Sunday, September 30, 2018


It seems as if the 100-degree weather just barely has left and already, gangs of leaves are leaping from the trees and covering my lawn.

I, however, don’t care if they end up getting knee-deep or if there are enough of them to stuff the Jolly Green Giant’s mattress. I’m not going to rake them.

The incident that caused me to become leaf-phobic and give up raking for life happened about 10 years ago. The weather was nice that day so I decided to be ambitious and go out and rake the lawn...for the first time in about 12 years.

When I, with my trusty cobweb-covered rake in hand, walked out to the yard, I found myself staring at a collection of leaves, twigs and branches so massive, an abandoned car could have been buried underneath there for all I knew. I nearly turned around and headed straight back into the house. 

Instead, I told myself I didn’t have to rake everything at once. I could rake just a little each day and not push myself.  So I started at the fence, where the leaves were banked so high against it, they resembled the Himalayas.

The raking went pretty smoothly until my rake kept getting hooked on these long, thin, spidery roots.  I finally got fed up trying to battle them and went searching for my hedge clippers.  Then I viciously snipped every root in the immediate area.

There was this one vine that particularly annoyed me.  It seemed about 10 feet long and was thicker than the others.  So I took off my garden gloves, bent down and tried to yank it out of the ground. It stubbornly fought me and wouldn’t budge. Determined, I wrapped it around both of my hands and then tugged as hard as I could. When I did, the darned vine snapped off near its base and flew up at me, whipping me in the face and on my left eye.  Along with it came a big clump of dirt that also landed in my eye.

I dashed into the house and flushed out my eye with water for at least five minutes, making sure I got out all of the dirt.  The incident ultimately put an abrupt end to my enthusiasm for raking. I hung up my rake for the day.

The next morning, I woke up and noticed that something about my face felt weird.  For one thing, I couldn't open my left eye.  And my cheek felt as if it belonged to a squirrel storing a mouthful of acorns. 

I got up and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror.  The whole left side of my face was red, swollen and covered with huge blisters. 

"Ohmigod!" I cried. "I'm hideous!"

Panic flooded through me as I realized that those roots and vines I'd been clipping and yanking the day before must have been poison ivy.  My mind raced as I tried to recall everything I'd touched with my ivy-coated hands before I'd washed them.  There had been door handles, railings, the gate latch.  And even worse, I'd wiped the sweat from my neck and forehead several times while raking.

Essentially, I was doomed.

Two days later, I looked like an alien from the planet Vulgaris.  It seemed as if every hour or so, a new crop of blisters would pop up where I least expected them.

 My face, which had taken a direct hit from the vine, looked worse and more disfigured with each passing moment.  I shoved on a wide-brimmed hat and big sunglasses, and rushed out to the nearest store…to buy an even wider hat and bigger sunglasses.

When my eye got so puffy it looked as if I were smuggling a golf ball under the eyelid, I decided to call an ophthalmologist, just to make certain my eye wasn't in any danger of falling out. 

"It's just the eyelid and surrounding tissue that are swollen," he said, "not the eye itself.  Technically, it can’t get poison ivy. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a good one-percent hydrocortisone cream to apply to the area."

So I went to the pharmacy, took off my sunglasses and said to the pharmacist, "Can you recommend a good cream for this?"

The look he gave me told me he thought the only solution probably would be to chop off my head at the neck.

"You might want to think about seeing a doctor and getting a prescription for oral prednisone," he said. 

Instead, I bought the cream, then headed home and slathered it all over myself.  It made my blisters feel even worse, as if someone had taken a blowtorch to them.

"Um, I hate to bring this up," my husband said, staring at my lopsided, one-eyed face the next day. "But don't you think maybe you should see a doctor?"

"Nah, I'll be fine."

Twelve agonizingly itchy and oozing hours later, I was sitting in the urgent-care clinic, begging for intravenous calamine lotion.

The doctor never came near me.  In fact, he stood on the other side of the room during our entire interaction and acted as if I were smuggling anthrax in my underwear.  Still, I left there with a prescription for prednisone, which was all that mattered.

The worst part about being covered with unsightly blisters, I discovered, was that people had the tendency to back away from me.  I also noticed that store clerks suddenly started using only two fingers when they handed my change to me. 

Even worse, because the whole poison-ivy incident was starting to get me down, I found myself in desperate need of a comforting hug.

