The Nicest People In The (My) World

Well, so far, 2020 has been an e-ticket ride in the worst possible way, hasn’t it, Gentle Reader?

To keep from curling up and crying for the rest of the year, I decided to take inventory of the people in my life whose goodwill is inspiring, and a good reminder that not everybody in this world has been broken by this year.  The folks who never fail to share a cup of the milk of human kindness when I’m all out and need to borrow some.

     Mizz Katz.

Before she retired, Mizz Katz used to run the hot bar at my local Carlie C’s.  She always had a minute to chat, and always answered my cooking questions.

She knew I loved her slow-cooked Italian green beans.  She also knew that I usually didn’t make it in on time the days she served them.  So, when she made them, she’d set aside some for me and stash them in the cooler.  Those delicious beans always tasted even better because of her thoughtfulness.


The entire Matthews Family Band goes to the same doctor.  At the office, they have a liaison person to facilitate communication between patient and office.

This remarkable person is Angela. 

If you’ve ever been married or even spent any time around a man, you know that guys are not the best when it comes to medical matters.  And when Petey forgets to let me know his medicine needs a refill, and now he’s out, I call Angela.  When our doctor is out of town, and we have a question, I call Angela.

And, far from ducking my calls, or having no patience, the woman’s a ray of sunshine.  She is always sweet, friendly, and actually seems happy to hear from me. 

If you’re having any kind of trouble in your own life, call Angela.  She’ll happily fix you right up.

Jose and Becky.

I’ve known this couple for five or six years and just adore them.  They are masters of Puerto Rican cooking, and like my Italian mother, food is love.  They share lessons, recipes, and food, food, food. 

Also, like my parents, they are ridiculously generous.  One day, I was in their kitchen and admired a funny fork/tool.  About a week later they called and asked if I could come over to see Jose at work—they had bought one for me!  I mentioned that we, but especially The Kid adore pernil; a slow-cooked pork butt full of garlic and citrus.  So, for my child’s birthday, they made one.  And made sure we got it when it was still hot from the oven.

In the before times, we would meet for smoothies and conversation.  To occasionally pay, I had to physically wrestle Jose to the cashier. 

This adorable couple has retired and spends time taking classes together.  They’ve taken a painting class and love showing me the art they’ve come up with. 

One day they showed me their latest subject—a nature scene with a bear.

I absolutely adore bears.  I think they are the cutest squidgy faces ever.  So what did that wonderful couple do? 

They framed and gifted me with Becky’s painting. 

Thinking about the nicest people I know makes me so happy. 

So, two things.

I know way more than four kind folks.  Every once in a while, I will tell you about a few more that are just the best.  And second, I want you, Gentle Reader, to think about the people in your own world that continue to be a ray of sunshine in what has been a pretty gloomy year.

Then tell them.

Thanks for your time.

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The Mayo Caper

If, Gentle Reader, you call North Carolina home, I promise you are familiar with the subject of this week’s essay. 

I guarantee it.

You might not know her name (although you probably do), but I’m absolutely certain you know her face.  She is the woman who never fails to lift you up.  But, as she will confess, she also lets you down.

Her name is Cherie Berry, and she is the friendly face you see in every public elevator in the state.

After seven years serving the 45th district in the North Carolina House of Representatives, in 2001 she became the first female Commissioner of Labor.  The department is responsible for safety inspections of public elevators.

Each one has to display its Certification of Operation.  And since her second term, the photo of Ms. Berry AKA, the “Elevator Queen” has been on every one of them.

It has made her something of a state mascot; the sweet Southern aunt that looks out for the safety of every one of us.

Two years ago I asked her to participate in an annual holiday article that I write for another publication.  She agreed, and I discovered something.

 The woman is a certified, card-carrying hoot. 

The hoot herself, Cherie Berry.

Last year while speaking about mashed potatoes, she told me that she puts mayonnaise in them (actually not as strange as it may sound, it makes them creamy and rich.  Many restaurants do the same.).

Like many Southern folk, her mayo of choice is Duke’s (even though all sensible people are team Hellmann’s).

Them Duke’s folks ain’t right.

This led to her recounting of a hilarious story about the depth of her Duke’s devotion.

Ms. Berry and her sister used to have a little holiday place in Mexico.  When they visited, they would cook.  Like me, she loves potato salad.  But Duke’s in not sold south of the border, and the mayo that was available just didn’t taste right in her dishes.

