Thursday, November 30, 2017


I have been watching a lot of Christmas concerts on TV lately, and my eyes always are drawn to the orchestra's string section.   As I watch the violinists, their bows deftly gliding in perfect unison over the strings, I can’t help but think that I could have been sitting right there with them.

Back when I was in the fifth grade, my friend Carole started taking violin lessons. Of course, everything Carole did, I also wanted to do, so I was determined to convince my parents to let me take violin lessons, too.

“Puhleeeeze?” I begged them, my hands clasped together. “I promise I’ll practice for a whole hour every single day!”

My parents looked skeptical.  “Do you promise you will stick with it if we say yes?” my mother asked.

“Cross my heart!” I answered.

One week later, I excitedly accompanied Carole to the home of Mr. G., her violin teacher.

Mr. G.’s house was the spookiest place I had ever seen. It was a huge, rambling mansion with thick, burgundy-colored velvet drapes that blocked out the daylight. His doorbell played Beethoven.

Mr. G., like his house, also had a spooky air about him. His long, yellowish-gray hair was combed straight back (in an era when everyone else had crew cuts), and he was wearing a burgundy velvet smoking-jacket (probably made from leftover material from his drapes) and a white silk ascot.

Unfortunately, Carole already was in a more advanced violin class, so I was forced to take my lesson all alone, in a dark, musty room where the only source of light came from the top of the stand that held my sheet music.

The first three weeks, I practiced religiously every night. But despite my enthusiasm, my playing still sounded as if I were torturing cats.  The people who lived in the apartment upstairs complained about the racket. Even my parents complained and begged me to stop practicing.  But I refused to stop.  My ambition was to become a famous concert violinist.

There also was the bubble-gum award to strive for.

The bubble-gum award was a weekly ritual that Mr. G. had invented to reward students whose progress impressed him. The first few weeks, I received the bubble-gum award after every lesson.

This “honor” involved standing with my mouth open and my eyes closed, while Mr. G., who probably had missed his true calling as a baseball pitcher, tossed a big gumball into my mouth.

I always looked forward to the gumball ritual…until the day Mr. G. tossed it with a little too much force and it slid right down my throat.

As I stood there choking, my face turning crimson, Mr. G. ran around the room, his arms flailing wildly as he shouted, “Water! Water!” (as if he thought a glass of water somehow would magically appear).  Fortunately, I managed to cough up the gumball on my own.

To this day, I still believe that Mr. G.’s gumball ritual was what led Heimlich to invent his maneuver.

Too soon, the novelty of playing the violin began to wear off.  In fact, it got to the point where I dreaded my hour of practicing every night so much, I invented a way to get out of it.  I taped one of my practice sessions, then I’d lock myself in my room, stretch out on my bed with a movie magazine, and play the tape instead of actually practicing. My parents never knew the difference.

But Mr. G did.

“You haven’t been practicing,” he accused me one afternoon after I’d hit enough sour notes to curdle milk. “What’s wrong?”

I just shrugged.

“It’s really a shame,” he said. “I had big hopes for you. In fact, I wanted you to play in the Youth Symphonette Orchestra.”

My eyes widened. “Me? In an orchestra?!”

That was all the incentive I needed to make me resume my practicing with a vengeance.  A few months later, to our delight, both Carole and I were accepted into the orchestra. 

The night of our first public performance, I was so nervous, even my eyebrows were sweating.  Perhaps it was because our audience was what you might call “captive.”  We were playing at the state industrial school, the youth detention center.

Adding to our stage fright was the fact that the kids in the audience all had been given apples to eat (because, according to one of the YDC directors, apples were a more healthful snack than candy or popcorn).  Considering that by no stretch of the imagination did our audience members look like a Bach or Beethoven kind of crowd, Carole and I were certain that the minute our orchestra started to play, we would be bombarded with fruit.

I really enjoyed playing in the youth orchestra. Carole and I were able to travel all over the state on the official orchestra tour-bus, which made us feel like minor celebrities.  We also hoped to progress to playing in a big, prestigious orchestra someday, like the Boston Pops, when we were older.

Neither of us owned our own violin, however. We rented them from Mr. G. for $1.50 per week, which was applied toward the actual purchase cost of the instruments so we could own them in the future - in about 25 years.

