Wednesday, June 21, 2017


The Chevy dealership had been holding my daughter’s car hostage somewhere in the recesses of the service center for three days. This all started with a red light on the dashboard, I mean, the Driver’s Information Center.

No one was returning my phone calls, so I figured the service adviser was using the Courtesy Multi-Point Inspection to compile a list of scary engine problems just to freak me out. Late on the third day, I finally got an email with “Your Vehicle is Ready!” in the subject line.

Just walking in the customer service center, I knew I already had at least two counts against me – my gender and my hair color.

My daughter standing behind me, I was pacing in front of the desks when the gray-haired service adviser walked in. He dropped the car keys on the counter – just out of my reach – and flipped through the six-page, color-coded ransom note. He spoke rapidly, authoritatively, “We reset the blah blah sensor and it should be OK, but it could blah blah blah at ANY TIME, and you need to watch out for the blah blah. We also recommend that you have blah, blah, thingamajig, blah, with the whatchamacallit and blah done. Just sign here, and we’ll get started.”

He opened the document to the last page, turned it toward me and waited. At the bottom, highlighted in yellow: “Estimate Total: $1,505.48,” “Thank you!” and the signature line.

My daughter – my youngest child – just turned 18. I didn’t realize I was supposed to be feeling some trepidation about this fall’s impending “empty nest,” but people keep asking me about it. “Are you going to be OK?” “How will you handle it?” “What will you do?” Panicked, I turned to Wikipedia for some answers. Turns out empty nest syndrome “is not a clinical condition.” Whew.

I see it more as an employment issue.

I’m used to holding a lot of job titles, among them: chef, housecleaner, educator, nurse/medic, basketball coach, personal trainer, bodyguard, psychologist, events coordinator, Uber driver, fashion consultant, law enforcement officer, cheerleader, personal shopper, Finder of Lost Things, advocate, hairstylist, spider killer (“you’re bigger than they are” never worked), banker/loan officer – but now I seem to be losing work opportunities at a rapid rate.

So, it’s good to know that occasionally, I can still fill one of the jobs. Like when she rushes in the front door – jostling keys, purse, a metal water bottle and her iPhone. Her status update trails off as she hurries past me and toward her room.

“I have to go do blah, blah and the other thing, and then I’m meeting blah blah for coffee, you remember her? And I’m already at 10,000 steps today! And oh I’m working until blah blah on Wednesday and Thursday so I won’t be home until late and is there anything to eat in this house?”

Did you hear “chef” in there?

But when I was standing at that customer service desk, I knew for certain that I was still employed.

This is like breathing.  I calmly looked up at the service adviser.

“We don’t need all of this work done today. But what I need to know from you is whether the car is safe for this young lady to drive,” I said, nodding toward my pretty, blonde daughter. “Because if you don’t tell me the truth, I will hold you personally responsible for anything that goes wrong with that car.”

He looked a little startled and said quickly, “Oh yes! But that’s a very pricey blah blah blah part if you need to replace it.”

He said it as if it were my fault, as if I were the engineer who designed the damn thing.

“You’re an ‘adviser,’ right? So, you’re just “advising?” (I resisted making the air quotes.)

“Um, well, yes ma’am.”

I reached across the counter and snatched the paperwork and the keys off the counter. “We’re taking the car,” I said forcefully. “Where is it?!”

Mama Lioness. Always.

Friday, June 16, 2017

An Ordinary Father's Day

It was an ordinary school day, and we were sitting in the front cab of Dad’s pickup at the end of our long driveway. That was long before he was “Pops,” by the way. He was just Dad – or Daddy, if I needed something. I was 9 or 10.

We were waiting for the school bus and its dreaded bumpy, milk-run ride into town. That winter morning was dark and cold, and my big sister and I were slumping, bundled up just like Randy would be years later in “A Christmas Story.”

The truck was rumbling but hadn’t warmed up yet – and I was watching every breath float to the ceiling. We weren’t really alert or motivated enough for conversation, but Dad had the radio on, as usual.

I heard the opening nonsensical lyrics, “a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh” and straightened my back against the bench seat. Dad cranked the volume.

