Category Archives: family

Loving the Library

I love libraries. They and the books within them have shaped my life.

The idea of libraries went back, evidently, to ancient Assyria, but libraries in the United States caught hold in 1731, when Benjamin Franklin founded the Philadelphia Library Company with a bunch of his friends. I’m pleased to note that it’s still in operation today and has, as you might guess, many of Franklin’s papers and all sorts of historic books and manuscripts, including the Mayflower Compact and first editions of Moby-Dick and Leaves of Grass. The current collection is over 500,000 books.

I have a t-shirt that says “I Love You to the Library and Back.” That’s what I should have said to my father. Every other Saturday, the bookmobile parked in the Rike’s Department Store parking lot, and I got my reading fix. I almost always checked out Green Eggs and Ham, until my mother told me that I should get something else, too. (My mother once tried to make me green eggs and ham. It worked for the eggs, but not so much for the ham. But I digress.) My dad drove me to the bookmobile and sometimes even to a small library just a bit farther away. I brought home double armloads of books and started reading them on the drive home.

Later on, my father even drove me to the library downtown, where I could check out a particular record album I loved and could find nowhere else (I now have it on iTunes, but this was long ago). Libraries now have CDs and DVDs and video games and ebooks and sometimes even tools you can check out. They also have computers that the public can use for searching the online “card catalog” and for their own wants and needs. They have children’s summer reading programs, storytimes, and crafts.

My father wasn’t really a reader himself until he was laid low by cancer and couldn’t even get to the room with the television. Beth McCarty, a family friend and the “traveling library lady,” brought books to shut-ins and never failed to bring my father bags of the Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey and Foxfire books he loved.

When I was in junior high, I volunteered to work in the school library during my free period, shelving books. It was there I became acquainted with Robert Heinlein’s juveniles and Ray Bradbury’s short stories, beginning my lifelong love of science fiction. (I once was concentrating so hard on the titles that I walked right off the little stool I needed to reach the upper shelves. But I digress again.)

I spent my undergrad college years working in the grad school library, which had closed stacks. I was a page and retrieved books for people and sent them down in what was essentially a dumbwaiter. It was my first exposure to the Library of Congress classification system, though it wouldn’t be my last. I loved the job, since when there weren’t any requests, I could read to my heart’s content from the topics shelved on whatever floor I was stationed on. In later life, I also read while on duty when I worked at an unsuccessful bookstore.

By the time I was a young adult (though older than what is called “young adult” these days in terms of fiction audiences) I made regular trips to the library. I discovered Sue Grafton’s alphabet series while she was still only a few letters in. Another type of fiction that I explored was children’s literature. The library never made me feel silly about checking out Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. And I particularly haunted the new acquisitions shelf. I was always on the prowl for something I didn’t know about that sounded interesting.

I thought of the overdue fines I paid over the years as my little contributions to the libraries’ budget. (A much more substantial contribution to the Ohio libraries – over $600,000 – was made by comedian Drew Carey, who gave away what he had won on game shows, before he ever hosted one.)

Of course, if Ben Franklin were alive now (and I wish he was), the concept of libraries would most likely never have gotten off the ground. A place accessible to anyone where they could get books for free? Supported by our tax dollars? It’s hard to imagine that going through these days.

Anymore I think of librarians as a type of freedom fighter. They take access to books and the privacy of patrons seriously. Back in 2001, when the Patriot Act was passed, they refused to rat out their patrons based on what “unsuitable” books they checked out. Now, they resist efforts to remove books from their shelves based on the wishes of pressure groups.

At one point in my life, I seriously considered becoming a librarian myself. I sometimes still wish I had. I would be proud to join their ranks, even with the low pay, lack of funding, and political nonsense. It’s a job that needs doing, and always will.

(I’ll have more to say about libraries next week.)

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Whose Daughter? Whose Wife?

