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Miracles, dating, zombies

The Thurber House is inviting authors to apply for the 2014 Children’s Writer-in-Residence, and the Robert Benchley Society is accepting entries for its annual Humor Award.

The Thurber House Residency in Children’s Literature offers talented writers a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Besides having time to focus on his/her own writing project, each resident spends up to ten hours per week teaching children the joys of writing in both a community-based agency and as part of the Thurber House Summer Writing Camp for children.

Deadline for application is Nov. 1. Click here for more details.

Aug. 30 is the deadline for entering the 2013 competition for the Robert Benchley Society Humor Award. Not more than 500 words, $13 entry fee. For details, click here.

Do you have a piece for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen
101 Inspirational Stories about Hope, Answered Prayers, and Divine Intervention?

Share your heartwarming, humorous and powerfully moving nonfiction stories and poems by Aug. 15. Pieces should not exceed 1,200 words. Authors selected will receive $200 and 10 free copies of the book. To submit your story, click here.

How do you play the dating game? The editors of a new anthology, Not My Mother’s Book…On Dating, are accepting real-life stories of between 500 and 2,500 words. You will receive one copy of the book a small percent of the royalties. Deadline is Oct. 1. Click here for more details.

The 2013 Halloween Book Festival has issued a call for entries to its annual program honoring the best books of the season. The event is part of the annual Aliens to Zombies Convention.

The Halloween Book Festival will consider works in science fiction, horror, general fiction, non-fiction, biography/autobiography, young adult, fantasy, audio/spoken word, photography/art, comics, ‘zines, unconventional romance, wild card (anything goes!), alternative future, time travel and fan fiction. Winners in the competition will be able to sell their books at the A to Z Convention, which focuses on monsters and the post-apocalyptic world in pop culture.

Entry fee is $50. The grand prize is $500 and a flight to the awards ceremony in Hollywood. Deadline is Oct. 1. Click here for an entry form.

New judge jumps in, gets pickled

(Posted by permission of the Akron Beacon Journal. Bob Dyer won the top humor-writing award in the 2013 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ competition for newspapers over 50,000 circulation. Read more of his columns here.)

Some athletes can play with pain. Others take a powder at the first sign of discomfort.

Now, I’m not saying Beacon Journal food writer Lisa Abraham is a wimp. But she did scratch herself from the starting lineup last week merely because of a sinus infection.

Abraham was scheduled to be a judge at a pickle-tasting competition at Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron. That’s where the judging of various foods has been taking place each week during the Downtown Akron Partnership’s farmers market.

In Abraham’s defense, the woman cares more about food than most of us care about our firstborns, and she wasn’t about to skew the contest results by partaking with a diseased palate.

Fortunately, she was not sufficiently impaired to stay home from work, so all she had to do was walk across the newsroom to find a fill-in.

And who is the first person you think of when you’re looking for someone to nibble on your pickles?

Exactly.

As a last-minute replacement – well, she could have done infinitely better. I have been known to intone “hold the pickles when ordering a burger, and my own food-preparation expertise ranges from PB&Js to boiled hot dogs.

But I am nothing if not a team player. So instead of fabricating an excuse, I decided to focus on pleasant pickle experiences in my past and suit up for battle.

If nothing else, I figured, I would be able to declare at some point that a particular pickle was “to die for” — a phrase that, for reasons that continue to mystify me, can be used only in connection with food. Nobody ever wants to die for a tee shot or a guitar riff or a watercolor.

But we digress. We were talking about my pickles.

With a hoarse voice that surely was channeled from her hooky-playing days back in grade school, Ms. Abraham offered some parting words of wisdom:

“Don’t be too easy. Don’t be afraid to be the East German judge.”

She told me that pickles should be somewhere between hard and “smooshy,” and that sweet pickles should be sweet but not cloyingly so, and that dill pickles should be dill but not puckeringly so.

Or something like that. It all kind of blends together in the aftermath of consuming 18 different pickles, some of them multiple times.

In a couple of cases, I felt like Andy Griffith and Barney Fife being forced to sample Aunt Bee’s “kerosene cucumbers.” But most of the offerings were reasonably tasty.

My fellow judges were Dave Lieberth, Akron’s deputy mayor, and Alan Medvick, a magistrate in Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands’ court.

The pickles were presented in four groups: dill, sweet, hot and “other.” Each pickle was to be graded on “visual appeal,” “texture” and “taste.”

