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Please come over,
my house is a mess

Shell McCusterSince I can’t afford a cleaning person, I found that I need a way to motivate myself to clean the house instead of just staring at the mess and shaking my head. I’ve tried that. Shaking your head doesn’t work.

I find having company is a great motivator for making me open the cabinet under the sink, grab the Windex, Spic & Span and furniture polish. I start with the basics — kitchen, bathroom, living room furniture. Then, I start to notice things like a piece of crumpled up Christmas wrapping paper behind the couch though it’s almost March. Hmm, guess I haven’t cleaned back there in a while. After coercing my husband to help me move the couch so that I could get in back of it, I saw even more jobs to be done — cleaning the baseboard and picking up fortune cookie wrappers (not sure, don’t ask).

After cleaning up the joy from Christmas, I walk by the front door and glance through the glass panels. Well, I try to glance through them. Who has been walking around with butter on their fingers and wiping them on the panes of glass? Windex to the rescue. Despite the cold temperature, I realize I have to clean the outside windows as well as the inside.

This brings me to the porch. Geez, why are the cushions askew? Straighten. When did the porch double as the shed for storage? Time to drag stuff to the backyard to put in its proper place. While back there think, “Did we really forget to take down the hanging plants from those long ago summer days?” The drooping gray blobs are too much to bear. Stand on lawn chair in the middle of snow, manage to grab plants and then notice the chair I’m standing on is leaking lovely brown rust stains onto the pure driven snow. That’s sure to ruin the deck if the snow ever decides to melt.

Drag chairs under the upper deck. At least the rust stains will meld nicely with the red rocks beneath the deck. Climb stairs to the second level deck. Is it possible we all have such terrible aim when trying to get the recyclables in the bins? Bend, pick-up, throw. Better. Take shortcut through kitchen and sneak back to the living room this way. Isn’t that where I was cleaning? Oops, tracked some mystery black substance onto the kitchen floor and best of all, the hall rug and stairs. Get the sweeper despite already having completed the vacuuming. Vroom, vroom—dirt is gone. Put away the sweeper in broom closet.

Yikes! What is at the bottom of this storage space? Debris from days gone by. To the Windex! Spray on towel, wipe away evidence.

Almost time for guests to arrive. Walk down hall. Forgot I had blocked my two teenage boys’ rooms out of my mind. If I had a week, there wouldn’t be enough time to clean them. Thank goodness for doors.

I de-perfume myself from cleaners just in time to hear the front doorbell ring with the first guests. I look around proudly as the house starts to fill up. Everything (minus the boys’ rooms) is sparkling. Good for me, what a terrific hostess I am.

A half-hour later, thinking about the guests, “Are you leaving yet? Tired from all this cleaning.”

— Shell McCuster

Shell McCusker wants to be a writer when she grows up (she’s 40-something but really closer to 50-something), but is currently busy working in the world of corporate communications. However, she did find some time to publish a collection of stories hoping to bring laughter to ladies like herself, “You Have to Laugh or You’ll Cry.” If it wasn’t for those pesky bills, she’d write fun stuff every day. Check out her blog.

Hair peace

DSCN0300As the rock group Three Dog Night crooned back in the ’70s, I have never been to Spain — or Portugal, for that matter.

My hair, however, is fast approaching the size of the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, I’ve started referring to my neck as my isthmus.

A stubborn, moisture-laden weather pattern has had my hair in its oppressive grip for the past 25 days. With humidity levels in the 700 percent range, my hair grows big, bigger and more bigger by the nanosecond. Let me tell you, this is the greenhouse effect that I’d like to see some experts tackle, one they could really sink their combs’ teeth into. Although they’d likely never see their combs again as my Iberian Peninsula hair doubles as the Bermuda Triangle. It’s nothing for small objects, such as barrettes, headbands and parakeets, to stay lost in my hair for days, weeks, even years. I’m pretty sure the bobby pin that shook loose from my hair the other day was part of the anchoring system for a French twist installed for my junior prom.

If you think I’m exaggerating or imagining things, you have never lived with my hair. Did I imagine the round brush that had to be cut free after becoming hopelessly tangled in my tresses? No.

Did I imagine the barrette — bulging with the girth of my plumped-up locks — that finally gave way and boinged off my head, nearly putting out the eye of an innocent bystander? I did not.

And finally, did I imagine the stage-whispered choruses of “Ch-ch-ch-chia” that followed me everywhere I went one particularly muggy day last summer? I assure you I did not.

