of the viewing public. A week ago our local weather guy on the evening news started adding at the end of his weather report something he calls The Rodent Report, which speculates from day to day just what the weather will be on Groundhog Day. There are TONS of us “out there” with cabin fever, apparently.

What all this tells me, combined with the delight I feel when I see that wooly old groundhog on February 2nd., is that those 2 old backyard drinking buddies … a craggy old man & a fat old groundhog with cabin fever have done us all a tremendous service by giving us the myth that is Groundhog Day.

My hat is off to you, Punxsutawney Phil for giving  me enough fodder to write about for an hour on a slow, end-of-January day that otherwise might have been spent dreading yet another day of cabin fever. And now my pie is cool & ready for dinner. It’s been a good day.

Thinking of you, Phil. “Fuzzy Buddy … you ROCK!”



Tripod Goes to Church

22 Jan

Yesterday as our Sunday morning service was drawing to a close & we began singing the final hymn of the morning, my thoughts went racing back 10 years to an individual who attended our church briefly during the spring & summer of 2008.  Our final hymn of the morning, God Will Take Care of You, always reminds me of him; that individual who brought so much joy & even a little bit of magic to our congregation.

I would later write a poem about him & that poem would even later be included in my very first book that was published in 2013. Of all the many poems I’ve written in my life, that particular poem has become one of my personal favorites & is the one poem from the book that readers never fail to comment on when they meet me & tell me they enjoyed it.

Because my memory still tingles as it always does when hearing that hymn yesterday & even though some of you may remember the poem if you’ve read my book, I wanted to share it again here as a blog entry. I simply wanted to share again … & with some of you for the first time … the “magic” this brief visitor brought to our church.

Of the subject of this poem, I hope he is still alive today; still delighting everyone he meets with his friendly, loving personality & still inspiring those with hope who find themselves disabled & with none. Mostly I hope he is still going to church …

Tripod Goes to Church

(August 3, 2008)

Tripod is an amputee,

who lives behind our church.

He greets us as we come and go

and doesn’t ask for much.



No one seems to know exactly

why he is disabled,

but he doesn’t let it slow him down;

his speed is the stuff of fables.



Lately as the service ends

and the doors are opened wide

he strolls into the narthex

then runs all the way inside.



He takes a seat down at the front

and stares up at the altar.

Through closing words and closing hymn

his attention doesn’t falter.



He’s always there on Sunday.

He seems the most devout.

While sitting at the altar

no one wants to toss him out.



He’s really quite a charmer.

Folks are bringing him cat food.

The choir sings as he’s walking out,

God Will Take Care of You

       So what happened to Tripod? He very abruptly stopped showing up at church and, as with any member who has been faithful and stops coming to services, the congregation was worried about him. Our minister, maybe going a bit above and beyond his duties, tried to find out the fate of our faithful cat.

It seems Tripod DID actually have a family that lived down the road and behind our church. The family relocated and, thankfully, took Tripod with them.

Putting an end to speculation about the fate of Tripod, our minister announced, “We can assume he’s going to another church.”







Today the Fat Lady Sang …

11 Jan

10 years ago on September 19, 2008 my life changed forever. As my husband & I were very shortly to find out, that day also changed our lives as a couple.

I had been to the Mammography Center to have a follow-up mammogram after having a suspicious one. After its completion, the mammography physician told me to call my husband because she was 98% certain we were looking at a cancer. I called him & he came & stayed in the room with me while the doctor did the confirming biopsy.

There followed what seemed to be a never-ending round of appointments with doctors, blood work, exams, oncologists & radiology oncologists. I was poked & examined & tattooed by the radiologist & fitted for a bean bag device to hold me in the same position treatment after treatment when I began the 33 radiation treatments I was scheduled to have.

My husband, Willy, accompanied me on as many of those visits as he could & I told him … of the ones when he couldn’t be there … that EVERYBODY I saw, in office after office, wanted to examine my breasts. And so at some point I decided just to walk into the offices without introduction or preamble & expose them. In an effort to maintain my sense of humor (& my sanity) I told my husband that that had surprised the hell out of our dentist!

I would have 8 chemotherapy treatments over a 6 months period. I probably wouldn’t lose my hair (but I did). The choice whether to have chemo or not was up to me, with gentle encouragement from my oncologist who became my partner on my unexpected journey. Making the most difficult decision of my life, I decided to do it primarily because I wanted to do everything I could to give me a chance at the longest life possible because NOBODY loves life as much as I do. I also didn’t want to decide against it only to have my cancer rear its ugly head somewhere down the road. I wanted to know if that happened that I had done everything within my power to keep that from happening.