Emily St. John Mandel noticed back in 2012 that there were many, many books with titles that related to someone’s daughter. “No trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon,” she said. “Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. A recent issue of Shelf Awareness had ads for both The Sausage Maker’s Daughters and The Witch’s Daughter. I’m Facebook friends with the authors of The Hummingbird’s DaughterThe Baker’s DaughterThe Calligrapher’s Daughter, and The Murderer’s Daughters, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.” She actually made a spreadsheet of the number of daughter books and came up with over 530. “I don’t mean to suggest that 530 represents the total number of these books,” she added. “Five hundred and thirty was just the arbitrary point where I decided to stop counting, because the project was starting to take too much time. I was only on page 88 of 200 pages of search results.”

Well, I took over her mission and recorded still more daughters that were the subject of books. One of the best known is The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Among the others I found were the President’s, General’s, Senator’s, Governor’s, Admiral’s, Colonel’s, Judge’s, and Sheriff’s. And the Bishop’s, Apostate’s, and Vicar’s. Not to mention the Alchemist’s, Apothecary’s, Taxi Driver’s, Merchant’s, Outlaw’s, and Killer’s. There were even ones that recognized that sometimes women had daughters as well: the Harlot’s, the Mistress’s, and the Book Woman’s daughters all came up on the search.

But the phenomenon doesn’t stop there. I also found a plethora of books devoted to various people’s wives. The most recent and popular was The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but there are plenty of others. Some I found particularly interesting: Zookeeper’s and Tiger’s (two separate books), Nazi Officer’s, Traitor’s, Lightning God’s, Liar’s, Shape-Changer’s, Dopeman’s, Conqueror’s, and Dark Overlord’s. Lobotomist’s (I think I need to read that one) and Anatomist’s and Knife Thrower’s. Lots of occupational ones – Shoemaker’s, Pilot’s (and Aviator’s), Headmaster’s, Optician’s, Woodcutter’s, Centurion’s, Mapmaker’s (a fascinating book that I’ve actually read), Tea Planter’s, Clockmaker’s, Chocolate Maker’s, Restaurant Critic’s, Runaway Pastor’s (no, that’s one, not two), Penmaker’s, and Banker’s wives were all featured. And some that are just puzzling: Salaryman’s, Janitor’s, Centaur’s wife.

That’s where I stopped recording them. I’m not a big fan of spreadsheets.

The reason I bring all this up (there actually is a reason) is that I’m always annoyed (not to say pissed off) when there’s a campaign that defines a woman in terms of her relationship with someone else: Breast cancer could happen to your wife or your mother. Being attacked on the street at night could happen to your daughter, your fiance, your niece. Abortion, stalking, mental and other illnesses – all could happen to a person related to you.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware of how these tragedies and distressing situations can affect those around you – loved ones, relatives, neighbors. And it’s not like there aren’t a few similar things that could be said about husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, or male friends (killed in war or suffering from prostate cancer, usually).

What gets to me is that the afflictions are said to be visited on women in relation to someone else. Isn’t it bad enough when a woman is raped or gets cervical cancer strictly as herself? Why do we have to define her as someone’s something in order for her to deserve our attention?

Even the sisters and the daughters are encouraged to think, “It could be my mother or grandmother. It could be my best friend.” I guess “It could happen to any woman” isn’t specific enough. There has to be an emotional connection to make them worth caring about.

But there are plenty of women without family or community connections who are subject to diseases and disasters – the homeless woman, the one who has always lived on her own, the widow with no children. Why can’t we care about, have sympathy for, and work toward the health and happiness of them too?

Or are they only worthwhile and interesting when they’re daughters or wives?

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Adventures in Ireland, Part One: There and Back Again

No. This wasn’t us. Not hardly.

Our recent trip to Ireland was a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. Ireland is a marvelous country and our time there was sublime. But getting there and back was ridiculous.

It all started (or didn’t, actually) when we got to the airport in the evening to discover no one was behind the airline counter. A few phone calls later, we discovered that the airline had changed the flight time – back in December – and we never got so much as an email from them about it. So we missed the flight to Ireland by approximately four hours.

There were no other flights out that evening, though they had one the next day. Unfortunately, since we were officially no-shows, we had to rebook and pay more money. I spent considerable time on the phone with our bank and credit card company too, trying to shift money around so we could still go.

