Saturday, December 31, 2016


 “There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake
Christmas morning and not be a child.” ~ Erma Bombeck

My husband, Babe suggested that we sleep in on Christmas Day. Our grown children were in South Carolina with their little ones, so St. Nick had no logical reason to drop down our Georgia chimney. We decided to sleep as long as possible since the kids were coming to visit after the live greens were wilted and the fat man had flown back to the North Pole.
Early Christmas morning as I dreamed of sugar plum fairies and stockings hung by the chimney with care, 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 a holiday, I would treat the kitties to turkey ala Fancy Feast instead of mystery fish parts.
As I was leaving the kitchen I saw Babe sitting on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. He looked like he was in a trance.
“Whatcha doing, Babe?”
He looked at me like I had glitter for brains. “What do you think? I’m waiting to open presents.”
I sat down, 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? All right, let’s do this thing.” My Starbucks was kicking in so I could handle pretty much anything.
Later, after expressing our gratitude for socks, ties and perfume we didn’t need, we were hungry for something out, food that didn’t need 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 never close.”
The diner known to every man, woman and child South of the Gnat Line was packed, the parking lot jammed with cars, motorcycles and pickups.
A family of four got up to leave just as we arrived, so before it could be cleaned of leftover waffle crumbs, we commandeered the abandoned table.
“Cheese omelet,” I declared to Donna, the server dressed in a red T-shirt 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 winked at her.
I looked around at the assorted groups of people having Christmas breakfast at the little house of pecan waffles and enough fat fuel to power us all to Uranus and back.
Taking up two tables and hanging off the end, a group of bikers dressed in red leather were smacking on waffles, hash browns and milk. Milk?
A young mom and dad next to us were trying to keep their pajama-clad children from killing each other. My guess is that earlier Dad had said, “Let’s eat out at the place that’s open 24-7.”
Mom had replied, “You had me at eat out.”
I noticed an elderly woman seated near the back of the diner. She was wearing a red wig that didn’t fit and she was too thin. Her eyes matched her wig. She ate alone and looked sadder than anyone in the place. It broke my heart.
Donna refilled our cups, spilled some on the side. “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 to offer holiday wishes. It had been much too long since we had seen them, and I wondered where the time had gone.
My omelet arrived loaded with cheese and too much animal fat. Babe dug into his eggs, waffles, bacon, sausage, grits and hash browns and then asked Donna to bring him some whole-wheat toast. Go figure.
Between bites, I became more aware of pajama-clad kids and exhausted parents, evidenced by a Dad’s blood-shot eyes or a Mom’s droopy ones. I thought about when my children were that young and how we were up late on Christmas Eve searching for misplaced nuts, bolts and missing screws for all the unassembled toys from Santa.
Had it been that long ago when instead of cats jumping on my stomach, tiny hands shook me awake with, “Let’s go see what Santa Claus left!” Where had the time had gone?
We never went out for breakfast on Christmas Day when my kids were young. I made waffles and bacon and then yelled for them to put down their toys and come eat their breakfast. Family life is different now, but that’s not a bad thing.
As I looked around at all the kids in pajamas eating breakfast at the Waffle House it brought a smile to my face.
Donna, proudly showing off that Merry Christmas, Y’all T-shirt, made me happy and it made me glad to be exactly where we were that morning.
And when Babe ordered every item on the Waffle House menu and the paramedics did not need to be called, I smiled and asked him if he'd saved room for fruitcake.
He swallowed a mouthful of hash browns and said, “The Waffle House doesn’t serve fruitcake. Even on Christmas. But we’ve still got a few slices at home, don’t we?”