The 10 years since that September day in 2008 have been filled with fear, confusion, caring, difficulty, concern, the importance & support of friends, the loss of the friendship of a friend (a casualty of cancer), treatments, laughter, learning & finding out who I am. Together Willy & I learned to be strong & that it was OK for me to lean on him during those moments when I just wasn’t able to be. We learned that it is OK to cry & even to scream, as long as you don’t make a habit of it.

I learned important lessons about chemo … like saving my hair in a Walmart bag when it came out. When it came back almost a year later as white as snow, I had my “first” hair in that Walmart bag, which made it easier for a really good colorist to match. I also learned a lot about synthetic wigs & how not to lean close to a very hot oven when wearing one because they melt. I have so many stories …

There are so many things I learned during that year following September 19, 2008. When I began attempting to help other women as they went through their own frightening breast cancer experience & later when I began speaking to seminars about breast cancer, those experiences were vital to me &, as I began to realize, to the women to whom I spoke.

Of the main things I learned as I tentatively began my walk down that dark breast cancer path is that we have few choices when faced with cancer. We can either ball up in a corner & cry or attempt to make the best of what we’ve been handed. From the beginning I chose Door #2. That choice helped me AND everyone I have ever spoken to about the breast cancer journey because we never know what we can do until we try … & we never know how strong we are until we HAVE to be.

Following chemo & radiation life returned to a kind of normal … but never quite.  The experience had a profound effect of me & was an eye-opener. I became all too aware that we don’t always get second chances so I struck out on a new path … a path that ran parallel to the breast cancer road. I intended to do all the things I wanted to do but had been putting off.

I wrote a book & got it published.  I hosted a local cable television talk show for 6 years. I began speaking to groups & seminars about breast cancer, which began a new phase of my life in public speaking about a number of topics. As difficult as it is to imagine, I dug around & found a number of positives that were the direct result of the huge negative that breast cancer is.

During these past 10 years I’ve developed a very special relationship with my oncologist & the people in the oncology office. What started out as a strange & frightening place has been, for years now, more like a second home where I could depend on the caring of a large extended family. When I was still working at the hospital just within spitting distance of the Cancer Center, we all watched as the facility was built. I remember thinking how beautiful & functional it was going to be. I also remember thinking that I hoped I never had a reason to go there. Today as I left the Center following my appointment I realized I’d spent 10 years of my life there & if I had to have the cancer experience, there was no better place to have been.

Today, after all these years, my oncologist had “the talk” with me. He told me, “In September it will be 10 years since your diagnosis, your tumor was very small & you had no lymph node involvement. You are cured.”

And with those words, words that were once again life altering, he released me.

There was joy & sadness & hugging & tears shed with the office staff & as I was leaving, more tears shed with the people in the lobby of the facility. It was like graduation for a promising student & everyone was sharing my joy at having done well & having the OPPORTUNITY to move on … with life.

There’s that old saying, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

With deepest apologies to my oncologist … Today the Fat Lady Sang ……..

Fashion, Over-the-Knee Boots, and Stirrup Pants in the Attic

4 Jan

Entombed in our attic in several long boxes … like long-distance space travelers cocooned in cryounits & frozen in order to make the long voyage between planets, & more likely between galaxies, intact … are a couple dozen pairs of stirrup pants. Like those space travelers awaiting reanimation when they reach their destination, those stirrup pants have been peacefully & quietly resting, awaiting reanimation at the end of their journey when they re-emerge  in a time when stirrup pants have “come back in style.” They are occupying quality attic space because I use to love them & because my mother told me, almost since I popped out of the womb, “if you keep clothes long enough they will come back in style.”

What my mother failed to tell me & maybe even failed to realize herself were two very important rules:

  1. When those ancient garments DO come back in style, we may be too old to wear them, and
  2. Even if we’re not too old, the garments may have suffered unexpected “closet shrinkage” & we may not be able to squeeze our unexpectedly acquired bulk INTO them.

Knowing all that, however, didn’t stop me from carefully preserving those much-revered stirrup pants. (My husband calls my attention to them every year at Christmas when he stumbles over the boxes on his annual mission into the attic to retrieve our holiday decorations.)

