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Holiday from hell

Christmas 2001 will forever be known as The Day Of The Neighborhood Flu Epidemic. There is nothing worse than spending a major holiday like Christmas with your head in the toilet when you should be taking advantage of the biggest, guilt-free binge fest day of the year.

There is no cheerful clinking of champagne glasses or popping sugar cookies in your mouth faster than an aardvark sucking up ants. There is only LONELY time in the bathroom to contemplate the identity of the fiesta-colored items that erupt from your stomach into the toilet bowl. Nor is it fun to be a party of one when you’ve been quarantined from family and friends like the town pariah. Swapping gifts on Christmas is fine. Germs, not so much. But the flu bug doesn’t have discerning tastes and will happily descend upon whatever poor, unsuspecting host it can find.

In 2001, we attended the annual neighborhood holiday party, which is traditionally held a few days before Christmas. As was custom, the entire block gathered for the festive event at a neighbor’s home to chat with old friends and strain the waistband of our pants with an array of holiday foods. Little did we know that our stomachs and intestines were preparing to take us for a ride on the toilet train to hell.

There was a child at the party who was recovering from a recent bout of the flu, but none of us gave it a second thought as we chatted over rum balls and queso dip.

The party was a success and we left that night with full bellies and happy hearts.  We had no clue that an invisible, uninvited guest had followed the majority of us home.

By Christmas Eve, the entire block was infected by the nefarious flu bug that took us down one by one like dominoes. The bubonic plague was alive and well in our neighborhood. The “Welcome To Our Home” plaque outside our front door should have been changed to: “Welcome To The Vomitorium.”

While others were listening to “O Holy Night” and sipping apple cider, my oldest son and I were singing “O Wretched Night,” curled in the fetal position with a vomit bowl between us. It didn’t matter that the stockings were not hung by the chimney with care, because old St. Nicolas was not going to be coming there. The ONLY thing that mattered to me was the sprinting distance between my mattress and the bathroom door. The problem was that I couldn’t decide which end should hit the toilet first — my mouth or my backside. I ended up sitting on the throne with the vomit bowl in my lap and called it a BOGO — buy one get one free.

That night we missed the candlelight Christmas Eve services at church, along with the big solo my son was to perform with the choir. He was too busy making a casserole in the toilet bowl to be bothered with hitting a few high notes. The Hubs was forced to pull double duty with babysitting, gift wrapping and stocking stuffing, not to mention all those pesky “Assembly Required” packages stored in the garage.

Christmas morning I was greeted by the cheery sounds of retching and moaning behind the bathroom door. The Hubs was down for the count, along with two more of our children. I knew it was a bad start to the day when no one raced into the living room to see what surprises Santa had left under the tree. The only surprise I wanted from Mr. Claus was a second toilet, along with a gallon of Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate.

Once we reached four hours of vomit-free bliss, we felt well enough to attend the big family dinner at my folk’s home. Selfish perhaps, but we were stir crazy from staring into the well of a toilet bowl for 24 hours and needed to get out of the house. We took into consideration that our motley crew looked like Typhoid Mary survivors, but we did our best to control the contagious bug by refraining from bodily contact.  At least the surgical masks and gloves we donned made for some interesting Christmas family photos.

As we drove home that night and congratulated ourselves for surviving the holiday with our intestines intact, we heard the sound no parent ever wants to hear while they’re behind the wheel of a car.

“Mommy! Daddy!  I think I’m going to be sick…”

If we pretended not to hear our youngest daughter in the backseat, we were certain the specter of illness would surely disappear.

Apparently Santa had other plans for us.

Is it any wonder why the following year there was a new porcelain throne under the Christmas tree with my name on it?

— Marcia Kester Doyle

Marcia Kester Doyle is the author of the humorous blog “Menopausal Mother,” where she muses on the good, the bad and the ugly side of menopausal mayhem. Give her some wine and a jar of Nutella and she’ll be your best friend. Marcia’s work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Mamapedia, Bloggy Moms, Messy Mom’s Radio, The Woven Press, the Life Well Blogged series and was voted Top 25 in the Circle Of Mom’s Contest 2013. You can find her blog here.

I want to be Erma Bombeck

There were a million and one things that could have stopped it from happening. Actually, in the past 24 hours there were two, both of them significant.

1) I was told I will probably need surgery in the near future. Not life or death surgery, but minor surgery that will take me out of commission for a few days.

