Best Christmas I Ever Had

When I was a little girl, I had lots of wonderful Christmases. I had Christmas mornings filled with the kind of wonder and excitement that only a child can experience. But this is not a story of a child’s Christmas. This is a story of the best Christmas I ever had as an adult.

In order for you to understand the best Christmas I ever had, you must first hear about the worst Christmas I ever had. It was Christmas day 1965, and the first Christmas I celebrated as a married woman. Alan and I were in college and some of my sisters and their husbands or boyfriends were spending the day at my oldest sister and her husband’s home. The smell of turkey and pine filled the air, and Christmas carols were playing in the background as we sat down to open our gifts.

Mom opened her gift first. Just like always, Dad had somehow gathered together enough money to buy Mom something truly special. Mom’s gift was a bracelet with gold letters separated by pearls that spelled I LOVE YOU. Everyone ooohed and aaahed approvingly as Mom put on her bracelet and Dad beamed with pride.

Then came my oldest sister Cynthia’s turn. Despite the limited budget of a growing family, Seth had purchased my sister the most beautiful beige lace nighty and robe set I had ever seen. It was such a romantic gift. They exchanged tender glances as the nightgown was carefully refolded and put away.

Sharon’s gift was two crisply folded one-hundred-dollar bills placed in a card which read, “To the one I love,” on the outside. That was more money than Alan and I made in three months working at the college library. Everyone in the room let out a squeal at such luxury.

Kay was the next sister to open her gifts. She was going with a couple of different guys at the time, if I remember right. One gave her a gold wristwatch and the other gave her a beautiful Geistex sweater. Geistex sweaters were very expensive and really “in” in 1965.

All of my sisters were so beautiful and I always felt inferior by comparison. It seemed to me that their gifts were befitting them. I dreaded the fact that I was to open my gifts next.

Before I tell you what I received, I have to give you some facts. Alan was raised to believe that Christmas was basically for little children, that gifts weren’t terribly important to adults. In fact, sometime between October and December, Alan’s mom would announce that she had purchased a “so-and-so,” and that this item was her Christmas gift from Alan’s dad. In other words, older members of their family usually exchanged permission to purchase something at a later date. Also, because Alan’s siblings received lavish gifts during the year, another nice present was just not that big of a deal.

I came from a different background. As long as I could remember, I thought of Christmas as a time to splurge. Christmas was when you showed the ones you love that “price was no object.” And it wasn’t just the money; it was an attitude about Christmas. Christmastime was when you showed the other people in your life how much they meant to you. They were so important that you saved up all year to buy them “things they had always wanted,” or presents that “you shouldn’t have.” Christmas was the time you made dreams come true.

As all the eyes in the room turned toward me, I felt a disaster in the making. “Oh, please God,” I prayed to myself, “make the small package something sweet and personal, a necklace or a locket.” As I opened my gifts, a lump formed in my throat. Alan had gotten me a ball point pen and a pair of heavy duty slippers. Tears welled up in my eyes. Wasn’t I more important and more beautiful than a ball point pen and unisex slippers that could be worn by either a man or a woman? Was that all I meant to Alan?

I prayed for a diversion. Maybe the tree would catch on fire (now that I think about it—maybe this prayer was answered years later as another story) or a bomb would hit the garage. I felt so embarrassed that I wanted to die.

That particular Christmas taught me two things: One, never open my presents in front of my beautiful sisters, and two, never look forward to Christmas ever, ever again.

There were many differences in Alan’s and my backgrounds, so it wasn’t surprising that we ended up in marriage counseling years later. It happened to be Christmastime when we started therapy.

Dr. Hoffman started off the session by asking me what problems would arise during the holiday season. That was easy for me to answer: “Disappointment and depression.” So Dr. Hoffman came up with this wonderfully simple idea; make Alan a shopping list.

“What?” I protested. “You mean that it still counts if the gift is requested?”

I believed what I had seen in the movies. Alan was somehow supposed to magically know the deepest desires of my heart. “You mean I could write him out a list and if he gave me an item on the list, it would show that he loved me, even if he hadn’t thought of it himself? Amazing,” I muttered to myself.

“You mean the longing looks as I passed the crystal department and the quiet glances toward the jewelry counter weren’t enough? Are you telling me, Dr. Hoffman, that the man doesn’t know what I want by magic?

“Okay!” I said defiantly, “I’ll make the man a list.”

I will never forget the serious way I approached my list writing. Poised with a hot cup of coffee and a sharp pencil, I proceeded. First, I thought, I should probably put down something he wants also. That way I am more likely to get the gift. I honestly felt that unworthy inside. So a color TV headed up the list, followed by the microwave oven. He’d benefit from that as well. Then I became more daring and I asked for a crystal decanter. No, what the heck, I reckoned, I wrote down, “a Fostoria crystal decanter.”

If this was a test for Alan, I was going to make it a good one. I threw myself into the task with reckless abandon and filled two full pages. I wanted to make sure that there could be no excuse that the stores “were out of it.”

When Dr. Hoffman asked for my list, he questioned me to make sure that the items listed were my most secret desires. I concurred that if I received any one of these items on the list, I would be happy. I thought to myself as I drove home, good Lord, I’d be happy for life.

On December 23rd, I opened the front door to a TV service man. He said, “Where do you want the TV, lady?” My heart jumped as I screamed to the children, “Kids, Daddy bought us a color TV.”

Then, on Christmas Eve, a microwave oven arrived. My heart was pounding as I opened the package. It was just like I’d seen in the movies, wrapped in gold with a big red bow. “Thank you, Dr. Hoffman.” I shouted into the air. He was right. It did feel just as good if you spoke up and let the other person know what you wanted.

On Christmas morning, I was totally content. I eyed the color TV in the living room. It was just the model I wanted. As I happily heated rolls in my new microwave oven, I thought of different ways to tell my sisters about the gifts.

As I wandered back into the living room with a tray of hot chocolate for the kids, I heard these startling, amazing words: “Mom, there are some other presents for you under the tree.”

I thought these were probably some sweet handmade treasures made by our children, Roger and Natalie. But when I sat down, I saw a gift clearly from Bullocks, a high-end department store in Long Beach. I squealed as I opened the Fostoria decanter. My neighbors told me later they could hear me screaming. Next I opened an incredibly beautiful pink nighty with matching robe and “super feminine” slippers from Robinsons (no man would wear those slippers.) What would my sisters say when they saw the crystal sugar and creamer to match the decanter, a real leather handbag with a matching wallet and key holder, and a gold locket with “Love, Alan” engraved on the back? To top it all off, there was a gold watch in a black velvet case. My God, Alan had purchased everything on my list and he’d thrown in the watch for good measure.

I don’t remember what Santa brought the children that year, I’m sorry to say. I was too busy screaming and jumping up and down and crying myself. When I finally calmed down, I looked over at Alan and saw he had tears in his eyes. He was in shock and his face held an expression of sheer amazement.

He choked up as he said, “I never knew it would make you so happy or I would have done it years before.”