My mom never had money to spend on a personal wardrobe. As a child of the aftermath of the Depression, she tended to buy a few quality pieces &, year-after-year, built her wardrobe around those several treasured things. When I came along, she had a reason & an excuse to enjoy fashion shopping; not for herself but for her baby girl child. Not realizing she was indulging herself, she dressed me fashionably from the days prior to my first baby steps until her death at age 84 when she STILL enjoyed purchasing & giving me the latest fashions at Christmas & birthdays. When I protested, she would answer, “Let me do this while I can. I may not always be able to.”

So the whole thing with me being highly attuned to fashion & loving clothes actually began when my mother dressed me as a small child, stood back a few steps, clapped her hands & said to me as we both looked in the mirror, “What will THEY say when THEY see you?”  It never occurred to my still-forming brain to ask who THEY were. If my mom said THEY would be ecstatic when they saw me all dressed up, then I assumed it must be true. Years later I told my husband this story & occasionally, when we’re dressed to go to an annual cocktail party or special event, he will look at me, smile a sly smile & say, “What will THEY say when they see you?” It always makes me laugh because I know he’s being very funny & complimentary at the same time but also because it reminds me of my mother & brings her closer to me in that moment.

So great was my mom’s fashion influence on me that, at age 5 when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer would always be, “An archeologist or a model.”

 With that kind of background & “family history,” one would wonder why I chose a 38 year career as an Operating Room Registered Nurse. For all those years I wore exactly the same thing that all the other OR nurses wore, plus the doctors AND the orderlies. The “scrub fashions” went with the job & I was dedicated to the job, so perhaps I wasn’t too terribly damaged by those early years. One thing I know for sure is that NOBODY greeted any of us at 6:30 a.m. by saying, “What will they say when they see you?”

 After my early retirement & during the 6 years that I hosted a local cable television talk show, I did kind of make up for all those scrubs by using the show as an excuse to have a very healthy wardrobe. And there have been difficult times in my life when just going to my favorite store, trying on some special clothes & buying a few pieces made me temporarily forget my difficulties & rediscover myself. While I never felt obsessed with clothing, there have been those times when it gave me joy & shopping was cathartic.

A friend recently commented that I have quite an ability to put outfits together. So I told her the story about my mom & her fashion sense & also that, when I have time, I’m a use-to-be artist. Mixing colors always has come easy to me in my art & in my wardrobe. I always point out that I can’t add 2 and 2, & can’t sing a lick but I do take a bow in the areas where things just come easily for me.

So, like tracking the horse around the barn to get to the barn, here’s where this story is going ….

Way back in the late 80s, above–the-knee boots made an appearance on the fashion scene. They were there so briefly that I’m betting most fashion-conscious individuals were not even aware that they’d been & were gone like a flash in the pan. But I fell in love with them. For 30 years I’ve been thinking (lusting) about those above-the-knee boots. But just like my Mama predicted & told me, in 2017 they made a huge comeback into the fashion world & just about everybody was wearing them. I saw a pair of black ones but wouldn’t let myself try them on. I was remembering Rule #1 & decided my time for above-the-knee boots had sadly passed.

After slightly over a month I went back to the store & tried on the boots & I was in love. I bought the black over-the-knee boots, telling myself they were tasteful & that life is too short & too unpredictable  NOT to have a pair of black suede over-the-knee boots, even if I WAS older.

So comfortable & warm were those black boots that I decided I’d like to have a pair of burgundy ones. My husband suggested I look on because they usually have some of everything AND our club would receive a portion of the sale if I found something I liked through the AmazonSmile program.

I found the perfect burgundy boots & placed my order in mid-November. Arrival was to be December 29, which seemed like quite a while. As I was able to track the boots I realized they were coming from Shanghai.  I should have checked earlier because I prefer buying ‘Made in America’ products but the order had been placed, the picture of the boots showed them as beautiful burgundy & our club WAS receiving a portion of the sale, so what could go wrong, huh? Well ….

A month & a half later, after Christmas, my boots arrived from Shanghai in a slightly misshapen box. It’s a long way to Shanghai & they obviously had taken a slow boat from China. I tore into the box.

Opening the lid I was startled … & shocked … to find that the perfect burgundy boots were a shocking shade of red … later to be named “Hootchie Red” by me because that’s what they looked like … more on my feet / legs than simply folded in the box… & the fact that my husband laughed & offered me $20 to cook dinner in them.

