Saturday, June 16, 2018

Porch Sitting

“I believe that what we become depends on
what our fathers teach us at odd moments,
when they aren’t trying to teach us.” — Umberto Eco

A friend said to me once, “If you could sit on your porch and visit with anybody living or dead, who would it be?” 
Flannery O’Connor crossed my mind, as did Eudora Welty and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. How I would love to pick their brains! 
Yet, if I had a choice, the person I would choose was not famous. He never wrote a book or cure a disease. He didn’t do anything to distinguish himself outside of the small town in which he was born. Given what he had to work with, however, he accomplished a lot. 
That person was my daddy whose life ended much too soon. 
 “There are two things you should always remember,” he said to me when I had been married for almost a month. “Number one,” he held up his index finger, “never buy packaged hamburger meat in the store.”
“Why is that, Daddy?”
He sighed. “Butchers grind up the unmentionables, add some fat and call it hamburger. Trust me; don’t eat it.”
When Mama and Daddy were newlyweds, long before he got into law enforcement, Daddy was a salesman for a meat packing plant. It was after the Great Depression, before the FDA began cracking the whip. Visions of cow parts prepared for human consumption was burned onto the walls of his brain. I never saw my Daddy eat a hamburger.
 “Okay, the second thing you need to remember,” he said, “is about coffee. It tastes better when you drink it out of a thin cup.”
I was a young bride at the time and needed practical advice: hints on balancing the budget or how to keep love alive in a new marriage. What did I get? My Daddy, serious as a heart attack, enlightened me with a complete list of stomach-churning ingredients in hamburger meat.
After that, he counseled me to drink coffee in a thin cup. I didn’t get it. I kept on drinking Folgers Instant in my thickest mugs, ones that wouldn’t break when I threw it at my husband because Daddy had not told me how to keep love alive. 
Many years would pass before I discovered coffee brewed with fresh ground beans imported from Colombia and enjoyed when sipped from a thin china cup.
So, what might we talk about today if we were sitting, as my friend suggested, together on my porch? What would we say as we watched egrets fly overhead and listened to barking dogs somewhere in the distance? 
Before I said the first thing, I would pour freshly brewed, steaming Starbucks French Roast into two bone china cups. I’d add a splash of cream to mine while Daddy, being a coffee purist, would shake his head in disapproval. 
“I thought you had better sense than to ruin a good cup of java with cream,” he would surely admonish.
Then I would take Daddy’s hand in mine and hold it for a little while. I would try to memorize the shape of his long fingers while running my own over his knuckles, nails and his FBI Academy ring. I would examine both sides of his hands to determine whether either of my sons had inherited those hands. 
After a few minutes of quiet time, I might say, “Daddy, what do you regret not doing when you were alive?” Secretly, I’d hope to hear him say, “I’m real sorry I didn’t take the time to hug you more often.” Most likely he would reply, “I regret not catching the SOB that robbed the First National Bank!” 
I would want to tell Daddy that, in spite of everything, all the missed opportunities that lingered between us, I had loved him deeply and respected him for all that he accomplished with so little formal education. I would tell him how much I admired him for taking responsibility for our town’s safety, even though our family was too often shortchanged in the process. 
Maybe I would ask him to put his arms around me and hold me for a few precious minutes. Wanting him to be my daddy again for a while I’d say, “Let’s pretend that the years have not gone by and that I’m still your little girl.” 
I would try to tell him all the things I never got the chance to say, like that he had been a good man and that his family was proud of the difference he made.
“You were important to me, Daddy, and I wish we had been closer.” 
With the hope of making him laugh, I would attempt to say something funny. If I succeeded, then I would burn the vision of his smiling face onto the walls of my brain and carry it with me until I go to that all-you-can-eat, artery-clogging hamburger buffet in the sky.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Funny Quotes

My tiara is giving me a headache
Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions. (Chocolate understands)
Those who can, TEACH. Those who can’t pass laws about teaching.
I Have CDO. It’s like OCD but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be. 
I’ve had my coffee. You may speak.
4 out of 3 people struggle with math.
The Queen is not amused.
Well, another day has passed and I didn’t use algebra once.
It was me. I let the dogs out.
Women and cats will do as they please. Men and dogs should just get used to the idea.
I don’t want to brag or anything, but I can still fit into the earrings I wore in high school.

