Sunday, September 25, 2016


(NOTE: I will be posting a new column every Sunday from now on - not on Friday)

A friend called me the other day and asked me if I could do her a favor and take her son’s senior yearbook photos for him.

“Photographers are SO expensive,” she said. “Luckily, the kids can submit their own photos, wearing whatever they want and posing however they want.”

I found myself feeling very envious of the kids of today. Back when I had my senior photo taken for my high-school yearbook, there weren’t any such options. We were given appointments to show up at Rheault Studios on Elm Street in Manchester and were told, per penalty of death, to look neat and well-groomed. And the boys had to wear jackets and ties.

I remember how stressed out I was the week before my appointment. I tried on every piece of clothing I owned, and even some of my mother’s. Nothing seemed right. The worst part was I knew that whatever I selected to wear, it would be immortalized in print forever in the yearbook. Talk about pressure.

“How about this?” I asked my mother as I modeled a pink flowered blouse.

“Too busy,” she said. “A solid-colored sweater with a nice necklace is all you need. After all, the photo is going to be in black in white anyway.”

I hadn’t thought about that. No matter what color I wore for the photo, it was going to be black, white or some shade of gray in the photo. I finally chose a light-blue sweater and a heart-shaped locket.

The day of my photo, I had to walk to Rheault’s Studio directly from school. I’d worked hard all day to keep my shoulder-length hair in a perfect flip. There had been endless trips to the ladies’ room, where I’d sprayed my hair until it was so stiff, if I’d fallen down a flight of stairs and landed on my head, I wouldn’t have hurt myself because my hair would have acted like a helmet.

On a normal day, I would have been wearing pink lipstick, rose blusher, green eye-shadow and eyeliner, but one of my friends told me that colorful makeup looked terrible in black-and-white photos. “You don’t want to look embalmed,” she said. “Go for the totally natural look instead.”

So there I was, walking across Granite Street Bridge, heading toward Elm Street and feeling less than confident with my stiff hair and colorless, naked face, when something completely unexpected happened…it started to rain. By the time I reached Rheault’s, I looked as if I dunked my head in a bucket.

I remember climbing a flight of stairs up to the studio and meeting two of my classmates who were coming down. They took one look at me and started to giggle. Needless to say, I was getting the distinct feeling my mother probably wasn’t going to be ordering a case of 8x10 enlargements of my senior photo to hand out to the relatives.

The studio was small and dark. The photographer, a man with a friendly voice and a smile to match, greeted me and then said, “Um, there’s a mirror over there if you want to comb your hair and freshen up a bit.”

I was afraid to look into that mirror. When I finally gathered the courage to open my eyes, I saw a stringy-haired, pale-faced girl in a rain-splotched sweater. Even worse, I realized that I’d forgotten to wear the heart-shaped locket. I looked positively drab.

“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “If I look this bad in living color, I can just imagine what I’m going to look like in black and white.”

I combed my hair. The teeth on the comb made a row of lines through my wet hair, especially on my bangs, which were drooping down to my eyebrows. No matter how hard I tried, I still ended up looking as if my hair had just been plowed in preparation for crop planting. I finally gave up and took a seat in front of the camera.

The photographer took a few serious, pensive shots of me and then said, “Now give me a big smile.”

I managed a tight-lipped smirk.

“No, I want to see some teeth!” he said.

“I don’t want to show my teeth,” I protested. “I never smile with them showing…because of the gap between my two front ones.”

“Don’t worry, I can touch up the gap,” he said. “No one will even know it’s there.”

My eyebrows rose. The thought of finally seeing a photo of myself smiling with even, gapless teeth was enough to make me forget about my limp hair. I flashed a toothy smile at the camera.

It seemed like years until I finally received the proofs of my photos. Anxiously, I opened the envelope. My mouth fell open in horror. The photos were hideous, horrible, even worse than I ever could have imagined. My eyes looked like two oysters on the half-shell, and my teeth as huge as a horse’s. My bangs had more ridges than Ruffles potato chips.

“You’re being silly,” my mother said when she looked at the proofs. “I think they came out really nice, especially this one right here.”