I wrote the company telling them the boots, while extremely comfortable & stylish were NOT the burgundy they were advertised as being but were, instead, shockingly the brightest red ever known to man. They responded immediately, telling me they had “experienced that complaint before.”  They offered to refund me half the price of the boots & said I could keep them because, “returning them to China was troublesome” (remember that slow boat???)

 So I slept on the offer … & the boots, kinda. The first thing I did when I got up was to look at the boots. Unbelievably, they seemed even BRIGHTER red in natural daylight than they had the evening before in house light. I wrote back to the company. I thanked them for their generous offer but declined, asking for my money back & telling them I would return the boots. Although, with just regular calculating it occurred to me that I could cook dinner in those “Hootchie Red Boots” for Willy just 3 times & make back almost the full price of those “on sale” boots. But I thought better of it. I’d still have the boots that would remind me of China & hootchies on the corner & sometimes I might be asked to cook dinner in them when I’d only planned to fix hot dogs.  It all just seemed like too much.

The company wrote back telling me they would refund my money in full but since returning the boots to China remained, “troublesome,”  I could keep the boots in exchange for a good evaluation with for service, if not for product. I agreed but told the company that I still had no use for the blaze red boots & would donate them to our club’s annual charity auction where whatever money they made would go towards funding our local charities. It seemed like a win-win solution & the company agreed.

Although those bright red boots were very stylish & extremely comfortable, they are back in the box & have been added to the 2 auction donations we already have for our August 2018 Charity Auction. Someone younger will love those boots & be able to get away with the bright red color, where the more mature me could never pull it off so well.

I’m not sure even my fashion-forward mother would have stored those hootchie red boots away waiting for them to become stylish.  And even though I still have them, I am certain they will sell at the auction.

In the meantime, with apologies to my mama, I have given away all my size 12 clothes that I loved, to a friend who has lost a full clothing size on a diet. And if anything good has come out of my losing a clothes size myself this past year while I struggled with an illness, it’s been that … with THANKS to my mama … I’ve had a wonderful time replacing my wardrobe with a smaller size. My cholesterol is squatting at “normal,” & I certainly have enjoyed shopping.

Meanwhile, those stirrup pants are still in cryosleep in the attic, where they will probably remain for another 30 years. I DID buy a lovely pair of burgundy, over-the-knee boots that are easy to add to a tasteful outfit & I doubt they will ever find themselves in cryosleep in the attic. ….

And so in the attic, 2 dozen pairs of stirrup pants are awaiting reanimation in the year 2048.





The Best Gift …

14 Dec

Our minister stepped from the pulpit, walked down a few steps & stood before the congregation on a recent Sunday morning. He enjoys asking us thought-provoking questions & getting responses in his very interactive way. The impression I get is that most of us have come to enjoy his questions, the responses they bring about in us & that moment when we usually & unexpectedly share something personal & often profound.

Last Sunday his question was, “What is the best gift you’ve ever received?”

With Christmas just around the corner, most of those responding answered with a Christmas memory. No big surprise that EVERY response was based on a Christmas gift received as a child, because what is more memorable & innocent than a child at Christmas receiving that special present? My husband shared a memory of a bicycle he had desperately wanted but didn’t expect to get. When he got it on Christmas morning, that became his memory of his best-ever gift. He added that he rode it almost to the point of it totally falling apart. On the way home he told me how he had loved that bike.

I didn’t share a memory on Sunday. My mind was racing forward at a full gallop remembering “ghosts of Christmases past;” the special gifts, the memories of family & the “feelings” associated with those times & even the smells. It was a surreal moment that left me surrounded & alone all at the same time. It took me back to my childhood …

When I was a child, family would ALWAYS come for Christmas. They didn’t just come for the day the way people do now. On the contrary, they came with suitcases & gifts filled with holiday spirit & the intention to stay several days. My mom called them suitcase company & to this day, that’s how I think of people who come for a visit & “stay a little while.”

My Aunt Minnie, with her infectious sense of humor, crazy laugh & Boston accent would be at my grandmother’s house a day or two before Christmas if she had drawn the long straw at the hospital where she worked as an RN & had the holiday off. She’d take the train from Boston & we’d all meet her at the station with uncontained excitement & anticipation.