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hop, Hop, Hopping Around for Good Luck

How did Hoppin’ John get its name?
One theory is that it originated from the Creole name for pigeon peas, “pois a pigeon,” pronounced “pwah peeJon.” Close enough for Southerners to say Hoppin’ John from that point on.
Some believe it originated with a children’s game similar to musical chairs where kids hop up and down at the table, hence the name. Duh. The Grandkids from Hell love to jump up and down at the table as though they’ve swallowed Slinkies … even when it’s not New Year’s Day.
Babe claims that in Pennsylvania people eat pork and sauerkraut to clean them out in preparation for the coming year. Yuk. Homemade colonoscopies might pass as Yankee logic, but I’ll settle for kids jumping up and down at the table like Jack (on Crack) in the Box.
Believing that it will ward off bad luck, Southerners adhere to the tradition of eating pork, collards and Hoppin’ John on New Year’s. I am Southern to the bone, but I was not always a believer. I am now.
In 1960 I said to my mother, “No Hoppin’ John for me and certainly no collards. I hate greens.” So I ate no peas and rice or collards on that first day of the year over fifty years ago. Big mistake.
Mama roasted Boston Butt pork to a fair-thee-well and had her collards swimming in ham pot likker like Esther Williams. I didn’t believe for a minute that a year of good luck depended on certain veggies eaten on January first. But I never met a pig I didn’t want to take home to Mama, but after downing three pork sandwiches — my one nod to tradition — I was struck with the bellyache from hell. I thought I was dying. A stomachache was only a hint of what was to come. Had I but known, I’d have seriously considered mainlining leftover collards.
Obviously I didn’t die, but the very next day my dog blitzed a can of Alpo, looked up at me, and croaked. It is true that she was old, but her death was still a shock. I was a kid and that dog had been begging for table scraps all my life. Her high-speed exit made me think that she, too, should have eaten collards.
Susie Q was buried in the back yard. Mama and I watched and cried while passing each other the Kleenex box. Daddy was a policeman and the gravediggers were prisoners from the jailhouse. He wore a dark suit and tie and stood at the gravesite with his hands clasped in front of him. I said, “Daddy looks like a preacher,” and we laughed through our tears.
On January third, I set the kitchen on fire. I didn’t do it on purpose, it just happened. That afternoon, I’d been craving French Fries. After pouring lard in the frying pan, I realized we were slap out of potatoes. 
Forgetting that I’d turned on the burner under the lard, I grabbed my pocketbook and walked to the Piggly Wiggly for a five-pound bag of potatoes. I was dilly-dallying back home pretty much like Prissy in Gone With the Wind, when the sound of sirens stopped me. Turning the corner, I saw not one red fire truck, but three of those bad boys parked end to end in front of my house. Smoke billowed from the kitchen door and open window while neighbors gossiped and gawked on the sidewalk.
Mama’s kitchen was toast. All of the cabinets had be repainted; the new wallpaper smelled like a campfire. Mama stayed mad at me for twelve months.
I dreaded January fourth. Would it bring even more bad luck? I wondered if the calamities I’d dealt with for three days were only teasers. Turned out that’s what they were. 1960 was the longest year of my life. A new piece of bad luck pounced on me every day of that year.
Bottom line? I learned to respect traditions, why they were established in the first place and why we must honor them no matter what. These days I think nothing of hogging down Pork, collards and Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. In fact, I totally look forward to that particular meal.

I promised myself then that every year while my jaws can still go up and down in chew mode, I will cover my sassy southern you-know-what by gobbling me up some Hoppin’ John, collard greens, pork and even some of that boring Yankee delight, sauerkraut. All cabbages and their cousins are my BFF’s come January first.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


“The best gifts are wrapped in love and tied with heartstrings.

In this special season of giving I invite you to join me in creating a living symbol of what Christmas is all about
By pulling together, we can build a huge Christmas tree designed and adorned by the power of love. We can trim it with people of all sizes and colors, and then light it with the brilliance of their imaginative ideas.
The gifts underneath the tree are plentiful because there is more than enough to go around.
Peace of Mind is in the large white box and Health is wrapped up in pink.
Talent is bursting from its confined package like multicolored confetti!
Faith, Hope and Love all bask in the glow of gold and silver, while a bright yellow box of Enlightenment opens up right before our eyes.
Contentment? It is packaged in many different colors and designs.
At the top of our tree, a brightly shining star illumines each gift, each life and each open door. That star is called free will.
The largest gift of all is an unfilled box of Christmas Spirit. If we put ourselves inside that box, we can fill it with food for hungry people, solutions for drug and ecology issues and freedom for those living behind walls of fear, hate, and ignorance.
Charles Dickens wrote, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Let’s do it! Let’s wrap up that thought with love, tie it with heartstrings and place it under our tree so that everyone in the world can have a Dickens of a Christmas!