2) Our hot water heater decided to throw a hissy fit of spillage across the cellar, and the jury is still out as to whether or not we need a new one, to the tune of can-we-just-boil-water dollars.

But it’s a done deal.

I didn’t even tell my kids ahead of time. I probably won’t tell my mother until it’s over.

But let me get back to the beginning, which — lucky for you — means two weeks ago.

If you are reading this, you may have noticed I like to write. The truth of the matter is, my day consists of constant voices in my head — single sentences that describe the most unimportant moments with a bit of a twist. Sometimes they stay with me and sometimes I push them off, thinking they can’t possibly amount to something.

But everything amounts to something, or so the late Erma Bombeck, my hero of the humorous written word, would have me believe.

She got it. She understood that marriage and parenting and trying to do it all meant you either laughed or you cried, and it was all right to do both. She wrote about her life and times, good and bad, her husband and kids — with every step she took, she opened up a world of “Wow, now here’s someone who can make me put down the sharp objects and actually laugh about unfolded laundry or undefrosted dinner or unappreciated me.”

One recent afternoon when I was feeling particularly stressed or melancholy or some such emotion that led me to Google, I typed in these words:

I want to be Erma Bombeck.

Doesn’t that sound crazy? Isn’t this just asking for trouble — for proof that I should be thankful for my five readers (up from two) and let it go at that?

A link popped up right at the top of the screen.

The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

My reaction? I started to cry. Every part of me knew this was where I belonged, with my peers, the people who see everything as something to write about. I approached S with caution. Yeah, right. I told him about it while flooding the car with tears. He found a way — without selling any organs — to come up with the registration. The hotel and airfare will be the next step, but we will climb the step together, clutching onto the railings and trying not to fall backwards. In other words, without having to live on the streets to support my habit.

Registration was at noon today. I had been scouring the EBWW page for days, reading other blogs, comparing myself to winners of the writing competition that begins in January, watching for any sign that they might open registration even One Minute Early, just to throw us off track.

At 11:59 a.m., my Outlook calendar reminder blinked at me.

At Noon on the dot my cell phone alarm vibrated on my desk.

I opened up the web page and voilà — the link to register was there!

Quickly plugging in all the necessary information — name, address, credit card number, etc., I hit ENTER.

Error.

Twice.

My fumbling fingers and my baffled brain were on different planets, but once I followed those pesky directions, third time was the charm, and finally the much anticipated registration confirmation arrived in my email.

That was a bit anticlimactic to say the least, right?

Here’s the thing.

I am not a risk taker. Sure, I sent a song that I co-wrote to Collin Raye’s agent. Yes, I asked Phil Vassar if he ever collaborated with an unknown when I got his autograph after a concert (by the way, I had a horrible cold and my nose was so red I looked like Rudolph, so he probably thought I was on drugs, and not from my pharmacist). And I will admit I have been trying to get Ellen DeGeneres to pay attention to my blog for a while. But other than those whimsical efforts, which didn’t amount to anything, I have a fear of flying — a fear of falling. A fear of failure.

Yet… I raised two girls to believe they can do anything they set their minds to, and I meant it. So why not believe in me for a change? They do, and so does the guy who has stuck by me for going on 30 years, even when I threatened to change the locks on the doors.

So folks, you are reading the blog of a person who didn’t let the broken hot water heater (water is boiling on the stove as I type), or the possibility of surgery (I will work around it), or her own doubts stop her this time. Whatever comes of this experience, I know it’s all about standing on the peak of possibilities and stepping forward into the unknown.

And I would like to think someday someone will say this of me.

At 53, she flew.

— Janine Talbot

Janine Talbot has been writing since before her eighth grade teacher accused her of plagiarizing a poem she wrote. She has published locally in guest editorials, and her lyrics received honorable mention in American Songwriter Magazine’s Lyric Contest. At 50-something and experiencing the empty nest (i.e., a spare bedroom with a desk), she is diving into the blogging world, sharing her stresses about her long-distance daughters, a spouse who lives for Sponge Bob marathons, a blind golden retriever and a cat she swears screams “Now” at feeding time. She blogs here.

Sold out!

Just four minutes before midnight, we sold out the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.  In 12 hours.  A new record.

Writers from around the nation and Canada will journey to the University of Dayton in the spring for a creative pilgrimage. For three days, we’ll laugh. We’ll be inspired and renewed.