Humor Writing is Serious Business

by Cappy Hall Rearick

Living in the real world doesn’t mean that each and every day we trot down Smiley Face Road grinning to high heaven. Nor does it mean we need therapy for depression. What the real world offers to writers is the ability to write about dark days in a humorous way.

Is this an easy thing to accomplish? I don’t think so. If it were, then I suspect we would be a much happier bunch and there would be no need to tune into late night television for an end of the day giggle or two.

Take it from me, humor writing in general does not come easily. It takes practice and it takes knowing your audience. Because it is so subjective, humor writing also takes sensitivity. You might decide to do a piece about your old Aunt Gertrude who suffers from dementia. You (and others) will surely enjoy exchanging stories about Aunt Gert who insists on being called Queen Elizabeth, but keep in mind that she is still a person, so be kind. 

There are some subjects you may NOT write about in a humorous way. Tragedies such as 9-11, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Parkland school shooting and thing like that. They are all taboo. Don’t even think about going there. Better you should choose Aunt Gert’s queenly obsession.
We all have issues; we all worry about things that may never materialize. Worrying is what we do. Writers can learn to humorize some of the experiences even when realizing that putting it down on paper won’t make the bad stuff go away. What it can do, however, is help us (and others) get through tough times.

I attended my uncle’s military funeral and it was messed up from the get-go. The soldiers looked like army rejects and could not even fold the flag properly. It looked to me like they were just practicing. The sergeant made them start over and re-fold that flag three different times before allowing it to be presented to the widow, who by that time was crying so hard they could have given her a basket of folded laundry and she wouldn’t have noticed.

I'm sorry my uncle died and even sorrier that his final service was not as exemplary as his service was to this country. But when I recall that funeral, I hear the 21-gun salute that sounded like Fourth of July firecrackers and Taps played on a tape recorder sitting on the front seat of a pick-up truck. One of these days, I will write about that funeral but I’ll not make it about death. I’ll write about human nature and how we are apt to mess things up—even funerals.

Ministers often use one-liners in their sermons when they want to make a serious point while getting a smile from the congregation. Example: “Don’t let your worries get the best of you; remember, Moses started out as a basket case.” I so wish I had thought of that line.

I once wrote a piece after I found a lump in my breast. I called it “A Lump in the Mashed Potatoes.” I was not making light of breast cancer; I was writing about how my fear transformed itself into an overwhelming craving for chocolate. I took an otherwise serious subject and used it to take the edge off my and every woman’s worst fear.

In this class, we will focus on bringing out humor in an otherwise humorless situation. We will also learn how and when to use certain words that are known to be inherently funny. Vaudeville tradition holds that words with the letter K are funny.

A 2015 study at the University of Alberta suggested that the humor of certain nonsense words can be explained by whether they seem rude. Oxymorons can accomplish the same goal. Are you clearly confused? Think about it. Maybe you're looking to be seriously funny or my personal favorite from way back. "Microsoft Works." If you don't get that, see me after class and I'll enlighten you. 

I once wrote a humor column that consisted almost totally (there I go with the oxymoron again) of clich├ęs.    

Some words are just funny while others are not. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say 'Alka Seltzer' you get a laugh. Words with 'k' sounds are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Bob Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny; cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland ... Cleveland is always funny. Maryland is not funny. 


Then, there's chicken. Chicken can be funny. Pickle can be funny. Cockroach is funny – not if you get 'em, only if you say 'em.

Dave Barry said, "A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge." This is something you need to keep in mind as you attempt to write humor in hopes of producing a smile, a giggle or a belly laugh. You won't make everyone laugh by what you write, but consider yourself a success if just one person thinks it is worth a grin.

“There is not a shred of evidence to support the theory that life is meant to be serious.”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas at the Waffle House

"There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child." ~ Erma Bombeck

