Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Be It So Resolved

I generally don't make New Year's resolutions. This is because I don't really care for New Year's as a holiday.

Don't get me wrong. I like having the day off, and I truly appreciate any day wherein the main activity is watching football. It's just that I find it a very flimsy type of holiday. Wow! We're turning a page on the calendar? Let's get drunk!

(You would think, from some of the stuff I've confessed to, that it would absolutely be my kind of holiday. Well, yeah, OK, maybe it should be. But it isn't. New Year's is amateur night. I went pro years ago, had a stellar career, retired, and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Watching the neophytes stumble around on December 31st is just painful.)

Be that as it may - and if you have more than three on New Year's, but never more than two on any other day, it is - I have decided that this is the year I will actually make a list of resolutions. And keep every damned one of them, too.

I promise to smoke at least 7,000 cigarettes.

Yes, that's a bold one to lead off with, but I'm going to do it. I know it seems highly improbable, and I dare say that there are few of you who could do it, but I'm basically willpower personified.

I will eat at least 100 pounds of red meat.

I could have gone higher - heck, that's only about 1/10 of a cow - but the first resolution was so stunning, I'm willing to cut myself some slack on this one.

I vow to drink 100 gallons of milk, 15 gallons of cream, eat 25 pounds of refined sugar, and swallow at least 3 pounds of chocolate bon-bons.

This will not be easy, but I've got a plan. I'm going to do it gradually, meting out a bit of the task each day. Except for the bon-bons. With any luck, that part of it will be completed by January 3rd.

I will spend a minimum of 600 hours on my couch, sluglike, watching other men sweat on my television.

Actually, that sounds as though I'm going to invite guys over to exercise and then drip all over my set, but you understand what I mean. I expect to have a full 5% of this one completed by the end of the first day. Yes, it will take a gargantuan and superhuman effort on my part, especially considering that I'll have to get up every so often to light cigarettes, eat hot dogs, put cream in my coffee, and grab another bon-bon, but I have faith in myself.

Now, some of you are no doubt saying, "Good Lord! This guy is going to be dead before May!" Yes, it may seem as though I'm setting the bar a bit too high for myself, and the stress associated with completing these tasks might kill a lesser man, but I figure if you're going to make resolutions, you may as well make them worthwhile and a true test of your character. If I fail, it will be a noble failure. Anyway, I'll relieve a bit of the pressure by lowering the bar a bit on my next resolution.

I promise to flip the bird to at least 12 other drivers.

That's only one a month. I have no doubt that opportunities will abound, and, if I put my mind to it, I could probably finish this one off in a single day. But, I'll let moderation be my watchword.

I swear to, at least twice, let the laundry pile up on my bedroom floor to a minimum height of four feet.

This one seems rather easy, but the laws of physics tend to work against you. Unless you let stuff get really stiff and crusty, the pile tends to topple before reaching the required height. I'll try my best, though.

I will look at the broken air conditioner, the broken television, the fourteen empty packing boxes, and the frame leftover from the no-longer-used futon in the back bedroom, and think about throwing them out.

Even without making a resolution concerning it, I've done this one at least 100 times over the past two years. I'm sure I can make enough of an effort to do so one more time in 2009.

OK, so some of you (all of you, if you have any brains) have come to the conclusion that I'm being facetious. I can't help it. I was born that way. However, in order to make your trip here something other than a total waste, here are some resolutions that, while actually hard for me to keep, I'll really and truly give my best shot.

During the roughly 52 trips I make to the supermarket to buy groceries, I'll actually NOT buy the cookies 5 times.

Every time I hit the cookie aisle, I tell myself that I don't really need to buy any. This year, I will steel myself and NOT buy the cookies once or twice. No, wait a minute, I said 5 times, didn't I? Whew! That was a fairly rash promise, but I guess it's too late now, having declared it in a public forum and all. I guess I have to do it. 5 times it is!

I will tell myself to start getting in shape for softball season, once every week, between now and March 20th.

You do realize that the expenditure of energy involved in this mental effort will burn a bare minimum of 15 calories, right? I'm exhausted already! And I should note that this will insure that, by the time the season begins in April, I will have done more than 90% of my teammates.

Finally, I absolutely vow to write a minimum of 100 blog entries that will be of interest to nobody, utterly inane, and serve no other purpose than to entertain myself.

If you're reading this after January 1st, you can make it 99.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm Giving You Nothing For Christmas

Despite all of the groovy presents you see under this tree...

... I'm giving you nothing for Christmas. Sorry.

Fact of the matter is, I don't have enough time to write anything new. I'd like to do so. I had some vague notions concerning a story from my childhood, going to the Enchanted Village at Jordan Marsh to see Santa, but no go. Maybe next year.

You see, last minute details concerning this Christmas have been clogging up the septic tank of my joy. Nothing that can't be taken care of with some philosophical Rid-X, but still.

One of the more concrete problems involved procuring a piece of equipment that wasn't included with a gift we purchased. We thought that a digital picture frame came with a memory card, but it didn't. So, I got one this morning, and now I have to load the photos onto it, etc.

The digital photo frame is for my Grandma, whom you may remember is 103 years old. That means there were about 100 years worth of photos to choose from. About all I can offer you as entertainment are some of the more interesting photos I'll be loading.

The Christmas tree up above is one of them. That was her and my Grandpa's tree back in the 60's and 70's. They were the first people I knew to have an aluminum tree. My grandparents were pretty radical in some ways. I thought it was very weird then, but I sort of wish it was still around now.

This is my mother looking very 1940-ish. I suspect the photo is actually from the early 50's.

This is Washington Square in Weymouth Landing, Massachusetts. I'm not sure of the exact date, but perhaps it is around the turn of the century.

This is my Aunt Jeanne (deceased) and my cousin, Scott, in a dogsled. They lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the 1960's.

And this is them, just a few years later, in Hawaii. Quite the contrast, eh? My Aunt Jeanne was an adventurous sort. She died many years ago now, and I only have bits and pieces of stories. I know she rode a motor scooter back when that wasn't considered a thing for a lady to do. She wasn't averse to trying new things, as witness the above locales. Her second marriage was to a warlock, a very sweet guy with an infectious and unique laugh (haw-haw-haw, it went, which doesn't really give you the sense of it completely, but anyone who heard it has never forgotten it and could probably do a decent imitation even now.) As I've gone through my own interesting adventures in life, I wish I could talk to Auntie Jeanne some more now. I'd have a much greater appreciation, I'm sure. Too bad I can't.

On somewhat the other end of the spectrum, this is my Uncle Louis Barcello. He was a Roman Catholic priest, serving mass in Albuquerque in this photo. I was his altar boy once. He was visiting home and had me be his helper. I sort of knew what to do, but I wasn't totally proficient. I had been attending mass for years already at the time, but had never considered being an altar boy, so hadn't been paying attention to them so much as the priest. I got through it without disgracing either one of us. When I faltered, Uncle Louis stage-whispered directions to me.

Self-explanatory, I suppose, but that never stopped me from going on at length before, so why not now? This photo was taken in either St. Petersburg or Tampa, Florida. It was the only time I ever met my great-grandmother, I believe.

It is now 43 years later. The three people on the right are still kicking ass and taking names. As the story goes, that side of my family used to own half of that town. They sold it for a bag of magic beans or something; I don't know the whole story, but I know I'm not rich. That's enough.

And I leave you with this picture of a kid on a rocking horse.

Yes, it's me. The rocking horse was built by my Grandpa, a man very handy with tools. He later painted it, beautifully, in red's and whites. It might have been a Christmas present. If so, a fitting end to this.

The rocking horse is still extant, on my Grandma's front porch, and if I weighed about 100 pounds less, I'd give it a ride two days from now when we go there for Christmas. But, I don't weigh 100 pounds less. The lovely horse doesn't deserve to have his back broken after all these years, so I'll resist the temptation.

I'll be back around New Year, and I hope I bring something new and shiny for you to enjoy. In the meantime, I hope you get everything you want to get, are able to give everything you wanted to give, and, if not, you realize that the Lord's blessings are still upon you in abundance, even if you don't quite see them clearly. You will, someday.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let It Snow; I Learned My Lesson Last Year

Today, Boston is expecting a major snowstorm. It is expected that we will get a foot or more of the white stuff, starting sometime around 1 PM. Last year, we had a similar storm right around the same date.

I was not smart last year. Not even a teensy little bit. So, in order to keep myself from repeating last year's mistakes, I am re-printing last year's blog entries that followed last year's storm. I'll be ashamed if I have to tell you similar stories come Monday, so this is my motivation to do it right this time around.

Make a cup of cocoa, turn up the heat, and enjoy my idiocy.

DUMB AS A BLOCK OF ICE (from 12/19/2007)

Did I ever tell you that I'm the stupidest man on the face of the earth?

No? Well, I would have assumed that you knew that by now, from reading this stuff, but just in case you haven't figured it out, I am. Let me give you a case in point.

Last week, it snowed here in the Boston area. 8 inches. You can usually discount such a figure as bragging when a guy says it, but in this case it was absolutely true. Anyway, the commute home that night was one of the worst in the city's history. Due to a number of extenuating circumstances, rides that usually take 30 minutes were turned into four and five hour nightmares. My own trek, from Newton to Watertown, took 90 minutes. It is generally an easygoing 15 minute ride.

I mostly spent that 90 minutes cursing out the people with whom I was sharing the road. It seemed to me I was the only one on the road who actually knew how to maneuver an automobile through snow. The people in front of me seemed content to plod along at 5 mph in zones usually traversed at 30 or 35.