Followed closely behind Aunt Minnie was Aunt Katherine, who also arrived by train from Charlottesville. She had a lovely voice, was serious in her approach to Christmas & sang with several choral groups & her church back in Virginia. She arrived later because she was committed to a few Christmas cantatas & that commitment had to be fulfilled before making the trip south to North Carolina for the holiday. She was my FAVORITE aunt because she, like I loved cats & at one time had 27 that shared her home, her life & her love. On those rare occasions that we visited her, staying at her home was my very best experience.

My Aunt Robin & her husband, Ralph from Ohio came occasionally for Christmas & I remember on one of those occasions having to give up my bed & sleep in the living room on the sofa. I remember trying NOT to let my excitement show but I was ecstatic to sleep beside the Christmas tree & have a chance to catch Santa in the act of placing gifts under the tree right beside my bed. I never caught him but it was the anticipation & the POSSIBILITY that made that rare Christmas for me.

If everyone was able to get home there was a huge Christmas breakfast that had to be eaten BEFORE opening gifts. It was something I didn’t understand but lived through it & I DO remember with 100% clarity the smells of bacon & hash browns & eggs & coffee wafting from the kitchen into the living room where I sat under the tree looking at shiny gifts wondering what joys were wrapped inside. It’s a memory … & a smell that I wish I could visit just one more time … in REAL time.

Someone brought some brownies to a meeting recently & I immediately thought of the very first brownie I’d ever eaten … mana from heaven! Later in church those brownies would tie into our minister’s suggestion that we remember our Best Gift. It was one of those Christmas memories that had been lost in the recesses of my mind until that plate of brownies at a meeting unexpectedly ushered it rushing back to me.

It was one of those Christmases that Aunt Minnie couldn’t make it from Boston but in her stead sent several boxes of Christmas cookies, candy & brownies. My grandmother kept them in a built-in china cabinet in the dining room & doled them out to me a couple at a time. I remember my eager anticipation at having just one more of those chocolate delights. In my mind … & sitting in the pew in church on that recent Sunday morning, the smell of those brownies came rushing back to me, combined in my memory with the smells of that long ago dining room & the kitchen not far away.

While members of our congregation were sharing memories about the best gift they had ever received, I was stepping back into my past Christmases; reliving moments & smells that were lost to me except in my memory & in that moment in our church.

I remembered a Christmas night tucked in bed & assumed asleep when I saw my mom walking down the hall holding a life-size doll against her chest as one would carry an actual baby. The doll was wearing a pink hooded “onesie” & I’d last seen her behind a counter at the local S.H. Kress & Co. Department Store where I’d taken my mom to show her what I hoped Santa would bring me for Christmas. She later walked down that same hallway toward the Christmas tree in the living room carrying a pogo stick; also on my Christmas list. That was the year that I realized that Santa Claus was a myth & was really my mom. If I felt any great disappointment it was lost in my excitement at the prospect of receiving the doll & the pogo stick I’d wanted so badly. And I didn’t tell her about all that until a year later because I didn’t want her to know that I knew … & maybe make Santa Claus go away.

As I pulled myself back from thoughts of Christmases past & the joys associated with them for a small child, I realized that the congregation was standing & the minister was back behind the pulpit. We were getting ready to sing a hymn. I was too late to share the memory of My Best Gift …

As we were sitting down following the hymn I reached my hand to the empty place on the pew beside me & to my right; the place my mom always sat with us in church before her death in 2004. It is a move I often make when I feel her close to me & it gives me comfort. On that special Sunday morning I reached out to her place on the pew & realized that my Best Gift EVER was having been my mother’s daughter. She was the constant element in all my childhood Christmases, the joy that I remember when I saw her walking down the hallway towards the Christmas tree in the living room, holding a life-size doll against her chest & later a pogo stick. She was the love that filled each Christmas & each birthday & each day as our relationship changed from mother & daughter to very best friends.

I didn’t have the opportunity to share my Best Gift but I will be forever grateful to our minister for encouraging me to remember & for giving me that moment back in time while sitting in a pew in church a few weeks before Christmas.


25 Nov

Definition – Whoa: cease or slow a course of action or a line of thought: pause to consider or reconsider – often used to express a strong reaction (such as alarm or astonishment).