“Visual appeal?” I asked. “I guess I never really looked at pickles that way.”

“Wow, that’s a very beautiful pickle!” quipped Medvick.

“Nice seed placement!” chimed in Lieberth.

As for “texture,” the deputy mayor offered this explanation:

“When your pickle is flaccid, you’ve got trouble.”

Wouldn’t know about that. But I’ll take his word for it.

In all four categories, two of the three judges tabbed the same pickle as the best, so those were instantly declared the winners. My vote was part of three of those victories, which means one of two things: I’m a better pickle picker than I thought, or the other judges are equally clueless.

I’m betting on the latter. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you a gigantic gherkin.

They’re to die for.

— Bob Dyer

Since joining the Akron Beacon Journal in 1984, Bob Dyer has earned 51 regional and national writing awards. In 2008, the National Society of Professional Journalists voted him Best Columnist in the Nation. He has been named Best Columnist in Ohio by at least one professional journalism organization for six consecutive years. A native of suburban Cleveland, Dyer was one of the lead writers for A Question of Color, a yearlong examination of racial attitudes in Akron that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. In addition, he has written two books.

When the princess is really a pauper

A good tiara is hard to find. Not that I haven’t located one, the British armory just refuses to allow me to wear it despite my illustrious credentials.

How Fergie — who sold out to Weight Watchers and an undercover journalist — could be entrusted with the jewels but not me boggles the ol’ noggin.

Oh, bother. I didn’t want to announce this in such a way. Trumpets should be blown and proclamations decreed, but alas the official correspondence arranging for both must have been lost in the mail along with my Publishers Clearinghouse winnings and book deals with well-known publishers.

You see, I descend from royalty. Grade A royalty at that, a Scottish King to be precise. No need to curtsy or bow, although if you seek my favor, presenting a gift of Taco Bell before my gilded La-Z-Boy might be advisable. No onions, please.

Knowledge of my noble ancestors only came to light a few weeks ago. I’ve been researching my lineage through a paid Internet service in order to gain membership to the local Piankeshaw Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Starting out as a desire to wear old period costumes, my quest quickly mutated in to a full out olden-days obsession. I can’t get enough. What great grandparents have I not discovered? Do they stir in their graves or look down from heaven when their forgotten names have been spoken after so long a silence?

As the Carl Sagan saying goes, you have to know the past to understand the present. DNA from these forefathers and mothers still replicate in my genes. Understanding their history, struggles and all, should help with the understanding of my own life, right?

So I chipped away at the hardened coat of neglected memories. As I started to delve further down the rabbit hole, I quickly realized that most all my ancestors are Kentuckians, many having arrived 200 years ago when Native Americans still owned the frontier. Being a proud Indiana alum, my stomach churned at the thought.

Hoosiers, especially ones who love IU basketball, feel some conflict when confronted with reality of bluegrass blossoming around the family stump. I reminded myself of that Christian Watford buzzer beater and, with a reassured smile, I moved forward in my search for the past.

And what a past I’ve found. Stories of American Revolutionaries, two of which were German immigrants fighting for independence of a new, unfamiliar nation. Tales about European grandfathers helping to found the New Amsterdam colony. French and Irish and Norwegian settlers traversing the turbulent seas during the 1600s, looking for better opportunities and a freer existence. History reads like a storybook, and even we unknowingly continue to write its pages.

Looking through the centuries, I came upon my gallant lineage quite by accident. Through my paternal grandmother’s line, going back 14 generations, my distant grandfather was King James the IV of Scotland. In fact, two of my direct ancestors were actually cousins, so the branches of my family tree twist and intertwine, bad for genetic variance but a blessing for lazy genealogical researchers.

But here’s the rub. Great-to-the-14th grandma wasn’t married to the king. Isabel was his mistress, one of four. My old Scottish papa liked to spread enough seed to germinate a family forest. His illegitimate daughter and my great-to-the-zillionth grandmother, Lady Jane Stewart, married Lord Malcom Fleming, the line from which I descended. While accompanying her half niece, Mary Queen of Scots, she also sparked a relationship with Henry II of France and bore him an illegitimate son.

That apple obviously didn’t fall far from the sultry tree.

Most Americans who claim royal pedigree actually are predominantly descended from these imperial affairs. Illegitimate children were not of high enough status to marry other princes and princesses, so they wedded lesser nobles instead. Through the years, the line flourished until eventually it produced stellar girls like me who grew up wearing off-brand sneakers and working at fast-food joints.