Now, I understand the need for caution in dangerous conditions. I was willing to slow down to a reasonable 15 or 20, as the situation called for it, but most of the time it was just a matter of feeling the way your car was reacting to the road. If I felt a slip, or if the steering wheel started wanting to go opposite of the way I hoped, I let up on the accelerator. If need be, I applied the brakes in an even fashion. There was nothing on the road that, in my opinion, called for more than a 50% reduction in speed. Visibility was good enough to not have to slow to a crawl.

When I finally did arrive home - an hour later than I expected to - I did as I always do. I backed into my driveway. I did so with no rear window visibility. I used the mirrors on either side of the car to guide myself along the 35-foot drive and into the garage. I did not hit the house on my left, nor did I hit the fence on my right, and I left my upstairs neighbor's BMW, which was already in the garage and which I parked alongside of, completely unscathed.

After parking, I went back outside and did some shoveling. I cleared the sidewalk and the walkway to our front door. I started to clear the driveway, but only did about the first ten feet leading to the street. It was clear to me that if I could back in to the garage through 8 inches of snow, I could damn well get out through it in the morning going forwards. I saw no need to shovel the whole thing, especially since there was almost no place to put whatever snow I shoveled. The house is on the left, the fence is on the right, and you can only pile it so high against either structure before there just physically isn't anywhere to add more.

And, you know what? I was right. In the morning, I put Roddy - that's what MY WIFE and I call our car - into gear, started forward, and I had almost no trouble at all plowing through the snow and getting out to the street.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. Another storm hits. Another 8 inches.

In between the storms, our upstairs neighbors had their first child. They were at the hospital two days. They came home on Sunday. Before they came home, I had shoveled the walkway and the sidewalk again, but only about five feet of the driveway. I figured I'd wait until the plows were done on the streets before tackling the whole 10 or 15 feet I planned on doing. Why waste time shoveling out stuff that the plows would just deposit back in front of the driveway?

It gets to be about 5 pm and I look out the window. My upstairs neighbor, Peter, is shoveling the driveway. I decide it would be neighborly to go out and help him. He just had a child after all; he's probably pretty tired. Also, I want to hear him tell me about his new kid. It's all good.

So, I'm shoveling, and he tells me about his new daughter, and we get about ten feet into the driveway and we both sort of agree that as long as we have room to put one of his cars in the front of the driveway and off the street, that should be enough for now. I tell him I'm sure I can plow my way through the rest of the snow. I did it the rest of the week before this new stuff. I can do it again.

Peter seems slightly skeptical, but not enough to make him want to keep shoveling. We both head inside, after he parks his car in the cleared spot. When I want to get out in the morning, he'll move it. I go to bed with no dread other than that I usually associate with having to face Monday morning.

Comes the dawn, and I'm ready to go. Showered, dressed, Roddy warming up in the garage. Peter has heard me moving around downstairs, so he's come down to move his car. I go back inside and wait for him to do so.

I'm watching him, and talking to MY WIFE. There has been about four inches of snow plowed back into the very front of the driveway. Peter gets out of his car, grabs a shovel and starts removing some of this piddling bit of white stuff.

I say, to MY WIFE, "Oh, man. Peter really doesn't know how to drive in the snow. He should just plow right through that. It's no big deal."

He finishes clearing what he wants to, moves the car onto the street, and goes back into the house. I now go out and get into Roddy.

On my way out to actually get into Roddy, I walk down the driveway. There is a frozen crust of ice on top of the 25 feet of snow I need to traverse. With each step, I break through this crust and sink in.

It is while I'm doing this that I get my first suspicion that maybe I've made an error in judgment. The snow I'm sinking into, covered in a two-inch thick ice crust, is coming up to the bottom of my knees.

I hop into Roddy and turn on the heat. I'm surveying the scene in front of me and doubt is starting to creep into my mind. However, I said I could do it and what am I going to do if I don't do it? I have to do it. I put Roddy into gear and give him some gas.

Roddy sped along for about eight feet, like a trooper - then stopped as if he had hit a brick wall. I put my foot on the brake and shifted into reverse, to get another running start. Nothing. No movement.

OK. This wasn't going to be easy, but no problem. I know how to get a car out of a situation like this. You don't just gun the thing and dig a bigger hole for yourself. You keep shifting gears, forward and reverse, applying the brake when you reach the apex of each direction, until you have a bit of room to move in.

Nuh-uh. Nothing. I wasn't moving an inch either way. I tried turning the wheels to get a bit of different surface. Nope.

I put Roddy into park and got out of the car. I looked at the tires. I cleared around them as best as I could. Got back into the car and tried again. Nada.

Need I go on? No, I didn't think so.

I called work and took the day off. I figured that I'd do the work I should have done on Sunday, once the temperature rose a bit. I'd put in the hard labor and clear the damn driveway as much as possible. It would suck, but I could do it.

No, I couldn't. The temp never rose to above freezing that day, and trying to clear that stuff was a fruitless undertaking. I resigned myself - with much cursing - to having to take public transportation on Tuesday and attacking the driveway when the temps rose above freezing - whenever that might be.

It is now Wednesday. I took the bus (actually, TWO buses) again today. I am awaiting a return call from a fellow with a Bobcat front-end-loader. I am hoping he can clear the damn driveway, and I'm willing to pay him a premium to do so. This is because Christmas is next week and it's going to be one miserable holiday if I can't free Roddy from the glacier by this weekend. I'll have to rent a car for three or four days and I will STILL probably have to pay to have my driveway serviced.

Instead of doing 30 minutes worth of hard work on Sunday, I have suffered through three days of dread, anxiety, public transportation, and recriminations. I will probably end up shelling out a couple hundred dollars, one way or the other.

It is expected to snow again tonight.

And that is why I am the stupidest man on the face of the earth. Anyone care to argue?

I didn't think so.

I AM SPARTACUS! (from 12/20/2007)

Yesterday, I told you that I was dumb as a block of ice.

Today, I am KING of the ice.

Today, I’m the balls.

(Say it with a New York accent. It’s one of the few things that sound better that way.)

I am Da Man.

I am Spartacus!

Last night, I cleared my thirty-five foot snow-covered ice-encrusted driveway.

By myself.

I used nothing but a shovel.

It took me three-and-a-half hours. I sweated like a pig, even in the 30-something degree weather. I have cramps in both my hands from gripping the shovel. It was easily the best workout I’ve had since softball season ended, and I’ll feel it for a couple of days in my legs and shoulders.

But I damn well did it.

Me. Myself. I, Spartacus!

So, yesterday I told you I was waiting for a phone call from a guy with a Bobcat. He was going to tell me if he could do the job for me. I was willing to pay him whatever he charged.

He never called.

So, it got to be 1:30 at the office, this guy hadn’t called, and I knew I had to tackle the driveway myself, while the temperature was above freezing. It was supposed to snow again last night. If I didn’t clear the driveway NOW, I might not get my car out until April. I left work and started walking to the bus stop.

It’s a ten-minute walk to the stop from work. When I got there, there was another fellow waiting. I stood there, looking for the bus to come, and he kind of sidled up close to me and… stared. So, I stared back at him. Then he spoke.

"Do you know the Green Bay Packers?"

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I might have expected him to say. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but that sure wasn’t it.

I said, "Yeah, sure. Why?"

He said, "You look a lot like Brett Favre. Has anybody ever told you that?"

I had to admit that he was the first one to ever make that comparison.

He was harmless - and not blessed with good vision. As other folks came up to the bus stop, he engaged every one of them in conversation of some sort or another. He was just a friendly not-overly-bright sort of guy.

As the bus rounded the corner towards our stop, he again approached me and said, "Nobody’s ever told you that you look like him, huh?"

I again said no.

"You don’t think you look like him. I can tell. Do you?"

I said, "Maybe just a teeny bit, but that’s probably because I haven’t shaved lately."

That made him giggle. We both got on the bus.

I won’t bore you with any more details of my bus rides. Suffice to say I arrived home at a bit before three o’clock. I immediately grabbed my shovel and went to work.

And ball-busting backbreaking work it was, too. But you knew that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be Spartacus, would I?

I finished the miserable job at 6:35. I drove Roddy (my car, and the best damn car in the world, too, and well it should be, because I am SPARTACUS!) out of the garage and filled his tank at the gas station. It was the least I could do, considering how I tried to abuse him Monday morning, trying to plow him through the shit it took me THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS to clear.

(By myself. Me. Alone. MISTER Spartacus.)

After gassing up, I celebrated by going to the store and buying rock salt. On the way out of the store, I heard a Salvation Army bell ringer. I was in such a good mood, I dropped a twenty into his bucket and wished him a Merry Christmas. What cares Spartacus for filthy lucre, except the good it may do others? I climbed into Roddy, put the rock salt by the passenger seat, and flipped on the Nat King Cole CD I had in the player. To the strains of The Christmas Song ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...") I went and, as befits me, the man among men and (did I mention?) freakin’ SPARTACUS, I got two double cheeseburgers and a large fry.

They were damned good, too.

I wolfed down the burgers and fries, and then took a bracing hot shower. After toweling off, I still felt so Spartacus-like, I decided to throw on only a pair of jeans. No underwear; no shirt; no socks. Definitely no slippers. My boys are free-range, as befits someone like... Oh, I don’t know... maybe... SPARTACUS?!?

By the way, I no longer want to hear any talk about shoveling and heart attacks. If last night didn’t kill me, no shoveling ever will. Hell, shoveling and cheeseburgers and fries and cigarettes, too, because I may be Spartacus, but I didn’t say I’m overly bright. Anyway, if I ever do have a heart attack while I’m shoveling, it will be because it was my time, plain and simple. The shoveling itself will not cause it. How could it?


