I am a woman of great enthusiasm, slightly above-normal persuasive powers, but minimal forethought.The wearing of post earrings means being continuously poked in the neck.  Every time you hold a phone to your ear, every time you lay on your side, that insidious little metal shiv shanks you.

My delicate, sensitive nature precludes me from wearing such jab-happy jewelry.  I now only wear the tiniest hoops they make; literally, they’re made for babies. A normal human might ponder such pain-inducing side effects well before the piercing and rethink the whole enterprise.

But as I said, thinking before doing is neither skill nor talent that I possess.

Pestering however, so is.

When I graduated from kindergarten, I also received a doctorate—in beleaguering.  Give me a cause, and I could nag all four guys at Mount Rushmore into submission.Mt RushmoreIn the first grade, I was obsessed with getting holes poked through my tender little earlobes into which I planned to hang sparkly bits of metal and/or stone.  My poor mother bore the brunt of this unbridled obsession.  I brought it up and argued in its favor multiple times a day.belksFinally, on the very last day of school that year, Mom said yes.  A man was coming from away to our local Belk Tyler’s for ear piercing.

Even though my mother said she’d take me, I knew I had to be on best behavior until those holes were actually in my ears or the opportunity could be snatched away.  So, all day, I did my very best imitation of a meek, obedient child.When we got to Belk’s, there was the piercer, a dapper, charming man in the fanciest suit I’d ever seen in Elizabeth City.

Mom had told me they would probably spray my ears with something that would numb them, and then slip the earrings in—it would be quick and painless.So, imagine my surprise when he wiped my lobe with some alcohol, put an actual cork, like from a Gunsmoke whiskey bottle, behind my ear, and stabbed me with the sharpened post of an earring.My eyes and mouth were three perfect O’s in my face.  I wanted to cry and run away, but I also wanted both of my ears pierced, so I remained silent.

My mother, however, did not.

The first ear was assaulted so quickly she hadn’t registered what happened until afterward.  Completely out of character and against everything I’d been taught by her since birth, my mother proceeded to make a scene in Belk Tyler’s.“What is wrong with you?  How could you do that?  Take your hands off my daughter and get away from her!”

Meanwhile, I was paralyzed from pain and the shock of my mother raising her voice in public.The swank disappeared from the man as he spun around to face her and growled, “So, whaddya want lady?  You want the kid to walk around with one ear pierced?  ‘Cause I don’t care, you already paid.”

At that point, Mom was shocked into silence along with me.  Taking her stillness for acquiescence, he finished the job.  Struck dumb, we left Belk’s and went home without a word.When you get your ears pierced, you must leave the original earrings in for six weeks.  Wearing those sharpened golden daggers and being continuously stabbed by them bred a loathing for post earrings deep inside my soul.

Hence, the baby hoops.

My mom?It was like a logjam broke that day.  My mother was never again hesitant to speak her mind in public.  Which is very honest and extremely healthy.  But sometimes, for her daughter, a bit less than comfortable.

Thanks for your time.

Homer’s $1 Horse

The horse originally belonged to Hank Hitch, the angriest kid I have ever, ever known.  If 1 is totally emotionless, and 10 is running around, shrieking, and tearing your hair out in rage, Hank got out of bed every morning at about an 8.5.

His sister Melody was four or five years older than us, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Go figure.He and his family lived in Puerto Rico when we did, on the same base.  His dad ran the base exchange; it’s a military general store.  Everything from perfume to bicycles.  When they moved there, they joined the on-base ranch, Lazy R, and got a couple of horses for the kids.Rufus was a run of the mill buckskin. That’s a horse with a blond-ish body and a black mane.  The thing was, though, Rufus was kind of a jerk.

In the symphony of being an irritating equine, Rufus was a virtuoso.  That horse knew just when and where to nip or stomp.  He made being a butthead into an art form.  Which is inspirational, because other than his inventive orneriness, he was ordinary and utterly unremarkable.

Hey, shine where you are, right?One morning our little base, our Mayberry with palm trees woke to an exciting scandal.

It had been discovered that Hank’s father had been embezzling huge amounts from the exchange.