Tracing back King James IV’s parentage, I also found out that Robert the Bruce of “Braveheart” fame and King Edward III are direct kin. It seems, from a royal genetic standpoint, I’m nothing special. Research indicates millions of Americans are descendants of Eddy, an incredibly fertile and obviously frisky king. Poor Prince Harry is tame in comparison.

At present, my declaration of royalty has done me no favors. My husband refused to acknowledge my aristocratic blood, and my dainty hands that yearn to twitch a haughty wave at her subjects are instead relegated to scrubbing the only thrones in our house, several porcelain ones.

But I now know where I come from. Mechanics and coal miners. Farmers and teachers. Soldiers and peacemakers. And, yes, even nobility. Sloshing the mop around the last dirty spot on the kitchen floor, I wonder if my body will shift under the hardened ground when my future descendants call out this old writer’s forgotten name. As long as the crown stays atop my bony brow, I’ll remain in peace.

— Amanda Beam

Amanda Beam writes slice-of-life columns for the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Ind. She garnered third place in general interest writing in the 2013 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ competition (under 50,000 circulation) and a first-place award for non-metro column writing by the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. An avid basketball fan, the 38-year-old enjoys country living with her husband, three children and 10 animals in Lanesville, Ind.

Mud baths at Warmbaths

Quite a few years ago, when I lived in Johannesburg, I had bad sciatica, and my brother-in-law suggested I go to the Warmbaths Spa nearby to see if the healing waters would really heal. “Are you crazy?” I asked him. “Ever tried to find accommodation at a health spa?  It costs an arm and a leg ….or possibly two legs.”

“Well, that would be one way to get rid of your sciatica,” he grinned. “Anyway, you can use my caravan. It’s parked on a friend’s farm nearby. Very basic, but there’s a TV in the cottage, and a generator for electricity.”

Well, if you’ve ever suffered from sciatica you’ll know that you are prepared to try anything, so I asked my friend, Bunny, to join me.  ”Count me in,” she said. “Mud baths and massages, here we come.”

Before I left, Roy said, “Don’t forget to lift the caravan’s ventilation panel so you have some air to breathe while you sleep, but if it’s windy, put it down, or the whole caravan could get blown over.” Then he added: “It’s not likely to storm though; they haven’t had rain for donkey’s years.” What do they say about ill-fated words?

So off we went in my little Mazda, and spent our days at the spa, trundling back along the sand road to the farm in the evening.  After starting the generator, we’d eat, and watch television until the host of creepies that came to make a meal of us drove us to the caravan to sleep.

Then one evening the rain did come — just a few drops. The generator was outside the house, so we quickly built it a hut with bricks and corrugated iron. But later a wind came up, which threatened to blow us away house and all, whilst the roof of the generator flew off with a clatter.

“The caravan!” Bunny exclaimed, and she was out of the door. Before I could follow her the heavens opened and the motor faded with a whimper. In seconds it was pitch-black, the ground outside had turned into a swamp, and all I could do was curl up fetus-style on the battered couch, afraid this roof was also going to take off as thunder shook the walls, and my heart shook in my breast.

After the storm passed, I hurried to check on Bunny. She had made it to the caravan before the deluge, and struggled to put down the panel, with legs and arms stretched to their limit, whilst the van rocked like a ship in a hurricane, and the rain poured in. Finally closing it, she collapsed onto a damp bunk with the muscles in her arms and legs ready to fall off.  Soon we were collapsing again, this time with laughter as we relived the events of the evening.

Next day the sky was azure blue again as the sun worked overtime to try and dry up the mud river that was once a road. But pump the clutch as I might, sciatica screaming ‘stop!’, my car slid in the oozy muck, until it came to a halt against a rock a few kilometers from another farm. Out we climbed to get some help, and I thought this holiday was going to be the death of me as I slipped and skidded more than once in the oozy mud, picking up barbs and thorns from the wild vegetation as we passed. When we finally limped into our neighbor’s gate, we must have looked an utter mess, but they invited us in for a welcomed cup of coffee, while a tractor was commandeered to pull our car out.

It was time to go home, and back in Johannesburg, we saw that there was a carpet of green leaves under every tree.  “It’s been hailing here!” I said. When we got home, we were regaled with lots of stories of “what happened when the hail struck,”but I must confess that it was our story that rolled them in the aisles.

Mud baths at Warmbaths?  You can keep them!