—Cappy Hall Rearick

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Myles To Go Before We Eat

Myles Standish, Captain of the Mayflower, is the reason for holiday stress.

In August, he invited the Indians to a Labor Day party, got them roaring drunk so they would tell him where the wild turkeys hung out. Promising more firewater, he then conned them into teaching Pilgrim women how to grow, harvest and cook maze, squash, pumpkins, and Boston Baked Beans.

By the middle of October, Myles was thinking, PAR-TAY!

Picture, if you will, Captain Standish reciting Julius Caesar aloud, mooning over Priscilla Alden and watching football. (Pilgrims vs. Indians).

His wife, Barbara, is in the kitchen thinking about wringing his neck instead of the fifty-pound-turkey. Overwhelmed by twenty sacks of potatoes to mash and pumpkins the size of wagon wheels, she’s not happy. The experimental spaghetti squash exploded in July and her zukes grew to the size of Labrador Retrievers. She has wheat to thrash and dough to rise and roll. The colossal turkey has eighty-five pellets in its butt, thanks to Myles who introduced firewater and firepower to the Indians.

Preparing for the first Thanksgiving feast, Barbara mutters to herself and quivers.

“Would it have killed him to ask me before he invited every Indian in the new country? I’m supposed to entertain strangers dressed in animal skins. Gimme a flippin’ break.”

Baby Lora is walking now; son Charles is into teenage angst, and young Myles is a nerd. Big Myles mostly muses.

“Husband,” Barbara shouts. “Pu-leese stop musing and get in here.”

He stomps into the dirt-floor kitchen. “Now what, Babs?”

 “What are ya, blind? I’m knee-deep in unshucked maze and pumpkins that need to be stewed. Baby Lora messed up her last clean nappy while you were mooning over Priscilla. She married somebody else, Myles. Get over it.”

The zukes are growing faster than the speed of light and the sweet potato pies are bubbling over in the oven.

Myles poses like a Fifteenth Century Mr. Clean. “Blimey! It’s Disaster City in here. Other than whining, what have you been doing, woman? Our guests are expected today. What is so difficult about preparing enough food to feed a small continent? What else would you rather be doing?”

She looks around for something sharp. “I’m hormonal, Myles, so I would rather take a nap and leave instructions for you to wake me up in 1776 in time for the Fourth of July fireworks.”

“Are you daft, woman? What is this nonsense you spout?”

She sidles over to a knife resting under a sixty-pound zucchini. A vague smile crosses Barbara’s lips as she and the knife focus on the bad-tempered, albeit intrepid Mayflower Captain.

“Myles,” Barbara croons, “Why did you invite the entire Wampanoag Nation to dinner?”

“There you go exaggerating, Babs. Dr. Phil calls that non-productive behavior.”

“Do not,” Barbara snarls, “repeat, do not speak to me about non-productive behavior. I push my tush while you sit around and muse.”

He throws up his hands. “There you go again.”

“What do you mean?” She tugs the knife out from under the seriously heavy zucchini.

“Merely a reminder that the entire nation was not invited. Only the families of Squanto, Samoset and Chief Yellow Feather.”

Barbara hides the knife within the folds of her grease-spattered skirt. “Husband, do I dare ask how many family members the savages will bring with them?”

Myles lights up a cheroot and casually blows a smoke ring. “About ninety. What? Why the long face? Is entertaining a few of my friends too much to ask? I have a colony to run, you know.”

Ninety people? Ninety? Are you are out of your freaking gourd? Who is going to look after your wild offspring, do the laundry and cook the stinkin’ pumpkins? I’m no Martha Stewart.”

“Babs, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Now tell me, what would you rather do?”

“Seriously? I'd rather be pummeled to the ground with a 20-pound sack of flour until I pass out, that’s what I'd rather do.”