The entire family, aided by the federal government, vanished into the night.  Their belongings were packed up and shipped out, but there were some loose ends.  One of them being their horses. 

The elected officers of the ranch decided that at the next show, they’d raffle off Rufus and his fellow owner-less ponies.

Our family was ranch members and we had three horses.  Homer, his wife Kelly, and their daughter Mindy were also stationed at the base and often accompanied us out to Lazy R for shows and events even though he had little interest in anything equestrian.  My big brother is a lot of things, but horse guy is definitely not one of them.Homer had bought Bud and me a couple of sodas, so Mom decided, as a joke, to pay back the $1 by buying him a raffle ticket for Rufus.

The ticket was a winner.

This is not a Disney film, where man and beast bond.  There was no dramatic climax where they saved each other’s lives, the music swells, and an emotional tear is shed by all. Homer and the horse just never took to each other, bless their hearts.A couple of times a year local youth would come to Lazy R in the middle of the night and take seven or eight horses.  It was the equine equivalent of a joy ride.In a day or so, a message would come that our horses had been found safe, and for a small finder’s fee they would be returned.  The fee was a ten spot, six-pack, or a carton of smokes (remember, this was the seventies).  It was a game, the horses were never harmed, and everybody involved kind of enjoyed it.  A little innocent skullduggery to break up the day.

During one episode, Rufus was taken.  And in a move straight from The Ransom of Red Chief, Homer declined to pay up.  It was the perfect way to rid himself from the care and feeding of an animal he didn’t ask for and never liked.It was unprecedented.  But ranch members knew the temperament of the beast, and completely understood his choice.

And in a response that would have instilled pride and amusement in O. Henry himself, the misanthropic Rufus was the first one returned.Thanks for your time.

Three Views On A Holiday

It will come as no surprise to a student of the human mind, or frankly, anybody with a lick of sense, my view of Christmas was informed by the first one I remember.

It is a saccharine, nostalgic, romanticized vision of the holiday.That earliest Christmas memory, when I was five or six, was spent on the couch.  I had pneumonia, and just enough energy to observe.  My holiday was whatever went on around me.  I had a Disney Christmas anthology book and many seasonal Little Golden Books, including my favorite, “The Night Before Christmas”.I watched all the Rankin/Bass shows of Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, and the Island of Misfit Toys.  And of course, Charlie Brown’s Christmas.  The Peanuts gave me an appreciation for jazz, in the form of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and the beautiful, majestic Shakespearian language of the King James version of the nativity.In 1973 I was nine, and it was all about my brother Homer’s wedding.  He was marrying Kelly, a very sweet young woman.  Mom told me she’d sew my outfit for the wedding and it could be whatever I wanted.  She probably regretted that promise when she found herself stitching together a purple velvet skirt and vest, with a coordinating lavender frilly-fronted shirt.

Yeah, I wish.

I looked like a cross between a Vegas pit boss and a Victorian couch.

In 1975 we were in in Puerto Rico.  Most gifts were shipped in.  To place a catalog order, one had to fill out a complicated order form and calculate price and fees.  Then write out a paper check, and mail the whole thing in.  Once Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck received it and the check cleared, a box would be packed and shipped.Mom was panicked because the order she’d placed in mid-September for my gifts hadn’t yet arrived.  My little brother’s presents had been received and wrapped weeks ago.  I knew nothing of this drama.

After unwrapping a spectacular haul, heavy on Barbie and Donnie Osmond, (the original catalog order had finally come), I was about to start opening each box and removing the dolls from their twisty-tie manacles.  Then I planned to dress them in their new duds and have a fashion show.Until my dad asked me to go into the kitchen and fetch him a cup of coffee.  I was more than a little grumpy.  C’mon, I had just opened my gifts!

I’d poured the coffee and turned around before I saw the true motive for Dad’s errand.