Sock in hand, my husband pointed down towards his little toe on his left foot … & not without reason. His toe wasn’t just bruised, it was swollen & a hateful shade of purple. He said he didn’t yell, “Whoa,” when he got up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for work & wrapped his little toe around a chair leg in the dark with the force of a Jedi. The Whoa didn’t come until he did that the SECOND morning in a row in the dark (same time, same toe, same chair) & then he yelled it, along with several expletives that sent our cat quaking under the bed.  Not that I wasn’t concerned … the toe looked really painful (but didn’t seem to be broken) … but my second thought was about the word, Whoa; how often we use it & in such a multitude of ways.

My husband put his sock back on & limped towards the family room, muttering something under his breath that sounded like, “so much for being married to a nurse.”

Just like the definition, we use Whoa,” to mean stop or slow down or when we’re alarmed or astonished (all of those seemed to have been combined in my husband’s, “Whoa” early on Tuesday morning.)

Recently, we’ve mostly heard Whoa used in a table context, like, “Whoa … take that turkey away from me,” & “Whoa … no more pecan pie for this pilgrim.”  But it’s also been used when following Uncle Jack’s trip into the bathroom after one of his marathon “SITS” on the throne that involved a magazine & way too much time on his hands (or buttocks). “WHOA!”

If you are a cat lover & share your home & life with one or more of them, you’re probably all too familiar with stepping into a puddle of cat yak barefooted. I’m not talking about routine cat yak filled with partially digested Meow Mix. The cat yak I’m referring to is all clear, slimy & warm & has a disgusting fur ball in the middle. When you step into that barefooted (which is what my husband refers to as “ectoplasm”), it’s often a great time to yell, “Whoa!” He did & he has, which was probably just laying the groundwork for wrapping his little toe around that chair leg 2 mornings in a row.

We sometimes pray a parent will yell, “WHOA!” while visiting us in our home as their unruly child makes yet another lap around our coffee table in pursuit of our cat. In that context, Whoa is just good manners & swell “visiting etiquette” & saves, at the very least, one of the cat’s 9 lives … or at least we hope so.

Whoa is used in an attempt to stop horses & cars & run-away brides, & sometimes it’s effective. It’s used to deflect a second kiss from an amorous individual with whom we do not wish to share a second. It’s used, along with a hand hoovering over a coffee cup, to stop the flow of that hot, rich, brown liquid if we don’t wish to have any more. It can also be used to describe the extreme pain that follows if the person pouring more coffee into your cup does not understand the coffee-pouring context of, “Whoa!”

Whoa is a multipurpose word that can be used as a single word expression that sums up a moment, no matter what the context.

As we’re drifting into the Christmas season now that Thanksgiving is behind us, when we find ourselves using the word, “Whoa,” stop for just a moment & think about how many ways we use it, especially at Christmas.

When you hear a Christmas carol in church on Christmas Eve, your eyes suddenly fill with tears & you think, “Whoa!” … enjoy for a moment the feelings, lost & forgotten that suddenly surface … that have brought you to that word & how much emotion there is behind it.

When we wake up on Christmas morning & see the look of wonder in the eyes of a child or grandchild when they see the shimmering tree & the gifts & know the “magic” associated with being reassured that Santa has actually come … under our breath & with a catch in our throats, we may murmur to ourselves, “Whoa …”

When we volunteer to serve a meal to those in need on Christmas Day or donate food to the Food Pantry or gifts to people we don’t know whose names we found on trees in malls … children & seniors … that rush of emotion that wells up in our hearts, behind our eyes & prompts us to whisper, “Whoa!” is surely the very best use of the word because it comes from deep within our hearts & souls; a place still untouched by what’s wrong with the world today.

And now that I’ve gotten us all thinking about Whoa, I’m going to end this & go stitch tiny little LED lights on the toes of the new socks I’ve gotten my husband for Christmas. I got the idea from an LED light our son & daughter-in-law gave my husband for his birthday. It’s multicolored & fits in the rim of our toilet. When you raise the lid, the light comes on, guiding the user like a beacon & helping avoid accidents in the dark at night.  When he puts the new socks on the lights will automatically spring to life & will guide him around chair & table legs in the wee wee hours of the morning, unscathed. I’m hoping it will reduce his negative use of the word, “Whoa!” & reserve it for happy sights, good food & the occasional warm, slippery dance when stepping in ectoplasmic cat yak in the hallway.

May we all have the surrealistic pleasure of hearing, “Whoa, Dasher & Dancer & Prancer & VixenComet, Cupid, Donner & Blitzen” on our rooftops very soon.

(Have I got several pair of LED-lit socks for Rudolph …. )