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My hot and cold marriage

Lois Alter MarkIt’s no secret that long-term marriages have their ups and downs. We expect to be mushy-gushy one day and want to kill each other the next.

But no one told me that, after 34 years of pretty much wedded bliss, we would reach midlife and go through a stage in which our marriage would run so hot and cold.

Literally.

As I write this, sitting on top of our bed in a t-shirt and light cotton capri pajama bottoms with the fan blowing overhead and the terrace door wide open, my husband is hunkered down at the desk in his office, wrapped in a king-sized Anthropologie blanket, with all the doors and windows shut tight.

I’m going to guess it’s around 80 degrees. He would probably guess it’s around 40.

Forget about Venus and Mars. It seems men are from Florida and women from Antarctica.

How can our bodies be wired so differently?

I’m not sure when we started drifting toward opposite climate zones but I do remember having the whole family over for the holidays a few years ago and my mother, my sister and I ripping off layers of clothing and fanning ourselves with dish towels. I’d like to believe it was because we had been slaving over a hot stove, preparing a delicious, home-cooked meal, but that’s just plain fantasy.

On that same occasion, I also remember someone yelling at me not to turn down the thermostat. With hormones raging, I whipped around to find my husband, my father and my brother-in-law huddled together on the couch in front of the fireplace, practically shivering, in their sweaters and wool socks.

That was the moment I realized nature is a great practical joker.

I mean, look at the progression of our lives. When we’re young (Michael and I met when I was 18 and he was 20), it’s usually the girls who are cold — though I’m convinced that has less to do with body temperature and more to do with dressing for fashion instead of for the weather. So the guys offer us their jackets — because they are dressed for the weather and are wearing an appropriate layer underneath. They feel manly and protective, we feel loved and cute in their oversized outerwear, and everyone’s happy.

But then the years go by, and suddenly we’re the ones reminding our husbands to carry a sweater to the movies. Or the grocery store. Or the beach.

While we’re having night sweats and hot flashes.

When we were in college, I threw one of Michael’s sweaters down the incinerator when he was sleeping because it was purple, turtleneck and horrendous. Okay, I’m not proud of that action and, subconsciously, that guilt may be one of the reasons I agreed to move from New York to San Diego, where I wrongly assumed he would never again need that sweater.

You see, although we now live in probably the most temperate climate in the world, I’m always hot and he’s always cold.

This past summer, which even he would agree was one of the hottest and most uncomfortable on record, we spent many evenings negotiating the air conditioning. I admit it costs a fortune when we use it but, come on — we’re reaching an age when heat can be very dangerous to your health, right?

When our beloved Newfoundland was alive, we kept the air conditioning on all the time for her. For me? Not so much.

Most nights, you can find me lying — awake — on top of the comforter in my underwear, with my hair pulled back in a ponytail and the fan whirring at its highest speed, while my husband sleeps contently, snuggled under a couple of blankets.

So when I got invited on a press trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in September, I grabbed one of my friends who’s experiencing the same issues, and, with the promise of free air conditioning luring us in, we happily arrived at the luxurious Hacienda Puerta Campeche, where we headed right to our room and cranked that baby up. In fact, we even asked for extra blankets — which earned us a strange look from the lovely woman sweating at the front desk.

If we had been traveling with our husbands, there’s a good chance they would have preferred to spend the night in the hammocks outside.

I slept so well with that frigid air circulating, I’m thinking it may be time to get a big, hairy dog again just so I can share its apparently unrestricted access to the air conditioning. And if it gets too cold for Michael, he can simply cuddle into her natural fur coat.

Somehow — maybe because he’s actually ensconced in a warm and wondrous dreamland while I toss and turn and send out a silent prayer to be transformed into Elsa in “Frozen” (yes, I want to build a snowman, damn it) — Michael doesn’t seem to be bothered by any of this.

In fact, when I mentioned I was going to write about the fact that women get hotter with age and men get colder, he said, “You mean emotionally?”

So now I’m thinking we should just take separate vacations. I’m going to Venus but he’ll be heading to Mars.

And, because I love him dearly, I’ll remind him to pack a sweater.

— Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark, a travel expert at USA Today, also blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and The Huffington Post. In 2013, she was named the top blogger in Blogger Idol, the premier blogging contest for bloggersShe also won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012, 2013 and 2014. After being selected as an Ultimate Viewer by Oprah, she accompanied her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime.

Family-style follies

Mark J. DrozdowskiThe next time you’re planning a banquet and decide on a “family-style” meal, do me a favor and leave me off the invite list.

I recently attended such a function. It was a lovely event, a celebration of our kid’s championship soccer season. Our whole family was there. Lots of whole families were there. Hence, I suppose, the family-style service. One big, happy, hungry family.

The meal started off in usual fashion. They brought us salads and a basket of rolls. We each had our own salad served to us individually. The rolls made their way around the table. I’m not sure if convention dictates a clockwise or counterclockwise rotation, but we improvised and all was well.

When the waitress returned to retrieve our plates, my wife’s, almost full, was whisked away without comment, while mine, empty, prompted an “Are you done with that, sir?” inquiry. I said no, I’d like to stare at it awhile in fond remembrance of what had been there.

Around the same time, other servers began presenting the main course. They brought out a series of platters featuring mounded portions of roast beef, pasta, carrots, mashed potatoes and some purple and red concoction that bore a vague resemblance to beets.

Another platter contained an aromatic whitefish identified by the waitress as “scrod.” Those living outside New England, thinking they’ve somehow been missing out on an epicurean delight, might suddenly feel compelled to rush to their local seafood market and request a pound or two of scrod. In turn, they’ll likely receive a rather quizzical look. I’ve been deep-sea fishing on a couple of occasions and have yet to hear an old salty type claim he’s trolling for scrod. Scrod, of course, is a made-up word, a portmanteau referencing an indefinable whitefish that could be haddock, cod, hake, pollock, shark, guppy, piranha, Mekong catfish or something else that swims and turns white when cooked. Perhaps the “s” stands for “seems to be.” In any case, I passed on the scrod, much like I would if the server brought me a mysterious beef-like slab and called it “smeat.”

As the waiters and waitresses carried out the platters, a second group of wait staff was busy erecting scaffolding as the table’s centerpiece. The platters, you see, were roughly the size of small toboggans and wouldn’t comfortably fit around the table. Instead, they were arranged vertically along this scaffolding, with the farthest dishes landing some 42 feet beyond one’s reach. It did not rotate, so if you wanted, say, the beets, you had to politely ask someone on the opposite side of the table to climb the scaffolding, retrieve the beets and send them around the table in your direction.

When the meal first arrived, we passed the platters to each other as swiftly and delicately as possible under the circumstances, considering that each weighed approximately 16 pounds. Some went clockwise, while others traveled the opposite way. The inevitable logjam landed with me, with the carrots to my left and the scrod to my right, both held by people eager to grab hold of the roast beef I was forking onto my plate.

Under such intense pressure, I would normally become anxious and flummoxed, but I was determined to get my fair share of the roast beef. The problem was that I wasn’t sure exactly how much that should be. I tried to quickly calculate the amount of roast beef divided by the number of people around the table, figuring that I held in my hands the sum total of roast beef we’d be receiving. Seconds wouldn’t be forthcoming. This was our table’s allotment of roast beef, period, and my task was to take only what was rightfully mine and not a morsel more.

Upon finishing, I then had to determine which way to pass the roast beef, given that I was the first one to encounter it. Whichever way it went, the person on my opposite side would face the harsh reality of being the last person to have it and would be subject to everyone else’s faulty math and questionable portion decisions. Would there even be any left? I saw the desperation and longing etched on each candidate’s face and contemplated my decision carefully.

I chose counterclockwise, passing the roast beef to my right and adding further insult to the chap on my left by exchanging his carrots for the platter of scrod. He seemed crestfallen and determined to exact his revenge, a plot he would carry out moments later.

Meanwhile, now that all the platters had been passed around and returned to their various stations along the scaffolding, we were ready to eat. Unfortunately, the time it took us to navigate this elaborate process allowed our food to grow cold. I wondered how we could have expedited matters and gotten to our meals in a more timely fashion. Perhaps there was another way to serve food, keep it warm and let people take portions absent the burden of advanced calculus.