I realized several things that Christmas. I realized that I was a worthy person, but that I had to declare that fact myself before others would. Whether I received the gifts or not was not important. What was important was that I had written the list. The list was my declaration of worthiness. Alan’s purchasing the gifts was a confirmation of that declaration. I learned from that declaration that I can’t depend on others to affirm my worthiness. I have to do that myself, and I do it a lot now. In fact, this IBM Selectric typewriter was a gift to myself so that I might write this story.

Alan learned a few things that Christmas too. He learned how much fun it is to find something special for the ones you love. He now looks for things I want and he listens carefully to find out what special secrets are in my heart. Best of all, he learned that he could help me most by encouraging me to fulfill my own dreams for myself. And he does that.

I think back on that Christmas occasionally and I believe Natalie summed it up best when she said that morning, “This is so much fun. Let’s do it again next year.”

Christmas with one of our grandkids….London

Covid19 – The Lighter Side of Isolation

One big difference between men and women is that when women say “smell this”, it usually smells nice.

It’s been a week, and it’s getting tense on the home front. Isolation with my husband is making me crazy. 

I know. I should be a good sport about this, and I am. But my husband and I have different opinions (which is not unusual) about sanitation rules and disinfection. 

First, you need some background. I was an OSHA instructor for dentists for over ten years when the outbreak of HIV and AIDS swept across the US and the rest of the world. (It was during that period OSHA regulations were written requiring ALL dental employees to wear gloves and face masks during treatments and change them with each new procedure). What I learned myself, and later taught to dental practitioners, makes me highly sensitive to infection control and disease transmission.

My husband, on the other hand, is known to drink out of the dog’s water in the car, dries with the dog’s towel if it’s close when he needs it, uses his fork to feed the dog at the table and thinks dog hair is a clothing accessory . Let’s just say, my hubby is definitely not a germaphobe.

Because of these apparent differences, hand washing is an issue in our home. Alan, my husband of 50 plus years, is not an enthusiastic hand washer. On the contrary, he uses a couple of tablespoons of lukewarm water, a smudge of soap and rubs his hands just long enough to hear the word “Birthday,” once. (You know, we’re supposed to wash our hands until we’ve sung Happy Birthday all the way through.)

I, on the other hand, wash my hands until I’ve sung “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Like a surgeon, I use my elbows to turn the water off and on and hold my hands erect until dried with a sterile towel. (I’ve watched a million episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Trapper, John M.D.)

No amount of coaxing, enticing, inducing, teasing, pleading, tempting, bartering, cajoling, needling, or sweet-talking is going to change my husband’s ways. His actions make me ask, “How can anyone so smart be so dumb and stubborn?” I texted my daughter-in-law about my frustration. “Big chief makes his own rules. I am but a squaw, good for fetching water and tanning buffalo hides.”

Your husband is the perfect person to tell your secrets to; he won’t tell anyone cos he’s probably not even listening.

While Alan comes and goes from work, his job is considered “essential,” I take care of the house, wiping down all the counters, changing towels, and spraying Lysol on everything. (I wonder if my cough has anything to do with all that spray?) 

The TV clicker is another point of contention. If you don’t have clean hands, the clicker is going to be dirty. Right? I think so, so I spray it with Lysol regularly. “For goodness sake, Paula, you’re killing me with all that alcohol spray.” “Better that than Covid19,” I say in defense.  

We keep busy to ward off boredom. I’ve cleaned out the refrigerator, edited all my contacts in my phone and laptop, organized all my cupboards, filled two bags of items for the Goodwill, and written several articles for our office blog. I’ve texted old friends and emailed all kinds of people that deserved communication. Actually, I’m running out of projects.

This is our rescue dog, Chico. Alan always says, “He’s keeping us alive.”

The one family member that loves our isolation is Chico, our dog. He’s a tummy-loving lush who paws us constantly for more attention. Honestly, he hopes this home-stay lasts forever. Chico is getting four or five walks a day (the buildings near our high-rise are practically empty), and since I’m cooking more than usual, he’s getting fat. (Whoops…I mean he’s weight-challenged.)

Speaking of fat, I am going to send China a bill for my Weight Watchers’ tab when this whole thing is over. I’m being modest when I say I have gained 10 pounds. Food is my only pleasure. (Sorry, Alan.) Why in the world would anyone hoard toilet paper? It’s Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix and wine I worry about. 

We are beginning to memorize the words in commercials. “Hello. I’m Mike Lindell inventor of My Pillow. Thanks to your support, you’ve helped My Pillow become one of the most successful businesses in America.” See, I told you so. And, when you begin to think that Flo, from Progressive, is a personal friend, you know it’s time to turn off the TV. 

All kidding aside, we have nothing to complain about. When you think about the young men and women who have gone off to war, leaving home and family…some for years, facing life-threatening situations daily and returning injured and maimed, being cooped up in the comfort of our homes is a minuscule sacrifice, indeed. Or, when you think about the courage of a young child, like Anne Frank, who hid with her Jewish family for two years in an attic to flee Nazi persecution, putting up with each other’s quirks, is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Stay safe, friends. 

We’ll get through this and be back to work and wish we could take a few days off before you know it. 

Virtual hugs to you all.…Paula

Family History or Family Mystery… Why You Should Write Your Memoir

This is my family, the Strothers, at my father’s company picnic at Irvine Park in Southern California. The year was 1952, and my sisters, Cynthia and Kay (The Bell Sisters), had just won a TV talent show, and they were headed off to Hollywood.

We were a scruffy bunch and quite the competitors. It was a day-long contest, family against family in sports from three-legged races to baseball. We should have won…but Dad forgot a small prize he had tucked away into his shirt pocket.   

Since publishing my book several years ago, I have presented at dozens of book signings from California to Canada. I have met so many extraordinary individuals. From these contacts, one thing has become crystal clear to me…EVERYONE has a story to tell.

At the end of my presentations, I ask for questions. Without a doubt, the most common inquiry I receive (after “Are all those crazy stories really true?”) is “How do you go about writing a memoir?”

I love that question. Because, like I said, everybody has a story to tell. Like, the World War ll veteran who told me he met his wife on a small farm in France during the liberation of Europe. 

“We fell in love almost instantly, and it took months of hard work to bring her home to the States.” 

Still married decades later, the herculean task and the fear of being separated from the woman he loved was still fresh in his mind.

Or, the lady whose parents lived through the Dust Bowl in the drought-stricken Southern Plains region of the United States. 

My father said, “Nothing would grow, so we boarded up the family farmhouse and headed west with the tired old pickup stacked high with all of our belongings hefted up on top.”

Still seared into his memory was the sad looks on the faces of town folks they passed by. 

“Loaded down with dirty kids and crying babies, we must have been a pitiful sight to see,” he told me with a hint of sadness in his watery grey eyes.

Then there was the elegantly attired lady who shared the plight her family faced when her father died of typhoid fever, and her mother had to work outside of the home, leaving her to become the mother to her younger siblings.

“In those days, women didn’t work in town. I was barely eleven and had to cook, clean, and care for my three little sisters.”  

