A Whatchamacallit By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

When empty-nest-syndrome involves the brain.

It’s normal to lose your train of thought now and then.  If that train routinely jumps the track and crashes in a fiery ball of twisted wreckage, you may have a problem.

My husband and I were getting caught up on the day’s events one evening and I mentioned I had run into the father of one of our daughter Liz’s classmates.  I shared that the young woman was now married with 2 children and lived down south; Arkansas, Alabama or some such place.

“Which classmate?”  Bill asked the logical question.

Her name, which had been perched on the tip of my tongue mere moments before, immediately flew the coop.

“She sat behind Liz in homeroom,” I said.  Her face was blurry in my mind’s eye.

“Do you mean Erica?  How about Becky?”  Bill looked at the ceiling, mentally reviewing Liz’s 8th grade class roster.

“No,” I waved off these obviously wrong guesses like pesky gnats.   “A small girl with a pointy chin.  I think she had brown hair.  Maybe red.”

“Is it Cassie?  Natalie?” He ticked off possible candidates on his fingers.

“Those two were blondes,” I scoffed.  Was this the best he could do? “She was the only one who didn’t get a gutter ball when we took the Brownies bowling in 2nd grade.”  Chances were slim that Bill remembered Liz had been a Brownie twenty years ago, but I was clutching at straws now.

“I think there’s an “A” in her name.  YOU know who I mean,” I insisted.

“Abby?  Anita?  One of the Ashleys?”  A hint of desperation had crept into his voice, but he soldiered on manfully in the face of almost certain failure.

“They didn’t have an Anita!”  I exhaled loudly.  This was pointless.

A forgotten word is a shy creature.  It hovers just out of reach and darts away quickest when chased.  Names are the worst, as I know from increasing experience.  They cannot be wooed; they will not be coerced. They alight only when and if they so desire, usually when you have given up all hope of catching them.

We sat in silence for another 10 minutes engrossed, in varying degrees, in a fascinating PBS documentary on the three-toed sloth.  The elusive name came home to roost at last, flitting back into my brain as suddenly as it had left.

“Stella!” I exclaimed, shooting Bill a triumphant smile.

He stared back at me blankly.  “Huh?” he asked, clueless.

Having trouble remembering things doesn’t necessarily signal early dementia, but I think it may be time to get a professional opinion.  Bill’s memory is clearly going to pot.

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When It Says Loco, Lazy, Loser On The Label, Label, Label


Do you have lovely eyes?  A noble nose?  An infectious smile?  Sometimes it’s hard to see our own outstanding features, even if they are obvious to everyone else.  That’s because some of us can’t see beyond the big, invisible labels on our foreheads.

We sang How Great Thou Art at church the other day.  The beautiful, timeless song inspired me to lift my eyes and my voice to heaven.  The choir is looking for new members and for a fleeting moment I thought, “Maybe I should join.”

I dismissed that idea as quickly as it occurred.  I’m not the “singer” in the family.  That’s Judy, Libby, and Bill.  I’m the “smart” one.

Kids are assigned their roles very early in life.  Maybe you could read before the other kids: you’re “smart”.  Maybe you walked and ran easily: you’re the “jock”.  Maybe you kept your crayon scribbles inside the lines: you’re the “artist”.  Maybe you cried or raged or couldn’t sit still: you’re the “difficult child”.

Our first labels come from our families.  These are honed when we get to school and new ones are added.  Those early labels have a way of sticking.

I liked being thought of as “smart”.  Having that reputation makes school easier.  There may not really be a “permanent record” that follows you from grade to grade, but teachers hear things.  They’re only human.  When they expect you to do good work, they give you the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Einstein.  I’m reasonably intelligent but, as I discovered as I started swimming in bigger ponds, there are a lot of smart fish in the sea; many are lots smarter.  But that was the label I was given as a child and it stuck, inside and out.

“Smart” was great, but I wanted to be other things, too. In junior high and high school, I would have traded all my “smart” for “pretty”, “popular” and the Holy Grail of teenage labels, “cool”.

I secretly longed to try out for our high school’s musicals, but I was scared.  Besides, I wasn’t a “singer”.  “Singers” took chorus.  I took band.  All the “cool” kids were in chorus and they got all the parts in the plays.   My place was in the orchestra pit with the rest of the “band nerds”.