Within seconds, my sister and I were singing loudly with the contagious song, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…” Before the song had ended, Dad was singing with us. And not too shabbily.

I used to elbow him when we were standing up to sing in our small Baptist church. Invariably, we were working our way through the first, second and fourth stanzas. He would wink at me but still wouldn’t sing – just sort of mouth the words.

Now that I think about it, the only other song I remember hearing him sing was “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.”

He knew I was the World’s Biggest Elton John Fan and would tease me incessantly about my teenaged obsession. One day, he was doing paperwork in his office, and I was hanging around the radio. On came the musical intro, “When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land? I should have stayed on the farm. I should have listened to my old man.”

Dad said, “Who is that? I like that song!”
“You have excellent taste,” I replied. My turn to wink.

It was years before I caught the irony of the song’s fourth line.

Dad was a hard-working guy and didn’t believe in allowances – but it was mainly because he didn’t want to have to remember how much and to whom he had handed out money. In any case, if I asked, he gave – gruffly handing over a five-dollar (or occasionally a ten-dollar) bill.

“Don’t spend it all at the record store!” he would admonish me. I always mumbled a reply, trying to avoid a white lie. We both knew it – come Saturday morning, I’d end up at the mall, sorting through the album bins.

And so, it began. Vinyl, 8-track, cassettes, CDs, digital, vinyl again. Casey Kasem. Wolfman Jack. “The Midnight Special.” “American Bandstand.” “Soul Train.” Record players, car stereos, Sony Walkman, Bose, iPods, iPhones, Bluetooth, Pandora, Sirius radio, Apple Music. Going to the concerts of “classic” rock bands –before they were classic.

My dad’s been gone for 19 years. I don’t remember anything I gave him for the 34 Christmases I knew him and only three of the words that I wrote inside his last Father’s Day card.

But distinctly, I remember climbing out of his truck more than 40 years ago.

And when I woke up on a recent June morning with that silly song in my head, the memory of an ordinary day with Dad was as heavy as the humidity.

The Tokens

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Big Dog in a Small World

He was just a dog, so I didn’t expect to erupt into tears on that Tuesday afternoon in the vet’s office.

But that’s exactly what I did when Jake lay on the cool tile floor, dropped his head onto his front paws and closed his eyes for the last time. My right hand was clutching the thick white fur on his back.

I don’t cry at commercials, but you should know that I am emotionally moved by the daily headlines in the big world. So often it feels like we are all sharing a house of chaos – built with the bricks of terrorism, inequity, savagery, injustice, poverty, dishonesty, financial ruin, unsavory politics. Pain. If I watch television news too often or stay attached to social media too long, I start to believe that I actually live in that world.

Thank God, I don’t.

I live in a small world – where the only occupants are close family members and a few trusted friends. People who like to drink coffee. And the inordinately happy people who greet me at the YMCA three mornings a week.

I live in a house that was built a long time before I was born. For years, the only person who lived here was a woman known by everyone in town. To the neighbors, it’s still “Brownie’s house.”

The house sits on a shady street in a neighborhood where people talk over the fence, and unsupervised kids play in the streets. Where I can walk to church. And the best coffee place on the planet is eight-tenths of a mile from the house.

My world consists of sunsets at the lake. A good book on a Tuesday night. Friends and laughter on Friday nights. Watching the cardinals and the squirrels play in the backyard or the torrential rain wash sins all the way to the end of the street out front. A roaring fireplace in the winter and a big porch in the summer.

For the three years I knew him, Jake was the gentle bear who offered unconditional love, support and silent counseling during a time of considerable change in my small world. Talking to him was natural. Hugging him was easy. I’m pretty sure I trusted that dog more than I do most people.

A 110-pound Great Pyrenees, Jake was a dependable sentry who patrolled the chain-link fence. He slept wherever he was needed – on the back porch, at the foot of my teenage daughter’s bed, in the patio room, beside the couch. Even the timid seven-pound gray tabby stayed nestled in the couch cushions when the dog was in the room. Until he was too sick to move and too tired to speak, Jake was on duty.

“I told him more than I told any person,” my daughter whispered, choking on her tears.  

In the big world, I know, he was just a dog.