Or, the immigrant from Poland who landed in New York City with only a scrap of paper with a name on it.

“I only had an address and a name of a distant cousin. I was excited to be in the USA and terrified at the same time. This person I barely knew let me sleep on his couch until I got on my feet.”  

I heard one story after another, each unique and special in its own way. Some were very dramatic, and others were just the musings of a life well-lived. There were funny and weird stories as well – like paying neighbors in beer to push a piano around the block for your songwriting daughter. Or how you meet a rich man on the bus, and he pays for your college career … and then your sister’s college career when you dropout.

Of course, no one’s life is pain-free. All the folks I spoke with had trials and tribulations to overcome, some more serious than others. But, upon hearing their stories, I felt each needed to be remembered and passed along to family members so they might know more of their history. 

I’m not suggesting that everybody needs to or wants to go to all the work and energy it takes to write and have a memoir published. (Maybe “memoir” sounds too overwhelming. Perhaps your “life story” might be a better description of the project.) I feel confident you won’t regret the decision. When I finished my memoir, numerous family members thanked me for doing it.

My grandson said, “I had no idea all those things happened. Thank you for preserving our family history for future generations”.

Continue reading “Family History or Family Mystery… Why You Should Write Your Memoir”

A Painful Palm Sunday

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored — Aldous Huxley

We live in Florida, and like many senior citizens, Home Depot is a store we frequent.  We are always working on a house or garden project.  Like many retired empty nesters, we enjoy spending our time in useful pursuits. 

For me, it’s the yard.  I love all kinds of plants and I adore the changing of the seasons, which we enjoyed tremendously during the four years we lived in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. 

Wait, let me add one small caveat to that statement.  Spring, summer and fall are awesome.  But winters in Canada are another story; you can keep ‘em. Last year, Ottawa suffered several weeks of -40 degree weather.  Yep, we now fly south like other smart birds when winter sets in.  

When winter sets in and Canada gets cold, you understand why the smart fowl fly south.

Florida ‘s climate is different from most of the country, which enjoy the typical four seasons.  The “Sunshine State” is broken up into just two seasons, wet and dry. Wet season in Florida usually begins in late May and ends by mid-October. Sea breeze showers and storms are practically a daily afternoon occurrence. Vero Beach, where we live, racks up an average 58 inches of precipitation and the wet season is hot and humid.  But regardless of the heat and humidity, working in the garden fills my heart with joy.

On one sunny Sunday, as my husband and I were idly watching Rusty, the young lot attendant, stuff all the plants, mulch and garden rocks we’d purchased into our SUV, we chit-chatted about all the “snow birds” living in Florida (we are also called “Q-Tippers” by the locals because older folks are often short and when they drive all you can see is their white hair.)

“Yes,” our handsome helper said laughing, “Loading cars for the north folks can be a challenge. Some people buy stuff like they are loading up their plates at at the Last Meal Buffet.  Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs … or in this case, their cars.”

“Yeah.  I get that,” I nodded. “I hate to waste the time it takes to make a second trip. I guess you could say when it comes to home projects, my cup (or car) runneth over.”

During a lull, I asked Rusty the funniest experience he’d ever had loading a customer’s car.

“That’s easy,” he said.  “There is one guy who is a legend here at the Home Depot.  He always buys big items and insists, that if we really try hard enough, we will be able to fit them into his car.  We call him Tennis Tom, because he always dresses in tennis togs.”

According to Rusty, Tennis Tom refuses to admit that his spiffy white convertible sports car is not the best choice for his do-it-yourself projects.

“One time he had me load a high-end Kohler toilet onto his front leather passenger seat.”

“Make sure you attach the seat belt, will ya kid?  I don’t want to hear the darn thing beep all the way home. But, could you hurry up a bit?  My plumber is waiting on this beauty.  And you know what plumbers cost.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Rusty said, shaking his head.  “Tom drove off with a giant toilet as his co-pilot.  It was quite a sight.”

“Another time, I loaded a dozen big bags of mulch in his front seat and one of my co-workers had to tie down a screen door for the guy.  He’s just won’t take no for an answer.  When he wants something, he wants it NOW!”

But, despite his loading quirks, Rusty said Tennis Tom was a really nice guy.

“He always thanks me for my efforts and tries to slip me a $10 tip.  And I tell him every time that tips are not allowed.” 

“Well, that’s dumb,” he says.  “We tip everybody in New York City.”

“That’s hilarious,” I commented, as Rusty stuffed the last big bag of garden mulch into our car and hit the automatic button that closed the trunk door.

Rusty sighed with relief, “I wasn’t sure all that stuff would fit.  But it did.”

As we drove away from the store, I just had to remind my doubting husband, “See, I told you we could get all that stuff in the car.”

I love being right, at least once in a while.

Well, it fit alright, but our car was jam-packed and smelled like a cross between a flower shop and a barn. I was holding a flat of begonias on my lap and a pair of beautiful red roses were sitting at my feet with the blossoms sticking up between my knees. And Chico, our Jack Russell mix (and constant companion on Home Depot runs), was straddled precariously on the center console.

“Yay!” I chirped gleefully.  “We don’t have to make a second trip.”

A few Sundays later, I was at the Home Depot again, and this time I ended up in the checkout line directly behind the infamous Tennis Tom.  True to form, Tom was all decked out in white and sported an expensive pair of sunglasses.  He was purchasing a large palm tree, which was perched on a loading dolly, with trusty Rusty in attendance. 

When Rusty recognized me, he flashed me a quick smile to say, “This is the guy… the guy I was telling you about.”

According to Wikipedia, there are over 2,500 species of palm trees and almost all of them can be grown in Florida.  The Phoenix Robellini, the type Tom was purchasing, is often planted in clusters for visual impact, has a maximum height of 12 feet and makes an impressive statement on any lawn.  But, like many palms, the Robellini has sharp and bothersome thorns where the palm fronds affix to the trunk.  And when I say thorns, I mean BIG thorns that hurt.  Thick gloves are a must when trimming a Robellini.  And, when you’re trying to plant one, you’d be smart to wear eye protection.   

When I finished paying for my purchases, I followed Tennis Tom and his tree into the parking lot. Luckily, my car was parked directly across from his in the lot. I could hardly wait to see if Tom would try and fit a full-size palm tree in the front seat of his sports car. 

And yes, yes he did. 

“The safety belt won’t fit around the palm, sir,” Rusty warned his customer.  “It’s going to be loose in the seat. And I don’t think that heavy cardboard you brought is going to protect your leather from the thorns.  Are you sure you want to do this?  You do know, sir, that we make home deliveries?” 

“I know, I know,” Tom answer impatiently.  “But my gardener is working today and he’s at the house waiting to plant the palm.  Just buckle the belt behind the tree and don’t forget to cover the leather beneath it with a bunch of that plastic stuff.  I’ll drive very carefully.  Don’t worry kid.  It’s not my first rodeo.  The tree and I will be fine.”