If being stuck with a label like “smart” can be limiting, how much worse are the labels that demean and hurt?  Labels like “troublemaker”, “lazy”, “stupid” or just plain “bad”.

My mother tells the story of a conversation she had with my little brother, Jim, when he was a kid.  Jim was the funny goof-off, the jock, and the popular one.  He wasn’t known as the greatest student. They were talking about some trouble he was having with a subject and, frustrated,  he blurted out, “School is really hard for me.  I’m not “smart” like Bill and Peg!”

That’s the kind of attitude that can define your entire life if you let it.  Jim didn’t let it.

In the early years he may have internalized the labels that the school stuck on him, but somewhere along the line he ditched them.  Jim defined himself.  He got a degree in business, worked for a few years and then decided to go to dental school.  The “goof-off” is the only one of us nine siblings with the title “Dr.” before his name.

So much for labels.

Labels can be a convenient shorthand to identify strengths and weaknesses, but should be used carefully.  We have to guard against the tendency to limit ourselves – and  others – to the neat, little pigeonholes we’ve become accustomed to.

After all, you’re not free to fly if you’re stuck in a pigeonhole.

**this embedded commercial right under here is part of the post**

p.s. As with all my siblings, my sister Libby can proudly wear many labels advertising her many strengths and talents.  But the label associated with her for life is from a commercial for canned goods from our youth.  I can still hear that jingle in my head because we sang it at her ad nauseam, “When it says Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s on the label, label, label, you will hate it, hate it, hate it on the table, table, table…”  Sorry, Lib.

p.p.s.  In case you’re wondering; no, I’m not joining the church choir.  I’ll let my voice soar from the safety and anonymity of the pew.


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The Great Blizzard of 1978

neither rain, nor snow, nor dead of night will stop them

Forty years ago today, I thought the end was near.  I found myself confronted by a pack of snarling, howling, wild animals; a metal mesh gate the only thing separating me from certain disembowelment.   I had armed myself, but doubted the institutional gravy ladle clutched in my trembling hands would be up to the task.

The Great Blizzard of 1978, also known as the White Hurricane, was a historic winter storm that struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions from Wednesday, January 25 through Friday, January 27, 1978.  According to Wikipedia, up to 40 inches of snow fell. Winds gusting up to 100 miles per hour caused drifts that nearly buried some homes, and wind chill values reached −60 °F across much of Ohio where 51 of the total 70 storm-related deaths occurred.  About 100,000 cars were abandoned on Michigan highways, most of them in the southeast part of the state.

I was a freshman at the time, at a tiny college called Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.  My roommates were from the Caribbean and South America and one girl, Hilda, had never seen snow.   On day one of the storm she dragged me outside for a little stroll.

While I have nothing but admiration for Ernest Shackleton’s intrepid journey to Antarctica, he’s got nothing on Hilda and me.  It took a full hour to go around our small dorm building through waist-high snow.  More than once I cursed our lack of adequate preparation – we had not thought to bring a rum-toting St. Bernard on the expedition.  The dorm was a 50s-era, dull pile of cinderblocks that always smelled faintly of gym shoes and boiled cabbage and I was never so glad in my life to be someplace than when we made it back inside alive.  But the worst was yet to come.

I had a little part-time job at the college working food service for banquets.   I once served Arthur Godfrey a plate of lukewarm chicken, potatoes and green beans!  That should impress the people over 65 who know who he was.

My regular gig was serving breakfast to the Sunrise Optimists Club.  They met in the banquet hall every Tuesday morning at, you guessed it, sunrise.  My parents took it as a promising sign that I, the world’s most notorious over sleeper, would be getting up and at ‘em BEFORE 6am so the Optimists could have fresh coffee, blueberry cake donuts and powdered scrambled eggs that were cooked in sheets, then folded and cut into squares so they looked like yellow versions of your grandpa’s handkerchiefs.  It was a paycheck. I didn’t work in the cafeteria, though – they had regular employees for that.

On this day, forty years ago, the whole college was shut down.  Hell, most of the Midwest was shut down.  That meant that none of the grups (grownups in Star Trek-ese) who were paid to take care of us pampered college students could make it out to campus.  We were on our own.

The students had to be fed, so any and all of us who worked in the kitchens and lived on campus were pressed to help out.  We were like the National Guard of food service, called to action because the regular food service army was off fighting at the front.  Our leader was an older student who had worked there the longest – she was a sophomore.