So, one year, she decided to purchase some Duke’s to take with her.

She wanted it near her to keep it safe during the trip.  But this was post-9/11 and even the NC Commissioner of Labor can’t carry a big old jar of mayonnaise onto an airplane.

So, the determined woman contacted the Duke’s parent company, Sauer Brands in Richmond.  She purchased a box of 200 individual packets, like the kind you get at a drive-through when you ask for “Extra mayo.”

They were small, but even small, 200 packets take up space.

She had a brilliant idea.  For the flight, she’d wear her late husband’s fishing vest and divide the packets up into its many, many pockets.

Picture it, if you will: a genteel Southern lady dressed for traveling with not a hair out of place, and probably a string of pearls, sporting an old-school fishing vest with pockets full of packets full of Duke’s.

Security gave her the furry eyeball, but she wasn’t breaking any rules, so they let her board.  Ms. Berry thought she was home free.

Until the plane took off.

Then, when the pilot pressurized the cabin, the sealed packs reacted and began to swell. 

And swell.

And swell.

The NC Commissioner of Labor sat, looking like the Michelin man on summer vacation, with the vest pockets getting tighter and tighter.  She waited for the explosion while imagining the humiliating headlines that would be generated by this mortifying experience (“NC official tries to hijack plane with condiment”, “Mayonnaise Mishap at 20,000 feet”, “Airplane forced to make extremely greasy landing”…).  She wondered what airplane jail would be like.

Luckily, the blast never occurred.  The cabin pressurization ended just in time, and Ms. Berry spent her Mexican vacation opening packet after packet of Duke’s to make her NC-style tater salad and other tasty mayo-based treats.

Thanks for your time.

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Like Totally Tubular, Dudettes!

After last week’s walk down a very preppy lane, someone requested I keep tripping down eighties street and talk about what happened we put down our boat shoes, found a tin of hair gel, and listened to Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

We lost our cotton-picking minds.

It seemed like overnight the pastels of earlier had been struck by lightning and were now electrified neon.

The hair that was worn in prim ponytails and demure page boys exploded into giant halos of teased and shellacked hair.  The boys’ hair soon followed suit.  If the higher the hair, the closer to God is true, we were all lounging on clouds, dancing to hard-rock celestial choirs.

On purpose, Gentle Reader. We did this to ourselves ON.PURPOSE.

Tank tops, which before “the ’80s” had been worn mainly by Italian grandpas were now required wearing, in multiple layers and shocking colors.  Torn sleaves, ripped edges, and deconstructed layers replaced grosgrain trim and hemmed cuffs.

To emulate Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, one only had to pull the first fourteen items from a rag bag and put them on.

Oh; and add some shredded lace gloves.

There also was a polished new aesthetic for dressier or professional situations.  The colors were still luridly bright and the hair was still colossal. 

But so were our shoulders.

Women’s shoulder pads were so large you could land an airplane on them, and sharper than a Ginsu knife.  I put shoulder pads in my t-shirts—no lie.

Men’s suits came in two designs.  One was the mate to women’s oversized, gargantuan-shouldered attire.  Big and broad.

The other style was inspired by revelatory ratings juggernaught, Miami Vice.  Very unstructured, Caribbean-hued jackets and pleated trousers.  Underneath jacket were either collared shirts with twig thin ties, or t-shirts.

It wasn’t only big hair bands and fierce women that influenced fashion. 

New Wave and Rap music were hits on newly launched MTV.  This meant even kids in tiny little towns in the very Northeastern corner of North Carolina had access to a 24-hour-a-day fashion show.  My hair was big, my skirts were little, and my socks were slouchy.

Yes, folks, that’s me…

It was around this time that I got into retail, working at a store in the mall selling uber-fashionable clothing to my peers.

I sold shirts so colorful that sunglasses were required.  Another popular item was genie pants in which no self-respecting genie would be caught dead.

Doesn’t everybody want a coat that looks like it has the mange?

Also a big seller in those over-the-top eighties were fur coats.  In Elizabeth City the dead animals of choice were rabbit, at about 60 dollars, and red or silver fox at around 100.

One day we received a shipment of a new type of fur jacket.  It was a familiar shade of gray, with long coarse hair.  I was afraid I knew what creature it was, but couldn’t imagine that someone would actually make a coat from it.

It looked almost exactly like this possum coat.