Babe said we should sleep in on Christmas Day. Our grown children were in South Carolina with their little ones, so St. Nick had no reason to drop down our Saluda chimney. The kids and their kids planned to visit after the live greens had wilted and the fat man had long since flown back to the North Pole. 
So it was early on Christmas morning while I dreamed of sugar plum fairies and stockings hung by the chimney with care that my two hungry cats turned my stomach into a pincushion. Dragging my sleep-deprived body to the kitchen, I searched the pantry for a can of non-smelly cat food. Since it was Christmas, the kitties deserved to be treated to turkey ala Fancy Feast instead of mystery fish parts. 
When I left the kitchen I almost stumbled over Babe who was sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree as though it were the Holy Grail.
“Whatcha doing, Babe?”
He looked at me like I had glitter for brains. “Waiting for you so we can open up our presents.” 
I leaned over and kissed him smack on his smackers. He grinned. 
“Can we open ‘em now,” he asked. “Can we? Huh?” 
“What are you, five? Oh, all right, let’s do this thing.” My Starbucks had begun to kick in so I was almost ready for tearing into the carefully wrapped packages.
Later, after expressing gratitude for socks, ties and perfume that we didn’t need, we were both hungry for food that didn’t require cooking in my kitchen. We got dressed and hurried to the car.
“Where to,” Babe said playing taxi driver to his lone passenger. 
 “Waffle House,” I replied. “They’re always open.”
The diner known to every man, woman and child South of the Gnat Line was packed, the parking lot jammed with cars, motorcycles and pick‘em up trucks. A family of four got up to leave just as we arrived, so before leftover waffle crumbs could be swept onto the floor, we grabbed their abandoned table. 
“Cheese omelet,” I declared to Donna, the server dressed in a red Tee with Merry Christmas, Y’all stamped on her bosomy front. “And leave the coffee pot.” 
Donna looked at me like the aforementioned brain glitter was leaking out of my ears. “Not gonna happen, Girlfriend,” she said. “Not today.”
Undaunted about that missing front tooth of hers, Donna grinned and then winked at Babe. He ordered one of everything on the menu and then returned her wink.
I looked around at an assortment of people eating Christmas breakfast at the little house of pecan waffles and enough fat fuel to power us all to Mars and back. 
Crammed into a booth was a group of bikers clad in red leather. They were happily chowing down on waffles, hash browns and milk. Milk? Go figure.
A young mom and dad seated at the table next to us were kept busy trying to keep their pajama-clad children from braining each other. I figured earlier in the day Dad probably told Mom, “Let’s eat breakfast out at the Awful Waffle.” Mom took three seconds to reply, “You had me at eat breakfast out.”
I saw an elderly woman seated near the back of the diner wearing a red wig that didn’t fit. She was too thin and her eyes matched the color of her wig. She was alone and looked sadder than anyone in the place. It broke my heart.
Donna appeared with a coffee pot and spilled some on the table. “Oops,” she chirped and Babe winked at me. There was a lot of winking going on that morning. ‘Tis the season … 
Old friends stopped by our table for hugs and holiday good wishes. We hadn't seen them for a while and I wondered how we had allowed that to happen.
My omelet arrived loaded with cheese and animal fat. Babe dug into his eggs, waffles, bacon, sausage, grits and hash browns, and then asked Donna for non-fat milk. Go figure.
Between bites, I gazed at kids wearing pajamas and their exhausted parents wearing blood-shot eyes and droopy lids. Seeing them made me think about when my kids were young ~ all those late Christmas Eve nights spent searching for misplaced nuts, bolts and missing screws before we could put together the unassembled toys. 
Had it been that long ago when instead of cats jumping on my stomach, tiny hands shook me awake with, “Wake up! Wake up! Santa was here!” 
Where had the years gone? 
We didn’t go out for breakfast on Christmas Day when my children were little. I made waffles and bacon and then threatened them with Time Out for life if they didn’t put down their toys and come eat breakfast at the table. Family life is different now, but that’s not such a bad thing. 
As I looked at all the cute kids eating big mouthfuls of waffles and dripping syrup down the front of their pajamas, I smiled.
Seeing Donna proudly showing off her Merry Christmas, Y’all T-shirt, made me realize that happiness can be found wherever we happen to be ~ even in a diner that never closes. 
So when Babe ordered every item on the Waffle House menu and the paramedics did not need to be called, I did a happy dance and asked him if he had saved room for fruitcake.
He swallowed a big mouthful of hash browns. “Don’t be silly. They don't serve fruitcake at the Waffle House.” He paused. “But we’ve still got some left at home, don’t we?"
Merry Christmas, y’all!

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Amish Way

Rod Dreher is a writer and senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative and author of several books on religion, politics, film and culture. The views expressed here are his own.

Is there any place on earth that more bespeaks peace, restfulness and sanctuary from the demons of modern life than a one-room Amish schoolhouse? That fact is no doubt why so many of us felt defiled – there is no more precise word – by news of the mass murders that took place there. If you’re not safe in an Amish schoolhouse ... And yet, as unspeakable as those killings were, they were not the most shocking news to come out of Lancaster County.