I envisioned a long table with various kinds of food laid out in warm pans. There would be plenty for all. When a pan ran low, servers would refill it with fresh food. People would grab a plate and make their way down this table, taking as much of a given item as they pleased. Sure, they might have to wait in line a bit, but let’s say we make this table accessible from both sides to move things along twice as fast. That way, you could get whatever food you want and return to your seat in a timely fashion, before it all got cold. And to top things off, we’d give this new dining method a fancy French name, like “buffet.”

As inelegant and cattle-herding as it might often seem, the buffet works better than the family-style scoop-and-pass. Of course, both rank behind the traditional “plated” meal, in which you receive your very own dinner served to you with the understanding that this is your meal and yours alone, not to be shared, divided or passed to anyone else and to be eaten free of the guilt that you may have exceeded your fair portion.

In any event, let’s return to our scorned Scrodman, who since we left him has been planning his evil plot for revenge. It seems Scrodman wants a second heaping helping of mashed potatoes because the initial mound wasn’t nearly enough. He retrieves the mashed potato platter from the scaffolding, scoops up a dollop the size of a volleyball and blorps it onto his plate. To extract the reluctant potatoes still sticking to the serving spoon, he taps the spoon on his plate several times. He then puts the spoon back into the platter, takes another dollop and repeats the tapping on his plate.

Now, for all intents and purposes, the mashed potatoes are off limits. They belong solely to Scrodman. The serving spoon touched his dirty plate, which had been touched several times by his dirty fork, and was returned to the community mashed potatoes. He might as well have stuck his tongue into the potatoes and swirled it around. Touching the spoon to a clean plate when starting things off is all well and good, but once that plate has been violated in such a manner, it is a steaming germfest. That is why my invention of a buffet would require you to choose a clean plate each time you return to the trough. Tolerating such behavior at home among my own family is troubling enough, but I refuse to engage in spit-swapping with a total stranger. This, I am certain, is exactly how Scrodman anticipated my reaction. His plot was complete.

Thankfully, dessert was served to us individually. I didn’t have to contend with Scrodman triple-dipping his spoon into a shared vat of ice cream, licking it clean each time. Some people just don’t get family-style.

Neither do I, really. I do have enough horse sense to know what constitutes proper etiquette, yet I find this serving method taxing. At best, it’s cumbersome and inefficient; at worst, it’s dining Darwinism and an opportunity for social Neanderthals to spoil it for the rest of us.

So the next time you’re planning an event and consider the family-style meal, think again. And whatever you do, don’t serve scrod.

— Mark J. Drozdowski

Mark J. Drozdowski is a writer, humorist and aspiring pundit. He was a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education for nine years and currently writes a humor column, “Special Edification,” for Inside Higher Ed. His writing has appeared inThe New York Times MagazineBoston Globe Magazine, theBaltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant and Salon, among other publications and websites. He blogs at drdroz.wordpress.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @drdroz.

Cafeteria Christmas skits? Oy vey!

Steve EskewAn odoriferous whiff of burnt chicken permeated the air. Honestly, I hate pretentious polysyllabic words. I’m all for honest writing.

So an “honester” wording of the above would be: the stench of rotting ham invaded the room. I’m alluding to our senior center’s Christmas production, a series of skits.

Held on a pseudo-stage in the center’s cafeteria, ‘twas impossible to avoid the perennial whiff of burnt chicken, but that rotting ham slam I just made was in reference to the oldsters’ hammy performances. Thanks to the evil twin who thrives inside my brain, the show closed after one night. You’re welcome.

Before I became an infamous New York critic, I was building up my acting resumé, mastering such demanding roles as the Third Guard in Othello, the water boy in Carousel and Mr. Three in The Adding Machine. When I decided to audition for the Christmas skits, I knew I would be the obvious candidate to play the lead. In every skit. After all, I was an experienced thespian. Also, I had checked out the senior “talent” pool. Bah humbug? Nah, more like Boooo! Ham-bug!

Having almost played the part of Scrooge in my high school’s production of A Christmas Carol, I would surely be a shoo-in to play Dickens’ most coveted role in a parody of that story. I was hoping the director would, you know, “cast against type.” But, naturally, politics reared its ugly, toothy head. Yup, the part went to “Studly Dowell,” a no-talent, long-of-tooth, ne’er-do-well who claims to be in his sixties. His sixties, my foot. Like the Dickens’ character itself, Studly was reportedly conceived in 1843.