— Shirley Friedman

Shirley Friedman, author of the memoir Flies in the Milk, loved reading Erma Bombeck’s humorous pieces and writing about her own about her life. She’s an actress, singer, writer and artist who lives in the United Kingdom.

The armchair Olympian

“I used to be a sprinter,” my husband said recently while lying prone on our couch, watching the Olympics with a bag of tortilla chips placed conveniently on his middle-aged gut as if it was some kind of living chip-dip platter.

Is he being serious? I thought to myself incredulously. “Are you being serious?” my daughter asked from her seat on the floor. “Oh, sure. Back in ’88 when I was in Officer Candidate School down in Pensacola, they recruited me to be a sprinter for Field Day.”

I somehow kept my Diet Coke from shooting out of my nose, and gave my skeptical daughter a knowing wink.

Ever since the 2012 London Summer Olympics began three weeks ago, parents everywhere have been waiting for the opportunity to reveal their inner athlete. Despite our relatively sedentary middle-aged lifestyles, we all yearn to relive our youth, our athleticism, our virility, and our former waistlines. We want to tap into the time when we drove a used Chevette, didn’t pay taxes, ate cold pizza for breakfast on a regular basis, found no use for fiber supplements, and said things like, “Decent.” Ah, those were the Good Old Days.

Thank God, our children didn’t know us back then — they make the perfect audience for our little trip down memory lane . . . or fantasyland, as it were.

“Now, you see,” my husband bellowed from his Barcalounger in our TV room during the Men’s Quadruple Sculls final, “in my crew days back at GW, we had to be in tip top condition to be able to withstand the rigors of the sport.” The kids looked on doubtfully.

I knew the truth, but I didn’t want to burst my husband’s bubble. I knew that crew was something he did in college to enhance his image as the wrinkled-khaki-button-down-oxford-penny-loafer-preppy-frat-boy, in hopes that it might score him a few decent chicks. He milked that gig until graduation, and then never set foot in a crew shell again.

But as he analyzes the sport from his armchair today, you’d think he’d been an Olympic contender. “You see, that one there is the ‘coxswain’ who needs to be small and light — I was far too muscular for that position,” he said between sips of beer.

I must admit, I too, have claimed former athletic prowess while watching this Olympics from the comfort of my well-worn spot on the couch. “You see kids, what you don’t know about your mother is that I swam in college. Yup. We were Mid-American Conference Champions, so it was a pretty big deal.”

I conveniently left out the fact that I was one of only two walk-ons to try out for my college swim team. There were only two open spots, so the coach had to take us both. The other girl was way better than me, but she quit after two weeks. That effectively made me the only walk-on, and the worst swimmer on the team by a mile. My teammates never really knew my name, and the coach forgot to order me a pair of team sweats. Yea. It was great.

The kids didn’t need to know that part.

With the 2012 London Summer Olympics coming to an end, we parents will have to get up from our lounge furniture and face the reality of our middle-aged lives. That is, until the 2014 Russia Winter Olympics.

My husband will most likely relive the winter he mastered the rope tow on the bunny slope during ski lessons in Maryland. And I will revive the burgeoning talent I exhibited at the Mack Park ice skating rink during those snowy Pennsylvania winters so long ago.

We won’t mention that my husband hated ski lessons, and only agreed to go because his mother promised to buy him hot cocoa. And we will keep it our little secret that I never made a complete rotation around the skating rink without falling.

Why spoil a good story for the kids, right?

— Lisa Smith Molinari

Lisa Smith Molinari won second place (under 100,000 monthly visitors) in the online/multimedia category of the 2013 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ competition. Her blog, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life,” is an expanded version of a weekly newspaper column that runs in military and civilian newspapers.

Sleeping my way to the top

As a dedicated employee who has often been accused of sleeping on the job (I seldom hear the accusations because I am, of course, asleep), I knew it was a dream come true when I found a job on which I would actually be required to sleep.

I refer to a position (horizontal) with the impressive title of snooze director, which opened up recently at Sleepy’s, the mattress company that doesn’t rest on its laurels when it comes to giving people a good night’s sleep.

Emily Barrett, 25, was hired in 2011 as Sleepy’s first snooze director but left the company a couple of months ago to become a production assistant for MTV. When I read that the job was open, I applied. Then I took a nap so I would be refreshed and coherent enough to make a good impression.