Taming my hair is a formidable task even when the isobars are arranged in a more favorable pattern. Understand that we are talking about hair whose routine care and maintenance involves the use of a self-propelled Lawnboy and a weed whacker. Hair that regularly qualifies as the “two” in “two-for-one” memberships. But, I have to be careful what I say here because my hair is like a horse; it smells fear. If it catches even a whiff of uncertainty — much less outright fear — coming from me, I might as well invest in a hat factory because hair-wise I’ve lost the upper hand. Better to regard my hair as a spoiled pet who has been overindulged to the point of getting inflated ideas that far exceed his station in life. Better to keep a firm hand — or two — on it at all times. In other words, I must show my hair who’s boss.

And I have assembled an arsenal of hair weaponry to help me do just that. From texturizers to contouring lotions to anti-frizz creams, I’m armed and ready for battle.

I’ve been more or less holding my own during this recent soggy siege, but there have been days when I’ve been forced to take more drastic measures against my expanding hair — like actually hosing it down so it didn’t block my sightline to the rearview mirror. (It’s possible I’m now developing root rot.) But since the latest weather report holds no promise of swift relief, I better try to make the best of the situation. You know, look for the positive in having hair the size of two countries.

Use this as an opportunity to learn more about the cultures of Spain and Portugal. Hey, I could even dust off that old pair of castanets my sister brought back from Madrid years ago. There’s just one problem…I have to untangle them from the back of my head first.

— Lee Gaitan

Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better Over 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard and The Good Men Project.  She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog. Connect with her at;;  and

Airline passengers!
Is there a “right to recline?”

It’s called the Knee Defender. But I prefer to think of it as the Schmuck Identifier. It was dreamed up by a tall man who was tired of getting his knees slammed whenever the person seated in front of him on an airplane reclined. So he designed a device that, when attached to your tray table, prevents the person in front of you from reclining. At all.Roz Warren

He didn’t just quietly go about protecting his own knees. He marketed the Knee Defender online.  Sales took off. And the in-flight seat-related skirmishing began!

On a recent United Airlines flight, a traveler slapped one on his tray table after takeoff, to make sure he’d have sufficient space to use his laptop. When the woman whose seat he was immobilizing asked him to remove it, he refused. She appealed to the flight attendants, who also told him to remove it. He refused. Several times.

So she threw a glass of water at him.

The result? The pilot made an emergency landing, and both passengers were hauled off the plane. I didn’t learn about this incident on the nightly news, but on a humor website. Which is where it belongs. Because it‘s ridiculous.

Whatever happened to compromise? And communication? As we tell our children — “Share!” And if conflict develops? “Use your words.”

This is basic kindergarten stuff, people.

Flight is a miracle that too many people take for granted. If you could go back and tell someone who was around when the Wrights made their first flight, that 100 years later planes would routinely fly us across the country within hours, and that rather than feeling wonder and gratitude,  we’d squabble over whether our seats recline, she’d think we were insane.

I reclined my own seat on a recent flight from Philly to Chicago, intending to relax and read. Immediately, there was a tap on my shoulder.

“Uh… excuse me?” asked a male voice.

When I glanced at the fellow behind me, it was clear why he’d spoken up.

He was very tall. Basketball player tall. Circus performer tall! Folded into his itty bitty airline seat, knees up near his chin, he couldn’t have looked more miserable.

“Got it,” I said, and put my seat back up. I didn’t feel irate. Nor was I tempted to begin lobbing the pretzels I was snacking on at him. Mostly I felt very lucky to be just five feet 6 inches tall.

Flying with my seat in the full, upright position wasn’t as comfy as being able to lean back, but I was warmed by that sense of quiet satisfaction you get from knowing that you’ve done something nice for another person.

I’m grateful, in retrospect, that The Tall Man didn’t just jam a device into his tray table. That he relied, instead, on my understanding and civility.

He gave me the opportunity to do the right thing. And I did.

Sure, I’ll admit that when I read about that little flap at 30,000 feet, I wanted to cheer when I learned that the inconvenienced traveler had doused her  “oppressor.”  Too often, we polite, well-mannered people just sit and take it.

Was he a selfish schmuck? You bet! Did he richly deserve that little airplane shower? Hell, yes! But the truth remains that neither of these folks behaved like grown ups.

Being a grown-up — rather than a toddler —  means recognizing that the world doesn’t revolve around you. All your needs won’t always be met. The needs of others matter, too. And if your needs are in conflict? You communicate. You work things out. And if you can’t?

Don‘t start throwing stuff.