Well, either that or Brett Favre.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Gift

[Christmas, 1965 or thereabouts]

The boy was very young; perhaps 7 or 8 years old. He loved everything about Christmas - the lights, the music, Santa Claus, the trees covered in tinsel and shiny ornaments - but especially the snow. For as long as he could remember (which wasn't very long, but it was a lifetime) there was always snow at Christmas. The whole thing was magical.

He walked down the street, on his way to a store near his home, and it was beginning to snow again. There was already an inch or two on the ground from yesterday and it was shiny, bright, white, and made everything it covered pretty. He opened his mouth and turned his face to the sky, trying to catch a couple of snowflakes on his tongue. He thought he succeeded, but it was hard to tell because snow melted as soon as it hit your tongue, so you couldn't collect a mouthful of it to prove that you caught some. He jingled a couple of nickels in his pocket, sliding his green rubber boots along in the snow as he walked with his face to the sky.

He was on his way to the store to buy a gift. He enjoyed receiving presents, of course; what child doesn't? However, he also very much enjoyed giving them to others. He loved to see people's faces when they opened their gifts. It was another magical thing about this time of year. He rarely saw anyone unhappy around Christmas and he never saw anyone unhappy when they opened a present.

Being very young, the boy didn't have much money. He received an allowance, but only one dollar. He had already bought presents for his mother and father. For his mother, it was some cheap perfume. For his father, it was some cheap cigars.

(Realize that when I say "cheap", I don't mean to imply that the boy had gone out of his way to buy inexpensive and shoddy presents. He hadn't. He had lovingly picked them out, albeit within his modest budget. The cigars and perfume were cheap, though. Being a young boy, he had no appreciation of perfume and thought they all smelled pretty much alike - stinky. He also had no idea that some cigars, when lit, smell like innertubes burning. However, these had come in a package with a big white owl on the front, and he did know that his dad liked owls.)

He had ten cents leftover from his original dollar, which will give you an idea of the value of the cigars and perfume. In any case, he now wanted to buy a present for his aunt.

His aunt was the older relative closest in age to the boy. She was around 19 or 20. She had lived with the boy and his parents for a short while when the boy was much younger. They had grown very close during this time. She was close enough in age to have been the boy's older sister and, in some ways, that's what the boy thought of her as.

The boy reached the main street. The store was on the other side, so he pressed the button that made the light red to stop the traffic. He loved how even the traffic lights joined in with the season, flashing red and green and yellow just like the lights on a Christmas tree. He looked both ways and then crossed the street.

He walked through the parking lot of the store, again noticing how people were so much happier this time of year. Everybody had a cheery "Hello!" for the people they met. As he entered the store through the automatic door (how did it know?) he heard Christmas music playing over the store's speakers.

He felt great. He was in love with the world.

Now he had to find a present for his aunt. He hadn't really given thought about this part of the task. He just assumed that he'd be able to find something nice. After all, a dime would buy a comic book, or two candy bars, or even twenty of those 2-for-1 Mint Julep candies. Certainly he'd be able to find something his aunt would love.

What sorts of thoughts go through the mind of a small boy? Many and varied, of course, but some are unfathomable. As he was walking down one of the aisles, he spotted something very colorful and pretty. He had always liked how these things looked. They were useful, too. And, when he checked the price, it was ten cents - just right! This is what he would get his aunt for Christmas.

He brought the gift up to the checkout and paid for it. Now there was nothing to jingle in his pockets, but that was OK. His Christmas shopping was done.

He made his way back home, enjoying the big colored lights that were on just about every house in the neighborhood, again catching (or trying to catch) snowflakes in his mouth.


When he got home, he took off his boots (which was always troublesome – he always seemed to leave one sock inside of a boot) and then ran upstairs to his room, to wrap this newest gift.

He was an only child. He spent many hours by himself, in his room, and he very much enjoyed that privacy. He didn’t dislike other people - far from it, in fact - but he did enjoy dreaming and using his imagination. He discovered early on that it’s almost impossible to dream when someone else is in your room. Someone else almost always wants to talk, and you can’t carry on a decent conversation with someone else and dream at the same time. Anyway, as a result of spending much time alone, he became fairly self-sufficient.

(Whenever anyone asked him if he wouldn’t rather have a brother or sister, he would firmly say, “No!” and he hoped that the people asking him these questions would see to it that the proper authorities – whoever was in charge of bringing brothers and sisters – did not make any deliveries to his house.)

Being such a self-sufficient boy, he mostly wrapped his own presents. He had already wrapped all of his other gifts for family. Many of his relatives got handmade gifts of one sort or another. For instance, every year since he was able to handle crayons, he had made his grandfather a hand-drawn calendar, which his grandfather treasured receiving. Now, he wrapped the gift for his aunt in colorful paper, once again admiring how colorful the gift was, too.


That night, Christmas Eve, he did what most Christian boys and girls try to do. Almost immediately after dinner, he went to bed. He tried to go to sleep at an abnormally early hour, hoping to thus wake up sooner and make Christmas come quicker. Before going to bed, he hung his stocking on his bedroom door (since there were no chimney or fireplace in his house.) He turned on the little transistor radio he had received as a gift on his last birthday and searched out a station playing Christmas music. In those days of his youth, it seemed the only time they ever played Christmas music on the radio was starting on Christmas Eve and he loved hearing all of the songs he heard (and loved) a year ago. His favorite was “Silver Bells”, and they played it not long after he lay down, much to his delight. Slowly, to the strains of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, he drifted off to sleep.

(A curious thing about being a boy is that sometimes you can will yourself to dream what you want to dream. Not always, of course, but sometimes. You might think it an odd thing to dream, but the boy had dreamed of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound every Christmas Eve [that is, every one in the memory of his short life] and he hoped that he’d have that same dream again this night, as it was great fun running around with cartoon characters. He did.)

Since he had gone to bed so early, he awoke at 3 am. He got up to go to the bathroom, but when he opened his door, he felt the heaviness of a full stocking on the other side of it, so thoughts of peeing suddenly took a backseat to seeing what Santa had left. He gently took out the tack that was holding the stocking to the door, making doubly sure he had a firm grip on the stocking and it wouldn’t fall on the hall floor (in case there was anything in it that might break) and he took it back to his bed, flipping on the bedroom light switch as he did so.

He wasn’t a greedy sort of a boy and so he didn’t just dump everything out on the bed in one fell swoop. Instead, he took the items out one at a time and carefully, lovingly, examined them. There were candy cigarettes with little bits of red food coloring on the ends to simulate their being lit; a set of jacks with a small rubber ball; a wind-up dog that did backflips until there wasn’t enough wind-up left (so then it landed on its head); a pinkie ball (great for three-flies-out on the front steps); one of those puzzles that you have to move around the pieces until you get it to read 1 through 15 in order; and a pencil with his very own name engraved on it! He attempted to solve the puzzle for a little bit, but then he remembered that he had to pee, so he did.

(He went to the bathroom to do so.)

After washing his hands and brushing his teeth, he went downstairs and plugged in the Christmas tree. He considered a Christmas tree the most beautiful thing on earth, and this one was filled with enormous colored lights, ornaments of all shapes and sizes, big handfuls of tinsel on every branch, and a long garland of popcorn (which he and his mother had strung one evening last week.) Topping it off was a white star with a red bulb inside it. He sat down on the floor and just stared at the tree for ten minutes, bathing in its warmth, both real (from the gigantic lights) and metaphysical.

He probably would have stared at it a bit longer, but his cat came along and started playing with one of the low-hanging ornaments and that broke him out of his reverie. He loved the cat very much and he loved watching her play - even more than he liked looking at the tree. After she failed to defeat the ornament - it still hung on the branch and she now wriggled on her back, enjoying the pine needles that had fallen - he went out to the kitchen and opened a can of cat food. Hearing the opener whirr, she came running like a shot - for a cat will take food over ornaments, every time (thus proving, once again, their innate intelligence.)

The boy poured himself a glass of milk and added some chocolate to it. He then took this back upstairs, drank it while eating a candy cigarette, and went back to sleep, listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” and imagining himself a poor boy playing drums for Jesus. The cat came upstairs and joined him in sleep, though what she dreamed of remains a mystery.


When he awoke again, it was 7am and his mother and father were also awake. They all went downstairs and opened presents, enjoying some cocoa while they did so. The boy received wonderful presents of games and toys, as well as a couple of shirts and such that he knew he should be more thankful for than he was. The cat received a catnip mouse (from Sandy Claws) and was very thankful for it. The parents exchanged gifts with each other and were thankful for those, and they received the stinky perfume and the smelly cigars with warmth at the thought behind them.

Now it was time for mass, after which the family would head over to the aunt’s to exchange gifts, before heading off to the house of the boy's grandparents.

Mass was as mass usually is – something which cats are thankful not to have to attend. It wasn’t that the boy didn’t want to wish Jesus a happy birthday and all – he really loved the bible stories very much, and he admired to no end someone who would lay down his own life for that of his friends – but the priest saying the mass this morning just went on and on and on and on. Even though he had slept close to ten hours, the boy could feel his eyes drooping as the interminable homily crept, s-l-o-w-l-y, towards a conclusion that had stopped being meaningful to all but the most die-hard some ten minutes before. Finally, after the homily died its excruciating death and communion was served, and after everyone had sung a rousing “Joy To The World”, it was time to get on the road and go exchange presents with other family members. After a 15-minute drive, the boy and his parents arrived at the aunt’s house.