I did just that when I went to Sleepy’s headquarters in Hicksville, N.Y., for an interview with marketing manager Andrew Jedlicka, who asked why I thought I was qualified to be the new snooze director.

“I was born for this job,” I told him. “In fact, I was born more than three weeks past my due date. My mother later said that I was sleeping happily and didn’t want to come out. Also, I have a lot of experience because I’m a geezer who has been sleeping for decades. And I’m a newspaper columnist whose work frequently puts people to sleep.”

Then I told Jedlicka about the message on my answering machine at work: “Hi, this is Jerry Zezima. I’m either away from my desk or at my desk but fast asleep. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”

“Those are excellent qualifications,” Jedlicka acknowledged. “What if we made you an offer?”

I yawned and replied, “I’d have to sleep on it.”

The interview went so well that I was called back for the decisive round at the Sleepy’s store in New York City, where I learned that I was one of five finalists out of 70 applicants.

The other four finalists were women in their 20s.

Unlike the first interview, this one was recorded by a camera crew. I repeated my spiel (now it can be used as a cure for insomnia) and emphasized the health benefits of a good night’s sleep — especially, I added with a wink, on a quality mattress. And I said I knew that the job of snooze director entailed more than snoozing. I would have to stay awake long enough to make appearances at Sleepy’s stores and talk to the public about the restorative effects of sleep.

I also performed the “pillow test,” in which I explained how to tell if you have a good pillow (it should snap back to its original position after being folded in half, preferably not with your head on it); demonstrated my nightly sleeping positions (none vertical); and stressed the importance of lying on the proper side of the mattress (the top).

Though I performed well, I lost out to Elizabeth Murphy, 25, of Floral Park, N.Y., Sleepy’s smart and personable new snooze director.

“I’m very excited,” Murphy told me over the phone after the decision had been announced a week later. “I think my ability to talk to people helped. It’s also a good thing I’m a morning person, since the interview was before lunch.”

Murphy added that she sleeps with Daisy, her 50-lb. beagle, who is an even better sleeper than she is. “It’s conceivable that Daisy could have gotten the job,” said Murphy.

“We loved Elizabeth’s energy,” explained Jeff Lobb, chief marketing officer for Sleepy’s. “But we loved you, too. You made a compelling case, with all your sleeping experience and the fact that you’re a writer who helps others fall asleep. Still, we felt that Elizabeth was the right choice. I hope you’re not too disappointed.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t lose any sleep over it.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. The author of Leave it to Boomer, he has just finished his second book, The Empty Nest Chronicles, slated to be published later this year. He has won four humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month in March 2012.

Simon, Garfunkel and friend

 

On a sunny Thursday at 1:35 p.m., I had a root canal.  The two words, “root” and “canal,” may be harmless nouns, but for an hour-and-a-half I was attacked by ruthless verbs — drugged, drilled, hammered, tugged, sucked, banged and x-rayed by a 35-year-old balding linebacker of an endodontist named Christian.  And that was not all.

After I had been prepped in the dental chair by his assistant, Christian walked in smiling and said, “Hi, how are you?”

“I’m good,” I said and extended my hand.  In fact, I wasn’t good.  My tooth had been aching for a week, and I would rather have gone to traffic school than to see Christian.

I’d been frightened of dentistry since as a child I was taken to a dentist named Dr. Servine, a thin-lipped man with blonde hair and round wire-rimmed glasses who reminded me of a Nazi.

Christian sat down on his rolling stool and scooted close. “Open wide,” he said and quickly installed his paraphernalia — rubber dental dam, metal clamps, a plastic block to keep my mouth open. He then injected something into my right lower gum and left the room.  I closed my eyes and began to hover somewhere near my body.

When he returned, he said, “How are you doing?”

“Aarcggh.”

“OK, good.  Now, if you feel any pain at all, I want you to raise your left hand, OK?”

“Rorkah.”

“What kind of music would you like — how about Simon and Garfunkel?”  He quickly set up his iPod before I could say, (if I could have spoken), “How about a Bach funeral cantata?” 

“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again . . . ”

“Now,” said Christian, “You’re going to hear some drilling, nothing to worry about.”

Whirr, grr, the smell of overheated tooth dust reaching my nostrils.  “ . . .  and the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains . . . within the sound of silence.”

“How’re you doin’?” he asked after more pounding, poking and yanking. The middle finger of my right hand began to twitch.

“Yalrga,” I replied.