A glorious dayglo orange 10-speed bike!  For me!  Convinced the presents would never arrive, she and Dad had gone to the base exchange and bought me a beautiful new pair of wheels.Later I proudly wheeled it outside for a ride.  Along with twenty or thirty other kids.  It seems the exchange had received a huge shipment of one particular model of cantaloupe-hued 10-speeds.  That day a horde of tween Mongols mounted on tangerine bicycles was released upon the streets.  We traveled in packs as wobbly as new-born colts on our brand-new, slightly too-big bikes.x14But it was that 1960s holiday convalescence on the sofa which deeply and irrevocably set a reindeer on rooftop, joyfully over-decorated, scary fruitcake, white Christmas in my heart.It made my expectations high, but my standards low.  In my head is a Currier and Ives print set to the dulcet tones of Johnny Mathis.  But to make me think, “Best Christmas ever!”, all I need is the sound of bells, a glimpse of ribbon and tinsel, a few thousand Christmas carols on a playlist, and the pure crystalline happiness when passersby smile back.x26The Kid calls this annual lunacy my Chistma-thusiasm.

Thanks for your time.

My Very Favorite Things

Effusive adjective (as defined by Google)

  1. expressing feelings of gratitude, pleasure, or approval in an unrestrained or heartfelt manner.
  2. GEOLOGY (of igneous rock) poured out when molten and later solidified (not germane to our discussion today, but interesting nonetheless-debbie).


Best happy dance of all time.

“I could sense your enthusiasm.”-The Café Driade barista, when I discovered they weren’t out of baguettes.  Also, what The Kid now says to me when I get excited about something—normally 8-10 times a day, and at least twice that when I’m somewhere I like, or when the weather cools off, or there’s cake involved, or I’m wearing new shoes, or a favorite song is playing…so really, I guess, most of the time.

I know this isn’t technically cake, but just look at that frosting.  Hubba hubba!

I’ve always been like that.  So much so that my shirt sleeves are permanently stained red from my heart being worn out there.

When I was little I loved when this pretentious baker would appear on Sesame Street to announce and describe the very fancy dessert he carried.  He’d then fall down the stairs and end up covered in it.  I loved picking out my new lunch box every year at back to school shopping.  I loved the look on my big brother’s friend’s faces when I’d catch the football that they threw extra hard to make the pesky little kid go away and stop yelling, “Over here! I’m open!”I looked forward all week to sitting in front of the TV watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating Lucky Charms with my brother Homer.  I loved the Sundays when I’d go along with him on his paper route and then we’d hit Hardees.  We left before sunup, it was so early Elizabeth City was deserted and belonged only to us.  Eating a Hardees roast beef sandwich at 8AM feels to an eight-year-old like delicious rule-breaking.  Sometimes we’d even go fishing after eating.In elementary school in Puerto Rico, there was an annual event that I eagerly anticipated, but which my parents dreaded and feared—the arrival of the Scholastic book catalog.  We’d get the brochure early for browsing and for our parents to write a check.  For me, it was the catalyst to week-long negotiations with my own parental check writers.  I always got less than I wanted, and they always spent more than they’d planned.

But that’s the definition of compromise, isn’t it?In junior high in San Diego, I loved our twice-yearly trips to Disneyland.  And this Greek diner, Troy’s near our house.  It’s where I had my first patty melt; cheesy, grilled ambrosia, and liver; a horrible, horrible practical joke played on my taste buds.

I loved going with my mom to work on Saturdays.  She worked part-time during the week so she could take us to school and pick us up, then made up the hours on Saturday.  The office was deserted, so I’d pack a couple books and hang out with her.  She worked in La Jolla, one of the most exclusive towns in California.  I’d go out to pick up lunch for us, or window shop, or visit the library.I loved that library.  It was small, quiet, and had a great young adult section.  But best of all, the library had one of my very favorite things.  I mean it’s up there with potato salad and new boots.  It’s a nook.  A little semi-private corner somewhere, preferably a padded window seat, made for curling up, reading and daydreaming. I think my personality was pretty much finished cooking by junior high.  Looking over my list, all that stuff still makes me happy—even Lucky Charms, and the clumsy Sesame Street pastry chef.  Although, now I’d add Petey and The Kid, and walking in the woods with my dog, oh, and mowing the lawn, and lattes, and the State Fair, and Costco, and my Hunter wellies, and new sweats, and…well, you can probably sense my enthusiasm.Thanks for your time.