I took my time loading my few purchases into my trunk so I could watch and hear the Tennis Tom spectacle.  As predicted, I heard Tom offer Rusty a tip and I heard Rusty refuse, again.  politely.

“Well, that’s a dumb rule.  We tip everybody in New York City.”

With that ritual behind him, Tennis Tom adjusted his shades, revved up his beautiful white Mercedes convertible and drove out into the traffic with his six-foot tree in tow.   A sports car, with a tree sticking out of top is not a common sight in our town.  So, it didn’t take long for a gaggle of gawkers to develop.

Traffic was light, so Tom was able to easily pull into the left-hand lane at the traffic signal. He waited patiently until the light turned green and then he began his turn. 

As he turned, it happened.  When Tennis Tom leaned into the turn, the palm followed and instantly landed on Tom’s right side.

As the turn progressed, so did the sounds.  Even a half a block away, we could hear loud groans and moans of a person being impaled by the sharply pointed thorns of a Robellini palm. 

“Ouch, ouch, OUCH!!!  Holy shit!” 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is palm-with-big-thorns.jpg
This gives you an idea of what palm thorns look like. The Robellini has slightly smaller thorns, but they hurt just as much as these big beauties.

The crowd of onlookers watched helplessly as the gloveless man tried to fend off the onslaught of puncturing palm fronds. It was obvious from the sounds that Tom was being skewered as he fought to upright the thorny beast in his car.

“Holy moly!  Poor Tom,” yelled Rusty.  “I was afraid that might happen.”

A grumpy old guy standing next to me didn’t feel a bit sorry for Tom.  On the contrary.  He just shook his head and yelled, “The guy is an idiot!”

I didn’t mean to laugh.  It wasn’t funny, really.  But the scene was comical and so I did.

Impatience can cause wise people to do foolish things — Janette Oke

I would like to say that I’d never pull a stunt like the one I was witnessing.  But of course, that would be a total lie.  My past is littered with stories about me pushing the limit or refusing to deal with the reality of a situation.  Let me give you an example. 

When Alan and I bought our first house, we went to the hardware store (I don’t think Home Depots were open then) to purchase an additional sheet of laminate for the inside of a shower we were remodeling in our modest master bath. The project was almost complete.  All we needed was one last section of laminate about two feet wide and seven or eight feet long.

When we got to the store, my husband took one look at the laminate pieces the store had available, and wisely said, “We can’t get that in the car.  We’ll have to wait until we can borrow a truck or something to get that home.”

Now, my reaction to seeing the size of the laminate pieces, was totally different.  In my mind’s eye, there HAD to be a way to get that last piece of laminate to our house.  Maybe it would roll up. Nope.  Maybe we could tie it on top of the car. Nope. We didn’t have anything to tie it to.  Maybe we could put it inside the car and leave the window open with the laminate protruding out the side. Nope. 

“Absolutely not,” barked Alan loudly.  “If that laminate get’s loose it could decapitate one of the kids.  That’s not happening!”

“Okay. I get it,”  I snapped back, half kidding. “But, let’s don’t give up so easily. There has to be a way.”

If I’m anything, I’m determined.  And like Tom, I’m impatient.  Especially when I get my mind set on something (and I was dead-set on getting that bathroom done, TODAY!)   So, I harped and nagged at my husband until I bullied him into the idea that I could hold the piece of laminate on the outside of the car, up tight against the door as he drove home.

“We only have to drive a couple of miles, Alan.  I’m sure I can hold it.  I want to finish the shower today.  PLEASE, don’t make me wait another week.  Come on, Alan.  Don’t be such a chicken.  We can get this home.”

Under the barrage of my persistent prodding, the poor man relented and reluctantly handed me the laminate, which I held tightly up against the side of the car.

“Okay, are you sure you have it securely?” he asked with dread in his eyes and concern in his voice.

“It’s a piece of cake, really.  Yes, it’s fine.  I’ve got it.  Let’s go.”

As Alan pulled slowly and carefully into traffic, I was feeling less confident and I was thinking, “If this darn laminate was one inch wider, I could never hold on.”

One mile per hour, two miles per hour, three miles per hour, “So far, so good,” I reassured my hubby.

But, when Alan was forced to accelerate to keep up with traffic, the wind caught the laminate, tore it from my grasp and snapped it in two…like a twig…like a bat at home plate, like brittle kindling for a fire.  You get the idea. The laminate was broken and went flying wildly into the air.

Needless to say, Alan was not a happy camper, nor was the startled man who was driving behind us who had to pull hard right to dodge the laminate projectiles that careened towards his windshield. 

I can’t repeat what the guy screamed at my embarrassed husband.  Let’s just say his barroom vernacular and graphic gestures made me feel incredibly stupid for being so headstrong and suggesting we try such a stupid stunt.  I felt like a moron.  Which I was. 

I don’t get high, but sometimes I wish I did. That way, when I messed up in life I would have an excuse. But right now, there’s no rehab for stupidity. — Chris Rock

The balance of the trip home was in total silence.  But, the story of my stupidity was the fodder for many a party joke, at my expense, for years.

When I got home from Home Depot that Sunday, I couldn’t wait to tell Alan about Tennis Tom and his painful palm experience. 

“Yea,” Alan replied smirking. “Hard to imagine someone being so stubborn as to try something so stupid.  Right, Paula?”

“Yessiree Bob…hard to believe anyone could be such a moron.”

A Door Busting Drama

Normally, I’m a bit of a wimp and I try to avoid confrontation, especially if I’m considering confronting a man dressed like the leader of a motorcycle gang.  But I was mad and that made me brave (or maybe just stupid).  So, I confronted the biker.  He had obviously stolen my money and I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.

Photo by Kevin Bidwell

My shopping cart was overflowing as I approached the checkout stand at Pic-N-Save (now called Big Lots).  It was late fall and I was buying all kinds of goodies for the upcoming holidays.  Pic-N-Save was always a great place to purchase cheap decorations and crafting items.  But, during “Door Busting Sales” their advertising tagline rings particularly true, “Pick a little and save a lot.” 

I love to people-watch.  So, while I waited to be rung up, I studied the other folks in the checkout line.  In front of me was a sweet looking grandma of a gal, probably in her late 70s (now that I’m in my mid-70s, she doesn’t seem that old).  She wore really thick prescription glasses and was fidgeting with a handful of carefully clipped coupons.  (I admire people who have the discipline to clip coupons. I have tried to do that, but I’m such a scatterbrain that the coupons never make it to the store before they expire). 

Anyhow, the coupon clipper and a heavy-set checker were reviewing her bill, item by item.  It was obvious the older lady was making sure each item had been recorded accurately and that she’d received full credit for all of her coupons.  (I have a theory about store checkers.  Unless the bill seems completely out of whack, I don’t review it. I depend on karma and assume that I get overcharged about as often as I get undercharged and things balance out in the end.) 

Standing behind me in line was a tattooed titan who looked liked a character right out of the movies, maybe Easy Rider or Hell’s Angels on Wheels (you can take your pick).  When I  first entered the store, I noticed a classic ol’ hog, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, parked up close to the entry.  From this guy’s appearance, it was obvious he was the owner.