Reading the tag, my worst fears were confirmed.  The coats were made from the skin of…possums!

I called my boss and asked why.  I was informed that the fur of the Didelphis virginiana was lush and beautiful.

I informed my boss that in this agrerian region, one did not wear possums.  One swerved to avoid hitting them on dark country lanes.  A small percentage of young men I knew sometimes swerved in order to hit them.  Possums were not coats, they were road kill.  I didn’t think they would be a big seller.

My boss responded that with my defeatist attitude they probably wouldn’t.  So, I gave it the old college try.  If someone came in looking for a dead animal jacket I would urge the purchase of possum.

I got plenty of laughs, quite a few odd looks, but not one sale.

Thanks for your time.

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Riding In Cars With The Kid

Last Saturday afternoon, Petey and I took a nice long car ride.  We were making a trip to Scrap Exchange, in Durham.  The Matthews Family Band has opened an Etsy shop, and I’ve been haunting all the art and craft stores in the area for supplies.  We’d heard that the Exchange had a shop with a terrific, unusual inventory.

Even though we’ve lived in the area for many years, I still only knew one route to get to its location.  That meant we had to go through town to get to our starting place.

We got a little off-track and ended up driving through Duke Forest.  It was a gloomy day, but the leaves were turning, and the color was glorious adjacent.  Petey and I enjoyed the ride had a very sweet, very meaningful conversation.

That enforced togetherness is such a wonderful catalyst to talk.  Even now, it’s where The Kid and I have our very best chats.  Well, not right now; The Kid, on immunosuppressants for rheumatoid arthritis, is self-isolating.  It’s been seven months since we went for a coffee together, or even shared a hug.

 As the years go by, our very first car ride seems ever more recent.  Sometimes it feels like only days ago.

Imagine it: A young couple with a brand-new human.  Petey and I spent the ride home in abject terror.  By the time we pulled into the driveway, I was ready to beg my husband to turn the car around and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Duke maternity ward.

Instead, we screwed our courage to the sticking place and went into the house and became parents.

The first clearly enunciated word The Kid ever uttered that wasn’t “Mama” or “Dada” happened in the car.  Our child was teetering on the edge between baby and toddler, and the Matthews Family Band was going out to dinner and discussing what we felt like eating.

All of a sudden a little voice piped up from the back seat, “Cheeseburger!”.  That night, we dined on cheeseburgers almost as big as our heads.

A few months later The almost two-year-old Kid and I were in the car together.  The radio was on, and music was playing, as it almost always is and I was singing along.

Over my voice and the infinitely better voices of the professionals, I heard the voice of my child, in the back seat, yell.

“Rock and roll, baby!”

I laughed so hard I had to pull the car over.

I grew up watching afternoon soap operas with my mom.  It was a daily dose of familiarity and stability in our nomadic military life.

So after The Kid came along, I kept watching.  Many times I would watch my soaps while nursing my infant.  Sometimes, I would have a sandwich and we’d do lunch together. 

As the baby grew into toddler and then preschooler, I continued to watch, with The Kid playing close at hand.  One night we were in the car and our little one was in the car seat in the back, playing with a Barbie and Ken.

I wasn’t paying attention at first.  Then I heard the names of two characters from As The World Turns.  As I continued to listen, The Kid recited the dialog from a scene in the show, almost word perfect.

From that night on, I recorded the shows and watched after putting The Kid to bed.

Which brings me back to the drive Petey and I took.

After the scenic drive, we finally arrived at the Scrap Exchange at about 4:10.

The shop closes daily at 4.

Thanks for your time.

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This Ain’t No Pork Pie, So Have a Bath*

*What you shall read here is all true, and I hope it amuses you (Cockney Rhyming Slang)

Those adorable Brits.

Most of the time when it comes time to write an epistle to you, Gentle Reader I have something on my mind that I want to share.

But sometimes, no matter how long I walk the dog, or how many long showers I take, I just can’t come up with an idea.  So, I keep a file of phrases, thoughts that need filling in, things I hear or read, anything that from which I might suss a column.

Last year, before Harry and Meghan made their escape from the royal family, I read a story about her paternal side of the family; the uber awful Thomas Markle and her step-sister, she of the horrible hair, Samantha.

I don’t know what the back story is, but there’s a ton of anger toward Meghan.  And of course, the media eats it up.  Samantha seemed to be furious that she wasn’t welcome at either the wedding or the palace to hang with the royals.