I studied the photo she’d selected. Out of all of the proofs, it was the best of the bunch. But that wasn’t saying much. I had wanted to be immortalized looking like Miss America in my yearbook, not like Seabiscuit.

The finished photo that went into the yearbook didn’t please me at all. For one thing, the gap in my teeth hadn’t been retouched, as the photographer had promised it would be, and my eyebrows looked as if two fuzzy caterpillars were stretched out over my eyes.

Now that I look back at that senior photo, I realize that not much has changed since it was taken. I basically still have the same hairstyle and my bangs still aren’t cooperating.

On the other hand, I finally tweezed my eyebrows and saved enough money to get my two front teeth capped.

But I still wouldn't ever want to go through the torture of posing for another yearbook photo.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016


I realized the other day that the Ambition Fairy hasn’t visited me in about 10 years.

Before then, whenever my husband had to go out of state for job training, usually for two weeks at a time, the Ambition Fairy suddenly would appear and cast a spell on me that would make me want to do things like reupholster furniture or shingle the roof. I think my inspiration actually stemmed from boredom while my husband was away, but at least I always managed to get a lot accomplished during those two weeks.

I can remember the last time the Ambition Fairy visited me. My husband had just announced he would be going out of town for four days, when she swooped down from out of nowhere and told me to paint the front porch - a project my husband had been promising to do every weekend since the porch had been built four years before.

After he left, however, my initial burst of ambition seemed to fade. For one thing, I’d never painted a porch before, so I had no idea how to go about it. As a result, I procrastinated and waited until the day before my husband was due to return before I finally went to the hardware store to buy the paint.

“I need some paint for my porch,” I told the clerk.

 “What kind do you need?” he asked.

“Brown,” I answered.

He rolled his eyes. “Stain?  Gloss?  Semi-gloss?  Latex?”

I had absolutely no clue. “Surprise me,” I answered.

He began to fire “porch” questions at me.  How old was it?  How long had the wood been aging?  Had it been painted before?

“Sorry to say, you’ve waited too long to paint it,” he finally concluded. “I guarantee there’s a colony of mold spores bigger than the state of Texas living in that wood right now.  You’ll have to kill it by mixing bleach, water and Spic ‘n Span in a bucket and saturating the porch with it, then letting it thoroughly dry for a few days before painting it.”

I nodded, but all the while I was thinking, “I have to get the porch done by tomorrow night!  I’ll just paint over all of the mold.  It will never show anyway.”

“So, what shade of brown do you want?” the clerk continued, whipping out a color chart.  The last time I’d seen that many shades of brown in one place, I was touring a chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  With that in mind, I automatically pointed to a chocolate-brown color on the chart.

“Are you sure?” the clerk asked. “You can bring in a sample of the color you need and our computers will color match the paint to it.”

I wasn’t about to tear off one of the brown shutters on my house to get a perfect color match.  “No, this brown right here is just fine,” I said.

So I left there with two gallons of brown paint, a stirring stick, and two brushes.  I was ready.  I figured I’d get up bright and early the next morning and start painting.

The weather report that night, however, made me change my mind.  Rain was predicted, and even a novice painter like I was knew it probably wasn’t a great idea to paint anything outdoors during a rainstorm.  Discouraged, I didn’t even set my alarm clock that night.

I ended up sleeping until nearly noon. When I woke up, bright sunlight was streaming in through the bedroom window. And to my dismay, there was no sign that any rain had fallen, so I had wasted a perfectly good morning. Muttering that the weatherman should be dropped naked from a helicopter into a field of poison ivy, I threw on some raggedy old clothes and headed outside to paint.

The porch was like a giant sponge.  The minute I brushed some paint onto it, it soaked it up so fast, I could almost hear it slurping. 

I didn’t enjoy a single thing about painting that porch.  For one thing, as I was bent over painting, I was acutely aware that my butt was facing the street the entire time – not exactly the side of myself I wanted to present to the world.  Then there was the mess.  Ten minutes into painting with the chocolate-brown paint, and I looked like a giant fudge pop.

“Did your husband tell you to paint the porch while he was away?” a voice behind me suddenly teased.  It was one of my neighbors.