We had already stowed our car in the non-airport long-term parking and didn’t feel inclined to retrieve it and go back home. So we had to get a hotel room and spend the night. Even that was a trial. None of the hotels that had vacancies had shuttle service to the airport and one of them didn’t even have hot water. So it was Uber for us both that evening and in the morning. At last we got on our way, but we had missed one day of our vacation, spent it in a Best Western instead of an Irish bed-and-breakfast, and already cut into our less-than-extravagant budget.

When we finally arrived in Dublin, we rented a car and set off to our first hotel. The vacation company had booked us into swanky hotels for the first and last stops, presumably on the theory that we’d be exhausted at those points. We didn’t stay in Dublin, because I was dubious about driving on the left in a big city the first day we got there. Instead, we went to the Dunboyne Castle Hotel, which is a little bit away from the city and just as impressive as it sounds.

Our first real b-n-b was in Donegal, and it was in many ways my favorite of the places we stayed. Brook Lodge was a regular house with a comfy bedroom (and en suite bathroom, which all our accommodations had) and a lovely woman who cooked us breakfasts while we watched and Dan chatted with her about gardening.

Our first real stop was a ditch on the way to Brook Lodge. It was 11:00 p.m., we were spent, and we ended up on a one-lane road that stopped at a cattle gate. We managed to get turned around, but went off the side of the road. Fortunately, we had a small flashlight with us (Girl Scout training came in handy there) and Dan took off down the road to find some help. I waited with the car.

Within half an hour, Dan was back with a great couple who drove us and our luggage to Brook Lodge, then came back the next day to pull the Toyota out of the ditch and magically remove the dent so that Hertz wouldn’t make us buy a whole new car when we turned it in.

(The Tom-Tom GPS that came with our rental car was useless and for most of the trip we used Google Maps on my phone. Dan did the driving as I was too nervous to do it, and I did the navigating as he wasn’t able to do both at once. But I digress.)

It was another ridiculous story when it was time to return to Ohio. When we went to catch our plane (after far too long driving around the airport trying to figure out where to leave our rental car), we arrived at the counter only to find that we couldn’t board the plane. Naively, we had thought that our COVID triple-vax cards would be sufficient for travel to the US as they had been going to Ireland. But no. We needed an antigen test. Since the testing site was in another part of the airport and our plane boarded in 30 minutes, there was no way we could get the test in time. There were no other flights that weren’t booked solid for four more days.

I got on the phone with the airline and spent a good hour and a half with them trying to figure out a solution. Eventually, we achieved one. There would be a plane that we could take – from Dublin to Newark and Newark to Chicago and thence to Ohio. And it wouldn’t take a four-day wait. Only two.

Again, we had no choice but to find a hotel room. And just as the flights were booked, so were most of the hotel rooms. We found one that had two rooms left and quickly snagged one. (It was an accessible room, with all kinds of extra equipment in the bathroom. We didn’t need the pull cord for the nurse, but some of the other accommodations proved handy because my husband and I are somewhat mobility-challenged. But I digress again.)

So we spent two days in a Dublin airport hotel, except for taking the hotel shuttle to the COVID testing site at the airport. (Need I say that we both tested negative?) I suppose we could have taken buses to explore the city, but by that time we were both beyond fatigued and demoralized, not to mention out of money. We spent the time playing Mille Bornes, which we had for some reason brought with us, and reading and playing solitaire on our Nook e-readers. And trying to get a charging cable for my phone in case I needed another marathon session with the airline. The hotel provided one. They kept the cables people had left behind for six months, then handed them out to anyone who needed them.

We were enormously relieved to get home and retrieve the kitties from the vet where we had boarded them. We immediately started saving to go back to Ireland, though with a few lessons learned.

There’s lots more to tell and show, but I’ll leave the more sublime parts of the story – and the photos – for next week’s blog, when I’ll no doubt digress again and again. More sublimity and more ridiculosity to come…

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Still More Travel Tales, or Why I’m Somewhere Else

I hope when you see this post, I’ll be out of the country, in Ireland. (I say I hope because I’m not altogether convinced that the WordPress schedule-your-post-for-later function will work the way I want it to.)

I’ve traveled to Ireland twice before, once with my mother and once with a group of Catholic writers and editors. (Why? The company that sponsored our tour wanted us to round up our readers for a tour of our own.) They were both epic tours in different ways.

