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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.

Life is too short to skip pancakes

(This article was first published in the July-August 2013  print issue of Viva Tysons Magazine.  Reposted by permission of the author.)

I often hear people speak of a time when things were easier. When life was easier. Sometimes — in the rush of places to be or tasks to complete — I even catch myself wondering when things got so complicated. Wasn’t it easier back when?

The truth is that life is still relatively simple, especially when we remember its fragility. So this summer, I hope you’ll make time to laugh and celebrate with family and friends. I hope you’ll savor life’s delicate nature and even relish in simplicity now and again.

To that end, I share the following 19 discoveries:

1. Life is too short to skip pancakes. They’re actually very good, especially with real maple syrup. Eat up.

2. Funny people are very special people. Listen when they speak, and then enjoy the sound of your own laughter.

3. [I never thought I’d say this, but] Macs might really be better than PCs.

4. Remember to be the caretaker of your heart. And know this: it’s okay to sever ties — no matter how hard or how close — when it’s really the best thing to do.

5. Warm weather is glorious, but seasons are very nice, too.

6. Pen and paper are still the best tools for raw, honest thoughts. Buy a journal and use it.

7. Speaking of raw, honest thoughts, the shower — alone and naked — is a great place for them. There are no distractions and no one to please or impress.

8. When kindred hearts are open, they see right through distance and circumstances to find one another. Let your heart survey the crowd.

9. Short hair is fun and trendy, but I look better with long hair. And hair grows back. Eventually.

10. Convincing someone is always better than scaring someone.

11. The “forty-something weight gain” is no joke.

12. The people who really love you are priceless. Love them back.

13. Parenting and marriage aren’t easy, but they’re worth the required effort. And then some.

14. Don’t try to read other people’s minds, and don’t make other people read your mind. Just communicate.

15. Bullies make me sad, but when it comes to something so serious, activated is better than sad. Be vigilant.

16. Four-legged family members are among life’s greatest riches. They love unfailingly and are really good at judging people. If someone makes your pet uneasy, there may be a very good reason.

17. Share yourself by sharing your smile, your abilities and your time. Only a few people merit sharing your soul.

18. Curiosity is your friend. Learn something every day.

19. A kind smile is always your best accessory, but nice shoes and great bags are good, too.

— Leigh Macdonald

Leigh Macdonald is a hockey mom, magazine columnist and a former NHL cheerleader. She’s also a former law professor and the founder of NiceShoesNoDrama.com. She appears regularly on air as a style expert for all of Washington, D.C.’s major network news stations. Leigh is an active volunteer in her Northern Virginia community where she lives with her husband and two children. She has an affinity for beautiful shoes, white chocolate, authentic smiles and smart girlfriends.

Appalachian-American reunion

My father-in-law recently posted on Facebook, “We will no longer be called Hillbilly Rednecks.  We will henceforth be known as Appalachian Americans.”

When I married, I wasn’t sure how Appalachian American would mesh with my sensible German heritage, but it has worked out pretty well.  Ultimately, whether you drink moonshine or beer, you have the same end result.  Babies.

Not that all five of our kids were conceived while we were in a drunken stupor, just the redhead.  This is what happens when you branch away from your native alcohol and throw in a shot or two of Irish whiskey.

Appalachian Americans think a little differently than the rest of us.  They believe the front door is the one you use most often, regardless of where it’s actually located on the house.  Early in our marriage, but after it was too late for an annulment, hubby asked me to hold the front door open while he carried in a large box.  Being the dutiful wife, I walked to the front of the house, and held the door for an interminable amount of time.  Finally, I heard him shouting, “What are you doing in there?”

I followed the sound of his voice to the back door, where he stood heaving under the weight of the package.

“You told me to hold the front door open,” I exclaimed innocently.

“I know,” he growled.  “What took you so long?!”

It would have been better to cordially discuss his odd mentality over a beer, but instead we brawled it out in the back yard.  Or the front yard, depending on how you look at it.

His family reunions used to leave me a bit unsettled.  They really do bring banjos.  I would look around at the pickers and grinners, the long beards, the crazy eyes, and think, “How is it possible that my children share a bloodline with these people?”

But over the years I’ve grown to love at least five or six of them, and I think some of them love me back. We’re kin.

Not much surprises me anymore. Like turning up the heat on a frog in a pot of water; the frog will never jump out because he adjusts to the temperature and doesn’t realize he’s boiling to death.  But back in the early days, the shock factor was pretty high, and I was leaping all over the place to keep from being scorched.

They’re not a very diverse group.  We’ve got the one redhead, and one of the cousins became a Marine and brought home a Filipino wife.  Unfortunately, she didn’t stay long.  I imagine communication was very difficult for her, as Appalachian American is one of the hardest languages to learn.

Several years ago, one of the uncles got a contract to install kitchen equipment in all of the new Einstein Bagel shops cropping up in the area.  Great-Aunt Betty Kay was very vocal about the fact that she thought this was a bad idea.

“I don’t see how he’s going to make any money.”  Pushing her fingertips firmly into the picnic table, she leaned toward me. “We just don’t have a very large Jewish population around here.”

Lips in a tight line, she gave a single emphatic nod to indicate that I should know what she was talking about.

I decided I couldn’t let it go.

“But Betty Kay, I’m not Jewish, and I eat bagels.”

“But your daddy is a Baptist preacher!”

Fascinated that she chose the route of religion instead of pointing out my German ancestry, I replied, “Yes, but I also eat Italian bread even though I’m not Catholic. And I eat pitas, but I’m not Greek Orthodox.  And I’m not Buddhist, but I enjoy Chinese Sticky Buns!”

She snorted, “Well, I hope nobody tries to open a Chinese Sticky Bun restaurant because we certainly do not have…” Catching sight of the Filipino bride, she fell silent, because to Betty Kay, all Asians are Chinese.

I smiled and nodded my way through the rest of the Appalachian American reunion, biding my time until I could return home, march straight through the front-back door, and wash it all away with a nice German beer.  The beer I would choose regardless of my heritage, and in spite of my religion.

— Ginger Truitt

Ginger Truitt is an author, speaker and mother of five.  For 12 years, her weekly column has appeared in Midwest newspapers. Her columns garnered third place for humor from the 2013 National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual awards competition (50,000 and under circulation category).

Reflections of Erma