“No, I’m doing this to surprise him,” I answered

“Oh, he’ll be surprised all right,” the neighbor said, chuckling as he eyed the puddle of dripping paint forming on the ground.

After he left, another neighbor came over. “You missed a spot,” she said, pointing to an area that only a contortionist could reach.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get to it,” I told her.

“Oh, and there’s another spot over there,” she added.

I stopped painting and gave her my best, “Say one more word and die!” look.

She smiled sheepishly and left.

After I had been painting for about three hours, I was forced to do something I vowed I never would do unless it was a matter of life and death…I crawled underneath the porch.  I wouldn’t have done it if there hadn’t been a half-hidden support post I couldn’t reach from the front.

The reason for my under-the-porch phobia was due to the fact that the week before, I had spotted this really hideous-looking spider peeking out from underneath one of the porch steps.  It was huge and black with a weird bright-yellow pattern on its back. It looked like an alien spider from outer space. I’d never seen one like it before…and I never wanted to see one again.

As I lay curled in a fetal position under the porch and feverishly painted, I kept thinking about all of the spiders that might be lurking right above my head and plotting to lay a million eggs in my hair. Just the thought of it made me attempt to beat the world’s record for speed painting. What worried me was that in my haste, I might be painting right over a spider or two, and they then would be camouflaged and blend right in with the porch…so I wouldn’t be able to see them before they savagely pounced on me.

Just as I was applying the finishing touches on the porch, my husband pulled into the driveway - three hours early.

“You’re early!”  I whined as he got out of the car.  I’m sure it was a far cry from the enthusiastic welcome-home greeting he’d anticipated.

“What on earth are you doing?” he asked, laughing. “You look like you were in a head-on collision with a paint truck!”

“Painting the porch!” I said, slopping more paint onto the railing.  At that point, yet another neighbor walked over.

“Look at the way you’re holding the paintbrush!” he said, laughing and shaking his head. “You’re holding it sideways and at the base of the handle!  I’ve never seen anyone paint sideways like that before!”

“Yeah!” my husband added. “You really look funny!”

“And that shade of brown is much lighter than your shutters,” the neighbor just had to point out.

I think I remember now why the Ambition Fairy hasn’t paid me a visit in so long.

I locked her in a trunk out in the storage shed…and I just can’t seem to remember where I put the key.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016


I am so obsessed with walking two miles every day, I probably would make a good mail carrier, because neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night prevents me from taking my daily walk.

Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I must confess that the recent heat wave has caused me to skip a few of my walks.

Last week, however, on one of the days that was so hot, my car’s tires practically were fused to the driveway, I decided, in a momentary lapse of good judgment, that hiking on a nice shady trail in Bear Brook State Park might be fun. I also decided to bring along my dog, Eden, who loves the heat so much, she follows the sun around the yard and lies down wherever it’s beating down the hottest.

I was well-prepared for the hike. I wore my anti-tick/anti-mosquito outfit: long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat, and knee-high stockings into which I tucked my pants. I spritzed some diluted rose-geranium oil onto Eden’s legs and my shoes (ticks hate the smell of the stuff), grabbed a bottle of water, hopped into the car, and off we went.

I parked near a shady trail in the state park and Eden and I began what I thought, because of the heat, would be an abbreviated version of our usual two-mile trek.

At first, walking was easy. Eden and I moved along at a pretty good clip and neither one of us was panting, which I figured was a good sign. A recent thunderstorm had left quite a few big puddles on the trail. I was tempted to walk right through them, but the thought of having to complete my walk with squishy shoes and wet socks that would all but promise me a bad case of athlete’s foot, made me detour around them. Eden, however, made a point of taking a flying leap into every puddle she came to.

Twenty minutes into our walk, the heat seemed to suddenly viciously attack me. My tongue felt as if it had been rolled in sawdust. My hat was so soaked with sweat, the brim began to droop into my face. And my tucked-in pants felt as if they were swelling into  giant water balloons. I needed something to drink…badly. I reached into my pants pocket for my bottle of water.

That’s when I discovered I’d left it back in the car.