Thanks for making history.  We’ll see you in April!

Registration opens for 2014 workshop

Online registration for the April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of  Dayton has opened. Click on this link to register:  https://www.regonline.com/2014bombeckworkshop

Want to laugh for three solid days? Soak in advice and encouragement from other writers? Maybe hang out with a few celebrities in the hotel bar?

Then join Phil Donahue, the Bombeck family and an amazing slate of keynoters and faculty for the 2014 workshop.

Is the workshop worth it?  Here’s what writers told us after the last one:

* “When I came to EBWW in 2010, I had a blog and some dreams. I came to EBWW in 2012 having had several essays published and with a book contract. Did EBWW get me published? No. But did it make me believe I could do it? Absolutely.”

* “Truly, this was the best conference I’ve ever been to for writers. Not only were the classes very informative, but my smile muscles hurt each night. …And a unique thing at this conference was the overall feeling of warmth and unity I felt throughout with kindred souls who were out to support each other and not compete.”

* “The desserts rocked.” (Everyone agreed on that point.)

We hope you’ll join us April 10-12 for what’s shaping up to be an outstanding workshop. Check out the keynoters, faculty and workshop sessions here.

The registration fee is $395 and includes all workshop sessions as well as two continental breakfasts, two lunches and three dinners.

Ermapalooza

 Emmy Award-winning talk show host Phil Donahue used to live across the street from humorist Erma Bombeck in an ordinary, middle-class neighborhood in Centerville, Ohio. From those unpretentious beginnings in suburbia, both soared to national popularity.

This spring, Donahue returns home to kick off the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton with memories of that special friendship in a keynote talk.

Online registration for the workshop, slated April 10-12, opens at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 4. A link will be posted when registration opens. The registration fee is $395 with a number of free scholarships available for University of Dayton students, beginning in January. Besides Donahue, the keynoters include:

New York Times’ best-selling novelist Lisa Scottoline and writer-daughter, Francesca Serritella.

• Author Mary Lou Quinlan, marketing expert and writer of four books, most recently The God Box, Sharing My Mother’s Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go, which became a New York Times bestseller in just three weeks.

• Author and comic Judy Carter, whose bestseller The Comedy Bible was touted by Oprah Winfrey and described by the Washington Post as “the number one comedy essential of 2010.” Her 2013 book, The Message of You, teaches readers how to inspire others and advance their careers.

• Author and Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated writer and producer Bruce Ferber, whose sitcom credits include Home Improvement, Bosom Buddies, Growing Pains, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and Coach. He’s the author of Elevating Overman: A Novel.

The workshop will feature “Pitchapalooza” — described as the “American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler.” Five years ago, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry created an event that has drawn thousands of people into bookstores, writing conferences and book festivals all over the country — and captured attention from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and NPR. Writers get one minute to pitch a book idea before a panel. The judges pick a winner, who will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for the book idea.

The workshop will include a special panel, “Women Writing Their Lives — Truth-Telling, Wisdom and Laughter,” with Suzanne Braun Levine, the first editor of Ms. Magazine, and two former keynote speakers — humorist and scholar Gina Barreca and author Ilene (Gingy) Beckerman. Patricia Wynn Brown, the workshop’s popular emcee, will moderate the discussion.

In addition, New York Times best-selling author W. Bruce Cameron and his screenwriting partner Cathryn Michon will share excerpts from their 2014 romantic comedy, Muffin Top: A Love Story, and talk about turning a novel into a screenplay. Michon, one of the film’s stars and an advocate for putting more women in front of and behind Hollywood’s cameras, raised $75,000 from a Kickstarter social media campaign to conduct a nationwide red carpet tour of the movie.

The workshop’s faculty includes Dan Zevin, the winner of this year’s Thurber Prize for American Humor,  and two nationally syndicated cartoonists (Tom Batiuk and Tony Cochran) among the 25 experienced writers and publishing professionals. Here’s the full slate:

Nina Amir, author of How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual, 9 Steps to Prepare You and Your Book Idea for Publishing Success

Gina Barreca, feminist scholar and author of eight books, including It’s Not That I’m Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World

Tom Batiuk, creator of the nationally syndicated comic strips Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft and a Pulitzer Prize finalist

Ilene Beckerman, author of the memoir, Love, Loss and What I Wore, the inspiration for an Off-Broadway play that broke records

Tracy Beckerman, nationally syndicated humor columnist and the author of two books, including the recent Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs

Dr. Nancy Berk, online columnist for Parade Magazine, host of the celebrity podcast “Whine at 9″ and author of two books, including College Bound and Gagged, which can be seen in the Tina Fey movie Admission

David Braughler, self-publishing adviser at Greyden Press

Patricia Wynn Brown, performer, producer and author of Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession. She has performed her humor-memoir Hair Theater shows nationally.