She set us to work opening 20-gallon cans of green beans and 50-pound boxes of instant potatoes, trying to cobble together enough to feed the gathering throngs.  I was totally out of my element here.  What did I know about cooking?  My expertise lay in brewing coffee and arranging blueberry donuts on trays.

The students were gathering, within sight but just out of reach in the dining hall.  It was separated from the kitchen by one of those metal accordion gates they put across the front of liquor stores in bad neighborhoods.   How appropriate.

It has been a constant through history: when confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, mankind has risen to the challenge with almost super-human effort.  You hear about mothers lifting cars to save their infants trapped beneath.  So it was during the Great Blizzard of 1978.  100,000 cars stranded throughout the state, emergency crews helpless in the face of mountains of snow, yet more than one intrepid student had found his way through the blizzard to seek vital supplies.  Apparently a liquor store was open a mile away.

By day two of the catastrophe, fully half the student body was drunk.

When authority is removed, you find out who you are as a civilization.  Do you rise to the occasion and work as one?  Or does society break down?  Dinnertime at the Northwood cafeteria was like The Lord of The Flies.

As we worked frantically to figure out how to feed the animals at this zoo of higher learning, the inmates grew increasingly restless.  They pressed up against gate, some shaking the flimsy barrier.  They raised their voices, demanding in slurred accents, “Where’s our dinner?”  They had become a drunken, unruly mob.  I was, frankly, terrified.

Our fearless leader stepped up.   She went up to the gate, rapped one guy’s knuckles with her spatula and said, “We’re working on it.  But we’re not opening the gate, and there will be no food at all until you assholes back off, go sit down and act civilized.”

So many kids were smashed, I didn’t know if they would listen or become an even uglier mob.  It was touch and go.  Then the mob turned back into students and shuffled away from the gate.  I don’t remember much about after those tense moments,  but the girl in charge opened up and we got everybody served something to eat.  It seemed to help having a little food in their stomachs to absorb the alcohol.

After dinner I scurried back to my dorm room and didn’t come out for 2 days when the grups were back and order had been restored.  I lived off blueberry donuts purloined from Optimists breakfasts of old.

Forty years later, I look back at The Great Blizzard of 1978 and laugh, but I still carry the scars of that momentous occasion.  The smell of blueberry donuts makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Did you live through the Great Blizzard of 1978?  What is your most vivid memory?




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Ramblings: Christmas Edition

A picture print by Currier & Ives.


I’m just about done with whatever preparations I’m going to make for Christmas and I’m ready to let the celebrations commence.  If you didn’t get a card from me by now, chances are you aren’t going to, especially since I sent out exactly one.  Sorry.

You may have also noticed I didn’t send any homemade goodies.  Don’t feel bad. I didn’t bake anything because I have a serious sugar addiction.  I am already fighting off the dreaded holiday 5 pound gain and falling into a sugar-induced coma each night from all the goodies that appear at my office and call out to me with their siren song, “Eat me!  It’s the holidays…it’s ok.  Eat me!”  In a good way.   I can’t have that stuff in the house. Sorry.


My husband, Bill, went up to Chicago to have some melanoma spots taken off his back yesterday.  The doctor said it was very early stages, so no worries.  Except of course it is worrisome.  Melanoma is real cancer, not just old sunburn spots.  And he had a pretty big, pretty serious melanoma spot removed from his arm almost 9 years ago.

You know how doctors say “you’ll feel a little pinch” when they’re about to hack off a major body part?  That’s what they told him, but after 2 hours of digging around, when the local wore off he said it felt like somebody shot him in the back.  They gave him a couple Tylenol.

He’s a trooper.  Despite the pain he hung around the city all day so he could pick up our youngest, Gwen, from the airport in the evening.


Gwen is home from California and we had a nice catch-up chat late last night.  I left her my car today and she’ll come fetch me so we can have lunch.

Liz will be coming home tonight from Iowa.  I am so happy and thankful that we will have both of our little chickees home under our roof.

We are all going to dinner tonight with a family who are dear friends.  Then, tomorrow, Bill’s sister is coming from Indianapolis, and our niece and her family are in from New York.  We’ll have dinner Friday night with Bill’s family, and how wonderful it will be when we are together.

Saturday we leave for Michigan.  I haven’t missed a Christmas at home in 58 years.  I know.  Can’t wait to see most of my dear family.  We’ll miss those who can’t be there, especially my dad.