They went inside to a warm welcome from the aunt and the rest of her family gathered there, which included a few other adults and a couple of infants, the boy's cousins. After a few minutes of small talk (mostly complaints from the boy’s father concerning the length of the homily at mass) it was time to open presents.

The boy watched with delight as everybody opened packages and smiled. Here was the magic again. Everyone oohed and aahed in the appropriate places as they received the presents that others had purchased for them. And now, his aunt had his gift in her hands and she carefully removed the wrapping paper, revealing the gift for all to see.

There were some smiles. Not that the boy noticed, but there were also a couple of glances exchanged by the grown-ups with some muffled laughter included. The aunt regarded her gift and looked lovingly at the boy. He looked back at her with love in his heart.

She said, “Oh, Jimmy, they’re just what I needed! Thank you, darling!”

She reached over and kissed him. He blushed and said, “You’re welcome.”

Never before had a package of red and green kitchen sponges brought such joy to two people.


True story.

My Auntie Ba could have laughed at such a ridiculous gift. Some of the other adults might have joined in and then I would have been mortified. Instead, she taught me a marvelous lesson that Christmas, and she did so just by being her wonderful loving self. She taught me that there is no such thing as a bad gift, so long as there is love behind the giving of it.

My Christmas wish for all of you is that the gifts you give, whether large or small or precious or ludicrous (like sponges) be received as lovingly. My Christmas request to all of you is that you receive with love every gift given you. You never know how profoundly your love might affect someone.

My Auntie Ba is gone now, and I miss her, but her spirit lives on with me every Christmas because of the love she showed a well-meaning boy and his silly gift.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Beary Merry Christmas

Alternatively, I suppose I could have entitled this "A Psychotic Christmas", since there's no rational way to explain this.

On Saturday, I put up our Christmas decorations. MY WIFE works on Saturday, and I usually spend the day watching college football (or baseball, depending upon the season.) Well, there is always at least one weekend during December when there is no major college football on the tube. I usually take that confluence of events (WIFE working, no football) to put up the Christmas trees.

Yes, plural. Trees.

MY WIFE has worked at Talbots, a somewhat high-end clothing store, for years now. One Christmas season, they had a window decoration that included multiple artificial Christmas trees. After the season was over, they were going to chuck the trees. MY WIFE asked if she could have them instead. Having no reason to say no, they said yes. And we ended up with 5 Christmas trees of various sizes. The smallest comes up to my knee. The largest is about six feet.

The original plan was to perhaps use ONE of the trees. We'd choose the size depending upon our financial situation and living arrangements, etc., but ever since we acquired them, we've put all 5 of them in the living room just about every year. And I've decorated them all.

From the example of the trees, you can see that we like to go way overboard with some things. Another example is, of course, the bears.

We started out with four bears I had from my childhood. They had been in a closet for years and were very happy to get out. The little bear in the front wearing the green and red sweater (Ditka) was acquired at an office supplies trade show while I was still in that business. We added a couple of cows when we received them as a gift from a friend. They are the blatant front-runners holding the Celtics banner. Being cows, they had been Chicago Bulls fans before the recent success of Paul Pierce and company. Another bear came from a younger relative who thought he had outgrown such things (which is obviously untrue if you use us as a guide to maturity.) He's the one wearing the glasses. His name is Flaubert, and he was the ring bear at our wedding. From there it just blossomed into full-blown plushophilia.

I haven't done a count recently, but my best estimate is that we have some 60+ teddies; that is, if one is allowed to count cows and sheep and cats amongst the total. If strictly limiting this to bears, it still comes to about 50. As you can see, I could only squeeze some 30 into the photo.

Someday (which you should dread) I will tell you the stories behind each and every one of them.

And, if any of you have any bright ideas about getting us another teddy for Christmas, don't you dare! They're almost crowding us out of the house as it is now. If you have already bought one for us, however, we'll take it. We have never turned away a homeless teddy (which is, of course, the problem.)

And that's it for today. What with the decorating, and a lovely Christmas party at my cousin's place on Sunday, there wasn't a whole lot of time for writing. That's why you got a picture of stuffed bears today.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(ERRATUM: MY WIFE says that she may or may not work at Talbots. She did not, however, obtain the aforementioned trees from them. They came from the gift shop of an undisclosed art museum where she did work at the time, and she paid a nominal fee for them.)

(In other words, I didn't do my fact checking. This is the reason I got a B- in my journalism classes in high school.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ba-Dump Bump!

OK, class, today we're going to try something new. With any luck, it should keep you occupied until Monday. By then, I'll have something original written (maybe.)

Here's the deal: I'm going to give you the straight line to a joke. The first person to comment will supply the punchline to said joke. Then, that same person will supply a new straight line (or set-up to an entire joke, if you're feeling really ambitious) for the next commenter to supply the punch line, and so on.

For example:

If I were to say...

Why is cream so much more expensive than milk?

The first commenter would probably reply...

Because it's so damned hard to get the cows to squat over those little cartons.

And then he or she would add something like...

What is the gross national product of Albania?

To which the next person might reply...


That's not the best joke, but you get the idea.

Now, don't feel that you have to be bound by tradition. If someone asks...

Why did the chicken cross the road?

You don't necessarily have to answer...

To get to the other side.

You could go with any of the following...

Because he was stapled to a punk rocker.

Because he saw Colonel Sanders coming down the sidewalk holding a bucket.

Because he saw an ostrich on the other side, and he had always been a leg man.

Or you could make up your very own highly original retort.

I suppose that's enough explanation. Let's begin, shall we?

So, I went to the psychiatrist the other day. He told me I was crazy. I said I wanted a second opinion. He said...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Suldog's Home For Abused Fruitcakes

[Those of you who have been coming here for a while might recognize this piece. It is from two years ago on approximately the same date. As a matter of fact, if you're new here, I should probably give you a general warning: the longer you come here, the more you'll find out how lazy I am. As long as nobody threatens to shoot me or something, I'll reprint scads of old stuff. I figure once I have 250 good pieces in the archives, I can stop writing altogether and just shove them out here to do their dances during the appropriate seasons.

The general warning also applies to "new" pieces, by the way. I'll recycle the same jokes enough times to deserve an award from The Sierra Club. It's not all bad, though. You can pretend you're part of an exciting social experiment. This may end up being the first truly green blog, run totally on renewable resources.

Be that as it may - and, unfortunately, it is - here is my heartfelt plea for fruitcake clemency.

Oh! In addition to this brutal foreword, there will be a brutal addendum. See you then!]


I am about to make an extremely shocking admission, even for a reprobate like me. You should probably sit down. You might even wish to take a medicinal belt beforehand, so that the enormity of the truth I'm about to reveal to you doesn't send you into immediate cardiac arrest.

Are you ready? OK, here goes.

I love fruitcake.

There. I said it. It's not something very many people would admit to these days, what with the unabashed fruitcake bashing that goes on during every Christmas season, but I've never been reticent about bringing up my peculiarities, so there it is. Little fluorescent green things that purport to be fruit? Love 'em. Cake with an approximate weight equal to lead? Bring it on! Cherries of a bright red hue not found in any part or portion of nature? I just plain can not get enough.

I realize this places me in the minority these days. Most folks seem to have no better use for fruitcakes than to launch them with catapults or some similar desecration. At best, they are used as doorstops, or perhaps something with which to whack an intruder over the head.

I, on the other hand, like to eat them.

Say what you will about my taste - or lack thereof - I really love fruitcake, and it pains me every time somebody makes the blanket assertion that nobody eats them. Saying something like that makes it so much harder for me to find one when I want one, and makes it damned near impossible to get one as a present (which I very much appreciate, by the way.) It seems that almost nobody is willing to risk incurring the wrath of the snarky jokesters who have made "fruitcake" some sort of holiday curse word.

MY WIFE used to make a really great fruitcake, but she hasn't for a few years now. She lost her recipe. Oh, the tears I've shed! That was my best shot at getting fruitcake for Christmas, without having to actually buy one.

Look, if you have fruitcake that you want to get rid of, please don't hurl it into space or relegate it to anonymous doorstop duty. Send it to ME. I'd love to give it a nice home (in my belly) and I will sing your praises should you send me one. Here's an address, and you can feel free to pass it on to anyone you think might be interested:

Suldog's Home For Abused Fruitcakes
93 Winsor Avenue
Watertown, MA 02472

No joke - send 'em! Believe me, you'll build up whole bunches of karma points if you do.

[2008 addendum: I have already received two fruitcakes this holiday season.

They came from my Uncle Jim (who sent me one last year, too, and a mighty fine fruitcake it was. I expect that this year's will be just as delicious.) His was made by monks, so it's all religious and stuff - bonus points! Also, I've been gifted with one from good friends Thimbelle, Twinkie, and The Wrench (who doesn't get a link because he appears to be the only one in the family without a blog. Slacker!) I haven't tried theirs yet, as it only arrived last evening, but it sure looks yummy!

However, as delicious as those two appear to be, and as thankful as I am for them, they will not be enough. More! I need more fruitcakes! Send them, NOW! And I thank you.]

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Another Award I Don't Deserve

For some unfathomable reason, people who seem otherwise sane keep on giving me awards. The latest to do so is Angie, from Gumbo Writer. She gave me the following piece of gaudy fluff:

Now, according to Angie: "... it's given to bloggers who keep their posts real."

Not to be looking the present of an equine in the oral cavity or anything, but The Marie Antoinette Award? I never saw Ms. Antoinette as the type of historical figure you'd prop up in front of everyone as a model for keeping it real. Will visitors here see the visage of Louis XVI's wife and say, "Ah! I can count on this fellow to tell me the truth!" Probably not, but what the hell. Let them eat cake.