But seriously, a vicious rumor really does have it that the director, Ms. Myrtle Loons, cast him only after she and Studly spent a lot of time together on the senior center’s casting couch. Mostly snoring, no doubt.

Miss Loons not only rejected the genius of my acting audition, she resented my advising her on what would have been brilliant directorial choices. Ya see, I’m a little psychic and I predicted that, without my expertise, the program would surely flop. She snidely said I should stick to writing.

So, surprise! Here’s a quick-and-dirty review of the program. And remaining professional to the core, I shall be objective to the utmost vendetta, and I shan’t be scant with including behind-the-scenes scandals. Here goes:

Turns out, Studly Dowell didn’t do-well as Scrooge. The night the program was performed he became rattled right before he went onstage and flubbed most of his lines. Apparently, some lovable rascal had slipped into the cafeteria and made toast. Studly freaked because everyone over 50 knows that the smell of toast can be a prelude to a stoke. (What diabolical mind would play a priceless prank like that?). T’was pity Miss Loons had steadfastly rejected my suggestion for Studly to have an understudy. Moi.

During dress rehearsal for the nativity vignette, Bill Bungle almost played Joseph. Too bad he drank too much “courage,” fell asleep, missed his entrance cue and ultimately began reciting several of his lines from the next skit in which he played Santa.

That threw everyone off the script. Director Loons all but swooned when Bessie Botcher, playing an angel, sputtered: “I bring good joy. I mean tidings of a Savior. Uh Mary birthed a swaddling baby? Or something like that.”

In a skit titled “Treasure Island Christmas,” Harvey Haymaker, playing a pirate, was fumbling with his eyepatch and dropped his cane onstage. This terrified the parrot on his shoulder, prompting it to take an unscheduled flight down the corridor. Playing a buccaneer, Leroy Runnington fell completely out of character and began screaming at Harvey: “You idiot. That’s my pet bird,” whereupon Leroy swiftly exited stage left, chasing after the bird who was screaming “Oy vey!”

Christened “The Senior Center’s Christmas Fiasco,” I guess if there’s one good thing about the program, it would be that, by gum, the acting was honest. Or something like that.

What a shame Studly had whistled in the dressing room. I hear that’s bad luck. Indeed, the show flopped. Just as this psychic critic had predicted.

Being psychic is a burden. Being psychotic is a blessing.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Do the Funky Bdelloid Rotifer

Con ChapmanAs someone who came of age in the 1960s, I often reflect on how different the lives of teenagers back then were from those of today.

When I was an adolescent, there seemed to be a new dance to master and enjoy every month. It was often named after an animal, which was characterized as “Funky.” In other cases the dance was identified by a nonce word — the Boogalo, the Shing-a-Ling, the Hucklebuck. Nowadays there seem to be no new dances, other than those that kids learn by watching sex videos on the Internet. Progress, this is not.

There was the Funky Chicken, the Funky Penguin (Parts 1 and 2) and the Funky Worm. There was Mickey’s Monkey, the Monkey and the Monkey Time — more fun than a barrel of monkeys! There was the Snake and the Gator. No actual animals were harmed in the performance of these dances, other than humans.

To my knowledge, the last recorded instance of a dance named after an animal that did — or did not — sweep the nation was “The Bird,” by Morris Day, released in 1984. I listened to it just this morning — it has much to recommend it.

It contains all the essential elements of a tune designed to launch a dance craze. The singer asks the audience whether they’ve heard of the new dance — they apparently have not. He instructs them on its correct performance, then urges them to get out on the dance floor and do it. It is ecumenical in its approach; ladies, white people, even Siamese Twins — as long as they are “sexy” — are separately urged to try the new dance.

Whatever happened to America’s innovative spirit? Astronauts aboard the International Space Station report only isolated instances of animal-themed teen dancing around the world, a fact with chilling portents for the future since there are more teenagers alive — right now —than at any time in human history!