“There’s no need to get your bloomers in a bunch over a little dinner party. Chill. Call the Butterball Hot Line. They know everything there is to know about turkey stress.”

Barbara stares at him. “Maybe they’ll send us a wagontrain of cooked food with an army of servers.”

“Babs, Babs, Babs. The Butterball Hot Line is designed to get you through turkey angst, not to spoil you rotten.”

“Myles, this is a perfect time to tell you that I have a raging case of PMS, a migraine and a sharp butcher knife. I am on my last nerve and I don’t give a flying fig about the Butterball people.”

“Hey! Don’t go all nutterootie on me.”

Barbara closes her eyes and wraps her fingers around the hidden knife. In a low voice, she hisses. “Get out of my kitchen, Myles!”

The intrepid Captain Standish retreats like a cowardly lion from Barbara’s disarrayed domain and returns to his sanctuary. A quirky grin sneaks onto his lips to slowly spread across his face like warm cranberry sauce.

“Woo-Hoo. For a minute there I was afraid the old lady would bail and then who would cook that fifty-pound turkey? Certainly not me. I have a colony to run.”

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sweet Daddy Grace

When I was growing up in a small South Carolina town, my father was the local law. He started out as a flat foot and ended up as the Chief of Police. I was proud of him. In fact, I learned a lot about criminology from my dad, things he had learned while at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia and others he picked up along the way.

Once he told me that burglars invariably do two things once they have broken into a home. They use the toilet and they look in the fridge. I can’t remember if he said they ate anything, but apparently knowing the habits of a thief helped what substituted for CSI back in the day.

Another thing I learned from Daddy served to make me aware of people who came through our town as opposed to the more permanent ones that lived out their entire lives many times in the same house they were born in.

Every now and then, Daddy would come home for lunch (we called the mid-day meal dinner in those days) and say that the Gypsies had arrived and were set up on the edge of town out on Highway 301. They were traveling people with dark skin and traditionally lived by seasonal work, itinerant trade, and fortune-telling, of course. Mama loved getting her fortune told, but others in town shied away from the Gypsies for fear of being hoodwinked or “gypped.”

There was a remarkable man who claimed to be a traveling evangelist whose name I can never forget because it tickled me. Sweet Daddy Grace. When Sweet Daddy came to town it was a big deal including an entourage following behind his long black Cadillac limo. His advance team came several days ahead intent on getting folks excited about Sweet Daddy’s upcoming visit, so by the time the great man rolled into town in his limo, he owned the flock of people waiting to welcome him.

Sweet Daddy was the founder and first bishop of the predominantly African-American denomination called the United House of Prayer For All People. He was also a contemporary of Father Divine and Noble Drew Ali. At the revivals Daddy Grace begged for donations to further his ministry and the people shelled out even when it meant less food on their table. His followers lined up to hail him because they needed to believe in him.

He came to town, cleaned them out and left. A few remained loyal to him while others recognized him for what he was: a huckster who found a way to defraud poor people into thinking he was their last, best hope.

The Flim Flam Men were a bit different but not much. They used dishonest behavior in order to take money or property from whoever appeared to be a good mark. They told the mark what he needed to hear whether it was the truth or not. Daddy was always on the lookout for Flim Flam Men when they came through our town. He was a modern day Con Artist cheating or tricking people by gaining their confidence and in the end exploiting it for his own gain.

I don’t remember Snake Oil Salesmen while I was growing up although when I think of the slight of hand carnival barkers I have to wonder. According to Webster, a Snake Oil Salesman is someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods or who is a fraud, quack, or charlatan. I have a picture in my head (probably from a movie) of a man standing on the flatbed part of a truck or wagon selling snake oil he claims will cure everything from constipation to consumption. In my head I see people digging deep in their pockets for money to buy the liniment which was likely made up of turpentine and red pepper.

People back in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties and people today are not so different. We all want to believe in hope, in expectations that this year, the next few years can bring about good changes for everyone. It’s a need we share.