Angie further states that the following rules are to be, um, followed:

*Please put the logo in your blog

*Place a link from the person whom you received the award

*Nominate at least 7 others

*Put the links of those on your blog

*Leave a message on their blog to let them know they've been nominated.

Now, Angie is a fine writer, so I'm sure she didn't write those rules, as ungrammatical and punctuation lacking of full be are they. That bit of snarkiness aside, I've accomplished the first two directives. I am not going to even attempt to fulfill three through five. There are far too many people on my sidebar who deserve recognition for 'keeping it real', and I will not be party to choosing seven of them and making the remainder cry themselves to sleep tonight. So, if you don't already have the award, and you want it, feel free to take it. You don't even have to tell anyone that you got it here. As a matter of fact, I think I'd prefer that.

Standard Disclaimer For All Times When I Receive An Award

Despite whatever hideous crap I typed above, I am actually quite honored. That someone would think so highly of me is startling and confusing, but also gratifying. I will do nothing in particular to try and live up to this, but I hope that whatever I do do (Hah! I said 'Do do!') won't embarrass you too much. If and when I am indicted, feel free to disavow all knowledge of me. I expect I'll probably do the same, concerning you, any moment now. In addition, I will be posting this wonderful award underneath all of the others on my sidebar and, as is my wont, appending some sort of denigrating comment to it. Do not take that comment seriously! I really, really, truly, and honestly love to be recognized with any sort of gimcrackery available, so pile it on.

In other words, Angie, Thank You!

Tomorrow: The re-print I promised you on Monday! Oh, be still your beating heart!

Monday, December 08, 2008

From Sublime To Ri_iculous To Festivus

On Friday evening, my godson, Joseph, was being confirmed. I would be attending the ceremony as his sponsor.

I was suitably dressed for the occasion, in suit and tie. Since I had to travel to the church directly after work, with no time for a change of clothes at home, I wore the suit and tie to my office. This is not something I usually do, so it excited comment among my co-workers.

One of those so excited was Dan, my partner in the production department. He inquired concerning the reason for my unusual attire. When I announced my plans for that evening, he said, "Confirmed? Has Joseph just been floating in the ether until now, with scattered sightings, nobody knowing for sure whether he actually exists, but now the authorities have decided he’s not just a rumor?"


Dan is one of the more intelligent beings on the planet, so he knew damn well what I was talking about. However, since I’m always happiest when explaining things in unnecessary detail, I told him that Joseph was taking part in a sacramental rite of the Catholic church, similar to adulthood ceremonies in other religions – for Jews, a Bar Mitzvah; the ritual circumcision of teenagers among some of the more sadistic African tribes; or, in much of America, the first time you discover a copy of Penthouse in your dad’s underwear drawer.

Those of you intimately familiar with Catholicism know that the sponsor of the one being confirmed is not supposed to be a parent or godparent. There are exceptions made for extraordinary circumstances, but there were none here. So, why was I Joseph’s sponsor? Because he asked me to be, that’s why. I love Joseph and was glad to do him this service. Since I’m no longer a practicing Catholic (though I am still a Christian) I felt that what the church didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. I figured God wouldn’t really be troubled by such minutia. Besides, the circumstances under which I became Joseph’s godfather in the first place, while not truly extraordinary, were at least unusual, so I figured maybe they might owe me an indulgence of sorts.

When Joseph was going to be baptized, I was not the original choice for the position of godfather. This showed great judgment on the part of his parents, by the way. My past history would hardly have lead someone to the belief that I’d make a great parental substitute for a child should some catastrophe befall the natural mother and father. Hell, I’d barely shown an ability to care for my own well being, never mind some relatively small and helpless person who wouldn’t be able to just walk out when I tried to make him live on a diet of peanut butter and crackers, chocolate milk, and libertarian political rants.

MY WIFE and I were sitting in church with the other relatives, awaiting the beginning of the christening, when Joseph’s father walked up to me. It turned out that the man who had been chosen as Joseph’s godfather had failed to show up. As you might imagine, this was not a good sign concerning a possible future guardian. So, I was asked if I’d be willing to take his place. I said yes.

(I’m still not exactly sure why Joseph’s father asked me to be the one. Perhaps it was because I was wearing a suit and tie. I probably looked responsible, even if I actually wasn’t.)

So, I became Joseph’s godfather, and I was very happy about it, too. It was a great honor to be asked, even if I wasn’t the first choice. And he’s grown up to be an extremely smart kid, with great empathy and understanding. He takes his religion seriously, the duty for which I was supposed to be somewhat responsible. He has accomplished these growths through almost no fault of my own, but I’m glad they happened.

(On the left, the Bishop who confirmed Joseph; On the right, the Deacon who baptized him.)


Now, on to other religious matters.

Boston College played for the ACC football championship on Saturday, versus Virginia Tech. I’ll tell you why BC lost, but I’ll do so by shoehorning a wholly unrelated story into this space. I have little hope of ever telling you this story in another context, so I’m jamming it in here. It’s sort of cute, if that’s any consolation.

MY WIFE and I have a couple of friends, a married couple named Virginia and John Paul King. We play around with their names. We sometimes call them King John Paul and Queen Virginia. Since we were kind enough to bestow royalty upon them, they returned the favor. We lived in the section of Boston called Dorchester at the time, so they decided that we would be the Duke and Duchess of Dorchester.

In 1994, we moved to Watertown. This did not call for a diminution of our titles, however, since our new place was on Dartmouth Street. We became the Duke and Duchess of Dartmouth.

Seven years ago, we moved again. This time, our new residence was on Winsor Avenue. Of course, anyone familiar with true royalty knows that Windsor is usually spelled with a "D". Since our Winsor had no "D", the King and Queen decreed that we wouldn’t, either. We are now, and for the foreseeable future, The Uke And Uchess Of Winsor.

What in the name of Beelzebub’s left ass cheek does any of the above have to do with Boston College losing to Virginia Tech? Simple. BC, on Saturday, had no "D". At least, they had no defensive answer to Tyrod Taylor, VT’s quarterback. Taylor ran through the BC defense fairly much at will.

On the other hand, BC had a bit too much "D" in other areas. Their quarterback, Dominique Davis, was not ready for the challenge of a big-time championship game. To be fair, he shouldn't have been expected to be ready. It was only the second start of the redshirt freshman’s career, he being forced into the role when Chris Crane, the senior starting quarterback, went down with a season-ending broken collarbone a couple of weeks back. In any case, Davis was inadequate. He went 12 of 47 passing, a fumble returned for a touchdown, interceptions, etc., and it was not pretty. He’ll get another chance, two or three weeks from now, when BC plays … in the Music City Bowl. I hope he does well, not only because I’m a BC fan, but also because he is probably the de facto starting quarterback going into next year (and perhaps for two years after that) and it sure would help his chances (and my psyche, as a fan) if he has a good game to live on for the off-season.


After the disappointment of BC losing, I needed something to lift my spirits. Fortunately, we had been invited to a Festivus celebration that night.

Some of you may not be familiar with Festivus. It is a holiday invented by George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld. He said something along the lines of Christians having Christmas, Jews having Chanukah, Muslims having Ramadan, and blacks having Kwanzaa, so he invented “Festivus for the rest of us.” Although I feel the need to state, once again, that I’m a Christian, Festivus is far too silly a holiday for me not to enjoy celebrating it.

Instead of a Christmas tree, there is a Festivus pole, an aluminum rod with no particular significance. At various times during the gathering, the prescribed festivities include "The Feats Of Strength" and "The Airing Of Grievances." There is a passing of the fruitcake from last year’s recipient to a new keeper, whose duty it will be to pass it on again at the next Festivus.

(This last bothers me a bit, since I’m a confirmed fruitcake lover, but since I didn’t have to give up any of my personal fruitcake, I decided not to rock the boat.)

When it came time for the airing of grievances, I had quite a few. I only stated two of them, however, concerned with cigarettes and donuts, since I didn’t want anyone to have my airing of grievances become one of their grievances to be aired. Here’s what I said.

"I’m sick and tired of having to go outside into the cold to have a cigarette. I should be able to fill up your airspace with my foul and acrid smoke. So, you’ll die 10 years sooner. What the hell do I care? I’m cold!

Another thing: I think evolution is a crock of shit. Why can’t I eat two donuts and not gain five pounds, not to mention tasting them every time I burp during the following six days? Various forms of fried dough have been around for thousands of years. That’s certainly enough time for our bodies to have evolved to the point where not only should donuts not be harmful to us, but eating a half-dozen every day should give us bodies like Greek gods. For that matter, smoking should be increasing my lung capacity, not the other way around.

Evolution? Ptooey!"

If it had been some other sort of gathering – a birthday party, or perhaps a ritual circumcision – we probably wouldn’t be invited back. However, such vitriol is encouraged during Festivus, so I expect we’ll receive our invitations for next year. If not, I’ll crash the party and eat the damn fruitcake.


Well, that’s about it for new stuff. I’ll be back to re-prints (with slight bits of flaccid new introductory material) on Wednesday.

Soon, with more better (old) stuff.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pointy The Poinsettia

(If you wish to hear an audio version of the following, while reading along, please go HERE. It's lengthy, so give it a good chance to load!)

Once upon a time, there was a poinsettia named Pointy.

(His given name was Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody called him Pointy for short.)

Pointy liked living in the large greenhouse with his poinsettia family and other plant friends. The world was a wonderful place full of bright sunshine, all the water he wanted to drink, and dark, rich soil for his roots. He thought that he couldn’t possibly be happier.