Now I am going back to Ireland with my husband, who has never been there. It’s kind of a second honeymoon for us. Our first one was when we were rather poor. (We paid for our wedding cake with food stamps and our reception was a potluck. But I digress.) Our honeymoon was spent camping and whitewater rafting and sleeping in a treehouse, which is another story.

Since then we have traveled a lot together, including to England, Croatia, and Benson, AZ. (That last trip was inspired by a song of the same name which was the theme song (about special relativity) for a low-budget science fiction movie, Dark Star, that practically no one has ever seen. But I digress. Again.)

We scheduled our Ireland trip last fall when we could lock in plane fares. My husband’s nephew is a travel agent and he made all the arrangements for us, up to and including getting the airlines to send one of those beepy cart things to our gate so we could make our connection without having to run while carrying luggage. He also took care of renting us a car in Ireland and making B-n-B reservations in places we wanted to stay. We’re going to be driving around and visiting lots of scenic and historical places, which his nephew was also kind enough to send us notes on and how far each is from where we’re staying. The nephew’s name is Michael Reily and he’s on Facebook, if any of this inspires you to book a trip.

Since then I have been planning like a madwoman. I’ve written about this before in my post “Preparing for the Normandy Invasion.” And that was about a three-day trip. This time I looked up directions for getting to every town, castle, or spot we want to see, plus a scenic tour by boat. I even emailed a pub to ask if we needed to reserve a table. (No.) I booked reservations for eight different sites and events and printed out confirmations. I even paid for them beforehand, never knowing how much I paid because I can’t (yet) convert dollars to Euros in my head. And I got compression stockings for the overseas flights, as they give me cankles.

One of the things I made sure to tell Dan’s nephew about was that we wanted to go to the town where the movie The Quiet Man, one of Dan’s all-time favorite movies, was filmed. His nephew even arranged it so we could visit the town on Dan’s birthday. I may stake out a seat in a pub while he explores, since that isn’t one of my favorite movies. (I wonder if I can get a map of the area so he doesn’t miss anything.) We’ve even booked a very touristy but entertaining Medieval Banquet that I enjoyed on one of my earlier trips. For culture’s sake, we’ve also booked the local Folk Park as well, which has replicas of thatched-roof cottages as well as gardens. It sounds like a great place to take pictures.

Speaking of pictures, I found out that my iPod and my phone will post them directly to Facebook, so you may have already seen some of them by now. (I wasn’t afraid to give away this little bit of information about us being away from my home, since none of my Facebook friends are burglars, and most live in some other state. But I digress. Again.) The photo included here is not one I took. It’s of the Giant’s Causeway, which I hope we will have seen by now.

So far, the most difficult part of the trip was getting both our cats to the vet for boarding. We have one that escaped from his carrier when tried to take them for their shots. So it’s buy another, sturdier carrier or ferry the cats in two trips.

The only thing I wasn’t able to overthink was how to practice driving on the left side of the road. I hope I’m doing it right – I mean left.

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TV Improved Our Marriage

It isn’t that our marriage is bad. But we had been growing apart. That is to say that my husband and I like different TV programs. I like cooking shows, though I never actually make any of the recipes. He likes classic movies from the ’30s to the ’70s, especially science fiction, the cheesier the better. (One of his favorites is Robinson Crusoe on Mars.)

I’m a big fan of science fiction, but not generally the movies. They all seem to involve superheroes, comics I’ve never heard of, the alien threat of the week, or mindless high-tech violence. (My distaste for superhero movies was challenged when I discovered I love Deadpool, which contains plenty of low-tech (though scarcely credible) violence. Deadpool is really an antihero rather than a hero anyway. But I digress.)

It’s not that I dislike all movies from the early days. I think My Man Godfrey is good, Arsenic and Old Lace is the best serial killer movie ever, Harvey is funny and touching, and Twelve Angry Men is superb. But so many old movies contain rapid-fire dialogue that I can’t make out (think Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) or women with high-pitched, shrill voices hollering (as in Born Yesterday, which is otherwise a really terrific movie).

Dan objects to my cooking competition shows (such as Top Chef, Chopped, and Beat Bobby Flay) both because they bore him and because they sometimes drop live lobsters into boiling water (he still calls Emeril Lagasse “the evil cook” because he once dropped live crayfish into a hot skillet and joked about it). My husband’s tender-hearted. What can I say?