The ’60s, by contrast, were a period of almost constant teen dance innovation. “Killer” Joe Piro seemed to invent — or discover — a new dance every week, and he taught them to world leaders including the Duke of Windsor, the Maharani of Baroda and Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of a U.S. President (Lyndon, not Andrew). Don’t take my word for it — look it up on Wikipedia. There really is such a thing as a Maharani — and of Baroda, no less!

My suspicion is that animal-themed dances went the way of the dodo because parents were concerned that their offspring would follow the example of the many funky animals they were imitating and start procreating as soon as they reached the age of sexual maturity, long before they had completed the course work for an undergraduate degree in accounting. Teen pregnancy is fine for chickens, but not humans.

Which is where the Bdelloid Rotifer comes in. For those of you who do not read the little squibs of weird science that appear as fillers in major metropolitan newspapers, the Bdelloid Rotifer is an animal that has gone without sex for 40 million years! There is absolutely no way that any funny stuff is going to happen if you dance like one.

So come on, everybody. Get up off your derrieres, get out of your chair-i-eres, and do the Funky Bdelloid Rotifer!

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

School closings and delays

Cindy Argiento Wintertime is the time for school closings and delays. The weatherman predicted snow overnight. DOT crews were reported to be preparing, which makes me laugh because what they really mean is they pray (really hard) that it doesn’t snow. Where I live everything shuts down when it snows. Even the plows get confused and stay huddled inside. One snowflake and everything comes to a grinding halt.

We got our ‘school is delayed 2 hours’ phone call at 5:30 a.m. It boggles the mind to think they wake us up to let us know school’s delayed and we can sleep an extra two hours, but I never do fall back to sleep. I want to wrap my hands around the genius who invented this program.

Remember the olden days when we found out the distressing news by reading the crawl at the bottom of the television screen. As I read the list of closings I’d get more and more anxious as it got to my daughter’s school. I would cross my fingers and all body parts that could be crossed for good measure. I would make a pact with God if her school was open, I would never again use the Lord’s name in vain. Her school popped up on the screen — CLOSED. *** Dammit! I renewed my pact.

One night my husband and I were watching TV when a ticker popped up, alerting us my daughter’s school was closed due to inclement weather. Infuriated, I ranted and raved about the lunatics who would close the schools because it snowed in Alaska. This was safety overkill. This was ***! My husband told me we were watching a show we recorded back in January, six months earlier. Our daughter was on summer vacation. Just the thought had me frazzled and renewing my pact.

Then there was the morning my daughter waited for the bus for two hours. After two hours she came inside and asked, “Are you sure there’s school today? I’ve been waiting two *** hours!” Turned out the show I was watching was another old, recorded show and instead of it being 75 and sunny, it was 12 degrees and snowing. School closed! *** Dammit!

I renewed my pact with God and my daughter made her first one. I don’t know where she learned such language.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.

How many awkward phases should one person have?

Kelly MarksIn fifth grade, I went through what you would call my “awkward” phase.

I was at a new school, with new braces that were zig-zagged across my teeth (no one warns you that the yellow bands just make your teeth look perpetually un-brushed), and I was a bit of a tomboy. I wore a lot of red and navy. That phase was a struggle.

But eventually, I started to make friends, the braces got a little straighter, and by junior high they were off completely. Things were good. I got a little less awkward, I learned about bras and shaving, and I started finding my own style. I was on a competitive year-round swim team where I met great friends and stayed in mostly decent shape through my high school years.

Senior year hit, though, and that awkwardness started creeping its uninvited self back in. I was putting on the pounds like I was on some sort of mission. I also had acne galore and accidentally bleached my eyebrows orange by using my zit cream too close to the hair. My brother called me “orange brow” for six months. For a 17-year-old girl, it was an upsetting time. I visited doctor after doctor. Most of them were jerks of the highest form who told me I was eating too much. Some listened, but had no answers. Then I learned my awkward phase of plumpness and acne had a name.

I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) at the ripe ‘ol age of 17. My ovaries were pissed off, causing my hormones to go wonky, causing me to gain weight and have some accelerated hair growth (yay!). I got put on birth control and Metformin (helps regulate blood glucose), and after a couple of months the weight started coming off. I thought to myself, “This is fine, totally manageable. These two magic pills keep me skinny!” Clearly my younger self was a bit too concerned with appearance. I stayed on this course of treatment, enjoyed college, graduated, joined the working class and eventually got married. My PCOS was always somewhat at the back of my mind, but mostly forgotten about.