W. Bruce Cameron, screenplay and sitcom writer and author of A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey and The Dogs of Christmas

Donna Cavanagh, humor entrepreneur and founder of HumorOutcasts.com and HumorOutcasts Press/Shorehouse Books

Tony Cochran, creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip Agnes

Arielle Eckstut, agent-at-large with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in New York and the author of nine books, including The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

Anna Lefler, writer, comedian and author of The Chicktionary: From A-Line to Z-Snap, The Words Every Woman Should Know. She’s a staff comedy writer and performer on the Nickelodeon/NickMom TV show Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor.

Robert F. Levine, New York City attorney and literary agent for best-selling authors, publishing executives and celebrities in the arts and entertainment world.

Suzanne Braun Levine, first editor of Ms. Magazine, first woman editor of Columbia Journalism Review and the author of six books, including her newest e-book, You Gotta Have Girlfriends: A Post-Fifty Posse is Good for Your Health

Leighann Lord, stand-up comedian and comedic commentator who pens a weekly humor blog, “The Urban Erma”

Dahlynn McKowen, CEO and publisher of Publishing Syndicate, former co-author of Chicken Soup books and creator of the new book anthology series, Not Your Mother’s Book

Cathryn Michon, best-selling author, stand-up comic, actress and Hollywood screenwriter who stars in the films Cook Off! and Muffin Top: A Love Story

Robin O’Bryant, award-winning humor columnist and New York Times’ best-selling author of Ketchup Is A Vegetable: And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves

Ken Palen, adjunct professor of communication at the University of Dayton, where he teaches writing, editing and design

David Henry Sterry, author of 15 books — from memoir to young adult fiction — actor and regular contributor to The Huffington Post

• Suzette Martinez Standring, nationally syndicated columnist and author of two books on writing commentary, including The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets From Top Op-Ed Columnists (2014)

Kelsey Timmerman, co-founder of The Facing Project, which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen community, and author of Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People That Make Our Clothes and Where Am I Eating? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy.

Dan Zevin, 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor and author of four books of personal essays, including Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, which has been optioned for a TV series by Adam Sandler

If past workshops are any indication, the popular event will fill up quickly. Every workshop has sold out — some in a matter of days, others in weeks.

The 2014 workshop is expected to bring more than 350 beginning and professional writers to Dayton. Why the enormous appeal? The workshop has attracted such household names over the years as Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Nancy Cartwright, Don Novello, Gail Collins, Garrison Keillor and Alan Zweibel, but the personal involvement of Erma Bombeck’s family makes the event at her alma mater memorable and sets it apart from the myriad other writers’ workshops offered across the country. Alumnus Bill Bombeck and his children, Betsy, Andy and Matt, regularly attend the workshops.  In 2010, the workshop was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Click here to meet the faculty and here to check out the workshop sessions.

The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is co-sponsored by the University of Dayton’s Alumni Association, the University of Dayton’s College of Arts and Sciences, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Greyden Press, Dayton Marriott Hotel, University of Dayton Bookstore and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment. Workshop sessions will take place on campus, with dinners held at the Dayton Marriott Hotel, 1414 S. Patterson Blvd.

Black Friday

Black Friday, a day some women associate with childbirth — a lot of pushing and screaming, but in the end you wind up with a pretty new bundle, sometimes multiples.

I got out of bed and stretched, loosening my muscles for a day of shoving, running and jumping over people who would stand between me and the perfect gift. I dressed in the clothes picked out the night before, not wanting to waste undue time. I wrote my family a note letting them know how much I love them and requested they pray for my safe return from battle. I threw Band aids in my purse (for wartime wounds) and headed out.

The first store on my list is a bookstore to buy myself a Christmas present. I find the book, go to the cafe, order a hot chocolate and muffin and take a seat. From page one I was drawn instantly in and in my head was screaming at the main female character, “Don’t marry the guy.” She married him. What was the matter with her? How could she not notice the red flags?