Instead, ask the flight attendant — nicely — for a bloody Mary. Sit back, enjoy your drink, gaze out the window at the big puffy clouds and thank God for the wonder that is 21st century aviation. (And if you want to indulge in a little fantasy about the airline mangling another traveler’s luggage? There’s no harm in that.) Soon the pilot will get you safely to your destination.

After which, you’ll never have to set eyes on that schmuck  in the seat behind you again.

— Roz Warren

Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. This essay first appeared on

Shoulder rub, ravioli
rock New Jersey restaurant

Charles HartleySoon after you sit at your restaurant table, you feel the soft touch of human hands on your shoulders from a person directly behind. Others at your table stare, watch and wonder. They suspect they could be next in line for the pre-meal shoulder massage.

Being caressed is a tradition when you eat at Guerrerio’s Ristorante on South Street in Morristown, N.J. I experienced this again this past Saturday night while with my wife and another couple. The stroker is owner Jack Guerrerio, who is white-haired, blue eyed, slightly plump and not very tall.

Whether he intends it to be or not — it probably is because Jack seems shrewd — the shoulder rub is one of Jack’s competitive differentiators in the restaurant market. In these touchy times, it seems risky to stroke strangers without warning nor consent. But in this narrow nest, Jack does it in a genuine and non-threatening way. His hands are saying “Welcome to my restaurant. You made a great decision to come eat here.”

During the shoulder rubs, Jack tends to regale you with stories about his past. On Saturday, he went on with me about his days playing football decades ago for Morristown’s Delbarton School. After boasting about how hard he used to tackle players, he mentioned something in passing about also being the team’s kicker or something. I got the impression Jack played on every down of every play and was the team’s star and emotional leader.

As unusual as the shoulder touches are, there is something even more unusual about this dining experience: the taste of Jack’s ravioli, meatball and sausage dish. Swamped in meaty tomato sauce that sprawls across the plate from edge to edge, the meatballs are nearly the size of Major League baseballs. Easy to cut and plump, there are no tastier meatballs anywhere. To complement these circular wonders, you get a chunk of sausage laced with a spicy hit that catapults what is already a great food into the stratosphere among the ethereal gods above.

Usually when you order ravioli at a restaurant you get just a plate of ravioli. At Jack’s joint he packs the plate with not just one type of meat — but two. It’s a double play, twice as nice, two times a lady.

There is no Italian food that tastes better. The previous time I ate there before Saturday I asked Jack why his ravioli is the best around. He told me it’s the creamy, rich cheese. On Saturday I told him I believe it’s the meaty tomato sauce. He let me believe what I wanted to believe.

The customer is always right. Jack knows this kind of stuff.

Whatever it is, I will be back again soon and order another heaping plate of Jack’s Italian Stallion. As far as I’m concerned, they can throw away the menus. From Jack I know what I want and always will. In the weeks leading up this feast, I fantasize about the ravioli and shoulder rub. It outperforms my fantasies.

Because I’ve eaten there several times, Jack makes me feel as if he knows me. But given how crowded his place is all the time, I suspect it’s hard for him to keep track of all his patrons. These include several noteworthy people, even some more famous than me. On that list are New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra, Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, whose team won the national title last season, and New York Jets long snapper for punts. His is not a household name, nor is his position central to a football team’s success, so there is no need to provide it here.

In the photo section of the restaurant Website is a shot of cool-hand Jack in black-shaded sunglasses. Standing in front of the green and red sign that reads Guerriero’s Ristorante, there you see his maroon convertible Buick. It is parked along the curb. Jack probably can park there any time he wants without getting a ticket. The cops no doubt know him and like his food so may very well give him a pass. Classic quid pro quo deal.

In studying the picture, I get the sense that, besides his restaurant, his favorite toy in life is his car. It’s a picture that makes me want to hop in the passenger seat and have Jack take me for a cruise through Morristown explaining how he makes the world’s best ravioli and why no one can match its deliciousness.

On this drive I would be eager to hear him share more stories about who he out-maneuvered and out-thought in high school to win over the prettiest girls; how Morristown has grown under his watchful eye and what he thinks of the town’s local politics; how he got into the restaurant business; and why as they sit to eat he rubs his customers’ shoulders.

Before too long, however, I would ask him to turn around and take me back to his restaurant. As I ordered another plate of ravioli, I would beg him to rub my shoulders — again.

— Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer who has had more than 1,000 articles published in a wide range of media outlets focused on humor, sports, business, technology and consumers. He has earned master’s degrees in journalism and business administration and a bachelor’s degree in English and communications.