No, that would be the revelation that the Amish community, which buried five of its little girls, collected money to help the widow and children of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the man who executed their children before taking his own life. A serene Amish midwife told NBC News that this is normal for them. It’s what Jesus would have them do.

“This is imitation of Christ at its most naked,” journalist Tom Shachtman, who has chronicled Amish life, told The New York Times. “If anybody is going to turn the other cheek in our society, it’s going to be the Amish. I don’t want to denigrate anybody else who says they’re imitating Christ, but the Amish walk the walk as much as they talk the talk.”

I don’t know about you, but that kind of faith is beyond comprehension. I’m the kind of guy who will curse under my breath at the jerk who cuts me off in traffic on the way home from church. And look at those humble farmers, putting Christians like me to shame.

It is not that the Amish are Anabaptist hobbits, living a pure pastoral life uncorrupted by the evils of modernity. So much of the coverage of the massacre dwelled on the “innocence lost” aspect, but I doubt that the Amish would agree. They have their own sins and tragedies. Nobody who lives in a small town can live under the illusion that it is a haven from evil. To paraphrase gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the line between good and evil does not run along the boundaries of Lancaster County, but through every human heart.

What sets hearts apart is how they deal with sins and tragedies. In his suicide note, Mr. Roberts said one reason he did what he did was out of anger at God for the death of his infant daughter in 1997. Wouldn’t any parent wonder why God allowed that to happen? Mr. Roberts held onto his hatred, purifying it under pressure until it exploded in an act of infamy. That’s one way to deal with anger.

Another is the Amish way. If Mr. Roberts’ rage at God over the death of his baby girl was in some sense understandable, how much more comprehensible would be the rage of those Amish mothers and fathers whose children perished by his hand? Had my child suffered and died that way, I cannot imagine what would have become of me, for all my pretenses of piety. And yet, the Amish do not rage. They do not return evil for evil. In fact, they embody peace and love beyond all human understanding.

In our time, religion makes the front pages usually in the ghastliest ways. In the name of God, the faithful fly planes into buildings, blow themselves up to murder the innocent, burn down rival houses of worship, insult and condemn and cry out to heaven for vengeance. The wicked Rev. Fred Phelps and his crazy brood of fundamentalist vipers even planned to protest at the Amish children’s funeral, until Dallas-based radio talker Mike Gallagher, bless him, gave them an hour of his program if they would only let those poor people bury their dead in peace.

But sometimes, faith helps ordinary men and women do the humanly impossible: to forgive, to love, to heal and to redeem. It makes no sense. It is the most sensible thing in the world. The Amish turned the occasion of spectacular evil into a bright witness to hope. Despite everything, a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Hey, God … It’s Me, Lil Later

If time can fly, then why can’t it stand still?

LIL: Hey God, I know it’s been a while since we talked, but I don’t have the time these days. Can you just give me a few more hours each day? I'm a good person. I pay bills, do laundry, buy groceries, cook meals, go to church. I even visit Aunt Gertrude every year on her birthday and she can’t stand the sight of me. If I had an extra hour or so I'd have time to write. And pray.

GOD: Hold on, Lil! For years you’ve talked about allowing your creative juices to flow on paper like milk and honey. I recall your vow to knock out a novel every year. So what happened?

LIL: Life happened, God! Husband; children. Stuff.

GOD: But your grown son has a hairline like the coast of Florida and your daughter's middle-age spread is the size of Oklahoma. Why didn’t you set the publishing world on fire once your responsibilities had dwindled?

LIL: I don’t know. Every day when I wake up I promise myself to type my fingers to the bone.

GOD: And?

LIL: Duh! Stuff happens. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, feeding the dog, paying bills and making bank deposits. I'm too tired to think after that. I can't write if I can't think.

GOD: People generally do what they want to do.

LIL: No, they don't.

GOD: Don’t contradict Me. I’m God.

LIL: Writers are natural procrastinators.

GOD: Nonsense. NOT writing is so NOT an option for a successful writer. They make it happen. Time equals energy and energy is a commodity. Burn it up with excuses or redirect it. Your choice. Create space and your dream will become a reality.

LIL: I just asked for a few more hours, God, not a lesson in quantum physics. Creating space where there is none might work for You, but it won't work for me.

GOD: And just why not?

LIL: Because nobody takes me seriously.

GOD: Then take yourself seriously, Lil.