Somewhere into chapter six two ladies sit at the table next to me and talk about Christmas shopping, which reminds me I need to get busy shopping…but, after this chapter. I find it ironic their conversation is about yarn and knitting needles since the female character in my book attempted to stab her husband with her newly purchased knitting needle before he pushed her down the stairs. If I was to try and kill someone, I would go with the oldies but goodies, like a knife or gun. They’re reliable. I shook my head at her poor weapon selection.

Somewhere into chapter 20, the ladies vacate and are replaced by an elderly couple talking about the parking lot accident they witnessed between two motorists fighting for one spot. The fact the officers were slow to arrive at the scene because they were busy holiday shopping reminded me again, I needed to get busy shopping…but, right after this chapter. The officers, like the detectives in my novel, asked a lot of questions in order to get the true story.

In yet another ironic twist of simultaneous events, an ambulance was called to the crime scene for the injured motorist and the now, unconscious, unsuspecting wife (in my book), who was taken to the hospital.

Somewhere into the last chapter when the cafe’s lights went dark, signaling its closure, so did the lights for the heroine in my book. She never woke from her coma and she never got the chance to use her new knitting needles.

I never did do any Christmas shopping that Black Friday. I consider it the best one ever.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento is the author of Deal with Life’s Stress With a Little Humor. Her award-winning columns and essays have appeared in numerous newspapers and in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Click here for her blog.

‘Erry Chri’ and a ‘Py New Ye’ everyone!

Every Christmas since I was a boy, my dad grudgingly erected our nativity scene. A nine-piece life-size plywood depiction of the first Christmas. One shepherd, three wise men, Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, a camel and one donkey. Sometimes also in attendance (weather permitting) were an assortment of snowmen all paying homage to the baby Jesus.

Shining down on this first Christmas stood our Sears easy-to-assemble three-piece die-cast metal “Merry Christmas” seasonal lawn tower. Located between Merry and Christmas was a large screw-in 3,000-watt floodlight. Like a shining star, it illuminated our family’s version of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night.

My mom was so proud of her front yard. She figured we were the best Christians on the block.

“Our nativity scene is a brilliant, glowing testimony of what Christmas is all about,” she’d say.

That was the first year.

Then came January and my dad (who still believes his four boys, single handedly, caused global warming by constantly leaving the back door open) got the electric bill for December.

Christmas next year was going to take on, as we say, a different light. Now my dad loved and kept the true meaning of Christmas in his heart every year. What he didn’t love were large electric bills, or setting up of life-sized Biblical characters in winter weather. And now added to the dislike list was the so-called easy-to-assemble, three-piece die-cast metal “Merry Christmas” seasonal lawn tower, with its electric-sucking capabilities.

“The neighbors know we’re church-goers. We don’t need a manger scene to prove it!” he’d complain. But every year my mom made him put it up. What changed during that second year and every year after was the number in front of watts on the face of the bulb between Merry and Christmas. What once was a bright and shining star wishing a Merry Christmas to neighbors near and far now was a 40-watt bulb. A bulb so dim that it oozed an eerie shadow of brown across nine unrecognizable plywood figures accompanied by piles of dark snow wearing what might be hats. The brilliantly bright “Merry Christmas” easy-to-assemble three-piece die-cast metal seasonal lawn tower had now become a flight hazard known as “Erry Chri.”

In the daytime it was still the best nativity scene in the neighborhood, but days are short in winter. Come 4 o’clock, that ghastly glow would soon cover our yard and an “Erry Chri” was all that was squeezed out of the night in our front yard.

My mom tried candles one year to brighten the scene, but the donkey caught fire and several snowmen were sacrificed to save the house.

It got so bad that my friends started teasing me, “Have an Erry Chri! Oh and a Py New Ye!” they’d taunt.

This lack of illumination brought on a crime spree in which I also participated. Points were assigned to the shepherd, camel, what was left of the donkey, and each of the three wise men. These points were collected by snowball strikes. A hit on the shepherd was worth more than on the camel but if either Mary or baby Jesus were hit, it was an eternity in the burning fires of hell.  A large price to pay for an errant snowball!