So I headed straight for what I thought would be the welcoming arms of my husband.

 "I really need a hug," I said to him, extending my arms and sniffling.

Hesitantly, he approached. His eyes made a quick sweep over my blistered, oozing face, neck and hands.  Finally, he decided that giving a squeeze to the area just above my right kneecap probably was safe.

"I need a real hug!" I whined. "You're no help at all! I might as well just go outside and hug a tree!"

With my luck, it probably would have been covered with poison-ivy vines.

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Monday, September 24, 2018


I went to the Pembroke-Allenstown Old Home Day celebration a few weeks ago and had a great time.  The weather was perfect, the food was plentiful, and I saw a lot of old friends and caught up on all of the latest gossip.  I also won one of the raffle prizes – a  spa basket filled with bath products, a fleecy robe, slippers, scented candles and more. Last year, I won a brand new guitar and accessories.

Old Home Day is kind of like a giant family reunion...without Uncle Leroy having a few too many drinks and trying to do an impromptu striptease on the picnic table, that is.

I have been to dozens of Pembroke-Allenstown Old Home Day celebrations over the years, and at each one, something amusing always happened to make me laugh.

I remember the first year there was a Miss Old Home Day pageant.  Winners were going to be crowned in several different age groups, from toddlers up to teenagers.  As I walked near the outdoor stage, where the contestants were lining up for the pageant, one of the little girls who was about to compete looked down at her dress, frowned and said to her mother, who was standing next her, "Mommy, can I get some boobs before I go onstage?"

Everyone within earshot cracked up laughing.

Another year, the person who was supposed to run the face-painting booth had to back out at the last minute, so emergency volunteers had to be recruited to work in shifts.  Let's just say that one of the face painters was by no means a budding Rembrandt.

"Oh, what a cute smiley-face red apple you have on your cheek!" I heard one woman say to a little boy.

"It's supposed to be Spider-Man!" the kid shot back, frowning.

Then there were the Old Home Days held during the big election years that attracted campaigning politicians like ants to a picnic.  One particular year, I had donated several prizes to the Old Home Day raffle, one of which was a very lifelike, life-sized baby doll.

I grabbed a bunch of raffle tickets to sell, put the doll over my shoulder in the "burping" position, and then walked around, hoping the doll's cuteness factor would drum up some business.

Well, I happened to come across one of the politicians, who, with his entourage, was walking up to everyone and introducing himself. This included a lot of hand shaking and back patting.  He approached me and said, smiling broadly, "Oh, what an adorable baby!  May I hold her?"

I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing.  "Sure," I said sweetly.

He carefully took the doll from my arms and to this day, I'll never forget the expression on his face when he realized it wasn't a real baby.  Not only was he obviously embarrassed (and not the least bit amused), he shoved the doll back at me so fast, you'd think it had some contagious disease. 

But thanks to him, I sure did sell a lot of raffle tickets.

I also remember when the Pembroke-Allenstown Old Home Day was one of the very first to introduce Cow-Flap Bingo.  There we all stood, gathered around a bunch of numbered, chalked-off squares on the field, cheering for a cow to poop on the square that matched the corresponding number on our ticket.  The prize was a sizable amount of cash.

Unfortunately, the farmer who so generously had donated the services of his cow had fed her what he called a “bowel stimulating” meal beforehand to make sure she would really have to "go” during the event. The poor cow ended up not being able to hold it and did her thing just before the Cow-Flap Bingo started.  This resulted in a very (and I DO mean very) long wait for old Bessie to get the urge again.

"Get the Ex-Lax!" one guy in the crowd shouted as the sun went down and we still were standing there waiting.

I don't think even the Red Sox winning the World Series got more cheers than Bessie did that day when she finally accomplished her mission.

Another year, as I walked by the dunking booth, I was asked if I wanted to try my luck at dunking a very soggy-looking firefighter, still in uniform, who was sitting on the platform.

Well, when it comes to pitching balls, my aim is so bad, I honestly couldn't hit a target the size of a school bus.  That's when I noticed that the poor firefighter wasn't even protected by the usual cage that most dunking booths have.  He was sitting right out in the open, only inches away from the target...a proverbial sitting duck.