One night, back when I was in the seventh grade, my friend Terry, who lived down the street, and I were hanging out in my room, playing records and pretending to be famous dancers.

Just before Terry arrived, I’d been practicing my violin lessons and hastily had set the violin down on the nightstand next to my bed.

As Terry and I were doing our finest impression of the Rockettes, kicking our legs high in unison, Terry accidentally kicked the nightstand. My precious violin went airborne and landed on the floor with a sickening cracking sound. Wide-eyed, we collectively held our breaths as I gathered the courage to inch my way toward the instrument to check it out. To our horror, it had a lightning-bolt shaped crack all the way down the front of it. Even worse, I was only about two months away from finally owning it.

I can’t remember ever feeling more terrified to confess something to my parents.

Let’s just say they weren’t pleased.  And as it turned out, Mr. G. was even less pleased.

“My policy is if you break it, you buy it!” he said. “So the broken violin is all yours now.”

I never touched a violin again after that, mainly because my parents refused to start from scratch, renting another violin for $1.50 per week. And I sure as heck couldn’t afford it on my 50-cents allowance. Shortly after I left the orchestra, Carole also decided to quit.

So we never did become the next Itzhak Perlman or Charlie Daniels. 

And we never found out whatever became of Mr. G.

I have the strong feeling he might have ended up in prison for choking some poor kid to death with a gumball.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017


If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Facebook, it’s that you never know what you’re going to find on there. In addition to a zillion close-up photos of people's dinners, kids and grandkids, along with volumes of inspirational messages and quotes, there are a lot of things people ask you to pass on to others – usually to no fewer than 10 friends.

The other day, a woman posted a list of the things that make her happy. She asked others to pass it along and add their own “happy things” to the list. Her goal, she said, was to spread happiness to as many people as humanly possible.

 Well, although I admire her efforts, I think maybe I’m getting a little too cynical and crotchety in my old age, because all I could think about while reading her “things that make me happy” list was she must be only about 20 years old…and related to Mary Poppins.

So, as she requested, I am going to add my own “happy things” to her list.  But I have the feeling I’m going to be a lot more realistic about all of this happy stuff.

Here goes:

SHE’S HAPPY:     To wake up each morning, see the sun streaming in through her bedroom window and start a fresh new day. 

I’M HAPPY:       To wake up each morning and learn that the “snap, crackle and “pop” sounds are coming from my breakfast cereal and not my joints.
SHE’S HAPPY:     To look in the bathroom mirror and smile at her reflection,  telling herself that although she's not a raving beauty, she's still special.             

I’M HAPPY:        To look in the bathroom mirror and find it so splattered with soap and toothpaste, I no longer can see my reflection and frighten myself.

SHE’S HAPPY:      To take a warm, relaxing bath before starting the day.

I’M HAPPY:          When I have enough hot water to soak anything higher than       my bunions.

SHE’S HAPPY:    To read the morning paper, enjoying the good news and
                          dismissing the bad.

I’M HAPPY:       To read the morning paper and not see my name in the

SHE’S HAPPY:     To share a nourishing breakfast with her family.

I’M HAPPY:        To find at least one slice of bread without any green on it so I can pop it into the toaster.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To see beautiful, delicate snowflakes floating past her window.

I’M HAPPY:      To have memorized the phone number of a good chiropractor so I can use it after I’ve finished shoveling 1200 tons of those    beautiful, delicate snowflakes.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To answer her phone and hear the voice of a dear friend.

I’M HAPPY:        To answer the phone and discover that for a change, it’s not
                          some guy trying to sell me a cow-of-the-month freezer plan.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To occasionally treat herself to a pretty new dress that makes
                          her feel oh-so-feminine.

I’M HAPPY:       When sweatpants and thermal underwear go on sale.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To generously make regular donations to charity.

I’M HAPPY:       If after I finish paying all of the monthly bills, I have some
                         money left over that actually folds, not jingles.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To lie in bed and listen to the rain gently falling on the roof.

I’M HAPPY:       To lie in bed and not get splashed between the eyes by the        rain gently leaking through the roof.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To plant a rock garden in her yard and watch all of the lovely      flowers bloom.

I’M HAPPY:        I’ve finally developed an immunity to poison ivy.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To treat herself  to a nice fresh apple or orange, and savor          each bite.