There is a competition show that we both like – Forged in Fire. I don’t know why I like this, but I do. I tend to like competition shows where the contestants have to make an actual thing that requires skill (which may be why I like Project Runway, too, which Dan doesn’t).

When Forged in Fire comes on, we retreat to my study to watch it, instead of being in separate rooms watching separate programs. (We go to my study because there is something wrong with the Roku in the living room and it doesn’t get all the same channels.) I also got him to watch Ink Master with me. He didn’t want to like it, but he got hooked on it.

Recently, though, we’ve been binge-watching a few series, generally a few episodes a week, which is our version of binging. I’ve selected the shows carefully to entice Dan into my study. We started with Star Trek: Picard, which we will watch weekly once it starts up again (unless episodes with Q are a major factor). The same with Star Trek: Discovery. Recently, we’ve begun watching Resident Alien and The Orville. Both of these are comedy sci-fi series, so they satisfy my husband’s needs and are perfect lures. And we both like some documentaries. Occasionally we watch a movie, or Dan watches one while I fool around on my computer – at least we’re in the same room.

There are some drawbacks to meeting in my study. There are only two chairs and one of them is my desk chair. Dan is more amenable to joining me if I let him sit in the comfy chair. And he has to have snacks (popcorn and/or nuts), crumbs of which get strewn about the carpet.

There are also some pluses. Dan is always too hot and I am always too cold. Fortunately, the study has a window he can open and a blanket I can wrap up in. There is a little tray table to put beverages on and a Mr. Coffee machine if either of us wants tea or cocoa (neither of us is addicted to coffee).

Carefully chosen TV programs and a comfortable study have thus brought us together, ending weeks of separation in the evenings (or in the daytime on our days off). I suppose that separation was the price we were paying for having TVs in two different rooms.

But now, we are closer than ever, both physically and emotionally. It’s rare to find TV shows that can do that.

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A Cat in the Night

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and unemotional. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. (They also have reputations for being graceful, which anyone who’s seen a cat fall off a window ledge can testify is unfounded. There are plenty of online videos that prove it too. But I digress.)

Actually, cats have wide emotional ranges, which can include anything from passive to pissed-off. One of our previous cats, Maggie, could snub a person so thoroughly that they knew they had been well and truly snubbed.

But every now and then, a cat will read your emotions and give you exactly what you need.

We have a cat named Toby. He’s generally happy-go-lucky, with a trace of skittishness. He doesn’t purr much, but he makes crazy sounds like “ma-weep” that I don’t know how he can do without proper lips. He does like to cuddle when we’re on the sofa or the comfy chair, either nestled in my husband’s arms or draped across my capacious bosom. (If I were a different sort of writer, I would have titled this “Bosom Buddies.” But I digress. Again.) At night our other cat, Dushenka, snuggles up by Dan’s head, while Toby sometimes curls up by my feet, to be joined by Dushenka if Dan starts rocking and rolling too much in his sleep.

This day, though, I had simply had enough. Dan forgot to pick up something I needed when he went to the store. I was still suffering the aftereffects of dental surgery and was sorely sick of eating broth and mush, enlivened only by peanut butter or the occasional scrambled egg. Something I ordered arrived but wasn’t right. It wasn’t a day when big problems unexpectedly dropped in my lap. It was a day when I felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I sat on the sofa beside Dan, tears slowly trickling down my face, which he didn’t see. Later he claimed he did but didn’t know what to do about it, which is in some ways worse.

At last, we went to bed and Dushenka curled up next to hubby as usual. Dan went promptly to sleep, a thing I can never manage to pull off. I lay in bed, tears still trickling, making small puddles in my ears.

Then Toby came, and lay next to me, his furry little head resting on my arm. And he stayed with me. He would sometimes move a little, twist around to find a better position. But he always ended up in some configuration with his head on my arm. He was a soothing presence, giving me just what I needed – silent comfort and undemanding physical contact.

We stayed like that for hours. Once in a while, I reached to touch him, but it didn’t seem to disturb him. It was me and Toby, communing through the long, dark hours of the night.