Actually you do have to put on your red dress, Roxanne

Diane Laney FitzpatrickI have successfully met the requirements of a second color theme gala. I feel like a trophy is in order. At the very least, a ta-da.

It took me two months from the time I got word that my husband and I would be attending an organization’s annual gala, and I Googled pictures from past years and saw that virtually every single woman was wearing red.

I started a search for a red dress, since I’m not one to pooh-pooh a theme. I know my role at these things. I don’t need to dress so that I look good. I need to dress so that I don’t mess up the entire room looking good.

Easier said than done. I was willing to wear an unflattering dress to play along with the red theme, but there’s a limit. As if buying a floor-length formal gown wasn’t hard enough. We’re talking about an item of clothing that went out of fashion 100 years ago with everyone except for the Monopoly Man’s wife. Telling a woman in 2015 that she has to wear a formal gown is ballsy. Telling her that in addition to it fitting her, being a non-hazardous length and being age appropriate, it has to be a specific color is downright aggressive.

That’s just one too many boxes to check. It reminds me of the clothes buying spree I went on in 1994, where I decided to buy only clothes made in America. I concluded that I could either be a patriot who supports my country’s textile manufacturing industry, or I could not look like I was not an escapee from a mental hospital, who stole other people’s clothes.

It turns out that five is the maximum number of sections in the Venn diagram in clothes buying: You can find something that 1. fits 2. is affordable 3. is seasonal  4. doesn’t make you look like a hooker, and 5. goes with the shoes you already own. Adding a sixth — made in the USA — leaves you with one scratchy peach sweater and a pair of baggy capris with “cool” embroidered on the back pocket.

I thought I remembered seeing oodles of red gowns when I was shopping for a blue one last year. They were everywhere. But come February, department stores seemed to thumb their noses at Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year. Coral was big. Hot pink was prevalent. Salmon was everywhere. Fuschia seemed to be the new red. But there wasn’t a real red dress to be found.

I take that back. I found two red gowns at Macy’s. One was an Egyptian number with cut-outs all over the torso that seemed to spell NUBILE.  The other had a diamond cut out right where your cleavage might be if you had any. At best, this gown would make you look like a Hooters waitress or a pre-teen boy.

I searched high and low and finally opted to order online, something I rarely agree to. Nordstrom had a red gown that came in my size, seemed perfectly middle-class acceptable, so I ordered it.

It’s fine. Really. It will be fine.

The good news: I don’t need any new accessories.

The bad news: I do need new underwear, a new torso and lipo. The dress fits like a glove, if a glove were made of hand sanitizer and static cling. There is cellulite on my thigh that I can’t see with a magnifying glass, but that can be seen from across a dance floor in this dress. My butt looks like the top of an overcooked casserole. I discovered a mole on my hip that I’m going to have to get looked at.

The only parts of my body that don’t look like the surface of the moon are the parts that this dress doesn’t cover. That would be my arms. And they, honestly, have never won any body part contests. So I suggest they enjoy the short-lived Best Looking Thing on My Body title while they can.

The better news: I hear the red gala has dim lights, so as not to cause any injury to the younger people’s eyes.

— Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick is a writer, humorist and blogger who lives in San Francisco. She writes a humor blog, Just Humor Me, and has published a book, Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves, about her many cross-country moves with her family. A former newspaper reporter and editor, she is the mother of three grown children.

Gathering to not wear clothes

Pat GardnerIt was during a meal that my younger brother suddenly began stripping. (He was 3 and I was 10.) My daddy jokingly told him, “This is not a nudist colony we’re running.”

Immediately I wanted to know what a nudist colony was. My daddy explained that it is a place where people gather to not wear clothes. I was amazed. He went on to say that one operated a couple of hundred miles south of us. As I tried to imagine the scene, he added that there was a movement to do something about it.

“Do you mean,” I gasped, “that they’re coming out into the streets?”

It would be nice to say that was when I became a subversive free spirit, assuming that personal choices are private unless they affect other people. I could claim that, in that moment, an academic was born, like when the child in a Whitman poem becomes a poet. Actually, the subject of undressing makes me think more of a day when I was 12.

It happened in the girls’ dressing room after P.E. class. I was cowering, partly behind the door to my locker, trying to change clothes without revealing the fact that I did not have a bra. (That was before the days of bra-burning. In junior high a bra was proof of being grown up, even for a 12-year-old with the shape of a child.) My mother — probably not understanding that we all undressed in a herd — insisted that I was too young to wear a bra.