She was so upset that she went to London, and had taken up the habit of hanging around the palace gates trying to get noticed and provoke a reaction. 

She provoked a reaction. 

From palace security.  Working under the assumption that no stable relative by marriage of the royal family would act as she was, they decided that she was someone to watch.

They designated her a “fixated person”.

And if that isn’t the most charming, most British phrase, I don’t know what is.  Over here across the pond, we’d probably call her a crazy ass stalker.

That nation of jellied eel and mushy peas have the cutest way of saying things that we more prosaic Americans put in much more blunt and boring terms. 

Knackered means exhausted.  Which is fun, but it’s even better in cockney rhyming slang—cream crackered. 

Chuffed, gutted, and gobsmacked.  All very much more charming than our pleased and excited (chuffed), completely, utterly disappointed (gutted), and shocked down to one’s toes (gobsmacked).  They are also much more economical than the three or four words which we need to describe the same emotion.

Cheeky; often used with monkey, as in “You’re a right cheeky monkey.”  Charming, mischievous, and a little disrespectful of the high and mighty.  Ryan Reynolds and Chrissy Teigen are cheeky.

 Pissed is not angry, it’s drunk.

Snog means make out.  Have a nice snog sounds so much nicer than necking and petting.  Necking and petting sound like something you’d see at a dog or horse show.

Bagsy.  If you’re in England and you want to get the front seat for a car ride, don’t yell out “Shotgun!”.  They’ll just think you’re an American gun nut.  To get that primo seat, sing out, “Bagsy!”.

I had an Uncle Bob, I’m guessing that a good many folks have or had one.  But if you’re in Yorkshire or Southwick, “Bob’s your uncle!” means, “There you go!” or even more excitedly, “Ta-Dah!”

Bingo wings are the flappy arm parts on women of a certain age.  As one of those women, bingo wings is both kinder and funnier than ‘arm flaps’.

They are so bingo wings…

If you nick a car in Altoona, it probably had something to do with a shopping cart (trolly in the UK) and you can buff it out.  If you nick a car in Nottingham, you’ll do time in jail (Gaol-England), because to nick over there means to steal.

Take care, Gentle Reader, I hope your week will be tickety-boo.

Care to guess that one?

Thanks for your time.

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New England Interlude

One morning, at college in Montpelier, Vermont, The Kid woke up blindsided by a  ferocious wall of pain. 

It ran from neck to elbow, and felt like fire was pouring down upon my child.  But that was when no one was touching it.  At the slightest touch, The poor Kid’s pain went from a barely tolerable eight out of ten to a sanity-draining fourteen or fifteen.

Obviously, this sudden and debilitating pain needed medical attention.

Somehow, The Kid dressed and made it to the emergency department at the small Central Vermont Medical Center. 

Not actually the hospital.

At the ER, when told them the reason for the visit, and where The Kid studied (New England Culinary Institue), eyes glazed over, and acetaminophen was suggested.  They assumed my child was just one more partier from the cooking school and wanted something stronger than Budweiser and Acapulco Gold.

So, The Kid went back home and took a couple of Tylenol.

But not only did the pain continue, it got worse.  Classes and meals were missed because it just hurt too much to get out of bed.

Finally, a neighbor and good friend had seen enough.  “Get up, get dressed, I’m taking you to Burlington.”  Burlington is a university town about 30 minutes from Montpelier and the largest town in Vermont. 

They went to the emergency room at UVM, the University of Vermont.

There, serendipity occurred.

The doctor that caught my child’s case was one of the most respected teaching doctors in Vermont.

Not only that, he’d made a study that was particularly pertinent to The Kid and The Kid’s hurty arm.  This doctor had made an in-depth study on a disease, and this is the disease he thought was causing all the trouble.

He diagnosed the scourge of middleaged, immuno-compromised post-chicken pox sufferers—shingles.

My mom has had shingles, so The Kid knew from shingles.  “But I’m young, and there’s no rash!  How can I have shingles if I’m young and there’s no rash?”

The doctor asked, “Did you get the chickenpox vaccine?”

The Kid was actually in one of the final chickenpox studies at Duke.  Petey and I had always thought we did right by our child by getting the vaccine before it was approved for wide-spread use.  It had been used in Europe for years and we thought we’d saved the child from the itching that drove you crazy and those weird lumpy oatmeal baths. 