Photo by Oleg Magni

The burly old biker had a red bandana tied around the top of his head.  Long stringy clumps of mostly grey hair fell from the sides of the bandana and dusted the top of his well-worn black leather jacket.  His jacket was festooned with colorful embroidered patches, mementos no doubt, of previous riding events he had participated in.  His motorcycle goggles hung loosly around his neck and his t-shirt, barely visible beneath his jacket, sported some kind of message.  The biker’s black leather boots were dirty, and as he got closer, I could smell rank sweat and stale cigarette smoke.  A ring of dust, which perfectly matched the outline of his goggles, gave his weathered face an almost ghost-like appearance.  I gave him a smile as we moved forward towards the checker.  He nodded and grunted a low response.  His eyes were bluish grey.

“NEXT!” barked the seemingly overwhelmed checker towards the two of us as coupon lady finished her business and edged her basket towards the exit.

The checker was dressed in a bright orange company apron with giant front pockets.  She wore a tilted name badge with “Sue” scribbled with black marker under the printed words, “Hi. My name is…”

She had a sad face and sad eyes.  I instantly felt sorry for her and wanted to brighten her day. 

“How you doing today?” I asked cheerfully.  And then, in an attempt to show empathy, I added, “Boy, this place is packed…looks like they’re really keeping you busy.”

“I’m fine,” she muttered back unenthusiastically, “Welcome to Pic-N-Save.”

From Sue’s sarcastic reaction to my upbeat greeting, I wouldn’t have been surprised if her car had a bumper sticker that read, “Thanks for refilling my ‘fed up with you’ meter.”

Sue wasn’t happy but she was fast.  She rang up my purchases in rapid fire succession:

“Twenty-two Thanksgiving swizzle sticks, eighteen gold glitter picks, three elf wreaths with battery-operated eyes, one dozen small, one dozen medium and eight large holiday bags, tissue (variety pack), etc., etc., etc.”

Not looking up at me once, or acknowledging my presence beyond our terse greeting, Sue continued counting my items, ringing them up on the register and shoving them into a couple of oversized plastic bags that began to bulge at the seams.  So as not to slow down the progress, I took five $20 bills out of my wallet and placed them on the counter as Sue was finishing.  (I don’t usually pay with cash.  But we had a big neighborhood garage sale the day before and my wallet was bulging with twenty-dollar bills.)

Just then, from outside the store, we heard the loud screech of car breaks and the bang of something big and heavy hitting metal and glass.  The whole building shook with the sound.

“What the hell?” someone yelled.

People started screaming and everyone turned immediately towards the source of the noise, the front of the store.

It only took a nanosecond to surmise the situation.  A driver had failed to put on his brakes and a big black sedan had run smack dab into the front bay window of the store.  (Now that’s what a call a door buster!)  Shattered glass, metal shopping carts and holiday decorations flew in all directions as frantic shoppers scrambled away from the oncoming car.  The black sedan eventually came to rest on top of a giant, tinseled plastic Christmas tree.  Comically, despite the mammoth tree topper that had just flown in from the parking lot, the twinkle lights continued to blink. 

Instantly the store was a chaotic mess.  The police and fire department arrived with sirens blaring, which greatly added to the noise and confusion.  But, thankfully no one was hurt and eventually the store returned to its holiday activities, and “Joy to the World” could be heard playing, for the umpteenth time on the store’s overhead speakers.

Once things calmed down, I turned back around to the checker and looked down at the top of the counter.  During the melee, my five $20 bills had disappeared.

“Did you pick up my money?” I asked the checker, who’s day had clearly brightened up with the excitement of the accident.

“What money? I didn’t see any money.  Are you sure you put your money down on the counter?”

“Yes!” I answered matter-of-factly, looking down at my still open purse.  “I put five $20 bills right there.”

I don’t know why I thought pointing to the spot would help. 

“Well, I didn’t see any money and it’s not there now.  So, I don’t know what to say.”

Just then, I thought about Easy Rider standing next to me.  Instantly, I knew what must have happened.  The biker had taken my money during the excitement.  He was the culprit.

The cheerless checker was getting frustrated with me because I was now holding up the line.  Shoppers were anxious to get home and tell their family members about their near-death experiences while trying to pick a little and save a lot.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to pay or you’ll have to leave the stuff…that’s all there is to it.”

Normally, I’m a bit of a wimp and I try to avoid confrontation, especially if I’m considering confronting a man dressed like the leader of a motorcycle gang.  But I was mad and that made me brave (or maybe just stupid).  So, I confronted the biker.  He had obviously stolen my money and I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.

As I boldly turned to accuse him of taking my money, the biker calmly said to the checker, “Miss, why don’t you look and see if you accidently put the money in with the items you shoved into the plastic bags?”

The biker’s question did not improve the checker’s attitude.

“Fine,” she huffed. “But I’m telling you there wasn’t any money on that counter.”

With that, Sue grabed up the biggest bag and dramatically dumped out all of the contents.  Everything went spilling onto the top of the counter and onto the floor.  All my purchases.

And the five $20 bills.

Upon seeing the missing money, the checker smiled meekly and raised her shoulders up, as if to say, “Whoops.”

Obviously, I was happy to see my money.  But, I was also mortified to think how close I had come to accusing this innocent guy of being a thief.  Even worse, I was basing my accusation on nothing more than his looks.  I was embarrassed, even if the biker didn’t know what I had ALMOST done.

Do not judge my life story by the chapter you walked in on.” –

The biker helped me load my purchases back into bags and he quickly paid for his one item, a ceramic figurine of a Chihuahua. 

“It’s my mom’s birthday.  She loves Chihuahuas,” he said laughing.  “I’m on my way over to her place to clean-up before tonight’s ride.”

He went on to explain that he just rode in from the desert.  “That’s why I’m such a mess.” 

I thanked the biker for helping me find my money and for collecting all the stuff that had fallen onto the floor.  When we got to the parking-lot I complimented him on his motorcycle.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling.  “Tonight’s our big annual ride for abused kids.  I’ve been doing it for years.  See?”  He pointed proudly to a series of matching patches sewn on his jacket and his t-shirt which I could now see.  It read, “We ride for the kids.” 

I wanted to give the guy a big hug.  But he waved me away.  “I appreciate the gesture…but I don’t think I smell too good.”

We laughed as I thanked him for his service. Jake Roland, the guy that I had imagined was the leader of a notorious motorcycle gang, was a retired plumber and a Vietnam vet from Palm Springs.  I had let his appearance shape my opinion of who he was.  Obviously, there was more to this man’s person than his clothes had led me to believe.  Like they say all the time, and I had briefly forgotten, you can’t judge a book by its cover. 

When I got home, I looked up a saying I once read by an American novelist, Lauren Oliver.  I believe her words fit the situation perfectly:

“I shiver, thinking how easy it is to be totally wrong about people, to see one tiny part of them and confuse it with the whole.”

Yep…you shouldn’t be fooled by what you see on the outside because what’s on the inside is very often a different story.