Eventually, I was calm and reassured enough to sleep, and I turned on my side, the only way I ever sleep. Toby retreated to his usual position alongside my feet, close enough to return to his protective, gently soothing position if I needed his presence again. But I slept through the rest of the night, dreamless, and awoke calm, ready to face the next day and all its ducks. Knowing that Toby was there if I needed him.

More gushy food for Toby! (And Dushenka)

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Watch Out! Phone In!

My husband is the last person in the universe who still doesn’t have a smartphone. He says it’s because he doesn’t want a phone smarter than he is. Personally, I think it’s because he likes to flip it open and yell, “Beam me up, Scotty!” just to confuse the telemarketers.

Not that he gets calls from telemarketers. He always gives my phone number when asked for his, making me effectively his secretary. Confirm a doctor’s appointment? The mechanic says the car is ready? Someone from work? I take a message. Sometimes it’s his own mother who calls me, if Dan’s not answering his phone (he usually isn’t) or she can’t leave a voicemail (he doesn’t know how to retrieve them).

But, as usual, I digress. I meant to talk about the evolution of watches and what we call them.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, it was simple. There were watches. You kept them in a pocket, usually attached by some sort of chain. Then someone invented a watch you wore on your wrist, so someone else had to coin the terms “pocket watch” and “wristwatch,” just in case you couldn’t tell from context which kind was meant.

Watch technology was far from reaching its zenith, however. The next innovation was the digital watch, which lit up numbers the way your bedside clock does (at least until we got rid of the ones that had numbers on little cards that fell over as the minutes and hours changed). Some bright person realized we needed a way to tell that kind of watch from the kind with hands. Thus were born the “digital watch” (which has sort of died out) and the “analog watch,” the kind with hands that people under a certain age can’t read. Neither of the new watches made that comforting ticking sound.

Next came the mobile phone, which were actually really phones, not watches, except you could use them to call the time and temperature line, which still existed. At first, a mobile phone was a rich person’s toy, anchored somewhere in the car to impress passengers. Then completely mobile phones were invented. They began as big, blocky things with an antenna sticking out, which you can sometimes still see in old movies or episodes of Ab Fab. They got tinier and tinier, until they could fit in your pocket (assuming you were a man and had pockets in your good clothes).

That’s when watches began to morph into phones. Flip phones, such as my husband has, featured the time on the outside panel. Watches were on the way out. Larger watches still existed, aimed at teens. These were in bright colors and were called “Swatches.”

Suddenly, watches were obsolete. Everything now is done by phone. We’re up to smartphones, which everyone except my husband has, and which can tell you not just the time, but the weather in Istanbul, how to say “What’s the weather in Istanbul?” in Turkish, “What’s the best restaurant in Istanbul?” and how to get there. Unfortunately, smartphones can no longer fit in a pocket (unless you’re a man in a suit). Women have to carry them in their purses, where it’s almost impossible to hear them ring, unless you’re sitting near them in a restaurant. Fortunately, these phones take messages for those who, unlike Dan, know how to use that function. (To be fair, I hardly ever look to see if I have voice messages, which I guess makes me little better than Dan on that point. But I digress. Again.)

Now, however, there’s an even newer kind of watch, which you wear on your wrist (how retro!). I suppose it will tell you the time, if you ask it nicely, but its main function is to keep track of your bodily processes as you jog, walk, sleep, or whatever. It keeps track of your heart rate, your breathing, your oxygen sats, the quality of your sleep, your body mass index, your blood sugar, your exact position on planet Earth, and how much you’d weigh on the moon. (And probably some other parameters I don’t know – and don’t wish to know – about.)

I think these are called fitwatches, by analogy with fitbits, a trend from ages past (last month, I think).

But I call them snitchwatches. And I’m not getting one. I swear.

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Oatmobile, Not Oldsmobile!

A friend of mine, while being driven home after a colonoscopy, remarked, “When I get home, I know what I want to have – a bowl of oatmobile. No, oatmobile. Damn it, you know what I mean – oatmobile.” (They were driving a Toyota, not an Oldsmobile. But I digress.) All of us had a good laugh about it then and for many years to come. My husband and I still say “oatmobile.”