My dad died a couple of months ago.  This will be our first Christmas without him.  The in-town sibs have been dealing with the everyday loss since then, my mom most of all.  But I’ve been able to push the thought to the back of my brain.  When I talk to Mom, I can fool myself; Dad just can’t come to the phone right now because he’s engrossed in a fascinating  PBS special in his den.  Being home for the first time since the funeral, there will be no getting around this new reality.


I was in the bathroom today and looked up at the mirror, casually, and discovered I had smudged mascara all under one eye, like a 6-year-old playing with mommy’s makeup.

It reminded me of my Grandma Corrigan.   She was always dressed to the nines, as the expression goes, with full makeup, nice dresses (I never saw her in pants, not once my whole life) and frilly, frosty hats, usually pink.  The waitresses at the Big Boy, her favorite restaurant near her apartment when she moved up to our town from Detroit in her later years, used to call her The Pink Lady.

She never relaxed her standards.  As her eyesight started to go, she couldn’t see to apply makeup and she would have drifts of Coty face powder in Ivory Beige caking around her nose.  She didn’t know it.  The thought of that vulnerability makes me cry.

My mother’s favorite restaurant is now the Big Boy; it’s the one on the opposite side of town from her mother’s spot.  She sails in with her walker, but she doesn’t wear dresses or frilly hats.  Her makeup still looks good, foundation but no powder, and she has never worn mascara.  She doesn’t have to worry about it smudging all under her eye like her daughter does.


What is it about this time of year that makes me so happy and yet, so sad?


One of the best things about Christmas is the music.  I do not mean Michael Jackson  screeching “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.”  I grew up with the Jackson 5 and I love them.  But if I have to hear that song one more time, blaring every time I get in the car since most of the local radio stations who usually play classic rock abandoned that beloved format a month ago in favor of sloppy, self-indulgent mega-trilled covers of beloved Christmas classics done by modern singers. OK, Mariah Carey, you’ve got a hell of a vocal range.  I get that.  But do you have to land on every mother-lovin’ note in the scale for every mother-lovin’ note in the song?  Sing “Silent Night” like it was written, I BEG you!

I am talking about the music of Bing Crosby, Eartha Kitt singing “Santa Baby”, and especially “Sleigh Ride.” My dad has a green 33 record (kiddies, ask your parents what those are) of the Boston Pops playing Christmas songs.  When that record went on the record player and we heard those jingly bells and the whip crack at the end, it meant it was really Christmas time.  I mean he HAD a green record.  Damn.  This is going to be hard.

Anyway, I am wallowing in the glorious sounds which man has been inspired to craft to express his joy at the Savior’s birth.

I’ll leave you with John Rutter’s arrangement of “What Sweeter Music” for the King’s College Cambridge Singers.  It moves me to tears.

Hope this is a blessed, happy Christmas for all!

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Little Red Hen’s Christmas Joy

At this joyous time of year, many of you are sorting through your stash of previously received lame gifts, searching for likely candidates to regift.  In that same spirit, I am regifting a classic Christmas story from blog years of yore.

Gather round, my kiddies, while I tell…

Little Red Hen’s Christmas Tale

Little Red Peg taking care of Christmas business.

Once upon a time,  Little Red Hen lived in a cozy little coop with her happy little family.  It was Christmas time and Little Red Hen thought some decorations would add to their holiday joy.

So she bought some egg nog and cookies, put on her favorite Bing Crosby Christmas CD and settled in for some holiday memory-making

“Who will help me set up the tree?” she asked.

“Not I”, said the rooster.

“Not I”, said the first chickee.

“Not I”, said the second chickee.

“Then I will do it myself,” said Little Red Hen.  And so she did.

Amidst a considerable amount of swearing.  Little Red Hen developed tree burns and little cuts on her wings from wrestling the 9-foot tall, artificial tree out the box, putting it all together and fluffing the scratchy branches.

“Who will help me put all the lights on the tree?” she asked.

“Not I”, said the rooster.

“Not I”, said the first chickee.

“Not I”, said the second chickee.

“Then I will do it myself”, said Little Red Hen.  And so she did.

With nobody to hand the strings of lights to, she was up and down the ladder at least 26 times.  All the lights worked when she tested them, but half of the strands went out as soon as they were all plugged together.

“Who will help me put all the ornaments on the tree?” she asked.

“Not I” said the rooster.