We’d saved the Kid from childhood chickenpox, but it looked like that tiny bit of virus in the vaccine stayed around inside.  And now, like the monster thought dead at the end of the movie, it had resurrected and transformed itself into shingles and risen to wreak havoc within the body of our little scholar.

But this variation had the added twist of an M. Night” Shyamalan feature.  The main identifying feature of this sickness is a rash with blisters.  The shingles The Kid had, and other young people who’d had the chickenpox vaccine produced no skin irritation.

This type of shingles is known as “Ninja Shingles”.  The lack of rash and the youth of The Kid explained the failure of the original ER to diagnose, or even believe my child was in distress.

See, you can barely see him…

The reason I got to thinking about this unpleasant interlude is because The Kid has been tirelessly haranguing me to get the shingles vaccine.  Not wanting to suffer like my child, I got the first of two inoculations last week.

OMG, my shoulder hurt.  But then I thought about The Kid and what shoulder pain could really feel like.  So, I took a couple of Tylenol got on with life.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

They Call Him Fluffy

Every dog has a signature move.

They have some weird quirk, or funny game, or strange physical ability.  Every single one.  If your dog doesn’t, it just means you haven’t noticed it.

Riker, our two-hundred-pound Anatolian shepherd was, literally, a big crybaby. 

He cried when he wanted love.  He would lay in the living room, look as pitiful as caninely possible and weep and wail.  He also cried at night when he went to bed, until I went over and tucked him in with his blanket and gave him a goodnight kiss.

Yeah, he wasn’t spoiled at all.

But the big payoff was when you went over and showed him some love, he would actually purr.  Like a sofa-sized kitty.  Purr.

When we go on walks, Crowley, our current pup, has one of the nuttiest moves I’ve ever seen.

He’ll take a few steps, lower his left shoulder, and drop like he’s been shot.  Then he lays there, on his side, and laughs while looking to see if I’m watching him.  If it’s not 1000 degrees or I’m not in a rush, I run over and make a huge fuss over him, “Oh poor Crowley fell over!  Whatever shall we do?”  He thinks the whole production is hilarious.

Our boy, at 4 months.

Turns out, it’s the actual technique for stuntmen to fall dramatically and also something the army teaches for hand-to-hand combat.  I’m not quite sure how Mr. Crowley Pants learned it, but I’m seriously thinking about trying to get him a gig as a self-defense instructor.

 All the love and knowledge that I have to show my dogs came from the original dog; Fluffy.

We got him when we lived in Puerto Rico.  He was the surprise love child of a chow and a Borinquen terrior, which was the colloquial term for a mutt of indeterminate lineage.  He and I would sit on the curb, watch the world go by, and share a Charms pop (I took a lick, he got a lick…).

My big brother Homer who was also stationed in Puerto Rico adopted Fluffy’s brother.  Unlike his black, extremely hirsute littermate, Eric was short-haired and as red as Opie Taylor’s tresses.

Just like that.

As for Fluffy’s move, he jumped.

He didn’t leap into swimming pools like those frenetic pooches you see on ESPN when there are no human sports to televise.  He didn’t jump over felled trees and across brooks and streams like National Velvet.

From a sitting position, he would leap straight up.  If you held a piece of cheese as high as you could, he would vault toward the ceiling, grab the nosh, and land again into a sitting position.  And all in the blink of an eye.

My dad is 6’4” and his reach is somewhat north of eight feet.  No sweat for Fluffy.  That dog would make Zion Williamson weep with jealousy.

He had one other odd “talent”.

In San Diego, we lived in a house with a chimney.  In that chimney was a beehive.  Periodically a bee would fly out of said chimney.  The first time we saw it after we moved in, Mom freaked.  She was just about to call an exterminator when Fluffy walked over and caught it and ate it.

We were afraid he’d get stung and swell up and get sick.  Never happened.  The dog just loved the taste of bees.  And for the entire time we lived in that house, Fluffy never missed one.

That dog and his insect predilection would have come in very handy a few weeks ago.  Instead of stinging me more than twenty times, Fluffy could’ve just gobbled them up.

Thanks for your time.

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The Great Cul De Sac Battle of 2020

This time it’s personal.

Sting me once, shame on you.

Sting me twenty-five times, and I’m getting the biggest can of Raid I can find…

This time of year, I mow the lawn about once a week.  The hour or so I spend out there is both enervating and relaxing.  I work up an honest sweat, get some terrific exercise, and see immediate results of my labor.