The reason I bring this up is that I, too, am on a diet of oatmobile. And yogurt. And Jell-O. And pudding. And chocolate milk. None of these are amusing or pronounced in humorous ways, unless you count what my husband and I sometimes call “beef brof,” which I am also having a lot of.

As you may guess, this is because I recently lost a number of teeth. No, not in a rowdy bar brawl (though that’s the entertaining story I will probably tell people). I had quite a number of teeth extracted. My teeth were never good, my parents having been unable to afford orthodontia, and over the years, they have steadily gotten worse.

I had IV sedation for the extraction, or I wouldn’t have been able to get near the dentist’s office. I have severe dental-phobia, another reason that my teeth needed this kind of attention. The only person with worse dental-phobia than mine is my sister, who once cleared an entire room of prospective patients by screaming loud and long before the dentist even gave her Novocaine.

So, the IV sedation. Before the process started, I checked to make sure they had backup oxygen available, and that I wasn’t in procedure room eight. (I’ve seen Coma one too many times.) I was extra-nervous, too, as I hadn’t been allowed to take my Ativan the night before or the day of, in case it interfered with the sedation.

They did give me nitrous oxide, which has no effect on me. Once I was at the dentist and the hygienist said, “Bubble gum or cotton candy?” I gave her the “You’re from Mars and have two heads” look. Then I learned that scented nitrous oxide existed (or perhaps scented nose cones). Ordinarily, they offered these options to children. Perhaps I was acting childishly. I chose “toothpaste,” which was at least minty.

Then they had to choose a vein for the sedation. My veins are notorious for rolling around when trying to be stabbed. I probably would be too. It turned out the IV infiltrated and I went home with a large purple lump in my elbow. It’s not entirely gone yet.

Because of COVID restrictions, Dan wasn’t able to come into the treatment room with me, which he usually does, being my Emotional Support Animal. In fact, he wasn’t even allowed to come into the building. For two hours, he sat outside in the car, reading and napping, until finally the hygienist brought out wobbly me and gave him several sheets of directions on aftercare. The rest of the day is a blur. A painful, drooling blur.

Tonight he has promised me a dinner fit for an invalid – turkey, sweet potatoes, carrots, and ice cream – all baby food except the ice cream. He does realize that the baby food will need some doctoring, such as salt, pepper, cinnamon, maybe garlic, and perhaps other herbs and spices, to be palatable.

I swear, when this is over, I’m going to Red Robin and order their biggest, juiciest burger and their bottomless fries.

I’ll pass on my usual milkshake, though.

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A Three-Bunny Morning

I used to work third-shift at an alarm security company. At the same time, I was going to grad school and teaching English 101 at the university. The alarm company job was both vaguely interesting and supremely boring.

Basically, I was the person on the other end of “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” as well as monitoring business openings and closings and calling the cops or the fire department if an alarm went off in the middle of the night. I had to call the business owners too, and some of them were well beyond rude, especially when the call proved to be a false alarm.

I liked the job for the solitude – I was the only person in the building on third shift. (As you’d expect for a security company, the building was thoroughly locked down tight at night.) It was pretty quiet most nights, so I could read my assignments for the master’s degree and grade papers for English 101 while waiting for the alarms to sound. But on windy or stormy days there would be loud beeping from the machine spewing out false alarms and then the clack-clack of my IBM Selectric as I created the nightly reports.

One of the worst things about the business was that, what with both the job and grad school, I was frequently so short on sleep that I was afraid to drive myself. (Another worst thing was that the bosses would grant other workers time off for their kids’ school activities, but I couldn’t take off to study for a big exam. Or for any family-type holidays, like Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. But I digress.)

What does this have to do with bunnies, you may ask? The bunnies were an after-work, early-morning bonus.

My husband, saint that he is, would sometimes drop me off at the security company late at night and come to pick me up early in the morning, to drive me to the university. Often, he got there a little early and parked behind the building to sit in the early morning light for a few minutes while I neatened my area and punched out. Sometimes, he got there ten or fifteen minutes early, just to look at the small field between the security building and the house across the way.

When I finally got to the car, if we had a few extra minutes, we both contemplated the field and counted the bunnies. The field was a place where they gathered and ate and hopped.