I’M HAPPY:       To treat myself to a five-pound bag of M&Ms and one each        of every donut sold at Dunkin’ Donuts.

SHE’S HAPPY:   When she receives a handmade gift from one of her

I’M HAPPY:       When my dogs don’t leave me any “gifts," especially on
                         the carpet.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To run barefoot through the grass and feel its softness
                          between her toes.

I’M HAPPY:       (See my previous answer, and substitute “lawn” for “carpet”).

SHE’S HAPPY:   To hear the sweet songs of the birds in the trees.

I’M HAPPY:       When all of the squawking crows and blue jays get laryngitis.

SHE’S HAPPY:   To share all of her happy thoughts with the rest of the world via Facebook.

I’M HAPPY:       She hasn’t been cloned.

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Friday, November 10, 2017


Monday was one of those days when I should have stayed in bed. Actually, most of my days are days when I should have stayed in bed, but Monday was worse than the others.

It all began a few days before when I once again tried to take my rottweiler, Wynter (a.k.a. The Devil Dog From Hell), for a walk. The problem with trying to walk her on a leash is I never know when I suddenly will be faced with “death by dragging.”  If, as they say, the human body has approximately 640 muscles, then I figure Wynter has about 3,000.

Anyway, after walking her and nearly ending up with my front teeth embedded in a pine tree after she spotted a squirrel in it, I decided the time finally had come to call a professional dog trainer for her…and maybe an oral surgeon for myself.

The trainer I contacted gave us an appointment for an evaluation on Monday at 3 o’clock. She told me she was located upstairs from a dog-grooming shop in a plaza in Concord.

So that Monday, Wynter and I headed to Concord. During the drive over, I’ll admit I was nervous, picturing the poor trainer, Wynter’s leash in her hand, lying flat on her face on the ground with my dog sitting on her back. I didn’t know if I would eventually end up with a well-trained dog…or a lawsuit.

The weather that day was terrible, with rain coming down in sheets. Even worse, Wynter, who hates car rides, was panting so heavily, she steamed up all of the windows, which made trying to see where I was going a constant challenge.  Finally, I saw what I thought was the trainer’s plaza up ahead and made a right turn into the entrance…straight into a giant pot-hole that was filled with water.  I felt the front end of my car drop hard, then heard my tire going “whop, whop,” as I drove into the parking lot.  I parked the car and, holding my breath, jumped out to check what I already knew I was going to see…a rubber pancake.

“Noooo!” I cried. “Not here!  Not now!  And not in the pouring rain!”

But my luck was about to become even worse.  I checked all of the stores in the plaza. There was no dog-grooming shop in it.  By then, it was 2:55, so I ran into one of the businesses and asked if anyone knew where the dog-grooming shop was located. I received blank looks until one man finally said, “I’m pretty sure it’s in the next plaza down from here.”

I thanked him and ran back outside. I could see the other plaza, but it was about the equivalent of a big city block away. I didn’t have the trainer’s number with me, so I couldn’t call her. At that point, I knew there was only one alternative.

I was going to have to take the Devil Dog From Hell on a leash and run over to the trainer’s with her.

Not only were there a gazillion distractions facing us in the area between the two plazas, all of which could result in my being dragged face-down through a bunch of puddles, Wynter loves to chase cars. And there we were, on one of the busiest roads in Concord. I pretty much figured I was doomed to end up in traction for the next month or so.

I put Wynter on her leash and then did something I haven’t done in years – I ran to the other plaza. Wynter was so busy running with me, she never even noticed all of the distractions. By the time I reached the trainer’s building, I was huffing and puffing and soaked to the skin. I also presented the woman with a wet, dripping dog. Not exactly a great first impression.

The first thing Wynter spotted at the trainer’s was a good-sized mirror sitting on the floor and propped against the wall. She saw her reflection in it and went nuts – barking frantically and lunging at the dog in the mirror. I rolled my eyes and wondered how long it was going to take before we were asked to leave and never come back.

The trainer, calm and smiling, introduced herself, but I barely could hear her over Wynter’s barking.

“Um, maybe you should pick up that mirror,” I told her.

She smiled slyly at me. “No, that’s why it’s there. It tells me how dogs react to other dogs.”

“Great,” I said. “Mine’s already flunked.”