So when Sweet Daddy Grace comes into your living room via television and promises you a bright new future, will you believe him? Will you buy into whatever he promises because of your need to dream the dream? Or will you listen to his words critically and sensibly before hanging your hopes and your future on someone else’s ambitions?

It’s up to you. It’s always been up to you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I Pray to Erma

“Cappy is a good student but she talks too much.”
My sixth grade teacher was psychic. Her first six-week report was:
“Cappy has an unusual way of expressing herself both written and orally. This is excellent.”
Woo Hoo!
However, her comments during the rest of the year were: “I wish Cappy would not talk so much in class,” which translates to: “Cappy needs to put a lid on it.”
I write this today because if you are a teacher reading this post, I hope you will never underestimate your students. I don’t say this to place a bigger burden on you, but it can make all the difference in the world in how a student turns out.
My ninth grade English teacher asked me to stay after class one day. I figured I was once again about to get the now familiar lecture that I talked too much. On the contrary, she told me to give serious thought to majoring in either journalism or English when I went to college. Alas, instead of heeding her advice, I went along with the same major all my friends chose — Elementary Education.
I was 35 years old before I went back to college and studied nothing but English and Journalism. Only then did I take writing (and myself) seriously.
I try not to think about all the years I wasted. You see, I love to write. It is the most fun I ever have and I feel incomplete when I am not sitting at my computer typing words.
Several years ago, I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, Ohio. As a humor writer, I was in very good company. Humorists from all over the country were there as well, all of them hoping to become more skilled at making people laugh.
This is what I learned: Humor writing cannot be taught. Basic techniques can be learned and implemented but in order to write funny, one must first possess good comedic timing and a liberated sense of humor.
The first writer’s conference I ever attended was in La Jolla, California in 1975. Was I inspired? You cannot imagine. The following piece is what I wrote after returning home.

Dear Erma Bombeck,
Thank you for saving me a lot of money I’d have blown on Prozac, cheap wine and a shrink session. Lord knows, I can't afford to be institutionalized.
You may wonder how you came to be involved in my personal plight. It all began at a writer’s conference in La Jolla. (Actually, it started in ninth grade when Miss Dibble corrected my misspelling of the word subtle, then casually remarked, "Cappy, you have a flair for writing." But that's another story.)
Armed to the hilt with six sharp pencils, I enrolled at the workshop because I thought I was a rare flower ready to unfold. Miss Dibble done tole me so! I tore into class with the fever pitch of a politician running for re-election. I wasn’t brilliant, but by cracky I had passion.
I hung onto every word I heard. My enthusiasm, dangerously close to fanaticism, ballooned with each scratch of my sharpened pencil. By the end of the workshop, I could hardly wait to plant my fat fingers on a keyboard.
As though possessed, I raced to the corner office supply and bought one of everything. I admit to having a silly grin and a devil-may-care kind of madness about me that day. By nightfall, I was dizzy with hundreds of creative ideas for building better mousetraps or manuscripts, as the case may be. Between flashes of pure genius and subsequent fantasies of winning the Pulitzer, sleep eluded me. I ask you Erma, could you have slept?
Before the sun came up the next morning my tush was planted squarely in front of my computer and I was itching to get words on paper.
However, for four hours, nothing happened. By noon, my fingers hovered frozen in an arc over the keyboard. Before long, my hands and legs were numb so I slid to the floor and curled into a fetal position. I looked down and saw that my feet were the color of blueberries.
Eventually, I crawled to the kitchen where I dumped a bowl of sugar into a quart of Gatorade and bolted it down, determined to get my golden words on paper before arthritis set in.
Boosted by the sugar rush, I once again squared off in front of my keyboard to await the flow of genius I was certain would fly from my now tingling fingertips.
An hour later, it became painfully obvious that a warm-up was needed.
So I typed the alphabet four times and then banged out the names of everyone in my family including the two looney cousins nobody wanted to claim. I needed no brainiac to convince me that I was Stuck City’s newest resident. The contempt I felt for that big mouth Miss Dibble at that moment might well have resulted in a lifetime prison sentence.
I sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor searching the bookshelf above for self-help. Erma, your book, "At Wit's End," jumped right out at me. As soon as my fingers touched the cover, I felt a warm tide of relaxation flow through my frozen body.
After reading the chapter entitled, What's a Nice Girl Like Me Doing in a Dump Like This? I took the gun away from my temple.
The chapter, I Want to be More Than Just Another Pretty Face made me shred the shrink’s phone number and unload the b.b. gun. I felt like marching out of Stuck City to my home base of Manickville while laughing all the way.
For over a week, I have shuffled around the house with copy paper in one hand and a worn copy of your book in the other. I giggle from time to time recalling a funny line. (It takes such a little bit to make me happy.)
So I thank you, dear woman as does my family. Before the month is over, I could be released from mandatory therapy. I can hardly wait to remove that annoying little alarm bracelet that goes off every time I step outside. With any luck I’ll soon get back to writing because you, Erma Bombeck, have convinced me that laughter is indeed the best medicine!