Honestly, it’s treasured me-time.

About six weeks ago I was happily, innocently cutting the grass.  I was in our side yard, serenely pushing Hondo, our self-propelled, self-mulching mower.  Suddenly, I felt a burning sensation on my leg, similar to the feeling of being burned by a cigarette. 

I beg to differ, they left plenty of stingers.

Then before I knew it another, and another.  Then I saw wasps before being stung twice more.

I jumped around like a lunatic for a minute, swiping at already departed beasts and ran inside the house.  Petey helped me make sure they were all gone, I took a couple of pain relievers, and went back out and finished the yard.

I assumed they had built a nest on the house, under a bit of siding and vowed to be careful when mowing in the vicinity or turning on the hose, which was located there.

A week later I was again in the area cutting the grass and taking great care to give the house in that space a wide berth.  I mowed the strip abutting the flower bed with a wary eye toward the wall.

All of a sudden my world exploded.  The wasps were everywhere.  They bit exposed flesh and then dove under my clothing and began stinging.  Then they crawled under my ankle socks and into my sneakers to bite my feet.

My dancing from the week before looked like the movement of a merry-go-round horse compared to the rabid racehorse gyrations I was doing in my yard.  My language was so colorful there were colors unseen on the human spectrum (which was especially embarrassing because my neighbor,  a minister, was sitting on her front porch with visitors).

I ran inside again, and again Petey helped me both remove wasps and the many stingers their compatriots had left behind. 

In all, we counted twenty-five stings; my right elbow being the recipient of five separate and distinct attacks.  I took a couple of pain relievers along with a couple benadryl tablets to fight the vemon that was now coursing through my veins.


I.went.out.and.finished.mowing.  Looking back, it was the most badass moment of my life. 

And, I’d always thought I was a big baby.

RBG: The reigning queen of badass, now and forever.

I discovered later that the wasps were not in a nest on the house, but yellow jackets that live underground.  Hondo and I had both run over their front door.

Later that night I hurt everywhere and was red, hot, and puffy.  The next day the pain was gone and I was itchy.  The following day my lips began to tingle.  Then they began to swell.

Yup, that’s me…

Well, the top lip swelled.  I looked like a Simpson character sporting one of their extreme overbites.  The doctor gave me steroids to speed the poison out of my system and I spent the next week in a benadryl-induced fog.

I now have an Epi-pen in case of another attack and a resulting dangerous reaction.

If this was a comic book I’d end up with a tiny waist, a cute, sexy yellow and black costume, the power of flight and a lethal sting.    

But I get a fat lip and probable fatal allergy to future wasp stings.

Ah, 2020, thou art the harshest of harsh mistresses.

Thanks for your time.

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The State of the Union

When I started writing newspaper columns, I was the greenest of greenhorns.

I wrote for the newspaper and yearbook of every school I attended.  I was even the editor of my college yearbook for about five minutes.  But I’d never written this type of essay for a publication before.  I had no idea what was expected of me and needed to know the rules.

As it turns out, there’s only one rule.

Be honest.

That’s it.  When I write, I tell the truth. 

Well, Gentle Reader, prepare yourself for the toughest, most honest 600 words I’ve ever written.

In one more depressing example of what a profoundly sucky year this has been, I’d come to the conclusion that my marriage would end before this most annus horribilis of 2020 did.

It was all over but the legalities.

We were both stuck in our own separate quagmires of anguish.

Petey had shut down.  A man who’s made taciturnity and stoicism into an art form raised the bar to mute, celestial heights.

My misery took the form of overspending on ridiculously unnecessary trivialities.  I also binged on the darkest of music with optimistically titled songs like, “The Gallows”, “Cradle On Fire”, and “Blood For You” and feel good lyrics such as, “They will come and find you, bringing out the dead” and “Nothing lasts forever in a God-forsaken town.”

Awesome music, perfect for wallowing.

I didn’t have anything left in the tank to cushion myself from the assaults which this misbegotten year seems to deliver in a constant and unending fashion.  The daily litany of appalling new updates hit me like body blows from a disgruntled sumo wrestler.  I had a never-ending stomachache. 

In times of normal stress or deep concentration, I clench my jaw.  I was clenching so often and so fiercely I was giving myself earaches and migraines.  I’d begun wearing a mouthguard day and night.