“Quite the opposite,” she said. “She’s acting normally. I also can tell she’s not aggressive.”

She could have fooled me.

I hate to say it, but I only half-listened to everything the woman was saying because I was so worried about my car. Did I, I wondered, even have a spare tire with me? My car is a hatchback, so I guessed the tire had to be under the floor somewhere. And then I was worried about how long it would take AAA to come change the flat once I called. Already, it was nearly 4:00 and I knew I had to get to Sears to buy a new tire before 6:00, when the automotive department closed.

The dog trainer demonstrated to me how to get Wynter walking properly on a "loose" leash. As she led her back and forth across the huge room, I vaguely noticed that Wynter actually was listening to her commands – and was receiving tons of treats in return. But other than that, I had no idea what was going on. My mind was too preoccupied. For one thing, I was worried about what I was going to do with Wynter, both when AAA was changing the tire, and when Sears was installing the new one. Wynter wasn’t very socialized, so to her, strangers were something dangerous and sinister – something to shred.

I finally apologized to the trainer and told her I really had to get going and call AAA or I would end up stranded with my dog all night in Concord. She was very understanding and told me I could leave Wynter with her while AAA fixed my tire, if I’d like. But, she emphasized, I had to come back for her before 5:00 because there was a class with a bunch of dogs coming in – and she didn’t feel Wynter would do well in a group situation yet. Relieved, I thanked her and took off running back to the other plaza.

If possible, it was raining even harder outside. I dashed through puddles that were up to my ankles, with the water about the temperature of a glacial ice cap. I finally reached my car, jumped in and called AAA. By then, it was 4:15.  I prayed the guy would arrive in record time, so I actually could drive over to get Wynter before the 5:00 deadline.

AAA arrived at 4:55. 

“Hi!” I said to the guy. “Here’s my car and there’s the flat. Now I have to run. My dog has to be picked up before 5:00! I’ll be back in a couple minutes.”

I’m not sure he knew what the heck I was babbling about because he gave me a “Great – I’m dealing with a crazy lady!” kind of look, but he nodded, and I took off running again, back to the trainer’s.

By then, little children who were going to their dance class in that plaza were filling the parking lot. I wondered how Wynter was going to react to throngs of unsuspecting little bodies, all of them potential pouncing victims. I had visions of her knocking down the poor kids like bowling pins.

I ran into the trainer’s place, grabbed Wynter, and once again, ran through the parking lot, back to the other plaza.  I was pretty sure that at any moment I was going to collapse from a heart attack, land face-down in one of the puddles and drown. Heck, I hadn’t done that much running since the day I was chased by my grandmother’s bull…back when I was 12.

By the time Wynter and I arrived back at my car, the AAA guy had found my spare tire – some emaciated-looking little donut of a thing – and put it on. He’d also tossed my dripping-wet flat tire into the back of my car, where Wynter had to ride.

By 5:15, I finally was off to Sears. I happened to glance at myself in the rear-view mirror and gasped. I looked like a drowning victim. My hair was drenched and dripping, and my bangs were hanging down to my nose. My mascara was running, and I could feel my soggy shirt clinging to me in places I really didn’t want it to cling. I felt like hiding in the car, preferably somewhere under the seat. The last place I wanted to go, especially looking the way I did, was a public place like a mall.

By the time I walked into the automotive department at Sears, I was pretty much a basket case. Even worse, I resembled one.

“I need a tire!” I cried to the poor employee, my voice choking. “But my dog is in the car and she’s not good with people, and I don’t know what to do with her! And we’re both cold and wet and…”

“Calm down, now,” the guy said, his tone soothing. “We’ll take care of everything. I’ll get you a new tire, and we have a nice waiting area here where you and your dog can sit, dry off and relax. You’ll be all set in no time at all, I promise.”

I felt like hugging him.

So Wynter and I finally made it home safely. By then, my hair had started to frizz. I looked into the bathroom mirror and saw Albert Einstein with raccoon eyes looking back at me (without the mustache, however). I’m pretty sure the image will give me nightmares for weeks to come.

The next day, I took Wynter for a walk and she once again darted off after something – this time, falling leaves.