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Little Town with a Big Heart

What Does It Take to Make a Hero?
It takes a village.

As we reflect on another anniversary of 9/11, who among us will not be sadly reminded of that day and of the firefighters who fought and earned the title of hero?
Following 9/11, Senior Citizen Dee Matthews, a New Yorker and former DuBois, Pennsylvania resident, visited her neighborhood firehouse where seven of its members had died that fateful day. Struck by the fact that the firehouse was shattered in more ways than one, Matthews prayed with the firefighters and later resolved to bring light back into NYC Engine Company 84 and Ladder 34.
Matthews called on two close friends in DuBois, Pennsylvania, Pat Stewart and Judy Hand to help her. With an anguished voice, Matthews said, “The firefighters are in mourning; they’re devastated. I know my hometown well enough to know they wouldn’t want those guys to suffer more than they already have.”
Her friends responded, “Let’s adopt them.”
On that day, via the telephone, bonded by three hundred miles of fiber optics and fueled with a commitment and love of country, three senior women gave birth to Operation: Adopted Heroes.
Coming up with a name for the project was easy, but could they find the support needed to make a difference? The three women would soon discover that their small community was as heartbroken as so many others throughout the country. The town jumped right in and became part of Operation: Adopted Heroes.
It takes a village.
Matthews’ two friends did not flinch when the opportunity to help was presented to them. Embracing the last audible words of Todd Beamer, 9/11 victim on board Flight 93, they adopted it as their mission statement. “Let’s roll,” they told the town, and the town heard them.
Pat and Judy knocked on doors asking for donations for the families of the firefighters who had lost their lives and they were rewarded by open-hearted generosity. Each of the seven families received sixteen hundred dollars raised by these two women.
It takes a village.
When she had visited the firehouse, Dee Matthews noted that chairs were past the point of comfort, so funds were solicited from individuals as well as local DuBois businesses to provide fourteen new solid oak chairs. Paint and other supplies were also bought to rehabilitate the firehouse in hopes of lifting the spirits of the men still grieving the loss of their co-workers.
A local grocery store was asked to contribute food. “The families,” said Pat, ” have children with big appetites. They need nourishment.” Enough groceries were donated to provide many nutritious meals for the families and firefighters.
High school band students boxed up the supplies to be delivered in a trailer packed with the new chairs and other items. “Operation Adopted Heroes: We will never forget” was painted on the side of that trailer.
It takes a village.
“We will never forget” were not empty words. Dubois, Pennsylvania folks support their commitment even today by remaining in close contact with their adopted heroes and the families of the fallen.
When the 2001 Christmas holiday approached, Matthews, Stewart and Hand discussed what they might do to fill in a few of the blanks for the families. “This will be such a sad Christmas for them,” Judy said. “We need to let them know we’re still thinking of them.”
They appealed once more to their friends and neighbors and again the response was, “Let’s roll!”
After phoning all of the widows to determine what the fifteen children liked, disliked, needed or wanted for Christmas, they gathered toys and clothes contributed by folks eager to help. Once again, local high school students wrapped the gifts to be taken to the families before Christmas.
A group of seniors in town made cotton throws for each of the widows, hand embroidered with the victim’s name on each one. Quilts, made by the Chat and Sew Quilters Club were donated for the firehouse cots; fruit baskets and hams were given by a local grocery store.
Stewart and Hand, accompanied by DuBois firefighters, were met by the FDNY group at the George Washington Bridge and upon arrival at the firehouse were met by Dee Matthews and her mother. Together they hand-delivered the gifts to the firehouse and to the families of their adopted heroes.
They could have sent them by UPS but they didn’t; they drove three hundred miles to present the gifts in person. They showed up because that’s what heroes deserve.
Twenty-four adopted heroes of NYC Engine Company 84 and Ladder 34 were later honored at a DuBois community parade complete with fire trucks (of course), banners, balloons and cheering crowds on both sides of the parade route streets. The senior women responsible for the project headed up the parade holding a huge banner.
It takes a village.
Captain Luongo and Captain Depew of Ladder Company No. 84 both spoke:
“It’s one thing to put stuff in a box and send it, but you people came to our little house and we had a day together. Family tradition is part of the reason firefighters go above and beyond,” Captain Depew said. “What you did helped us work through a difficult period. Knowing we had your support made it a little easier. You will always be welcome at our house.”
Three truly remarkable senior women found it intolerable to do nothing when faced with our national grief and sadness. Because of an ongoing commitment to a firehouse three hundred miles away, a small community was transformed from  a small community into the little town with a big heart making heroes of them all.
Sometimes it takes a village.
Author’s Note:
Dee Matthews died recently but she showed us all that even one person can make a difference.