Then, one day in November, some of Pointy’s friends weren’t around anymore. Pointy wondered where they had gone. He also wondered how they got wherever they went. They were plants, after all, and thus only able to walk extremely short distances.

Pointy asked his uncle, Pedro Poinsettia, where his friends had gone.

"Oh, it’s a joyous time of year, Pointy!" said Uncle Pedro.

"What do you mean?" asked Pointy.

Uncle Pedro leaned close to Pointy and whispered in his ear (or, at least, what passed for an ear on Pointy.) He said:

"In November, all the poinsettias who have grown big red leaves are taken from the greenhouse and sent all over the world to give joy to the people who celebrate Christmas. The people are very happy to have a poinsettia in their home or school or office. They smile and say things like, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’"

Pointy was very excited to hear this news. He had never before considered the possibility of travel, but now he hoped that he might be able to go far away, to see many interesting people and things. He enjoyed the thought of bringing great joy to people celebrating Christmas. He packed his bags and waited to be shipped.

(Well, OK, he didn’t actually have any bags. As a matter of fact, even if he did have bags, he wouldn’t have known what to pack in them. But, you get the idea. He was excited and ready to go.)

Finally, the day came when Pointy was planted into a big pot, all trimmed with pretty gold foil. He felt extra-special now! He was then loaded into a truck, along with about thirty other plants. As the truck was driving away, he waved good-bye to his Uncle Pedro.

(No, he didn’t, really. No hands, you know? He did what he could, though. Uncle Pedro understood.)

As they were bumping down the road, Pointy looked around. He appeared to be the only poinsettia plant in the truck. He struck up a conversation with the flower next to him, a girl. He knew she was a girl because... well, he just did, that’s all.

"Hi, I’m Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody calls me Pointy. What’s your name?"


"You're really pretty, Rose."

"Thank you. You have nice big red leaves."

Pointy blushed.

(To be truthful, he didn’t actually blush; his leaves were already red. But he WAS a bit embarrassed. Rose really was pretty, and it was nice to get a compliment from her.)

Pointy asked, "Do you know where we’re going, Rose?"

"Yes, I think so, Pointy. My aunt Petunia said we’re all going to office buildings in Newton."

"Newton? Where’s that?"

"I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it’s east of Worcester."

"Oh! Is that a good thing?"

"It’s better than being in Worcester," said Rose.

Pointy looked out the window of the truck. Having never been out of the greenhouse before, he was amazed at how many plants there were everywhere. He saw great huge trees, and big green hedges, and large bunches of scary weeds, and gigantic expanses of grass, and even a few pretty flowers, like his new friend, Rose. However, he didn’t see a single poinsettia anywhere. This worried him a bit.

He asked Rose, "Am I going to be the only poinsettia in Newton?"

Rose shrugged her shoulders.

(Nah, not really. She didn’t have shoulders. She did indicate that she didn’t know the answer to Pointy’s question, but shoulders never entered into it.)

The truck turned off of the road and into a parking lot. After it stopped, the back door of the truck opened and a man reached in and grabbed Rose.

Pointy said, "Good luck, Rose! I hope you bring much joy to the people in this building!"

Rose blew a kiss to Pointy, and then she was gone. The man carried her inside of the building where they had stopped.

The man had left the door of the truck open. Pointy was able to see, through a window in the building, Rose being carried by the man. The man stopped and handed Rose to a woman who was sitting behind a desk. The woman immediately became very happy, a big smile appearing on her face. As the man who delivered Rose was leaving the building, Pointy saw the happy woman carrying Rose all around her office, showing Rose to all of her friends. Everybody smiled as soon as they saw Rose, and Rose was very happy in her new home. Pointy was also very happy, for now he was extra excited about how happy he was going to make the people in the building where he was going.

The man closed the door to the truck. Soon, the truck was moving again. Pointy imagined being carried into an office where all the people would smile and say, "What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!"

While Pointy was imagining this, the truck stopped in front of another building. The back door to the truck was opened, and suddenly Pointy was in the man’s hands, being carried outside.

"This is it," thought Pointy, "I’m about to make many people happy! I can’t wait to see their smiles, and hear them say ‘Merry Christmas!’"

The man brought Pointy up some stairs and then through a glass door. There was a woman at a desk just inside the door. Pointy tried to make his big, red leaves stand up as straight and proud as possible. As he did so, he heard the woman say:

"What the hell is that?"

The man said, "Gift from your landlord. It’s a poinsettia."

"Duh! I can see it’s a poinsettia. What are we supposed to do with it?"

"I don’t know, lady. I just deliver ‘em. Merry Christmas."

Pointy didn’t understand. The woman didn’t seem happy at all. Had he done something wrong?

The woman yelled to someone, "Hey, come see what we got."

A man came out of an office, saw Pointy, and rolled his eyes. He said, "Ugh! Another poinsettia? Every year we get a friggin' poinsettia, and every year we have no place to put it. What in the hell are we going to do with it?"

"Don’t look at me," said the woman at the desk, "I don’t have any room here for it."

Other people came out of their offices to see what the noise was about. As each one saw Pointy, they laughed and made faces and said mean things.

Pointy wanted very much to be back in his friendly greenhouse. This wasn’t at all as he had imagined it, or as Uncle Pedro had told him it would be. He wanted to just shrivel up and make himself as small as possible.

Finally, the woman at the desk took him and placed him on a wobbly table, near some stacks of old yellowed paper and bent paperclips and dried up pens that nobody ever used. Every so often, someone who hadn’t seen him before would walk by. At first, Pointy tried standing up proud and showing off his pretty red leaves. However, it was always the same story. Either the person just walked by without noticing him, or laughed and said something mean about him.

After a while, Pointy just gave up. He stopped caring what the people said. He started losing his big red leaves that he had been so proud of. As he did so, the people in the office started saying even worse things about him. They kicked at his fallen leaves and, when they picked them up, they threw them in the garbage, cursing. He could feel his roots drying out. Nobody gave him any water. Nobody cared about him. There was no sun; just a cold bit of light from some fluorescent tubes. As much as a poinsettia had a heart, Pointy’s was broken.

Pointy lost many more of his leaves. He was dying. He wanted to die. Life was a miserable thing. Christmas? It was just a cruel joke. He had imagined much love, and had received none.


One day, about a week after he had been delivered, a new person came into the office. Pointy hadn’t seen this person before, but he expected that he would hear more of the same insults and derisive laughter. He didn’t care. What could this person say that would hurt him more than what he had already heard, already lived through?

The new person said, "Hey, who gave us the poinsettia?"

The woman at the desk answered, "Oh, the landlord gave us the damn thing. It’s been shedding leaves ever since it got here."

Pointy listened disinterestedly.

The new person said, "Well, heck, maybe he needs a little water. Has anybody given him a drink?"

Pointy’s ears perked up (or, at least, what passed for ears on Pointy.)

"Let’s give him a drink," said the new person.

"Knock yourself out," said the woman at the desk.

The new person went into the kitchen, and Pointy could hear water running. As much as he thought he was beyond caring, he felt himself thirsting for a drink. The new person came back out carrying a cup full of water. He poured it into Pointy’s dirt.

Pointy was shocked by how good it felt.

The new person said, "There you go, guy. How’s that?"

Pointy fairly yearned to jump out of his pot and give the person a hug.

The new person said, to the lady at the desk, "Hey, do you mind if I take him into my office? Maybe I can bring him back to life."

The woman at the desk said, "Give it your best shot, Jim, but I think it’s a lost cause."

Jim! That was the friendly man’s name! Pointy tried to make what leaves he had left stand up a bit for Jim, but he was too weak to do very much. He noticed with gratitude that it didn’t seem to matter to Jim. He was picking him up and taking him into his office, anyway.


Every day, Pointy waited for Jim to arrive. Every day, Jim did something nice for Pointy. He gave Pointy a drink of water, or he put him where he could get a bit of sunshine. When one of Pointy’s leaves was withered and painful, Jim gently removed it, giving Pointy space to grow a new, stronger leaf.

Finally, it came to the day before Christmas. For all of the love Pointy was receiving from Jim, there was still the pain of knowing that what he had heard about Christmas was untrue. Nobody had seen him and said, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’

Pointy had grown back some big, green leaves. The few red ones he had left were strong and bright now. He wished that someone would get to see them for Christmas. He wished that he could bring someone some joy. Of course, Jim liked him, but he still wanted to believe in what his Uncle Pedro had told him during that time which seemed so long ago now. He wanted to be a plant that made someone smile at Christmas.

Pointy saw lights being turned off in the office, and he heard people saying cheery good-byes, and wishing each other happy holidays. Well, he had been lucky to find one new friend, he supposed. Maybe that would get him through the holiday. Jim would be back in a couple of days, and that wouldn’t be so bad. At least he made Jim happy.

He heard the door lock. It was dark and cold now. His leaves drooped a bit. Even though he knew what was going to happen, he had still hoped that Jim might...


Pointy heard the door to the office open and he noticed one light come on. Probably the cleaning people, thought Pointy. But then, there was Jim, bending down to pick him up, then carrying him out of the office, down the stairs, and out into the... SNOW! Jim put Pointy down into the cold white stuff.

Oh, no! Was Jim tired of him, too? Was he leaving him to die in the snow? What a cruel world it truly was!

Pointy only had a few seconds to entertain such morbid thoughts. Jim picked him up again, and put him into the front seat of his car. Jim put a seat belt around Pointy's container, and turned on the heat. Then Jim started driving. Jim was taking him home! For Christmas!