So I definitely will take her back to the dog trainer’s – but not to be professionally trained. No, I figure I can just run her back and forth across that darned parking lot a few dozen times until she learns to ignore all of the distractions.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017


Not long ago, I read a health article that said the average child laughs approximately 400 times a day, while the average adult laughs only 25. The doctor who wrote the article recommended that adults also should strive to laugh 400 times daily because laughter helps boost the immune system and promotes better health.

I decided it sounded like a fun way to improve my health, so I vowed to start laughing 400 times a day.

I soon learned it was no easy task. For one thing, I wasn’t certain how to tally the laughs. I mean, was I supposed to count each “ha” separately? Or was one laugh considered to start at the first “ha” and end at the last one in a cluster? And did a chuckle count as only half a laugh?

I started out by watching some of my favorite comedy shows on TV. Every time I laughed, I marked it down on a piece of paper. After three hours of watching TV, I eagerly added up my total.

I’d laughed only 22 times. 

At that rate, I figured I’d have to watch TV for about another 46 hours to reach my target of 400.

By the end of the day, despite my best efforts, my grand total was only 55 laughs. And even that many made my stomach hurt because I’d had to strain to force out a few of them.

I began to think that those kids who supposedly laughed 400 times a day must have eaten way too much sugar or something.

So I dipped into what I refer to as my “smile file,” which is a journal in which I, over the years, have jotted down things that made me laugh really hard. The purpose of this journal is to give me something smile-inducing to read whenever I’m feeling down.

The first entry I read in the journal made me laugh out loud  (which I immediately added to my daily laugh tally). It referred to a TV program - a reality show called, “My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Fiancé,” which aired several years ago. Basically, the show’s producers hired an actor to portray the world’s most lazy, rude and slovenly guy on earth. They then promised a female contestant a million dollars if she could convince her family that not only had she fallen madly in love with the creep, she also was going to marry him. Then, if her family members actually showed up at her wedding, which, unbeknownst to them, would be completely fake, the money would be hers. I got hooked on the show and watched it faithfully.

Well, I was at the service desk in a department store one night, and for some reason the clerk was taking what seemed like hours to process my refund. I looked impatiently at my watch and without realizing it, said out loud, “Gee, I hope I make it home in time to see ‘My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Fiancé!’”

The clerk obviously never had heard of the show because he stopped what he was doing, looked up at me, frowned and said, “Well, if your fiancé is that bad, then why on earth did you get engaged to him in the first place?”

I burst out laughing.

My late husband also was a great contributor to my smile file, even though it usually wasn’t intentional on his part.

One night, for example, as he and I were eating dinner, he tried to describe a young cheerleader he had seen at a high-school sporting event.

 “It was really embarrassing,” he said. “All of the other cheerleaders in her group were doing the cheers normally, but for some reason, this girl was making some really suggestive moves.  She acted more like an exotic dancer than a cheerleader!”

I gave him a puzzled look. “How do you mean?” I asked.

He stood up, and with a very serious expression on his face, launched into his impression of the girl.

“Give me an M - O - V - E!” he shouted. “Move that ball to victory!”  His cheer was accompanied by a lot of hip gyrating, chest thrusting, and bottom wiggling.  I laughed so hard, I nearly fell off my chair.  The problem was, he wasn’t trying to be funny. 

I swear, if only I had recorded his performance, I’d be able to rack up my daily quota of laughs in only 10 minutes.

Even my dogs, over the years, have provided contributions to my smile file. I remember one afternoon, when one of my dogs got into my laundry basket, which I’d set on the floor by the washer just as the doorbell rang. The guest turned out to be my new boss, Mr. Jolicoeur.

As Mr. Jolicoeur and I were sitting at the kitchen table and discussing, over coffee, a detailed work assignment he wanted me to do, my dog suddenly came running out to the kitchen…with my pink lacy bra on her head, like a hat, and the straps hanging underneath her chin. She wagged furiously at my guest.

It wasn’t funny to me back then, because I was much too embarrassed to see any humor in it, but now, whenever I picture that crazy dog in her “bra hat,” I have to laugh.

The other day, I spent over an hour reading through my “smile file” and I did a lot of laughing, but afterwards, my laugh total still ended up falling short by about 302 guffaws.

So I guess there is only one way I’m ever going to make my quota of 400 laughs per day and improve my immune system.

I’m going to have to hire a professional tickler.

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