“Not I”, said the first chickee.

“Not I”, said the second chickee.

“If you think I’m doing any more decorating without any help from you selfish, lazy slobs” said Little Red Hen, “you’re crazy!”  She burst into tears and took off for the mall with a squeal of tires.

The rooster and the 2 little chickees ate all the cookies, drank all the egg nog, turned off the Bing Crosby CD and watched Game of Thrones reruns on TV.

And the half-decorated tree and 3 big boxes full of ornaments are still sitting in the middle of the living room floor to this very day.

The End.

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Buffer Couple Saves Vacation

Eenie, meenie…

Careful packing is crucial to a successful vacation with your honey.  The most important thing to bring along is a Buffer Couple.

Have you ever done a fishing trip in the Midwest in the late fall?  There’s nothing like it.  You get up so early in the morning it’s not even morning yet.  The pre-dawn sky is inky black, and the air is so frigid it turns the scarf wrapping your face (and the snot running down it) to crusty ice.  You load your boat with 6 metric tons of essential paraphernalia, and then motor out onto a still, silent lake for a day of adventure.  There you sit, hours of immobility spent contemplating the meaning of life and trying to restore feeling to your frozen fingers, interspersed with heart-pumping sessions engaged in the eternal struggle of Man vs Food.  If you’re lucky, Man wins and dinner is wrestled aboard, flopping and gasping into the bottom of the boat.  You arrive home as the sun sets, exhausted and filthy; reeking of fish and sweat, but there’s still more fun in store.  Now you get to scale and gut your slimy prize.

Does this sound like something I would be even remotely interested in?

As if.

Yet my husband and I recently got back from just such a trip and we both had a ball.

When we first started talking about a fall weekend getaway, we knew we wanted different things and thought success was merely a matter of careful planning.  We agreed to pick a place where he could fish, and I could hike and go antiquing.

I assumed he shared my vision of a cute cabin, nested in the pines on the banks of a picturesque lake.  It should have:

  • tasteful furnishings with rustic charm and modern amenities
  • comfy beds
  • nice bathrooms (jetted tub preferred but not required)
  • a gas fireplace
  • an outdoor fire pit
  • a porch where I could sit and sip wine and commune with nature while reading a good book.
  • a secluded, natural setting, but be easily accessible to civilization for fine dining and antiquing

Hubster did the preliminary research online and proudly showed me the “resort” he had picked as he was about to book it.   No credit cards had yet been involved at this stage, thank the Travel Gods.

The place he chose featured several rows of dilapidated, tiny, wooden buildings plunked down on the banks of a murky lake.  Each was outfitted with:

  • a couple of narrow twin beds purchased used from a Dickensian orphanage
  • a lumpy, saggy, greenish-brown tweed sofa from a McCarthy-era rumpus room
  • a micro fridge brought back from a college kid’s dorm
  • enough knotty pine paneling to suggest this place was single-handedly responsible for deforesting upper Wisconsin

The whole “resort” looked like a run-down army camp except it lacked that level of cozy charm.  It was so far out in the boonies we’d probably have to hike in miles with our supplies on our backs, and when an axe murderer or bear got us (as they surely would in such a remote locale) the authorities wouldn’t find our mangled remains until the first thaw sometime next June.

The term “fishing trip” clearly conjured up different pictures for each of us.

When I gently suggested this wasn’t quite what I had in mind, he looked perplexed and pointed out such deluxe features as the separate gutting shed down by the lake, which ensured that less-desirable fish-parts would be kept discreetly away from our cabin.  What further amenities could I want? We stared at one another across the Great Divide of the Sexes that separates even long-married couples like us.

Fast forward a week.

We met my cousin Kathy and her husband Gary for dinner and the subject of our as-yet-unconfirmed vacation came up.  I don’t know who first came up with this brilliant idea, but someone suggested the two of them join us.  They said they would be delighted. Schedules were consulted and we moved swiftly to the hard-core planning stage to the mutual satisfaction of all involved.  We had a Buffer Couple!

I like the Hubster just fine, and I assume he feels the same about me, but we have very different interests.

He likes old battlefields, I like old jewelry.

He likes to watch sports, I like to watch House Hunters.

He likes to fish, I like to eat fish.