Sackcloth and Ashes

“To every thing there is a season. A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace.”

On the second September Sunday morning of 2016, Americans turned off alarm clocks, got out of bed, put on the coffee and maybe got dressed for church.

At some point, we may glance at a calendar and remember where we were when terrorists attacked our country. We will experience, just as we did for all the previous years of remembering, a sickening feeling in our bellies; fear, helplessness and unbridled anger. It has been a very long fifteen years.

9-11 made such a profound change, whether needed or not, in our lives. We saw everything differently. We know now that nothing can ever be the same. How then, have we dealt with the effects of 9-11 over the last fifteen-years?

This is my story.

After the attack in 2001 someone asked me, “How can you even think about writing humor after everything that’s happened?” Actually, I hadn’t had one creative thought since the attacks. Fortunately for me (and my editor), I tucked away six upcoming columns during an August streak of manic productivity. I was not alone; many of my writer friends struggled with the same affliction. Some said it was writer’s block. I called it writer’s paralysis.

Mystery writer Ed McBain reported that he expected to throw away most of what he had been able to get down on paper since that dreadful day. His admission provided me with a better understanding of the national grief that attacked us all at that time.

National grief is some of us have experienced. I was only a baby when Pearl Harbor was attacked, a young mother when JFK was assassinated and middle-aged at the time of the shuttle explosion. As saddened as Americans were during those times, nothing can ever compare to the magnitude of national grief, the sackcloth and ashes worn by Americans because of September 11, 2001.

Maya Angelou said, “Now is the time for thinking Americans to think.” We did that. We ran the gamut of emotion from shock and disbelief to vengeful hatred. Who among us was not touched by the incredible burden placed on a newly elected President? He told us to go out into the world and live courageously. He said we should pick up the pieces and continue to go to our jobs, to school and to church. We should hold our heads up high, he said, and be thankful that there were not more victims when evil struck.

As appalled and saddened as I was following the tragedy, my heart knew it would be unhealthy to wallow in grief, to remain out of touch with everything except sadness, but knowing something doesn’t make it happen. CNN’s constant coverage of America’s New War offered no comfort. It frightened me; it made me cry harder.

It took time, but eventually I came to realize that laughter was long overdue, that laughter, in the midst of my mourning, had gone missing in my life. I needed to put grins back on your faces as well as my own because I owed it to the innocent souls who died on September 11, 2001.

So, once again as another anniversary of our nation’s tragedy brings up so many emotions, I will ask myself this question: Is it possible that laughter is the medicine that can help heal our brokenhearted country? Maybe. Maybe not. But I think perhaps it is worth considering.