Over the course of our relationship and marriage, I put some of that unwanted weight back on. I didn’t think much about it, I was in love and happy. People always warn you about those “love pounds.” You start mirroring your husband’s eating habits, and before you know it, you are eating just as much as him. Or is that just me? It wasn’t until this year when we started trying for a baby that my somewhat forgotten PCOS came front and center. I’ve come to find out that I have dysfunctional lady bits. That’s what I am calling my blasted cyst-covered ovaries. Long story short, I have had so many up-the-hootie ultrasounds that I am practically glowing, and the hormones I have been on make me an exceptionally pleasant person. Just ask my husband.

Now all of the struggle, the emotions, the tests, that’s all fine and dandy. I mean some days it’s not. Some days I feel like nursing a case of wine and a pan of brownies. Infertility is a real bitch. But for the most part, we have kept our humor.

So it pains me to say that about a week ago, I had a meltdown. Not over the fact that we still aren’t pregnant, and not over the fact that the husband and I don’t always agree on our next plan of action. Nope. My meltdown came as I was in the car, driving to book club. It started out as a good day. I showered, shaved my legs, ate healthy, and was spending the evening with friends. But then, at a stop light, I look up at the rear-view mirror and the sun hits my mustache just right. Wait, rewind, what? Yes, my mustache. I had realized that the hormones caused me to gain weight. And I was irritable. I thought that was all par for the course. But a mustache?? That took it too far. I had now entered the worst awkward phase of my life thus far. I called my mom in a panic and the conversation went something like this:

“Mom, I am regressing. You’re supposed to have your awkward phase as a child, and I already had one of those. I’m going backward.”

“Now, Kelly, calm down, it’s okay.”

“HOW IS THIS OKAY?? My lady bits don’t work, I weigh as much as a small man, and now I have a MUSTACHE!”

“Kelly, I’m sure it’s not that bad. You’re beautiful.”

“You have to say that, you’re my mother.”

My poor mama. Always there with a listening ear and comforting words for her dramatic daughter. So, that is where I am at. Awkward phase number three. Having discovered said mustache, I did what any normal woman would do. I had my sister wax it with a home waxing kit while I sat in a chair in her kitchen. It hurt, and now my lip is broken out, but I won the mustache battle (or so I keep telling myself). I am not sure how long awkward phase number three is planning to hang around. Hopefully not too long.

And please, dear Lord, let there not be a number four.

— Kelly Marks

Kelly Marks is a pediatric nurse living in Texas with her husband and their Great Dane, Gus. Kelly blogs at wifelifeandbooks.com where you can find her sarcastic (and sometimes serious) take on life. She loves books, wine and chocolate. Her doctor recently told her she has to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle, so she now loves wine even more.

Of Christmas lights and memories bright

Sharon L. CookTwenty years ago my father died on Christmas morning. He was 100 years old. For a long time my feelings about the holiday were tinged with sadness.

Yet time, mercifully, has a way of easing pain. Moreover, my dad, who enjoyed a good laugh, wouldn’t want his family to be solemn. And while I can’t work myself up to being “joyous,” I can appreciate the humor and warmth inherent in this family holiday.

My son, as a toddler, was not only joyous at Christmas, he was delirious. Very early Christmas morning, he raced into our room. “Mom! Dad! It’s Christmas!” Like countless other parents, we’d been up late wrapping presents and attempting to assemble toys. Thus, when my son didn’t get a response, he went to his father’s side of the bed.

“Dad, it’s Christmas,” he repeated in his ear. In case his father needed more encouragement, he took his glass baby bottle and clunked him on the head. Even I heard that. Needless to say, my husband did not awaken with joy in his heart. Not one bit.

The following year this same boy and his friend, Nicky, took it upon themselves to open all the presents under our tree. They claimed they were “helping.” More than a dozen gifts from friends and relatives lay exposed, the wrapping paper scattered. By process of elimination, we identified many of the givers. Yet whoever bestowed the battery-powered socks (Hot Sox) remains a mystery to this day.