And so Jim DID bring Pointy home for Christmas, and Pointy saw Christmas lights and Christmas trees and he had sunshine and warmth and as much water as he wanted to drink. And love. Pointy had love. And Jim said to him, on Christmas morning...

"What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty you are, with your big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas, Pointy!"

He even knew Pointy’s name!

And when spring came, Jim planted Pointy in the front yard. And Pointy told his story to the gooseberry bush, and the little pine tree, and to all of the dragon lilies. He grew big and bushy and bright green. And when the frosts of autumn came, and his leaves turned a little yellow, and he thought that maybe Jim had forgotten all about him, Jim dug him up and brought him back into the house. And he is there even now.

And this year, not only does Pointy know that Christmas will be a happy time, Pointy IS the Christmas Tree - at least for now. And he is the happiest poinsettia in the whole entire world, even though he has no big red leaves at all.


(This was written, and first published, last year. That's when the final photo is from, also. Since then, Pointy has had another chance to grow bigger and bushier while planted outside.

I dug him up and brought him back in for the winter a couple of weeks ago. The shock of being dug up didn't do him a great deal of good - he lost quite a few leaves, and things looked dicey for a while - but he's over it now and looking forward to another Christmas.

If you somehow get a poinsettia for Christmas, remember that it doesn't have to die. With a bit of love, it can keep growing for years. It probably won't have big red leaves for very much longer, but green is a nice Christmas color, too!)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is My 14 Bottom Teeth

I've written about my teeth before. It was the War & Peace of dental literature. If you have a few days to kill, here is the story of my plastic uppers. If you don't have a few days to kill, here's the shortened version of that story.

I had horrible teeth. Crooked, buck, discolored, pitted, ridged, snaggled - whatever adjectives connote ugly and dysfunctional - you could put it in front of "teeth" and pretty much have a valid description of my old choppers.

Then, I got implants. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I was thrilled, and am thrilled, with what my dentists did. I now have a wonderful set of uppers and I'm unafraid to smile in mixed company.

The lowers, however...

The thing is, implants are amazingly expensive. I was barely able to afford the uppers seven years ago. At that time, I knew I'd need to have the lowers done at some point in the future, but I figured I'd do it when I became fabulously wealthy. I always expect that fabulous wealth is just a year or so away for me, so I put my lower teeth out of my thoughts and went about my life.

A few months ago, I made myself a cheese sandwich as a snack at 3 o'clock in the morning. Now, no scolding for eating cheese sandwiches in the middle of the night, please. We all have our peccadilloes, and I should have eaten one of them, instead, because when I bit into the cheese sandwich, I felt this sharp pain. One of my lower teeth had been loosened. By a damned cheese sandwich.

I hoped for the best. I tried not to wiggle the tooth any more than was necessary for my morbid curiosity. I assiduously avoided eating peanut brittle, corn on the cob, and rocks. I was told by some folks that teeth will sometimes re-attach themselves more firmly. I wanted to believe that. However, such has not been the case. That tooth became progressively looser and looser. Finally, during the past two weeks, it became obvious - even to an idiot like me - that it was way too loose to ever have a chance at being saved.

For the past two weeks, I've used only my back teeth for every act of biting and chewing. This has been awkward at times. It is nearly impossible to eat a turkey sandwich using only your back teeth, but I accomplished the feat. Finally, when I found myself cutting every bit of food on my plate into small chunks that needed no chewing at all, I knew that the time had come to call Dr. D'Amico.

Dr. D'Amico is a very nice man, and a tremendous dentist. The work he did on my uppers was superb; done with as little pain as was humanly possible and with an extremely caring manner. There was no rational reason for my not having visited him at some time during the previous seven years. Now, having to drag my sorry ass into his chair, with my head hung low, making lame excuses as to why I haven't so much as said 'Hello!' to him since 2001...

I made the appointment for this morning, Tuesday, at 8:45am.

He saw me, and said, "Well! How are you? When I saw your name on the appointment sheet, I said to myself, 'Huh! I thought he died or something!'"

Funny guy.

When he peered into my mouth, he got a more serious look on his face. I showed him which tooth was loose. He said that it certainly had to come out, and I said that I knew that. I asked him what could be done in the meantime to fill the gap temporarily. He sort of shook his head and said, "Well, after the extraction, I'll trim down the root and we can bond it VERY TEMPORARILY to the two teeth on either side of it. But it could pop out at any time, so you'll have to be careful with it."

That was about the best I could hope for, so I told him to go ahead. He did. The tooth came out, very easily. He trimmed it, polished the two teeth on either side a bit, applied some bonding agent, fit the tooth back in, and here I am writing about it. Because of the ridiculous amount of bonding material he needed to apply to make this jury-rigged job work, it looks as though I have some bread between my teeth that I failed to clean out after my last meal. Oh, well. I can eat more-or-less regularly again, so that's the important thing. My uppers still look swell.

The thing is, my remaining lowers are shot to hell, mostly. We'll discuss options when I return for a cleaning and an evaluation a week from Thursday. I expect I'll be able to get by with a removable denture, anchored to those teeth that can be saved. Then, sometime in the future when I'm fabulously wealthy - which I still fully expect, for no good reason - I'll have full implants done on the lower jaw.

Hell of a past couple of months. Jury duty, lasting eight days and costing me a week of next year's vacation time. Car accident, costing me days without my car and many hours of aggravation. Now, a lost tooth, along with the prospect of much future dental work.

You know what? I don't want to come off as Pollyanna reincarnated, but it's OK. It's all good. Everything always works out all right. I wasn't the one on trial; I didn't get hurt in the accident; and I've got a great dentist. Things could be worse, that's for sure.

If nothing else, it certainly gives me stuff to write about.

Soon, with more better teeth.

Monday, December 01, 2008

103 Years Old Today

I originally published this piece three years ago, on the occasion of my Grandma's 100th birthday. Then, I re-published it the next year on her 101st birthday, and last year on her 102nd. Today, December 1st, 2008, she is 103 years old.


As I said last year, there isn't much to add to what I originally wrote. It mostly concerns the past, and the past hasn't changed. However, having just spent a wonderful Thanksgiving in her company, I have to say that I am more in awe of her than ever. She's a few years beyond her stroke now - very little lasting physical damage, Thank God - but she still mixes up some words. For instance, when she was sitting in our living room and she asked me to give her a piece of chicken this past Thursday, I was baffled. Then I realized she was pointing at the chocolates. When I brought her the chocolate dish, she took about six or seven of them.

Some folks would get alarmed at a woman her age eating seven chocolates at once, but not me. I figure she's 103 and whatever she wants, she gets. When she asked for strong coffee and lots of sugar in it, no problem on that, either. Hey, it may well be that the secret to long life is strong coffee and loads of sugar. If so, I'm doing OK. I'm 51. If I have her genes, that means I haven't lived even HALF of my life yet. You can look forward to at least another 5 decades of this blog. More bad luck for you, I'm afraid!

Here's the original piece. I've tried to replace "100" with "103" whenever it occurs, but if I missed one, I apologize.


Today my Grandmother is 103 years old. That's her, with the cat.

Think of that - she has lived an entire century, plus. 103 years. What an amazing thing. The world was a completely different place when Maybelle Barcelo was born.

When my Grandma was born, there were only 45 states. Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma were just territories. Not until she was 54 years old did it become the 50 states that we now know.

When she was born, Roosevelt was President. Franklin? No, Theodore. There had never been any such thing as a "World War". The first one didn't begin until she was 9. The United States didn't become involved until she was 12. It ended when she became a teenager.

When my Grandma was born, television wasn't even an idea, let alone a reality. Hell, radio as an entertainment was unheard of when she was born. The telephone was a relatively new device and only 8% of US homes had one. When you needed to send news, you may have relied on the telegraph.

There were no such things as commercial airplanes in the air overhead. The Wright Brothers had flown at Kitty Hawk only two years previously. So, you drove everywhere, right? Yeah, if you had a horse. There were approximately 8,000 cars in the US, and only 144 miles of paved roads.

In the year of my Grandma's birth, 1905, the second World Series was played. The Red Sox, with Cy Young pitching, had won the first one, two years earlier. By the time my Grandma was 13 years old, in 1918, the Red Sox had won 5 of the 14 World Series that had been contested. The Sox had won more than 1/3 of the World Series ever played. They were the winningest team in baseball history. When she turned 99, they had managed to win another one. The Celtics? The Bruins? The Patriots? No, no, no. Let's take it further. The NFL? The NBA? The NHL? Non-existent.

Movies were not a mass entertainment at all. The first movie theatre in the country - that is, a building specifically made for showing motion pictures - opened in Pittsburgh the year she was born. What motion pictures there were, were silent. Sound would not come to the movies for another 22 years.

CDs, cassette tapes, records? Fuggedaboudit. You wanted to hear music, you pretty much had to go find a band playing somewhere. There were some cylinder recordings and a few of the newer flat records, but the Gramophone (or Victrola) wouldn't be introduced until 1906, so most folks didn't have the ability to play them. It was some 30 years before the invention of the electric guitar.

The outhouse was not a total anomaly. There were quite a few houses in the United States without indoor plumbing. Only 14% of US homes had a bathtub. Considering a slightly more delicate matter, there was no commercial production of feminine hygiene products. Kotex, the first major brand marketed, did not make its appearance on shelves until after World War One. And, birth control? What the heck is that?