Standing there exposed was humiliating enough, without having to endure the “in crowd” of girls. They held all of the class offices except for the ones their male counterparts had. Years later I would learn that the class officers had all been to the “in” elementary school.

As I stood there groping to keep my chest covered and to get dressed at the same time, the “in” girls were giggling and whispering secrets. The one whispering would lean forward to show off her lacy bra. Suddenly, with a front-buttoning blouse halfway on and the bare side of my chest turned toward the locker, I vowed to replace the in-crowd.

It took me five years. Probably it didn’t hurt that, in my junior year in high school, a football player asked me for a date and did not show up. Apparently his friends on the team knew. Anywhere they saw me — like in the lunch line — they shrieked in sort of a cat-call, “Tricia, Tricia.” Then, in the same cat-call voice, they shrieked the name of the one who had stood me up. Always shy, I found being singled out in the middle of a crowd as humiliating as being without a bra when I was 12.

Still, everybody learned my name. The following fall, I was elected treasurer of the senior class.

— Pat Gardner

Pat Gardner, a retired academic, lives with her husband and their half-spaniel dog Baggins. She enjoys meeting outrageous people in places like grocery stores.


Garbage anxiety, Alaska style

Lois Paige DimensionDidn’t get sleep last night. Not because the sun is up playing all night, and not because of an all-night party next door, but because of the bears. It’s that time of year again, mid-summer, when brown and black bears troll for garbage.

Bears follow any food source, the easier, the better. Homeowners in Alaska know the drill. Be Bear Aware: DON’T FEED THE BEARS!

People post photos on Facebook, to shame homeowners — garbage strewn about driveways and yards, with bears happily munching leftover pizza, or licking beer bottles (Alaska Amber is a favorite among bears — please don’t ask me how I know this).

Seeing these late-night marauders alerted us to action. This is torture for a Not-A-Morning-Person. I dutifully set my alarm for 7 a.m. to: 1) spring out of bed in a stupor, 2) try not to fall down the stairs, 3) try not to yank the door off its hinges because I’m too groggy to unlock it, 4) stumble-fall down more stairs, 5) grope for the garbage container and 6) roll it like a chariot goddess in my pjs over our long-as-the-wall-of-China driveway to the curb, where the truck is usually waiting for me.

Last night I startled awake every 15 minutes: Is the truck here yet? Did I sleep through my alarm? Are the bears chewing on my porch? Are they waiting for me to emerge in my skivvies, so they can have a piece of me?

I flopped back on my pillow, almost asleep, then — the sound of the garbage truck working its way closer sprung me out of bed like a trebuchet. SMACK! Right into the wall. Rubbing my nose, I bawled like a toddler.

“Oh NO, the garbage, the garbage, the GARBAGE!” I yammered and flailed, like it was a 30.5 mag earthquake.

A voice under the covers said, “I took it out.” Guru Man (that’s what I call my husband unit) didn’t think I’d get up (he was right).

We argued about it the night before:

GM: “Just set the container out before bed.”

Me: “No! The bears’ll get it and spread garbage from here to Homer, and Fish and Game will fine us a thousand bucks!”

GM: “It’s a hundred bucks. Wait’ll after midnight, when it’s legal.”

Me: “Facebook said the bears have been showing up at 3 a.m.”

GM: “Then set it out at 4 a.m.”

Me: “Are you inSANE? Bears aren’t idiots, they’ll wait for it.”

GM: “Why do you have garbage anxiety?”

Me, screaming: “I do not have garbage anxiety!”

My morning bed-emerging performance made a liar out of me. Okay, so I freaked out when the truck roared in, thinking I overslept. Who wouldn’t? All day I’ve been a crabby slug from lack of sleep, moping from room to room.

GM: “I think you need closure. Get the empty container and stick it in the garage.”

Me: “I know where I’d like to stick it.”

GM: “You still have garbage anxiety. Bringing in the container will give you closure.”

I plodded down the stairs, out the door, and dragged the container inside the garage. Do I feel better? Why, yes, I do–until next week’s garbage pickup rolls around.

Thank God this only happens once a week. If I were a morning person, it wouldn’t be an issue. But I’m not — and I never will be (she said defiantly).

The bears don’t even care; they don’t appreciate how I suffer, to not offer them a weekly buffet.

Okay yes, I have garbage anxiety (she said begrudgingly). Anyone know of a support group?