Missing and presumed oblivious

Both my dad and my big brother Homer retired from the Coast Guard.  During their careers the two probably rescued thousands. Dad spent years saving souls off the graveyard of the Atlantic.  Every time a foolhardy captain made the decision to leave harbor during bad weather like hurricanes and nor’ easters and ran into trouble, the Coast Guard, and my father, was there to jump in the ocean and save their reckless, irresponsible kiesters.

On the opposite coast, Homer had tours in both Kodiak and Sitka, Alaska.  And Alaska don’t play.  The weather could get so bad on Kodiak Island that both ships and planes were grounded.  And more than one year Halloween was canceled due to “Kodiak bear activity”.

Wait, wait!  I just want your Reese’s cup…


One summer, my folks and The Kid went to visit Homer.  My bro and my child both possess a fair amount of goofy, and really enjoy each other’s company.  I think a lot of my own humor comes from sitting around the dinner table as a child, listening to Homer’s hilarious stories, and trying not to choke on my meatloaf, or blow Kool-Aid out of my nose.

Dinner time!  Oh my God…who gave that woman a knife?  Uh, Joan, how ’bout we put the knife down okay?

Before returning home, Homer gifted The Kid with one of the funniest t-shirts I’ve ever seen.

It had the illustration of both a Coast Guard cutter and helicopter.  Very large letters spelled out the source of my mirth.  It said:

“Support Coast Guard Search and Rescue—Get Lost.”

To me, it was as funny as a pie in the face; but maybe you had to be raised as a ‘Coastie Kid’…The state of being lost brings us to this week’s tale.

When I was 8 or 9, we were living in Elizabeth City.  One of my friends lived just down the street.  Her house was laid out unlike any house I’ve ever seen.  On the second floor, only the front half was finished.  The unfinished back, from the roof line down, was used as an attic.

That’s also where she kept her large Barbie collection, and all the stuff that went with it: house cars, furniture, clothes and accessories.  That’s where we played with them, as well.One afternoon we were playing with her Barbies and decided it was time for the dolls to go to sleep.  So we put our heads down too and closed our eyes for a minute to while our ten-inch friends slept.

The next thing we knew, it was much later in the day.  We had actually fallen asleep.  It was one of those little kid things where the sleep overtakes them like they’ve been hit with a tranquilizer dart.  Deep and instantaneous.

I decided to head home, and my friend stayed home to wait for her mom.   Curiously, her house was completely empty.  The ever-present adult supervision was nowhere to be found.  The streets were empty, as well.As I was walking down the street, I ran into Homer.  He was furious.  Evidently, we had been asleep for quite a while, and every adult in the neighborhood was searching for us.  I told him where I’d been, and what had happened.

He didn’t believe me!  And to this day, he still thinks I was doing something much more exciting than sleeping off an epic Barbie session.

It’s Sleeping Beauty Barbie, and it’s CAKE!!!

The weirdest thing about this tale of lost-ness is the fact that when Petey was a kid, pretty much the same thing happened to him.

Only his story had some bikes, a playmate with a sprained ankle, and a South Carolina forest on a military base.And, instead of all the neighborhood moms looking for him and his buddies, it was the US Army.

Thanks for your time.

A Word of Advice

The Kid likes to project a certain image.  Being raised in the city has convinced the child of possessing colossal amounts of “street cred” accumulated from years of living on the mean streets.

Never mind the meanest street with which my baby ever interacted was one particularly ornery avenue that caused a skinned knee during bike-riding lessons.

The Kid is a fraud.Don’t get me wrong; there’s a certain amount of the aforementioned street cred.  My spawn is afraid to go nowhere and is in no way gullible or a soft touch.

But contrary to the vigorously maintained misanthropy, my funny little offspring is full of care and concern toward fellow men.  And corn nuts too—the child is often quite full of corn nuts.I have seen this “misanthrope” walk out of restaurant carrying takeout, only to give it away to someone who needs it.  I also have seen, on more than one occasion, the effort to make things right when we’re in an establishment and another customer is being an arrogant butthead.  Whether it’s doubling the tip or giving the put-upon employee an opportunity to vent, The Kid tries to make it better.