In any event, those socks came in handy. The following December, four days before Christmas, I took my son to the ASPCA shelter, then located on Highland Avenue in Salem. I wanted to make a donation and, at the same time, teach him a lesson about giving. What was I thinking? We walked out of the shelter with an 8-week-old Lab/husky puppy. I had plenty of time to think about that lesson while staring up at a January moon, waiting for Tubbs to “go toity.” At least my feet were warm.

Tubbs wasn’t the only family dog who enjoyed Christmas. Gaylord Farquhar, our basset hound, was always looking to score holiday treats. In fact, his sister, Shaddy, owned by my mother-in-law, starred in her own family legend when she grabbed the Christmas roast off the kitchen counter. The family, gathered at the dinner table, was unaware there would be no seconds on the beef.

Gaylord, too, found food sources everywhere, even the Christmas tree. One year the kids did traditional homemade decorations: strings of cranberries and popcorn as well as ornaments made of dough. Basset hounds are not fussy. Gaylord ate it all. Each time he raided the tree, it crashed to the floor, sometimes pinning him underneath. Although it scared him silly, he was back the next day, sniffing out any remaining popcorn kernels or bits of moldy bread dough. The denuded tree became a pitiful sight.

My husband also embraced a family tradition: displaying strings of lights originally from his grandmother’s house. “They don’t make lights like these anymore,” he boasted. Every year he got them out, carefully replacing burnt-out bulbs. However, plugging them in created showers of sparks that resulted in trips to the fuse box.

The ancient lights were threadbare, the material covering the cord ravaged by time and mice. Plugged in, they snapped, crackled and popped. Sparks flew everywhere, including onto Gaylord, sleeping nearby. Before long we smelled something acrid: Gaylord’s fur was smoking! My husband grabbed the watering can under the tree and doused him. Only then did Gaylord wake up.

After that, my husband gave up on his grandmother’s lights. Whether it was the blown fuses, the mini-shocks he received or the smoking dog, he reluctantly packed them away.

Yet they live on in our treasure trove of family holiday stories. Like the memories of my dad, they glow a little brighter with each retelling.

— Sharon L. Cook

Sharon L. Cook is author of A Nose for Hanky Panky and A Deadly Christmas Carol.

Change

Seph PetersAll the tourists had made a fairly swift retreat, leaving a sudden, yet peaceful sort of emptiness in their wake.

They had crossed back over the causeway, their phones and iPads filled with enough pictures of fiddle players and famous fall colors to give them the Facebook likes they fancied. This beautiful island was all but abandoned now. Nights had gotten cooler, mornings frosty.  The hardwood trees on the gently rolling hills of Cape Breton would soon bare their branches. The familiar sweet smell of decomposed leaves on the wet ground and change were in the air.

Cliché, I know, but seriously, how the hell else do you start a blog? … This is my blog. I hope you like it… Nah. Besides, there’s generally not much happening in Margaree at the end of October about which a fella might write.IMG_1284

So this is it. We went for a lot of walks, and this is the stuff we noticed on our walks. The trees, the quietness, the change of season, the echo of tunes. This, and enough coyote sh** to make a load of it in my dad’s manure spreader. In fact, some of it was so big that we started carrying walking sticks to protect us (from the coyotes, not the sh**). If there was a lot of big sh** around, there was probably a lot of big coyotes, and there’s nothing like an alder branch walking stick to fend off a pack of ravaging coyotes. In any case, I personally soaked in enough scenic rural family life over the last couple of months to get me through to the next time, which would always be soon.IMG_1117

Along with all of these geocentric rambles was a parallel change; the fact that my calendar looked as bleak as my bank account would, if we were to stick around. I had few gigs booked, and winter was looming like my next birthday, when I’d turn a year closer to possibly never being able to do something about this state of stagnation.IMG_1074

So in turning to the new “man’s best friend,” the Internet, I saw that the price of plane tickets looked good. Good, that is, until they would start quadrupling in price in less than a week.

We had five days to pack up our new little family.

— Seph Peters

Seph Peters is a 36-year-old musician from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. His blog chronicles the details of trying to move to Europe with his wife and 6 month-old, with minimal savings, on the false premise that it would be the same Europe he knew so well as a backpacker 15 to 20 years ago.

Reflections of Erma