Visions of myself conking the guy on the head with a wild pitch and then inadvertently treating the crowd to an impromptu demonstration by the Tri-Town Ambulance EMTs as they tried to revive him, raced through my head.

"Um, I think I'll pass," I said, chuckling.

I can hardly wait for next year's Old Home Day.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018


It’s funny how some people just love to entertain. In fact, I have friends who will use any excuse to throw a party.

“Can you come over on Saturday night?” one of them will ask. “I’m throwing a big bash, complete with a caterer and a live band, to celebrate my husband’s vasectomy!”

I have never been the type of person who enjoys entertaining.  I guess it’s because I get too stressed out preparing for the event.  Even the smallest of gatherings sends me into a panic.

The year I decided to make Thanksgiving dinner for just my mom, husband and myself, for example, nearly sent me out into the streets to beg for valium.

I started cleaning three days beforehand.  I knew that my mother could spot a speck of dust the size of a grain of salt from 20 paces, so I made sure I vacuumed, dusted, polished and scrubbed everything that was in viewing range of where she would be seated at the dinner table.

At least 10 times, I sat in Mom’s designated chair and stared at what I figured she would be staring at.  I’d see a dribble of tomato juice on the fridge door and jump up to scrub it. Then I’d spot a dust ball on top of a kitchen shelf and attack that.  Every time I sat in that dumb chair, I’d find something new to wipe or scrub.

I figured the two bedrooms could be left alone because Mom would have no reason to venture into them…unless, heaven forbid, she developed stomach cramps from my meal and wanted to go lie down.

When my husband came home from work that Tuesday afternoon, I was feverishly polishing the wooden chairs we’d be sitting on at the Thanksgiving table.  I actually could see my face in the seats when I was done.

“So what do you think?” I proudly asked as I smiled at my reflection.

“You shouldn’t be polishing the part you sit on,” he said, frowning. “You’ll make it so slippery, your poor mother will go to sit down, slide right off the seat and land underneath the table!”

“Well, would you rather have her sit on the old spots of gravy you spilled on the chairs and end up with her pants stuck to the seat?”

Cleaning isn’t the only thing about entertaining that stresses me out.  Cooking also is enough to make me take a few swigs of cooking sherry.  It’s because I want to be creative when company comes over.  I don’t want to serve them run-of-the-mill stuff like crackers and cheese for appetizers or baked chicken for an entrée. No, I really want to "wow" them.

So I always make the mistake of experimenting with new recipes right before the guests are scheduled to arrive.  Believe me, my list of culinary failures could fill a phone book.  As a result, I practically have to blackmail people to get them to come over.

There was the recipe for rum balls that I tried.  My uncle, after he practically needed a crowbar to unstick one from his dentures, said I should patent them as slingshot ammunition.

And then there were the meatballs that were so dry, one of my friends joked, “Did this recipe call for one cup of sawdust or two?”

But the worst dish I inflicted upon my guests had to be something called “Dump Stew.”  The recipe described it as quick, easy and delicious.  All I had to do was scramble some ground beef, put it into a casserole dish and then “dump” a can of kidney beans, a can of corn, a can of stewed tomatoes and a can of sliced potatoes into it, stir and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.  And voila!  Instant, yummy casserole.

Unfortunately, I bought the world’s greasiest ground beef.  And when I couldn’t find the eight-ounce can of something the recipe called for, I substituted a smaller size instead.

The oil-slicked blob that emerged from the oven was enough to give my guests instant gallbladder attacks.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that my friends and relatives are much better off if I leave the entertaining to others.

But I must confess I’m really tempted to throw a big party for my dog, who’s finally rid of what turned out to be a very costly and stubborn two-month ear infection. 

Now, if only I can remember where I put that rum-ball recipe…

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Monday, September 10, 2018


Several of my friends recently have purchased camper vans, which are a little wider and taller than regular vans, get about 20 miles to the gallon, and contain, among other things, a bed, stove, refrigerator and bathroom.

If my husband were alive, he would be extremely envious because one of his big dreams always had been to own a camper van. Was it because he was an outdoorsy person who had a strong urge to go camping?  Heck no. Any man who thought marshmallows toasted over an open campfire were "disgusting," definitely was not camping material.