LIL: Huh! If my husband comes home from work and I’m writing, I know what’ll happen.

GOD: What?

LIL: He'll say, What's for dinner? I'll say, There is no dinner because I didn't cook. He'll say, Why not, and I'll say, Because I was taking myself seriously and you need to take me seriously, too.

GOD: Sounds about right to me.

LIL: Not gonna happen.

GOD: Okay, here’s the plan. One day a week, do everything that prevents you from writing.

LIL: Like what?

GOD: Hello?! Like cooking?

LIL: YOU designed us with a built-in eating schedule. i.e., three meals a day, 24-7. Once a week ain't gonna cut it at my house, Boss.

GOD: (Sigh) So use your creative juices. Spaghetti. Soup. Casseroles.

LIL: My family won’t eat casseroles.

GOD: Then buy TV Dinners. I gave the world the microwave, didn't I?

LIL: I told you ... it won’t work.

GOD: And I told YOU not to contradict me. I’m God. I know these things.

LIL: Even doing it Your way, I still don't have enough time in the day.

GOD: Then get organized. I hatched up a little something with the Pope called the Gregorian Calendar in 1582 A.D. Get one.

LIL: Something that old won’t help me. It's the Twenty-first Century, for heaven's sake.

GOD: (sigh) I KNOW what year it is. Just get yourself a calendar, Lil. If you let busy work overwhelm you, the only thing you'll ever write is a grocery list.

LIL: But, God, I'm only one person, and ...

GOD: Waaaa! Waaaa! Waaaa! I think my work is done here.

LIL: But wait! You said you'd give me more hours.

GOD: (sigh) Listen up, Miss Priss. If I made more hours in the day, the Gregorians would be protest chanting till Doomsday. I told you how to create more time for yourself. I can’t do for you what you are perfectly capable of doing for yourself.

LIL: But you don’t understand. My life is not my own. All this stuff keeps getting in the way of doing what I really want to do.

GOD: Goodness gracious! Would you look at the time? I’ve gotta run. I need to help a promising mystery writer who is trying to cope with the Freytag pyramid–Denouement and that sort of thing. It's time to say Amen, Lil.

LIL: Amen?

Sunday, May 14, 2017


 “You may forget the one with whom you have laughed, but never the one with whom you have wept.”~ Kahlil Gibran

Laughter can be cathartic, but a good cry is how I cleanse the clutter from my soul.

My penchant for sad movies where heroines die an untimely death began the day Mama took me with her to see the movie, Sentimental Journey. She was crazy about John Payne and I guess because she was Irish, she believed that Maureen O’Hara was her distant cousin. Mama apparently kissed the Blarney Stone at a very early age.

I was six-years-old but I clearly remember that day in the theater. Mama started to sob about five minutes into the film and I, lacking the capacity to understand her tears, cried along with her. She would pull out two Kleenex tissues at a time from her pocketbook, hand one to me and then blow her nose with the other. 

Mama loved going to the picture show and it didn’t much matter if it was a drama, comedy or musical. Whatever was showing at the Carolina Theater (with the possible exception of Roy Rogers and Trigger) was the movie she would stand in line and pay a whole quarter to see. For many years, I went with her. 

Together we saw Pinky, Johnny Belinda, Imitation of Life and Little Women, of course. Tearjerkers, every one of them. Occasionally, she took me with her to see a murder mystery. After seeing Edward G. Robinson stab a woman with scissors in the film, The Woman in the Window, I woke up screaming for weeks.

But Sentimental Journey set the emotional bar for Mama and me. For the rest of her life, anytime that movie was mentioned either in conversation, a recorded version of the song, or even if the movie was replayed on television, Mama would look over at me with a knowing smile. That long ago day in the theater with her when I was just a child continued to be our shared moment in time, one that lingered between us for nearly fifty years. 

Once when I was living in Los Angeles, she sent me a newspaper article about the movie. It was a tiny thing, not much more than a blurb, but I still have it. It’s tucked away in my memory box, yellow now with age. The day I got it, I opened the envelope and lifted out the two-inch square newspaper clipping and thought, “What in the world is this?” Then I read the heading: SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY. It said that Turner Movie Channel was planning to run the movie again at such and such a time.

I skimmed it and then read the note Mama had attached which read: “I saw this in today’s paper and thought of you. How could I not?”

Oscar Wilde said, “Memory really is the diary we carry around with us.”