The thing about bunny-counting was that you had to pay close attention to the field. The bunnies were well-hidden in the long grass. Only when a bunny moved did you really notice that it was there. A wiggle of the ears. A movement towards another clump of grass. Bright eyes looking around for potential predators.

Some mornings we spotted only one bunny, and that was okay. Sometimes, if we waited a little longer and really concentrated, we saw more than one. We took the number of bunnies we saw as an omen for the day. The more bunnies, the better luck we would have. A three-bunny morning was a pleasant way to start a pretty good day. Some days we saw four or five bunnies and felt ourselves blessed. Once we even saw seven bunnies. It was a spectacular day.

Now we live in a house where there used to be woods, but the trees are not there anymore. Still, sometimes we see baby rabbits in the spring and well-fed rabbits in the fall, making their way across our walkway and devouring things my husband has carefully planted. (We also see many squirrels, a very fat groundhog, the occasional deer passing through, and multitudes of birds and butterflies.)

Bunny-counting days are long gone. I don’t even know if the security building and the house with the bunny-field still exist. I miss the days when we would have a leisurely bunny stakeout as we waited for the day to begin. The morning light, the calm expectation, the excitement of spotting a bunny’s ears, the three-bunny morning – these are things I miss.

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A Wise and Good Man

Not long ago, I saw on Facebook a picture of Captain Kangaroo in his costume, with a silly expression on his face. The caption was something on the order of “Who in his right mind would put this man in charge of a bunch of children?”

Well, I would, for one. It’s easy to take a photograph of anyone that presents an unflattering portrait, and if that person’s job is to be a children’s entertainer and to have ping-pong balls dropped on his head, he’s even more likely to look goofy.

The reality is quite different. Captain Kangaroo may have acted goofy, but in real life, he was far from it.

I had heard that Bob Keeshan (the Captain’s not-so-secret identity) was an advocate for children, but I never realized how passionately and compassionately until I had the chance to interview him, many years ago, when I was the editor of Early Childhood News magazine. (The accompanying photo is a souvenir of that occasion, resurrected from a single frame of film that somehow survived both the tornado and all our moves. My husband found it and I found a way to digitize it. If Mr. Keeshan looks tired in the photo, it’s because he had just finished giving one of his impassioned speeches. But I digress.)

Keeshan was a friend of fellow children’s entertainer Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), and they occasionally guested on each other’s shows, spreading their message of gentleness, care, and fun with widening audiences. After Captain Kangaroo was pushed into an unfavorable time slot, the show was picked up by PBS and ran for a number of years there.

Keeshan began his crusade of child activism while he was still The Captain to innumerable boys and girls, including me (I was particularly fond of the puppet character Bunny Rabbit because it wore glasses like I did). But Keeshan learned that there was a horror movie involving an evil Santa Claus, and that commercials for it were being shown during children’s shows, including his own. He objected and made his voice heard.

After he retired, Keeshan became a tireless child advocate and speaker. He stood strongly against violent video games, which he noted taught children nothing about the real world, and particularly against children’s shows based on those same video games or on violent toys, like “Power Rangers” and “The Transformers.”

But Keeshan’s crusade for children’s rights didn’t stop at the other side of the TV screen. At the speech I attended, he said that many run-away kids should really be called “throw-away” kids for how families and society failed them. Unfortunately, neither my clips nor my notes of my article have survived, so I can’t tell you exactly what he said, just that he said it with fervor and sincerity. And sometimes quite a bit of anger.

In lieu of the article, I offer some Bob Keeshan quotes taken from other sources over the years.

Back in the old days, when I was a child, we sat around the family table at dinner time and exchanged our daily experiences. It wasn’t very organized, but everyone was recognized and all the news that had to be told was told by each family member. We listened to each other and the interest was not put on; it was real.

Generosity has built America. When we fail to invest in children, we have to pay the cost.

Children don’t drop out of high school when they are 16, they do so in the first grade and wait 10 years to make it official.

I enjoy meeting not only contemporary children, but yesterday’s children as well. It’s nice to talk about the experiences we shared, they tell me, “You were a good friend.” That’s the warmest part.

Now, how goofy does that sound to you?