No, the reason why my husband wanted a camper was because he had to take diuretics for his heart, so every time we went for a ride, within 10 minutes he desperately would be searching for a restroom.  I can't even count the number of times we had to drive miles off the highway during our searches and ended up in places where no tourist (other than my husband) who valued his life ever would have dared to step foot out of the car.

So early one summer evening, we took a ride over to a place that sold recreational vehicles.  Almost immediately, my husband spotted the camper van of his dreams.  It was sleek and compact.  It was shiny.  It was $79,000. 

Nevertheless, dreamer that he was, he was eager to explore the interior.  We searched for an employee.  No one was around.

"If this was a car dealership," my husband said, "a salesman would have been flinging himself across the hood of our car the minute we pulled in."

We headed inside the building. There, we found a woman seated at a desk. Behind her stood a man drinking a cup of coffee.

"We'd like to see that van right there," my husband said, pointing at it through the big picture-window.

"We don't have any of those left," the man said, then yawned.

My husband and I both just stared him.  "But there’s one sitting right there," I said.

The salesman glanced out the window. "Nah, you don't want to see that one."  Before we could say another word, he walked off, leaving us standing there.

That did it.  My husband's face turned bright red and he got "the crease" between his eyes.  The crease was, and always had been, a dead giveaway that he was angry or upset. Even his friends knew about it. If they dropped by for a visit and I mentioned that my husband was in a grumpy mood, they would ask, “Does he have the crease?” If I said no, then they’d come inside.

"The guy mustn't work on commission," my husband snapped as he stormed out of the building in the RV lot and headed back to our car. "You know what? I'll bet he thought we looked like we couldn't afford his dumb van! I wish I could win the lottery and come back here and buy the whole place, just to show him!"

"Yes, dear," I said, all the while thinking that if by some miracle we ever did win the lottery, I could think of a thousand better things I'd rather do with the money.

And so the topic of camper vans was dropped...until about a year later.  My husband came home from his doctor's appointment one morning, looking more flushed than usual. "I just saw a Phasar Itasca for sale in front of a house on the way to the doctor's!" he fairly gushed. "I stopped to look at it and the sign said it's a 1998, everything works, it has only 55,000 miles on it, and here’s the best's only $3,500!"

"What's a Fazer Statka?" I asked, thinking it sounded like some kind of alien weapon from Star Trek.

"A camper van!" he said. "I can’t wait for you to go check it out and see what you think! Oh, and when you do, can you write down the phone number that's on the sign? I didn't have a pen or paper with me, and I want to call the guy before anyone else snaps it up!"

So the next day I went to check out the van.  As I headed over there, I kept thinking that $3,500 sounded too good to be true for something as seemingly wonderful as my husband had described.

The first thing I noticed when I pulled up to the van was that it was awfully faded looking.  The second thing I noticed was it had quite a few dents and holes in it.  I walked over to the front of it to read the sign. The year said 198.  I'm no scholar, but that seemed to be one number too short.

That's when I noticed the van's registration paper, folded over the sun visor, facing the windshield.  I strained to read it and saw that the year of manufacture was 1986.  Apparently, the guy had forgotten to write the number six after the 198 on his sign. My husband's precious 1998 van suddenly had aged 12 years. Still, I wrote down the phone number.

"Well?" my husband eagerly asked the minute he got home from work that night. "Did you see the van? Did you like it? Did you get the phone number?"

"Um, I hate to break the news to you," I said, "But the year is actually 1986.  And didn't you notice all of the holes and dents in it?"

His expression fell faster than a cake in a slammed-door oven.  "A 1986?" he muttered. "No wonder the price seemed so cheap. The thing he older than dirt."

"Well, you can still call the guy and ask him about it," I said. "I mean, the mileage seems pretty good for such an old vehicle."

"That’s probably because the odometer is already on its third go-round,” he said, frowning. “Our luck, we'll be driving down some deserted road in the middle of the mountains where there’s no cell-phone reception, and the van will decide to fall apart from old age and leave us stranded. That's all we'd need."

"On the bright side," I said, smiling, "at least you'll still have a toilet with you."

I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure I saw "the crease."

#   #   #

Monday, September 3, 2018


(Note: Names in this story have been changed to prevent irrevocable embarrassment – and the possible loss of several of my longtime friendships!)

Summer always reminds me of the wedding season, and the wedding season reminds me of how many of my friends’ weddings I attended back when I was in  my early 20s.