— Lois Paige Simenson

Lois Paige Simenson lives in Eagle River, Alaska. She writes for newspapers and magazines, is a playwright and has a blog, The Alaska PhilosophasterShe is working on her debut novel, The Butte Girls Club. She’s been recently published in The Anchorage Press and Memorabilia magazine.


Anne BardsleyI first met 75-year-old, Benjamin, in the kitchen at hospice. I was making my usual Wednesday soup when he wandered in.

He had a great smile and wore a green crocheted cap. He wore the standard Army-brown pajamas. He no sooner arrived, and the dietician followed him for a meeting.

“Ben, what are your favorite foods?” she asked. “I can order anything you like.” He thought for a minute and said, “I like to eat healthy. No sugar. No salt. I need protein and anti-oxidants.”                                                                                               “Ben, you can order anything you like. Do you like lobster?” she asked.

He studied the menu. She handed him a supplement drink to sip. The first thing he did was check the label. “Whoa! Did you see how many carbohydrates are in this drink?” “Ben, it’s all good. You can have this daily,” she counseled. “Daily? Look at the sugar and carbs in here! I am a health nut, for crying out loud. I can’t have this.”

She looked at me confused. Most hospice patients will order foods they love like lobster, steak and fancy desserts. Ben was having none of that. He wanted anti-oxidants and organic food.

He requested extra onions in his soup, extra onions in his omelet. He wanted extra onions in anything and everything. “They’re anti-oxidants,” he told me. I added a five-pound bag of onions to the next shopping list.

My husband, Scott, always visited each room and chatted with the patients and families. He was so happy that Ben was getting a new roommate. “Ben, they’re moving in a roommate for you. You’ll have company now.”

Well, it turned out that the new roommate, Todd, was not a health nut. He rode a Harley. One of his favorite hangouts was Shadracks, a biker bar in Passa Grille on the beach. While Todd preferred a beer and greasy hamburgers, Ben wanted sugar-free, organic food. The two of them became our favorite patients to visit. It was Felix and Oscar from the “Odd Couple” all over again.

It was near Thanksgiving when I asked them if they had a request for something special. Ben shouted out right away, “A pumpkin pie, with no sugar!” This sent Todd into a tirade. His arms were flailing. His face was beet red.

“Oh for the love of God! Will someone get him a damn pie? I can’t stand to hear one more word about sugar-free pie! Every pie they bring him is too sweet for him.”

Ben just smiled. I asked Todd what he would like and he said, “A pumpkin pie to shut Ben up.” And so I found a low-sugar pie and brought it in. Todd thought it was wonderful. Ben thought it was still too sweet.

The following week Ben shocked me by asking for a Butterfinger candy bar. “Ben, you never eat candy.” “I have a craving for a Butterfinger.” The next visit I brought a jumbo-sized Butterfinger for him. I have a picture of him holding it in his hand with a big smile on his face. He ate the entire bar and went to sleep for two full days in sugar shock.

Todd said it was the best two days of his life!

Ben kept me company whenever I volunteered in the kitchen. I loved his smile. I knew it would be difficult for me when his time came. It was actually hard to believe he had cancer because he was such a character. He had a smile for everyone and always made patients and families laugh.

His family came for breakfast that Friday. His sister came running in the kitchen, “Anne! Anne! We have to take Ben to the Tampa airport. He wants to fly.”

We’d learned in training that people will use metaphors at the end of their life. What he was telling her was that his spirit was getting ready to fly soon.

Naturally, his time did come. I went into his room at breakfast to take his usual order: two eggs over easy, whole wheat toast, orange juice and a piece of the French toast bake I made every week. He was half sitting up against his pillow. His eyes were closed and he had a big, old smile on his face. He opened his eyes to say, “Anne, I think I’m getting ready to soar. It is so beautiful there.”

I hate when they leave us and felt the tears sting my eyes.

“I’m going to miss you, Ben. You are one of my favorites here.” I held his hand.

“I’ll miss you, too, Anne. Maybe when I get to Heaven, I can ask God to send you up, too.” He squeezed my hand.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! “No Ben, not yet, please. I have kids and grandkids I would miss. And who would feed Scott?” He agreed not to ask God to send me up. “I’ll just see when it’s your time,” he grinned at me. I made him promise he wouldn’t ask for my early check-in to Heaven. I was really going to miss this guy.

A few days later, Ben passed in his sleep, peacefully. He’s in Heaven now enjoying sugar-free pudding that supplies his favorite, vitamin D.

I only knew him for a few months, but I keep him on a shelf in my heart.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anz World.

Reflections of Erma