So this is what I propose: I will do my part but you have to do yours. I will sit at my keyboard day after day and week after week writing good humor and sometimes not so good, but always with the sincere hope that you, my readers, will keep looking on the bright side of things so that your smiles and laughter will once again light up our world.

Laughter can be the second shot heard around the world, but it is up to us.

Friday, April 29, 2016

My Heroes Grew Up To Be Cowboys

Cowboys like smoky old pool rooms, clear mountain mornings, little warm puppies, children, and girls of the night. Them that don't know him won't like him and them that do won't know how to take him. ~ verse from "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys"

I’ve been thinking a lot about cowboy movie heroes. I remember going to the movies every Saturday and with only one trip to the bathroom, staying there until Mama or Daddy picked me up.
A Saturday matinee cost ten cents for kids under twelve, a candy bar was a nickel and a bag of popcorn, a dime. I showed up every Saturday unless I had chicken pox, measles or mumps. My folks loved it because the show started at noon and lasted until 5 o’clock. The matinees my brother and I usually attended featured cowboy stars like Rocky Lane, The Durango Kid, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Johnny Mack Brown, Rex Allen, Lash LaRue and Tom Mix.

My hometown of Orangeburg, South Carolina boasted two movie theaters, the Carolina and the Edisto. For a mere 10 cents, we saw a newsreel, cartoons, a chapter from a serial, a short subject with Laurel and Hardy, sometimes a documentary, and then, best of all, the feature.

I was allowed to spend an entire quarter so I bought a Tootsie Roll since it could last me until I went to college. I bought candy, a large bag of popcorn, a large Coke and that took care of my quarter.

After finding a seat, I settled in for an afternoon of magic. I watched Movietone News and that fool rooster crowing his head off, and then footage of the President or the war or something current. A glimpse of the latest Paris fashion was shown and maybe a candid visit with Betty Grable, Bette Davis or Errol Flynn. During most of the newsreel portion, however, I talked and giggled with my friends.

Then it was Looney Toons: Donald Duck and Tweety Bird. After cartoons came a comedy featuring Ma and Pa Kettle or The Three Stooges, and then it was time for a continuing serial like Buck Rogers (my brothers fave) or the one I liked best, Blondie. (With the exception of Bubblehead Blondie, there was a serious lack of serial heroines although much later in the century TV soap operas would make up for the deficit.)

In cowboy movies, the good guys always prevailed and got the girl; the bad guys always got caught. After the gunfights were over, our hero stood next to the bar in a cowboy saloon drinking sarsaparilla with his sidekick, someone like Smiley Burnett who talked funny.

My brother and his friends booed and hissed if and when a cowboy kissed someone other than his mother or his horse.

Every now and then a cowboy gave a live performance at the Carolina Theater. I had a crush on Lash LaRue who cracked his whip, KAPOW! and made my eyes grow as big as salad plates. He was one slick, sexy dude dressed head-to-toe all in black, a good guy even though he never wore a white hat.

My heroes have now all gone up to that big roundup in the sky, but I can't forget the good times I experienced on Saturdays for twenty-five cents.

                                          An Ode to Cowboys
I miss ol' Hopalong Cassidy. I coulda sworn I saw him yestiddy. 
I ’spose I must be wrong, ’Cause I heard his git-along-song
When he pranced off on his horse into history.

Buster Crabbe made Westerns, too. You remember him, at least you ought to.
He was a white hat cowboy in his prime,
He could turn his horse round on a dime.
But with a name like Buster Crabbe, he had to.

Will someone tell me where did Lash Larue go
With that black hat of his cocked real low?
When he snapped that bullwhip my stomach did a flop-flip.
His smile was mighty sexy, also.

Do you ever ponder about Tom Mix and 
wonder how he did those gun tricks? 
He was quickest on the draw, could shoot holes in a straw,
Then use 'em over again for toothpicks.

Where oh where could all my heroes be?
Those matinee cowboys I so loved to see. 
I ‘spose I could be wrong,
But did I hear their git-along-song

When Calvin Klein pranced into history?