Assault and Battery

“I threw the dog’s leash towards my husband and sprinted awkwardly over a short hedge and tripped across the front lawn towards the brick steps leading to the landing.  My mind was racing; the sounds emitting from the child were totally freaking me out.  My mind was in overdrive.”

The other day, my husband and I were walking our dog down the beautiful tree-lined street we live on in Ottawa, Ontario.  A slight wind made the day seem much colder than the temperature displayed on my cell phone.   We were bundled up against the wind and walking slowly so as not to out-pace our dog Chico, who was stopping and sniffing every blade of grass on the pristine green lawns we lazily meandered past.

As we rounded the corner of our block, we could hear a child crying.  The sound was faint, at first, but with time and footsteps, the child’s cries became strong and fluctuated from a loud scream to a slight whimper then back to hysterical wailing.  Obviously, as parents and grandparents, the sound was disturbing.

“What on Earth?” I wondered, looking at my husband.  “That sounds pretty serious.”

We sped up our walk in the direction of the wailing we heard, dragging our old dog along at a stride he was not happy with.  In the distance, we could now see a small figure wailing on the porch of a home.  Her hands were flailing about and she was throwing herself pitifully against the railing near the front door.

“Mommy!  Help, Mommy, help!” the small creature yelled into the air.  “Where are you Mommy?  Please…I need you Mommy, NOW!”

I threw the dog’s leash towards my husband and sprinted awkwardly over a short hedge and tripped across the front lawn towards the brick steps leading to the landing.  My mind was racing; the sounds emitting from the child were totally freaking me out.  My mind was in overdrive.

Why was she screaming?  Was the child’s mother injured inside the house?  (Perhaps a diabetic parent had gone into a coma.)  Was the child a victim of some horrible abuse?  (Had she escaped from the hands of a drunken neighbor. or worse, a house of horrors like the one I had recently read about in People Magazine?)  Had the poor child been assaulted and then abandoned by an uncaring caretaker?

Okay, I admit it.  I tend to over-react. Honestly, when my brain gets going, my imagination has no limits.

This is my dad’s fault.  When I was a kid my dad read out loud every gruesome newspaper headline and story to me and my siblings over breakfast.  His daily orations were meant to warn us, to protect us from the bad things that can happen to little children if they are not careful.  His intentions were good.  But, in fact, he scared the hell out of me and left my brain imprinted with the idea that the world was a pretty scary place.  Between my dad’s terrifying tales and what I saw on television, I was inundated with a daily double dose of disasters.  All that, plus the fact I’m a bit of a mystery series TV junkie, has turned me into an overly anxious adult.

You know the saying, “Some folks see the glass as half empty.  Others see the glass as half full.”

Well, I see a glass as half full … of poison or at least rotten milk.  Thanks, Dad.

“What’s a matter, sweetie?” I called out to the little girl, as I stumbled to my knees, then up towards the front door.

I hugged the crying child as I peppered her with questions.  “Are you hurt?  Were you left home alone?  Are you okay?   Where’s your mother?”

I was freaking out. My hands were shaking and I was almost afraid to hear the child’s replies. (Let’s just say I’m not the best person to call in an emergency.)

The child started to calm down and began to explain, between deep breaths and big sobs, the source of her dilemma.

“My mother is gone!”

Now I’m thinking that the mother is dead or has been dragged away from the home by a knife-wielding intruder.

“Where?  Where has your mother gone?” I asked in as calm a voice as I could manage in my mental state.  I was already imagining the perp (that’s detective talk for perpetrator) as someone I’d seen in a Law and Order episode a few nights before.

“She went that way.” The girl said, pointing in the opposite direction.

“Did she leave by herself?”

“No.”  The girl answered screaming.  “She’s with my dad.”

So now I immediately think hostile divorce and abusive husband and envision the mother being pulled down the street against her will….possibly by her hair.

I needed more answers.  I had to ask more questions.  (Good investigators ask lots of questions.)

“Are they coming back?  Were you instructed to stay put? Can you get into the house?” I could see by the kid’s expression I was moving way too fast for her to follow.

But I couldn’t stop myself.  My mind was churning.  I wished I had a note pad and pencil.  Good detectives take copious notes.

“Are you locked out of the house?  Is that why you’re crying?

“No!” the girl screamed back at me, obviously irritated that I didn’t grasp the reason for the depth of her despair.

NOW I was getting irritated. “What is it then?  Why are you crying?”

The little girl stopped crying, put her hands on her hips, got up in my face and yelled, “My mom and dad are out walking.  My laptop battery is dead and I can’t find the charger!”

“Ahh…mystery solved.”  (What? No fingerprints?  No DNA?)

Just about then, the young girl’s parents came around the corner and waved to their daughter. As she went scrambling off in their direction, I joined my husband who was waiting with our dog near the steps.

“Was there a dead body?” Alan asked with a smirk on his face.

I didn’t answer.  I just looked skyward and whispered into the air, “Seriously, Paula, you need to get a grip on your imagination.”

I think I’ll watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” tonight.  Perhaps a break from murder mysteries will do me good.

The Baby Monitor

Yesterday, we had a baby shower for one of our employees. As she was unwrapping her gifts, I realized how many wonderful new tools have been invented for young mothers.   The baby monitor is one of those tools.

When I was a new mother, some 50-plus years ago, I was the baby monitor.  All night I was up and down, in and out of the baby’s room, checking to see if my little angel was still breathing. Never quite attaining REM-sleep, my ears were alert to the slightest creak in the floor, a small grunt, a tiny sneeze or cough.  Any sound sent me running into the baby’s room.  Honestly, I didn’t have an uninterrupted, full night’s sleep for probably ten years.

I don’t want to sleep like a baby.  I just want to sleep like my husband.

Everybody knows sleep deprivation is the curse of new parents. Babies have to be fed and changed every few hours.  But, in my case, it was MORE of a curse to me than my wonderful husband.  He can hardly hear out of one ear, poor guy (I am being sarcastic) and he sleeps with his good ear down on the pillow.  Except for the first few nights the baby was home, or if the baby was sick, my husband rarely heard the baby cry at night.  On many a morning he would say, “Great…the baby slept through the night” (yeah…sure he did).  In his defense, Alan did have to get up very early for work and he does generally require more sleep than I do…but still.

Plus, I was a complete worry wart when my son was born.  I felt totally inadequate as a mother. In fact, I remember one day saying to myself, “Oh my God, nobody is going to come pick up this child.  He is my responsibility, forever!”  (At 23, maybe I was too young to be a relaxed parent.)

Because I was so exhausted during the day, I sometimes got concerned I might fall into a deep sleep and not hear the baby fuss after his naptime.  To make sure that didn’t happen, I’d put a pillow down outside his door and slept on the floor just outside of his room.

As you can imagine, the sleep deprivation I suffered was acute and made me function in an almost zombie-like state on more than one occasion.

It’s a funny thing…I used to stay up all night by choice and called it “fun”.