Coca-Cola still contained Cocaine. Heroin, Morphine and Marijuana were available at any of your larger drugstores, over the counter. There were NOT cities full of addicts making it a daunting task for good folks to walk the streets without fear of being mugged for drug money. Now, they're illegal and... well, you know. On the other hand, many thousands of people died from the flu each year, as well as tuberculosis. Penicillin was just bread mold. The third leading cause of death in the United States was diarrhea - no joke.

Women didn't have the right to vote until my Grandma was 17.

When my Grandma was born, the average life expectancy in the United States was forty-seven. She sure has beaten the heck out of that statistic.

Some folks would wonder just what my Grandma thinks of all the changes that have happened since she was born. I guarantee you that she doesn't spend much time thinking about it. That's one of the secrets to her longevity, I think. My Grandma is one of those folks who let little or nothing bother her. She is, without a doubt, the least aggravated person I have ever known.

I once mentioned this to my mother. I said, "You know, Mom, I don't ever remember Grandma being mad. Is it just me? Have you ever seen her really angry?" My Mom said that she really could not remember a time when my Grandma was steaming mad. In all the time I've known her, which is 51 years, I've only seen her either smile or, at most, have a look of indifference. I don't believe I've ever seen her cry, although I'm sure she has. I've probably said more swears during the course of my writing this piece than she has uttered in her entire life. I've never heard her curse, even once. My Mom doesn't curse, per se, but she uses substitute words, such as "fudge" or "shoot". My Grandma doesn't even use those.

Understand this, though - she has certainly had reason to use some pretty strong words. Some folks who had her life might have invented completely new swear words.

She lost her left eye just before her first birthday. A clock fell from a mantle and the corner of it punctured her eyeball. She's had a plastic eye ever since then. That hasn't stopped her from being one of the most marvelous artists I know. She has no depth perception, yet she paints and crochets and does mosaic work - beautifully. There is absolutely no indication in any of her work that she has vision in only one eye.

She has had a number of operations, any one of which might have made other folks bitter (or at least extremely sad) for years afterward. Not my Grandma. She had a mastectomy a few years back. She has false teeth. Her gall bladder long ago went the way of the dodo. She's had a couple of procedures involving her intestines. Add a hysterectomy, sometime in the 1940's. And the plastic eye, of course. On top of that, she's quite deaf. But none of it stops her. Or stops her from smiling.


The only thing that's slowed her in any significant way is the stroke she suffered 8 years ago, at the age of 95. Thankfully, it caused little physical damage. However, it took away her ability to sing. This was important because, until that time, she had been singing regularly.

There was this bar in Quincy called Mr. C's that she and my mother went to, along with my stepfather, Bill. There were quite a few folks of their age, or perhaps a bit younger, who came out once a week to gather around the piano and sing some standards. My grandmother was a regular. However, don't get the idea that she was some sort of senior barfly. Sure, she'd have a drink (a sombrero was her choice) but at other times during the week, they would take this show on the road to various nursing homes and retirement facilities, along with good friends and great musicians Rose Ryder and Bill Bemus. Yes, in her nineties my Grandma was going around and entertaining nursing home patients.

Except for her age, this was not an unusual activity for her. She had been volunteering at such residences for more than thirty years - since her mid-sixties, when my Grandfather died. She was, as a matter of fact, the Volunteer of the Year for the state of Massachusetts in 1978. Of course, she didn't get an award like that for just singing and dancing. She taught arts and crafts to the patients, as well as helping with transportation and other things. She did this, for many years, all day, every day. The award she received did not make her rest on her laurels. In 1995, she was nominated as "Elderpreneur of the Year" for her various volunteer activities. She was 90 at the time.

You might be thinking, "How nice that she started doing this type of stuff when her husband died. It must have helped to fill the void his absence left behind." Well, yes, perhaps. However, volunteering and doing community work was hardly something new for her. Many years previously, she had been instrumental in starting the first Girl Scout troop in her town of Weymouth. She worked in entertaining many servicemen, in hospitals and service clubs, following World War One. This was with her older brother, Louis, who did magic and ventriloquism, and her younger sister, Gerry, who also sang and danced. She also entertained service folk at her home throughout the years. There are quite a few veterans who would gladly tell you how much my Grandma and her family's hospitality meant to them during a tough time in their lives.

One of the more interesting stories about my Grandma was how she finagled dancing lessons for herself when she was a young woman. She couldn't afford to just take them and pay for them, so what did she do? She started her own dancing school. She signed up students and then she signed up for dancing lessons from a renowned Russian ballet teacher of the time named Russikoff. She would take a lesson from Russikoff. Then, before her next lesson, she would give lessons to her students. Then she would take another lesson, afterwards giving that lesson to her students, and so on. How brave and inventive was that?

(Grandma, Aunt Jeanne, Uncle Rick, Mom (Connie) and Grandpa, Francis N. Drown)

She has kept a marvelous outlook despite some serious kicks in the face from life. As mentioned earlier, she has one eye, has had a mastectomy, a stroke, etc., and lost her husband of 43 years over one-third of her lifetime ago. She also is without one of her three children. My Aunt Jeanne, the eldest, succumbed to cancer at the age of 59. They say that one of the worst things that can ever happen to anybody is to lose a child. She had this happen when she was in her eighties. No doubt it hurt then and still does.

However, my Grandma does NOT dwell on the past. And that's probably the biggest secret to how long she has lived and how well she has lived. Whenever she brings up the past, it is NEVER to relive something bad. She remembers the good times, almost exclusively. What a wonderful way to live. What a gift to have the temperament to do so.

It helps to have helpful children, of course. My Mom, Connie, is in her seventies. She lives just a block or so away from my Grandma, with her husband (my stepfather) Bill MacDonald. They visit regularly and help out in whatever ways they can. And my Uncle Rick, a former airline pilot (for some years now, a private investigator) lives with my Grandma. He is also a skilled carpenter and woodworker, very handy with just about any tool, so is invaluable in keeping the house and everything in it in good working order. She also has had the love of 15 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and even one great-great-grandchild.

Still, my Grandma is as self-sufficient a person as you could hope to find for her age. She wouldn't have it any other way. She still drove at age 95. She had to give that up when she suffered the stroke, but before then she'd still go shopping for her groceries and run other errands herself. If I know her, she probably expects to do so again someday.

(Grandma, with unidentified future blogger, circa 1957)

My own memories of my Grandma are pretty pedestrian stuff, I suppose. I remember nice meals when I visited. For some reason, I remember almost always having lamb at their house. I remember her driving to meet my Grandpa at the train station after his workday (he was the senior claims attorney for the MBTA), me in the back seat, and then going back to her place. Sometimes when I visited, she'd take me to a bakery near her house and buy a half-dozen cupcakes. I remember the marvelous aromas of baked bread and the desserts at that bakery, and the way my Grandma would let me pick out my own cupcake (I always took one with chocolate frosting.) I remember the interesting mix of smells that Beechnut peppermint gum and Winston cigarettes would make. She chewed one and smoked the other - you can probably guess which.

Oh, yeah. She smoked until she was well into her seventies. It appears to have had little lasting effect. I sure as hell hope I've inherited those genes.

She has always loved cats and has pretty much always had one. When I was growing up, it was Mugsy, a big all-black tomcat that my Uncle Rick found abandoned as a kitten. Nowadays it's Dennis The Menace, another big black tomcat that I can't remember how he came to be there.

She always saved the Sunday funnies for me, from her local newspaper that we didn't get in Dorchester. It was a special treat when I went there to visit and got to read those full-color pages on a weekday.

She was a huge Bruins fan for a while. I don't know why. Of course, during that time period (the 70's) there were few people who weren't Bruins fans in New England. If there was a Bruins game on when you visited, she'd be watching it. I don't remember her ever being a sports fan before or since.

She used to do things with acrylics and with polished stones. She had this sort of motorized canister than tumbled stones until they became really smooth and beautiful, and she used to use these stones to create marvelous works of art, combining painting with the stones and with other bits and pieces to create seascapes. And with the acrylics, she'd make these lovely lamps, full of color and really eye-catching. And then there was her sewing and knitting. She made pillows and comforters and other usefully pretty objects. These things were, of course, on top of her painting and needlework and crocheting and singing and cooking and houseplants and volunteer work and...

And I get tired just thinking of it, never mind doing it. She was (and is) an amazingly talented and inspiring woman.

She is also one of the most moral people I know. She doesn't thump a bible in your face or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I don't know the last time she was in a church other than for a wedding or a funeral, although I suspect she says her prayers at night. She just lives right. She knows what's fair and what's unfair. She has never, and I mean never, shown anyone even the slightest prejudice because of skin color or religion or political leanings. When it comes to people, she is absolutely blind to anything other than their humanity. Just as I've never heard her swear, I've also never heard her use any sort of pejorative in her description of someone.

(left: Maybelle and her younger sister, Gerry)

Some of this may be due to her own ethnicity. She is, as a Barcelo, of Hispanic background (I am also, of course, though you certainly can't see anything but the Irish in my pasty skin.) She tells the story of her mother having been left by her mother with someone (possibly a relative, but nobody is quite sure) and then never seeing her again. This person treated her as a servant and she lived for a while in slave quarters in the south. No doubt this would tend to have an effect on a person's way of treating others and this was probably passed on to my Grandma and her siblings.

Then again, it just may be that she's a nice person without any mitigation. It happens.

I suppose it goes without saying that I love my Grandma. Beyond that, though, in so many ways, my Grandma is my hero. She has done more, with what she's been given, than anyone else I know. I treasure the time I spend with her now and the times I have spent with her in the past. I couldn't have asked for a Grandmother, made to my specifications, who could possibly have been more perfect than the one that I have.

Happy 103rd Birthday, Grandma. God willing, many more.

I love you.