As years passed, our plywood Biblical characters could no longer weather the elements. On Father’s Day (some years sooner), my dad got around to taking down the nativity scene. “The neighbors need to know we’re church-goers, and a manger scene proves it!” he’d say every month until June. So because of my dad’s testimony, and his lack of getting around to it, “Erry Chri” towered alone over an empty yard for many years.

But “Erry Chri’s” dimly lit hope shone bright within my dad. When he shook your hand, looked you straight in the eye with his million-watt twinkle and wished you a “Merry Christmas,” you believed it would be.

My dad has now passed on and I have inherited the easy-to-assemble three-piece (which has become two because of rust and three coats of marine paint) die-cast metal, “Merry Christmas” by day and “Erry Chri” by night seasonal lawn tower. But because of my back and sandy soil conditions, the heavy old seasonal tower spends Christmas (and every other day) in the garage.

I asked my son if he could use old “Erry Chri” this Christmas. But he had just bought one of the new “Happy Holiday” inflatable  snowmen with the LED lights. It’s an eight-foot-tall snowman on skis that sings “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s in the garage behind the bikes, skis and exercise equipment (that’s supposed to fit easily under the bed) if you need it.”

He won’t need it. His “Happy Holiday” inflatable singing snowman with energy-efficient lights is what he’ll use every year. ‘Happy Holidays’… PHFFT!

So my now one-piece die-cast metal “Erry Chri” seasonal lawn tower will stay in the garage until my dying day, for I’ll never sell it for scrap metal. Those eight bleary letters from my childhood mean so very much to me.

And for what it’s worth, I hope an “Erry Chri” shines brightly for you this season. And to all who would just like to wish a joyous festive season, have a “ppy Hol!”

—  Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names) honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs at superiordribble.blogspot.com.

Auntie Chartreuse

I sat at a birthday party recently in a senior center with my short, chubby, cherub-faced Aunt Chartreuse. Sheʼs 84. The birthday boy was her frisky cousin Fred whoʼd just turned 97.

As Fred blew and blew and blew at the one and only candle on the cake, I asked Aunt Chartreuse if she planned to indulge in a piece of it. “No way. Iʼm trying to cut down on saliva,” she deadpanned. “Thatʼs an old line, but then Iʼm an old broad.”

With that witty little retort, she was sneaking in a small sample of her standup comedy act.

Possessing a natural talent for rhythm and timing, Auntie Chartreuse, whose real name is Minerva, started her standup act after she turned 70. Nicknamed Chartreuse when she was a girl “because I was so loud,” the handle stuck.

When she grew up, she graduated from loud to loquacious. But nowadays as soon as she realizes that sheʼs been “rattling the gums” too long, she swiftly interrupts herself and says, “My head itches.” Thatʼs her way of apologizing to her listeners for speaking every thought out loud. Sheʼs incorporated those three little words into her act, using them at least twice per set and always allowing “my head itches” to serve as her signature closer.

Auntie Chartreuse dreamed of doing professional standup since her days as class clown, but “life kept getting in the way.”

The red-headed old galʼs caustic comedy routines include acknowledging the viciousness of gravity on the human body. She bemoans her own “sinking rack.” But notes that “it perfectly matches my inflatable boyfriendʼs man-boobs.”

Her stage persona stands in stark contrast to her actual character. Never a substance abuser herself, her act includes lively tales of a lifelong bout with booze and pills.

“My career with drugs began when I took diet pills to lose weight. Discovering that the little dolls gave me boundless energy, I worked tirelessly on many a project. I accomplished a heck of a lot, but I quit cold turkey when I found myself vacuuming the sidewalk at 4 a.m. After that, I became a big-time boozer. And, trust me, nobody drove me to drink. I flew.”

Auntieʼs act includes such oldies but goldies as: “By the time I finally got rid of my baby fat, I already had the middle-age spread.” And: “Iʼm at an awkward age. Iʼm too fat to meet anyone new and too old to wait until I can get thin.”

I love hanging out with Auntie Chartreuse. For one thing, itʼs nice to be around someone whose actually older than I. But her attitude is far from that of many octogenarians. As we sat at the birthday party, she began to complain about other “less spirited people” from her generation.

“Oh Stevie, just look at ʻem. They just sit here nodding off. Theyʼre not with it. My inflatable man has more oomph. Why are they so old-actinʼ? Whereʼs their moxie? Whereʼs their energy? Whereʼs their…”

Suddenly she produced a sly smile: “My head itches.”

— 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.

Reflections of Erma