Around the age of four, we were at the grocery store.  The check-out girl and my child were chatting as we were rung up.  The conversation was going well, and The Kid decided the young woman was a new friend.  And had a very important question to ask her.“Do you have somebody that loves you?”

I was only about 20% mortified.  Because I knew what The Kid meant.

The Kid was trying to make sure that this shiny new grocery store friend had people who looked after her and had her back.  Friends and family who made her world a safe, happy place.

And the young worker understood, as well.  “I sure do, Shug.  And aren’t you sweet to ask?”So, that’s The Kid—a stealth altruist.

But promise you won’t let on…there’s that image to protect.

And this secretly sweet child made a New Year’s resolution last year that has taken hold and only brings good things in return.If, Gentle Reader, you’ve read more than a few of these published psychological exsanguinations of mine, then you probably wouldn’t be very surprised to discover that most of what I think is either spontaneously spoken to all present or written down for public consumption.

To some people, the shock is that I actually do censor myself.  I normally only share about 75% of what I think.  To share more would most likely remove that last vestige of doubt that I ain’t right and see me enjoying an extended stay at any one of our state’s many lovely and accredited mental health facilities.This means that I’m constantly striking up conversations with strangers.  And through this I meet awesome people every single day.

If somebody’s rocking an amazing pair of shoes, I tell them.  Is that exhausted-looking mom heroically holding it all together?  I congratulate her doing an impossible job in an exemplary manner.  Is the kid behind the counter efficient and sweet?  I thank the worker, and usually find their supervisor and tell them what a gem they have.What my kind, but uber-reticent child resolved to do is when observing something that deserves praise, gives it.  If speaking up can brighten someone’s day, why stay silent?

So now, my traditionally taciturn tadpole takes the time to talk (too much with the alliteration?).And, inspired by my bambino, I’ve worked hard to overcome my innate bashfulness and attempt sharing as well.

So, now the total’s approximately 78.375%.  Look out World!

Thanks for your time.

Love Letter To The Sand

There’s one huge bonus which comes from growing up in a Coast Guard family.Every base where my Dad was stationed was on the water.  I’ve lived on both coasts, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the beautiful Pasquotank river, and Lake Michigan.

When I was 5, we lived in Alabama  The Coast Guard owned cottages on Dauphin Island, approximately 35 miles from our house in Mobile.  We stayed there occasionally on vacation.  But the much more important aquatic story took place in Mobile at the end of our street, at the neighborhood swimming pool.

I think my Coast Guard rescue swimmer father is part otter, so he was the designated swimming pool, river, ocean, overly-filled bathtub, deep-potholes-after-a-heavy-rain parent. Dad and I spent many hours together in the water.

The Ross family, circa 1969, at home in Mobile.  From left; Homer, Blond Bombshell Mom, Bud, Dad, and me.

One day I was bobbing around in the shallow end when I saw a kid younger than me swimming.  I thought to myself, “I’ll bet I could do that.”

And, just like that, I did.

Oh, don’t misunderstand me.  This was a graceless stroke that a drunken penguin might employ.  But I was swimming; and I’d taught myself.  My style could be refined later.Four years later, we were living in Elizabeth City.  My folks sent me to a Girl Scout camp in Virginia.

Yeah, it did.  It totally did.

This was where I got formal swim training.  I became proficient in all the strokes, and a junior life saver.

Later that year we moved to Puerto Rico.  We lived on a military base on the very northwestern corner of the island, thus were surrounded by beaches.  The base also had two Olympic-sized pools.  For three full years, I swam somewhere almost every day.

This is where I learned what an undertow was, and how to deal with it: Don’t fight it-you’ll only exhaust yourself, which is when people drown.  Keep your head up and tread water until you come out the other side, then swim to shore—you’ll know when you’re out.

I was best friends with Kitty Murphy. We were inseparable, and became honorary members of each other’s families.

Lighthouse Beach at Punta Borinquen, in Puerto Rico.  The spot where I learned all about flushing.