As I watched Eden lazily drinking from a crystal-clear puddle, I was tempted to kneel down next to her and stick my tongue into the puddle, too. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of other animals’ feet (or something even worse) having been in there before we arrived.

I hate to admit it, but knowing that I didn’t have my water with me made me feel panicky. How, I wondered, was I going to make it all the way back to the car when I already was so parched? What if I got woozy and passed out in a big patch of poison ivy or an anthill? What if my body temperature got so high, I self-combusted?

Eden, who had decided to lie down in the puddle, just stared at me.

The problem was, the trail thus far had been mostly downhill. That meant that going back (brilliant deduction here) was going to be mostly uphill. Taking a deep breath, I made a U-turn and headed back in the direction of the car. I stopped at the bottom of the first hill and looked up. Through my dried-up eyeballs, it resembled Mount Everest.

As I plodded along, certain that every step was going to be my last, Eden seemed to have renewed energy, probably from all of the puddle water she’d just guzzled and splashed in. She tugged on her leash so hard, she nearly dragged me up the hill…which, in retrospect, probably was a good thing.

I don’t know if it was because I’d convinced myself it was going to happen, but I began to feel lightheaded. I stopped walking and looked up at the sun, hoping to see a giant rain cloud heading toward it. There, in a cluster of tall, dead-looking pine trees, I spotted what looked like an American flag hanging from a branch.

I blinked my eyes. The flag was gone.

“Oh, no!” I said to Eden. “I’m a goner! I’m hallucinating!”

I looked back up at the trees and noticed that the branches formed a stripe-like pattern, and with the sun shining reddish behind them, they kind of looked like a flag, but that still didn’t convince me I wasn’t on death’s doorstep.

I started to walk again, and up ahead, standing near a puddle in the middle of the trail, was a big, beautiful doe. That did it. If the imaginary flag hadn’t convinced me that my brain cells were being fried, the doe pretty much sealed the deal. I half expected to see a ballet-dancing pink gopher around the next bend.

Eden stopped dead and barked at the imaginary doe. It bolted off into the woods.

I breathed a sigh of relief. The doe was real.

When I finally spotted the car, I knew how a dying explorer felt when he came across an oasis in the desert. A bottle of cool spring water sat in that car waiting for me…beckoning to me.

With what little remaining strength I could muster, I headed toward the car. When I finally reached it, I was so excited, I wanted to give it a hug…but I was afraid my sweaty armpits would erode the paint.

With trembling hands, I picked up the bottle of refreshing, lifesaving water and started to chug it down.

The water was so hot, my tonsils still have blisters.

I think the next hike I take will be in December.


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Sunday, September 4, 2016


There was a time when I used to spend countless hours every week entering contests. Back then, people didn’t have computers in their homes, so contests had to be entered by mailing postcards or entry blanks to the sponsors.

Through trial and error, I managed to figure out how to win at least something in the majority of the contests I entered. One strategy was to enter right before the contest ended. That way, my entries would be on top of the mail sacks and have a better chance of being selected.

Another trick I learned, mostly through research, was that contest entries had to be exactly the way the rules stated.  For example, if the rules said to write, “My dog LOVES Puppy Wuppy chew treats,” on a 3x5-inch card, the words had to be exactly as listed. If you forgot to capitalize a word or you left out a quotation mark, your entry would become fireplace kindling. The same was true if you used anything other than a 3x5-inch card.

As a result of my intense contest entering, I won some pretty interesting prizes: tennis racquets autographed by Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, a year’s supply of hot dogs, $200 in cash, jewelry, books, records, movie tickets, skis, a portable TV and even a new wardrobe. But I never won the grand prize – no new car, no big vacation or cruise, no million dollars in cash.

I remember one contest I entered because I really wanted to win the grand prize, which was a complete home-entertainment system with fancy speakers and a state-of-the-art TV. I ended up winning second prize. I’ll never forget the day I received news of my prize, which was totally unexpected.  It came in the form of a phone call.

“Hi!” the caller said, his tone oozing with excitement. “I’m calling to congratulate you!  You’ve won second prize in our big entertainment sweepstakes – a phone call from Bobby Dall!”