I wanted to be alone.  I daydreamed of a hermit-like existence in a cabin deep in the woods where there was no plague, no sputtering economy, no disheartening political drama, and no spouses to hurt and disappoint.  My plan was to retreat and re-emerge, Rip Van Winkle-like, into a future where hate, fear, and the Kardashians had all disappeared.

But I wanted to be sure that we had given our marriage of almost four decades every possible chance before it was abandoned.  Petey agreed to accompany me to counseling. 

Which, for my reticent island of a husband, was a huge statement.

Our first visit was in early July. 

The first few weeks were hard but illuminating.  The therapist was surprisingly, sometimes uncomfortably, observant.  Early on it was clear he saw us and understood our dynamic as a couple.  Our homework that first week was for Petey to talk more, and me, shockingly, to talk less.

We needed someone to hold our feet to the fire and ask the hard questions; to force us to ask rather than assume.  He enabled us to reset and remember.

Turns out, we were both laboring under false impressions and wading through stagnant pools of hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

After more than thirty years of joy that came so easily, we had never learned how to navigate real, grinding hardship.  Our therapist gave us the tools we needed, and the confidence to anticipate happiness on the other side.

But I think the member of the Matthews Family Band who is the most relieved about our rapprochement is our dog, Crowley.  On our walks, he’d become the repository for my every grievance and affront.  I’m sure he’s euphoric to end his tenure as my furry, four-legged, father confessor.

Happy Crowley

Thanks for your time.

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Harry and Bess

Does everybody that has a dog have “dog friends”?

Human friends that you’ve met while out with your dog, not friends that are dogs, although I have those, as well.

Two of my dog friends, Stu and Miri had a tough week.

When the week started, they had a determined little cuss of a snowball pooch named Darby, a bunny called Daisy, and a new puppy.

By the time the week ended, they only had Darby.  Daisy had suddenly died, and the puppy had to be returned to the shelter.

Poor Miri was gutted and shed tears from both guilt and loss.  I felt terrible for her.

Because Petey and I, years ago, had had to do the same thing.

When we’d been married for a couple of years, we got an adorable, shy, Chow puppy.  We named him Harry.  And, although he remained skittish of strangers, he loved us fiercely and we loved him right back.

When I was pregnant with The Kid, we began talking about getting a canine companion for Harry since he would no longer be an only “child” and our sole focus. 

One day when The Kid was about four or five months out, we saw an ad in the paper.  A local family had a chow who’d had a surprise litter—half chow and half something else.  They needed good homes and we thought our pup would enjoy being a big brother and teaching a youngster the doggy ropes.

We visited and came home with a half chow, half maybe-German shepherd female pup.

We named her Bess (Get it? Harry and Bess?  As in Truman?)

There is an old wive’s tale that if you want to make a dog mean, you feed them gunpowder (Absolutely don’t do this, it’s cruel and could kill the dog).  I’d never heard it before we got Bess. 

But Petey mentioned it one day.  Because Bess was in constant, destructive, mischievous motion.

She knocked over houseplants and played in the dirt.  She chewed woodwork, furniture, and cabinets.  She put holes in any clothing she could reach.

But she saved her real evildoing for Harry and me.

She seemed to like Petey.  But she chased poor old Harry upstairs and down, from one room to the next.  The only peace he ever got was when Bess slept, but he kept eyes on her because she could be awake and attacking in a split second.  He was a little faster, but she bit at him whenever she could reach him.  After a while, his fluffy Chow Chow tail was a sad, hairless, pink stalk.

For me, she had two signature moves.  She’d come up close to me and look at me with her adorable puppy face.  I’d scratch her under her chin, and she’d lean in.  Then she’d jump up and bite me in the face.  Luckily I’d just end up scratched by her very sharp puppy teeth.  And, I never learned.  I’d fall for it every, single, time.

This isn’t me, and it’s makeup.

Her second move was much more dangerous.

When I walked up or downstairs, she would weave her body in and out between my feet. 

But, remember, I was pregnant.  We tried training her out of the behaviors, but she persisted.  We had no choice, for Harry’s sanity, my safety, and the health of our unborn child; we had to give her up.

As I told Miri, finding a dog is like falling in love.  When you’re ready, the right one will come along and become a member of your family.  But sometimes the wrong one will make a brief appearance and try to bite your face off.

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