So many of my friends got married between 1969 and 1970, I was attending a wedding a month back then.  I could have furnished an entire house with all of the wedding gifts I bought.

Thinking back, I still wonder why some of the weddings even took place.  I have a photo of my friend Maddy’s wedding, for example, where she and her groom are seated at the head table.  She is staring off into space and smoking a cigarette, and he is leaning away from her, his eyes half-closed and his chin resting on his hand.

Had they been embalmed, they couldn’t have looked less enthusiastic.

And at my friend Linda’s wedding, when the priest said, “You may now kiss the bride,” Linda kept her arms straight down at her sides when her husband kissed her.  Talk about passion.

But the wedding I felt was the most doomed to fail was my friend Joyce’s.
Joyce was a tall, 5’10” stunning blonde who had two goals in life:  to find a man taller than she was…and to marry him.

I’ll never forget the day she called to tell me she’d finally met her Mr. Right. 

“He’s really tall!” she said breathlessly. “I’m so happy I finally can wear high heels!  And he’s a real hunk!  We’re getting married in two months!”

I couldn’t wait to meet the guy who’d swept her off her feet so quickly, so I told her to bring him over the next night.

All I can say is I wasn’t prepared at all for what walked through my door. Joyce’s fiancé was, well, creepy…axe-murderer creepy.

She was right about him being tall.  In fact, he had to duck his head to get through the doorway.  But he weighed only about 130 pounds.  His teeth were badly decayed, his face was covered with scars, and there were big white circles around his eyes where the skin, for some reason, had lost its pigment.

But his looks weren’t the problem.  His personality, or lack thereof, was.  The man didn’t talk.  When I spoke to him, he didn’t answer.  When Joyce spoke to him, he looked the other way and yawned. 

As I was making coffee for the happy couple, Joyce’s fiancé suddenly stood and said to her, “I’m going out for a while.  You stay here and I’ll be back for you later.”  Then he left.

“Where is he going?” I asked Joyce as I heard the car pulling out of the driveway.

Color rose to her cheeks and she didn’t seem to want to answer.  Finally, she said, “I don’t ask, and he doesn’t tell.  All I know is he brings binoculars with him and goes out alone for a couple hours every night.”

I wanted to tell her to wake up – that her Mr. Right might actually be Mr. Peeping Tom, but on the off chance he was a birdwatcher who was going out to spy on owls, I kept my mouth shut.

Joyce asked me to be her maid of honor, her only attendant.  The wedding was going to be a small one, she said, barely 20 people. 

“Of course I’ll be your maid of honor,” I said smiling, all the while wondering if her fiancé would be in jail before the wedding day arrived.

The morning of the wedding, Joyce and I went to have our hair done.  She was so excited to be marrying a tall man, she had her hair styled in an elaborate up-do that rose about eight inches from her head. 

From there, we went to pick up the wedding cake at a nearby bakery.  The first thing I noticed about the cake was that it had little black specks all over the white frosting…and the specks were moving.

“There are bugs all over the cake!” I whispered to Joyce.

“Well, it’s too late now to have another cake made,” she whispered back through gritted teeth. “So just don’t say anything and no one will know the difference! They’ll just think they’re sprinkles.”

Sprinkles with legs?  It was enough to make me, the world’s biggest dessert lover, swear off cake for life.

The wedding day was incredibly hot.  My hair drooped, my deodorant wore off and my feet swelled.  By the time I walked down the aisle, I looked as if I’d been dunked in a vat of oil.

Joyce, however, was stunning in her lace gown and veil, and smiled brightly as she walked into the awaiting arms of Mr. Peeping Tom.

When the reverend asked if anyone could find reason for the couple not to be married, I had to bite my tongue to keep silent.

And later, at the quiet (a.k.a. incredibly boring) reception in the church basement, when Joyce asked her darling new husband how he thought she looked in her wedding gown, he shrugged and said, “Fat.”

 I had to suppress the urge to slug him.

Instead, I offered him a second piece of wedding cake.  😊

 Their marriage lasted barely a year, which really surprised me.  I honestly hadn’t expected it to last that long.

 Fortunately, Joyce didn’t let her bitter divorce, or her ex-husband’s arrest for felony voyeurism, discourage her from still trying to find Mr. Right. 

 Last I heard, she was on her fifth husband...and he is only 5’6”.

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