“I won a Barbie doll?” I repeated.

“No!” he said. “Bobby Dall! You’ve won a phone call from him!”

I honestly didn’t know how to respond…mainly because I had no clue who or what a Bobby Dall was.

“He’s a member of the rock band, Poison,” the caller explained, his tone’s previous enthusiasm vanishing. After all, he’d probably expected me to squeal with delight when he announced what I’d won. “You’ve heard of Poison, haven’t you?”

Actually, I had. Stephanie, a 14-year-old girl who lived next door at that time had talked about nothing else. But the only band member she’d ever mentioned was some guy named Bret, because she had a major crush on him. She’d never mentioned this Bobby guy.

So, the caller informed me, my big prize, the phone call, was going to be delivered at 2 p.m. the next day.  I hung up and rushed next door. I figured I’d give the call to Stephanie, even though the caller wasn’t going to be her beloved Bret. At least Bobby would be the next best thing. And I was certain she’d appreciate my prize a lot more than I would, especially since I was feeling so disappointed I’d won an entertainer instead of an entertainment system.

Unfortunately, it was school-vacation week, and Stephanie was off visiting some relative in Massachusetts. So I was officially on my own when it came to Bobby Dall.

I had no Internet back then where I could look up information about Poison prior to the call. I knew nothing about the band other than Stephanie’s descriptions of Bret being “the hunkiest guy on earth.”  But I figured Bobby probably wouldn’t want to hear that. I also couldn’t look up photos of Bobby, so I had no clue what he looked like. Visions of everyone from an Elvis Presley look-alike to some wild-haired drugged-out rocker, ran through my mind.

Part of me thought maybe I’d be better off if I just didn’t answer the phone the next day. But another part of me thought maybe I should just have fun with the whole thing and talk to Bobby, come what may. I was pretty certain the poor guy was expecting to be talking to some excited teeny-bopper fan, not some clueless old married lady.

Bobby called right on schedule the next day. His voice was surprisingly soft when he announced who he was.

“Hi, Bobby,” I said, as if I were talking to an old buddy. “How’s it going?”

His silence told me he probably had expected to hear something like, “Ohmigod!  It’s Bobby Dall!  I can’t believe it! Ahhhhhhhh!” 

“So, where do you live?” he finally asked me.

“In New Hampshire.”

“Is that in Vermont?” he asked.

“Um, no – New Hampshire is a state.”

“Oh. What do you do in New Hampshire?”

I don’t know why, but I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I’m a fashion model,” I said. “But not here in New Hampshire. I commute to Boston.”

“Really?” his tone suddenly changed dramatically – from indifferent to interested. “Is Boston far from Worcester? We’ve got a concert coming up there in a couple weeks.”

“No, it’s not that far.”

“You want to come see us?” he asked me. “I can get you a couple backstage passes, if you’re interested.”

“Sure!” I said. “Sounds great!” I actually was thinking of Stephanie when I answered.

“Good, I’ll have someone get in touch with you about it.”

After I hung up, I started laughing, thinking what would happen if I did show up backstage at his concert. Believe me, the words “fashion model” never would come to anyone’s mind when looking at me.

As it turned out, the day before the Worcester concert, a couple of the band members had a big disagreement that reportedly got physical, and they ended up canceling the concert. 

Alas, once the Internet became popular and most contests switched over to online entering, I no longer had a strategy for winning. Still, I did try my luck online, mainly because it was cheaper with no postage involved. I won absolutely nothing. So I eventually stopped entering contests.

But last Saturday, I went to the Pembroke-Allenstown Old Home Day celebration. One of the big attractions there is the annual raffle, where dozens of prizes are awarded. Every year for the past 20 years, I’ve faithfully purchased raffle tickets. And every year for the last 20 years, I haven’t won a thing.

So this year, I bought only six tickets…and I won a brand new guitar, valued at about $150.  Needless to say, I was both shocked and delighted, mainly because I hadn’t won a contest of any kind for so long, and the guitar was a pretty decent prize.

Maybe I should call Bobby Dall and ask him if he can teach me how to play it.


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