Our son Roger (now a parent himself) and his wife Teri used a baby monitor for our precious granddaughter, London (again, what a great invention). They told me how reassuring it was to hear the soft rhythmic sounds of her breathing as they slept in their master bedroom on the other side of the house. Teri told me, “I don’t have to sleep in a semi-awake state because I trust that the monitor picks up the slightest sound.” Plus, with the home alarm system in place, as London aged and began to walk and explore, they didn’t have to worry that she might wander out the front door into the yard without their knowing.  (Home alarm systems, another parenting tool we old folks didn’t have.)

As time progressed and London matured, the baby monitor became an entertainment center of sorts.  Her parents could lie in bed and hear her sing and talk to herself as she played in her crib.

“She always wakes up happy,” Roger told us.  “We love to hear her talking to her stuffed animals, Lamby and Teddy Bear. It’s really sweet.”

But, as time went on, London moved from her crib to a small kid’s bed and with the bed change came an increase in morning activities.  Roger and Teri could now hear her in the morning organizing and talking to her dolls, and playing with Boobie, her imaginary friend (and the recipient of any blame for mishaps around the house).  The noise increased and so did London’s interaction with her sleepy parents.

“Hey you two, it’s time to get up!”  And then came orders for breakfast.  “Daddy, how about some French toast and bacon?  Call me when it’s ready…Boobie’s hungry.”

Roger announced over dinner recently that the baby monitor had been retired.

“Why?” I asked.

“London thinks she’s in charge.  She’s become a bit of a drill sergeant.”  I laughed out loud. “We’re just glad she doesn’t know how to play the bugle.”

MOTHERHOOD:  Powered by love.  Fueled by coffee.  Sustained by wine.



Heidi’s Christmas Dream

It’s every parent’s Christmas nightmare:  Santa arrives but does not deliver the present your child wanted more than anything else on Earth.

Santa….as I remember him.

My sister Alice was tucking her adorable little 5-year-old daughter in bed one Christmas Eve and asked, “Are you excited about Santa coming tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Heidi replied, with a glow in her eyes that is so common when children are young, and Christmas is in the air.  “I can’t wait to open up my silver magic star wand and princess crown with jewels and colored ribbons flowing down the back,” Heidi answered enthusiastically.

Alice immediately stiffened.  “Santa” had not heard a word about this silver star magic wand or a princess crown with jewels and ribbons flowing down the back.  Where did that come from?

“What crown, Heidi?” Alice asked weakly, a lump in her throat.  “I never heard you tell Santa about a crown or a magic silver wand.”

“Oh, Santa knows, Mommy. He knows that’s what I want, and it will be under the tree for sure.  I just know it will.”

After giving her daughter a kiss and pulling the blankets up around her chin, Alice wandered into the living room where her husband was reading beside the Christmas tree.

“Larry,” Alice pleaded in a frantic whisper.  “Heidi thinks Santa is bringing her a silver star magic wand and a silver crown with jewels and ribbons flowing down the back.”

“So?” Larry asked, looking up casually from his book.

“It’s all she wants for Christmas, Larry, and Santa is not going to put that under the tree.”

Now, everybody knows men and women are wired differently.  And, it was never more obvious than when Larry gave his unemotional and practical response to this Christmas Eve dilemma.

“Well, it’s almost ten o’clock at night.  How is Santa going to find a magic wand and a silver crown in time for Christmas?”

“Well he has got to!” Alice insisted.  “He just can’t let little Heidi down.  It’s all she wants.”

With that pronouncement made, my devoted and clever younger sister sprang into action.

“This Santa is going to make a crown and magic wand from scratch or die trying,” Alice stammered, still in disbelief at her husband’s casual reaction to an obvious holiday catastrophe.

Alice flew into the kitchen looking for silver … aluminum foil for those of you without any imagination.  But there was none to be found.  This was in the days before 24-hour drugstores and Larry and Alice lived out in the country.

Not to be deterred by a lack of silver in her kitchen drawers, Alice headed for the freezer and started scrapping aluminum foil, two inches at  time, off the frozen meat and other foodstuffs stored there.  It took her about an hour, but she figured she had enough silver to fashion a magic star wand and princess crown.

Up to this point, Larry was no help.

“Alice … I remember one year I wanted roller skates and Santa couldn’t afford them.  It didn’t kill me, I survived just fine.”

“Well, maybe it killed your spirit,” Alice snapped back. “Otherwise you’d be up here helping me figure out how to save your daughter’s Christmas dream.”

That statement must have hit home because Larry put down his book and joined Alice in the kitchen.  She was in tears.  She felt like a failure for not knowing her daughter’s deepest Christmas desire.

“You’re a good mom, honey.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Now, where can we get some jewels for the crown?”

“My jewelry box,” Alice said quietly.  “I’m sure we can take apart a couple of necklaces and bracelets.  And see if I have any ribbons in the bathroom with my hair clips.  Get the glue gun too,” she yell/whispered down the hall

Santa’s elves worked diligently to create a crown and wand with items they found around the house.  They stole pieces of colored ribbon from presents already under the tree and fashioned the wand from a piece of dowel under the kitchen sink, a dowel whose lowly job was to dry towels out of sight. The star for the wand and the princess crown were fashioned from a cardboard box they had in the garage.

Then they glued the entire ensemble completely over with bits of aluminum foil and added jewels and brightly colored ribbons to the crown.

It was well after midnight when Alice and Larry finished their projects and flopped down into bed.  On the couch, in a testament to panic and parenting and hot glue, was a silver star magic wand and silver princess crown with jewels and colored ribbons flowing down the back.

They got a bit of sleep, and then Christmas morning arrived, as it always does.

“See Mommy!” Heidi yelled gleefully, as she danced around the living room waving her magic wand, festooned with bits of colored ribbon tangled in her hair.

“I told you Santa would know what I wanted.  “Santa always knows your Christmas dream.”

Alice gave her sleepy husband a sideways glance.  His eyes slightly teared over as he lowered his coffee cup and said to his daughter …

“You were right, honey.  You were so right.”


A Lesson I Needed To Know

Inuit Eskimo Women

It’s been almost a year now that my book, POTLUCK: Little Stories from a Big Table has been published (like most unknown authors, I self-published POTLUCK). Michael, my book adviser, suggested I say that my book is “independently published.” He’s right, that sounds a little more professional.

Anyhow, once published, the next job for me was to make sure my book got into the hands of readers. If readers enjoy POTLUCK, and tell their friends, there’s a chance I might get picked up by a larger “real” publishing company. Until that happens, promoting my book is up to me.

For 12 months, I have been doing all I can to promote my book. Like with all sales, you must plant a lot of seeds (it’s a numbers game) and eventually a certain percentage will sprout. I’ve had many book signings and I’ve made numerous book presentations in libraries, private homes, book clubs and book stores in Florida, California, Virginia and Ottawa, Canada. I’ve even spoken at a writers’ conference and was interviewed on local T.V. in my home town of Seal Beach, California (that interview is currently being edited for a December release).