“When you’re weary, feelin’ small, when tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.”  More drilling, pressure, fried tooth dust; I knew he was headed down into my collarbone.  “I’m on your side, when times get rough.” 

I had just settled into something of a reverie when it happened.

Christian broke into song.  Now, it was a trio — Paul, Art and Christian.   His articulation was flawless, he knew every word, and — and he was completely tone deaf.

“ . . . like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down.”  His pitch, if you could call it that, wavered without a care.

He stopped singing long enough to reassure me by saying, “I’m running into some trouble here, nothing to worry about, but sometimes these canals are hard to find.” Oh, God.  I retreated back into a trance, my foot keeping time with “Slip sliding away. ”  Christian chimed in again.  “ . . . you know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-sliding away. ”

“OK, he said, “you’re gonna smell some burning rubber now.”

“Whar?”

“It’s rubber. We fill the canals with rubber, but we have to heat it up.  Don’t worry, I won’t burn you.”

“Oooo.”

Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know, wo wo wo. ”

“Let me get one more X-ray,” he said.  “We’re just about done.”

“ . . . God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson, heaven holds a place for those who pray, hey hey hey, hey hey hey. ”

“Looking good,” Christian said, humming along, still searching for a tune.  At last he stopped singing and removed his tools from my mouth.

“Yep, all done,” he said.

I got up and wobbled out to the receptionist’s desk.  I steadied myself against the counter, fished out my credit card, and was handed a receipt for $1,510.  Christian walked over and gave me a week’s worth of Amoxicillin.

I slipped my credit card back into my purse, stared in his direction for a long time, then began to hum.

Coo-coo-ca-choo!

— Rosie Sorenson

Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

Out of my comfort zone

“Try it, you’ll LIKE it,” Susan insisted.  She was dragging me by the sheer force of her steely will to visit old people at a local nursing home.  ”We’ll visit with them a little while and then sing some songs,” she insisted.  So in I went.  I’m a gregarious soul. How hard could it be?

I put on my company smile and walked up to my first old lady in the TV room, “Hi, how are you today?”  She snored on.  Person number two stared at me, bewildered.  ”Do I KNOW you?”  I’m a quick study in body language.  So I knew it wasn’t a good sign when she kept turning her head from side to side looking for an escape route.   Person three was doing a puzzle and, since she had to hold each piece an inch from her face to see it well, she was too focused to pay me any mind.

I decided to brave the big crowd and headed into the lunchroom.  One table was full of elderly ladies.  They all smiled benignly, but I didn’t get much more out of them than their names and that, yes, the weather was cold for March.

I took a deep breath and resolved to make the rounds, visiting each table and introducing myself.  I felt oh-so-welcomed when one dear soul snarled at my cheerful greeting, “We’re trying to EAT here.  So GO AWAY!”  She shook her cane at me threateningly.

I kept looking to the clock, hoping it was time to leave.  But we’d only been there for six minutes. Sigh. This selflessly bringing cheer and joy to the lonely was hard work!

I’d just made it to my fourth table when — FWOOOOSH! — a ladle flew out of the kitchen serving window.  It sailed between two of the tables and landed with a thump in the middle of the lunchroom carpet.  For a moment I was speechless.  Had it just slipped out of the cook’s hand?  Or was Woodlands Nursing Home’s chef nursing a grudge?  Oddly, none of the residents seemed to have noticed.

As an aid retrieved the errant ladle, I burst up to the next table.  ”Did you see that?” I asked breathlessly.  The folks looked at me attentively.  An old man asked, “See what?”

“A ladle just came FLYING outa that window from the kitchen!  Right between those two tables!” Shocked silence. ”It coulda HIT someone!” I insisted.

Suddenly they came to life.  ”Oh my!  Someone could have been KILLED!” I always said they should keep that window shut! What’re we going to do about it?!?”

The people at the next table wanted to know what all the commotion was, so I went from table to table alerting the residents about the near-death ladle incident.  By the time Susan   and I started to lead the music, the residents were very attentive and sang along with gusto.

We just needed to stir them up with a ladle.

— Sherry “Groovy” Grunder

Sherry “Groovy” Grunder lives in a multi-layered life-sized sandwich between two kids at home, two adult kids, four grandkids, three aging parents, three needy dairy goats and a whole herd of untamed dust bunnies. As an avowed optimist (and sometimes science teacher), she believes the glass is completely full of God’s blessings unless, of course, it is in a vacuum. She’s writing a young adult novel, The Molasses Swamp.

Reflections of Erma