Very often I would tumble into the car with the rest of the Murphy kids for trips to the beach.  I learned how to body surf, and learned the definition of an ocean related phenomenon: being flushed.

A truly unpleasant and unnerving experience, flushing is when one is caught up in a breaking wave and held underwater while the ocean spins you like a Maytag washer.  It’s an occasional, unavoidable occurrence when body surfing.

The entire Murphy clan found it pie-in-the-face funny.  Truthfully, I did too, when it wasn’t happening to me.  It’s hilarious to see someone furious with the ocean.

Always a classic.

My beach of choice has always been the Outer Banks.  My very favorite thing to do in the ocean gives poor Petey heart failure.  I swim straight out as far and fast as I can (maybe a quarter mile), stop and rest a minute, then turn around and swim to shore.

I relish testing my limits and the absolute solitude.  Petey sits on the sand and mentally rehearses the phone call to inform my parents their only daughter has drowned, been eaten by a shark, or lost in international shipping lanes.My watery tale has a heartbreaking ending.

In 1986 we moved to the Piedmont and four hours from the beach.  My maritime opportunities dwindled drastically.  It has now been so long, I no longer even own a bathing suit.

So, if you hear I’ve been arrested for indecent exposure, don’t worry.

It just means I’ve finally gone swimming.Thanks for your time.

Time Marches On

I’m a fan of Walgreens because of two things.

First, as far as I know, they’re the last folks in our Pseudofed-wary world to sell old school Nyquil.  It’s packaged under Walgreen’s label, but it’s that same disgusting red liquid that never fails to quiet your cough and knock your butt out when you have a miserable cold and need some shut-eye.

The other element that I love about Walgreens is that somewhere in every store a portion of an aisle is filled with products, each bearing a bright orange tag.  And that tag informs the shopper that the corresponding item is at a deep discount which is usually 75% off.

You never know what you’ll find.  I got a bento box for The Kid for 4.99.  For Petey, it was a big bag of Cadbury milk chocolate toffee priced at 75 cents.  I scored a big box of oatmeal for $1.50, and at $5 each, I couldn’t resist three pair of fleece-lined leggings. walgreensIt’s a treasure hunt under florescent lights.  The other day when I was in they had fancy little Batman and Superman 8 GB flash drives.  Each was nine dollars and the size of a hushpuppy.

So you’ll understand why the picture I saw last night made me shake my head.

It was a photo from 1956 of a bunch of guys struggling to get this piece of equipment the size of a guest bathroom out of the luggage compartment of a Pam Am airplane.  It had “IBM” stenciled on the top.The “equipment” turned out to be a 5 GB hard drive.  That’s almost 50% less capacity than the superhero drives at Walgreens.

The picture reminded me of learning about UNIVAC in elementary school.  UNIVAC was a computer which filled an entire room and had less processing power than the calculator we bought The Kid for high school math.

All of this brought home to me how the entire world has transformed since I was a child.

First of all, it’s a miracle we made it out alive.I, and every kid I knew rode in the back seat of a car that didn’t even have seat belts, let alone anchored, padded, car seats made of space age polymers.  We rattled around station wagons like BB’s in a Pringles can.  My folks had a VW bug, and when the car was filled with riders, they’d fold me into the little cubby behind the back seat—right above the engine.  I often rode in the same spot in our next car, a pinto; which was eventually recalled due to fiery explosions that occurred when the rear bumper was tapped.

In Puerto Rico, we actually had a party line, in which more than one household shared a circuit.  The phone rang in a particular cadence so that you could tell what house the call was for.

Today long distance and local calls are billed at one flat rate.  Talk to your Aunt Verbena in Altoona for 300 hours a month, or make local calls only; it all costs the same.

But back in the dark ages, calling long distance might necessitate a double mortgage.  A ten-minute call cost the equivalent of about $65.Pill box hats, 15 cent Cokes, and Captain Kangaroo have all gone away, and that’s a crying shame.  But some disappearances are nothing but good.

Like the welcome void of bouffant hair-dos and asbestos oven mitts.  And when was the last time you really wished for leaded gasoline, slide rules, or UHF?Thanks for your time.