During our summer in Canada, I was able to get my book on the shelves and do book signings in eight large Indigo book stores (they are like Barnes and Nobel stores in the U.S.) The events were moderately successful (but don’t look for my book on the New York Times Best Sellers List just yet). Michael tells me that I’m doing better than most new authors, so that makes me feel good. But, my book is not exactly flying off the shelves.

It’s been lots of fun and extremely challenging to promote my book, even for an out-going person like my-self. Some folks in book stores are friendly and willing to listen to my spiel about POTLUCK while others clearly try to flee when they see me approaching. But, last week I had one of the most unusual experiences I’ve endured in this year-long process. And, it taught me an important lesson.

After exhausting the typical venues for promoting my book, I decided to try offering my services as a speaker to a few retirement homes near our place in Ottawa. I Googled “high-end retirement homes near me” and emailed the activity coordinators of the establishments that responded. The title of my email read, “Hilarious and Lively Presentations by Local Author” and I included a description of my book and my website address. I was sure I could provide the retirement residents an hour of fun, even if no one who attended the event purchased a book. After all, making people laugh and telling self-deprecating stories is how I survived my youth.
Overall, the response was excellent, and I was able to immediately schedule three facilities close by.

So, in case you ever write a book and want to promote it in senior living centers, you need to know there is a BIG difference between “independent living” and “assisted living” communities. Independent living communities advertise something like this: “Retire in Comfort and Style.” These communities offer things like multiple dining options, health and wellness support, fitness classes, laundry services, and even a bar or bistro.

The first two facilities I made presentations in were populated by independent seniors who simply didn’t want the responsibility and upkeep of home ownership any longer. Been there, done that, they were retired, and so was their lawnmower. Some still had their own cars, handled their own finances and while a few used walkers for getting around, they were all alert and engaging, regardless of any minor physical limitations.

Both facilities were beautifully appointed, spotlessly clean and in both cases I made my presentation in a theater with big comfy chairs for the residents. In one, a hostess served coffee, tea and cookies during my event. The events were lots of fun and modestly successful; I sold the same number of books in a one-hour presentation as I did in a four-hour book store signing, so that was good. And, none of the residents tried to flee the theater. Most folks got my jokes and laughed quite a bit. At the conclusion of my presentation, the residents thanked me politely and I felt confident I had put some fun in their lives.

My third retirement home was a totally different experience. The minute I passed through the doors of the reception area, I could see what the words “assisted living” really means. The place was nice and clean, and the staff was attentive and friendly, but all the residents needed some kind of assistance. (Okay, yeah – duh, Paula….it’s called assisted living for a reason).

Continue reading “A Lesson I Needed To Know”

Who says you can’t go home again?

(It was Thomas Wolfe, and he sure was wrong!)

In July of this year, my husband and I took the Catalina Express, a state-of-the-art fast watercraft out of Long Beach Harbor, to Avalon on Catalina Island.  Avalon, the main city on the island, is where I met Alan, my husband of 50-plus years, while we were in college.  The small island city was Alan’s boyhood home.  And this month, we were returning after an absence of 15 years.

Our-bunk mates for the trip were our old buddies, Bob and Donna Fees, college friends and Alan’s business partner of over 40 years.  (All these big two-digit numbers…sheesh, we’re getting old).  The reason for our trip was a presentation and book signing for my book, POTLUCK:  Little Stories from a Big Table.  Friends of the Avalon Library (FOAL) were hosting the event (I never met a more dedicated or kind bunch of ladies).

Anyhow, while cruising along in the Express, we sipped wine and discussed our schedule.  First stop would be our hotel, to drop off our luggage and, because it was late in the day, hopefully check-into our room.  It was during that discussion that we discovered the hotel I booked for the long weekend did not have an ocean view.  (Not that not having an ocean view would be a deal breaker, but it had been promised to my friends as part of our accommodations.)

“Are you sure?” I asked Laurie Reiten, a darling gal sitting next to us, who was a semi- local to Catalina and our instant new friend. “I swear there was a picture of Avalon Bay on the website!”

“Nope,” she responded.  “I know exactly where that hotel is and it’s nowhere near the bay.  In fact, it’s up a super steep street.”

“Are you absolutely, positively, definitely sure that it doesn’t have an ocean view?”  I continued, unwilling to accept reality and the fact that I had led my friends astray.

Laurie just shook her head back and forth, smiling sweetly.  “No view.  I’m sure of that.”

Donna, since she knows me well, wasn’t surprised at all to hear Laurie’s report. Donna has traveled with me many times and knows my enthusiasm and spontaneity can sometimes get in the way of finding out the small details, like location, whether breakfast is included, and whether or not a room with a view will be part of the experience.

I tried to put up a defense. “I guess when I saw the price of the room I just assumed it came with a view.  It wasn’t cheap.  And,” I mumbled on, quietly, “That damned website showed a view of the harbor!”

Laurie was so right.  Our hotel was up a very steep street.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the cab was sputtering under the load as it stopped in front of our very tall, very narrow hotel; the one with not a single window facing Avalon Bay.

Our husbands, after unloading our bags in the reception area, gave us each a peck on the cheek and headed for the golf course together. They had called and reserved tee-times from the boat.  Donna and I began the check-in process and that’s when we discovered the second thing it seems I should have asked about.  Our hotel didn’t have an elevator.  And our rooms (are you [expletive] kidding?) were on the third floor.  That might not be a problem for some of you folks, but for four senior citizens past their mid-seventies, “no elevator” was not good news.

At first, Donna gamely suggested we carry the bags up by ourselves.  She has always exhibited pioneering spirit, so that idea didn’t surprise me.

I quickly countered, “No way Jose.  We’re getting some help.”  And, I popped back into the reception area and asked for assistance.

A thin, gangly young fella with a big smile and kind eyes quickly came to our rescue and hefted our big bags up the three flights of stairs, going back and forth to the first floor for additional bags, before us two old gals even got to the second-floor landing (Donna and I were following behind with just our carry-on bags in tow).

She and I paused on the second-floor landing, panting like a pair of Bassett Hounds that just returned from a two-mile hike in the Mojave Desert. In between huffing and puffing, I looked right … and spied the view of Avalon Bay, the one I had seen on the hotel website.

“There it is, Donna!” I said, breathlessly.  “There’s the ocean view I saw on the website!” I pointed to the end corner of a small patio adjacent to the stairwell. “I knew that stupid ad showed a bay view.”

The patio with the rare and miniscule bay view was painted a garish yellow-white and was surrounded by a solid, chest-high, cinder block wall that made air circulation impossible.  It was easily 110 degrees inside that patio, maybe hotter.

“Ocean view, my ass!” I blurted sarcastically between breaths.  “Who would go sit in that oven and stare over that wall at the bay?  Not me!”

By the time I arrived at my room, the nice young guy carrying our suitcases had serious sweat on the front of his shirt and under his arms.  He grunted loudly as he struggled to drag my ridiculously heavy bag up on to the bed.  Loaded with books and other junk I needed for the book signing, it easily weighed 80 pounds.  (Usually my make-up bag is the heavy one.)

Continue reading “Who says you can’t go home again?”