There’s nothing wrong with this – variety is the spice of life. It becomes a problem, though, when you’re planning a vacation.  Unless you’re in the honeymoon stage where vacations involve 23 hours in the sack, only coming up for air and food, most couples want to actually DO something when they take the time, trouble and expense to get away.  They want to explore and experience all the wonders their destination has to offer.  If your only companion isn’t even on the same page when it comes to recreation, you wind up either doing everything by yourself, or tagging along, trying to make grudging compromise look like enthusiasm so you don’t suck all the joy out of the experience.

Enter the Buffer Couple.

Kathy and Gary are the best kind of Buffer Couple: both great company, easy going, and with good senses of humor. Kathy likes to do the same stuff as I do, and Gary likes the stuff Bill does.  We split up for various activities during the days and all hooked back up in the evening.  The house we booked was big enough to provide privacy.

This setup had additional benefits.  Not only could we split expenses, had it been just the two of us I suspect the Hubster would have tried to weasel out of plans for dinner in town in favor of snoozing on the couch at the end of a long day in the great outdoors.  Having another couple in the house added just enough social pressure to make him dude up for an evening on the town instead.  Bonus!

He and I had the long car ride there and back to talk, and, since our Buffer Couple had to leave a day before us, we even got some quality time alone.  It was the best of both worlds.

Taking a Buffer Couple along doesn’t mean the thrill is gone: think of it as vacation insurance, as important as any travel accident policy.  The Buffer Couple provides vital breathing space – a buffer, if you will.  That way one member of an  adoring twosome doesn’t snap and wind up knifing the other and throwing the body over the rail of the cruise ship after too many days of undiluted, 24/7 togetherness.

I’m already looking ahead to our next trip.  If Kathy and Gary aren’t available, I’m considering taking applications for a compatible duo.

Who knows – you and your sweetie may be the lucky pair selected as our next Buffer Couple!

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My Dad Had No Rhythm, Yet He Will Always Be Master Of The Dance


My Dad is the one in the snappy, plaid jacket.

My Dad sired 9 children. He then topped that accomplishment by staying around, with our Mom, to raise every one of us. For that reason alone, he deserves to be Father of The Year.

Not convinced? Here are a few things you should know about him.

My Dad…

can clear a room quicker than you can say National Geographic. Not because of poor hygiene or a less-than-winning personality, but because of his TV viewing habits.

All us kids would be piled into our tiny sunroom watching The Monkees or Get Smart on TV. Dad would come in, squat next to the set and start flipping the dial. (This was in the dark days before remotes.) He would come upon a fascinating National Geographic special on plate tectonics and there he would stay. We all groaned, rolled our eyes, exclaimed “Da-a-ad!” and left the room. If we were old enough to do so, we flounced out.

As he squatted next to the set, chewing his nails and staring raptly at the educational program du jour, we would hear his voice faintly, fading as we scattered through our big, old house “Hey, don’t you want to watch this? This is really interesting!”

should have joined the Navy. He bought his first boat when we were young kids. This started a life-long love affair second only to the one he shares with my Mom. I loved the family trips, especially to Mackinac Island each summer.

Each new boat was bigger than the last, and all the early ones were wood. When I think of how much of my life was spent in the boat shed, stripping varnish off metal trim and sticking Coopernal-ed toothpicks into screw holes, all I can say is… Dad, I forgive you.

is one of the smartest people I know. Too smart. He was always ready to help with math homework, but his explanation would sail right over your head. After just a few minutes, your eyes would glaze over. We’d say, “Thanks, Dad, I get it now.” and he would walk away, mission accomplished. He never suspected we would call a friend for help as soon as he left the room.

He has taught celestial navigation for years, a skill I greatly admire even though the topic makes me glaze over worse than math.

has no rhythm that I’ve noticed, but is the Master of the Dance. He is best known for The Mosquito Ballet.

On sultry summer nights when we were very little, the windows and the balcony door in our bedroom would be opened to catch any stray breezes. Somehow the mosquitoes always got in to plague us. Dad to the rescue. Wearing a sappy expression and brandishing a fly swatter, he would leap and pirouette about the room, chasing the pesky bugs. We stood in our cribs and beds, flushed and sweating in diapers and t-shirts, shrieking with laughter, the sound floating out into the hot, still nights.

is a Yankee Doodle Dandy. Not because of his patriotism, though he is a proud and loyal American, but because of his zeal for the 4th of July.

My Dad loves fireworks with the pure joy of a child.

As my brothers got older they bought fireworks, most from the lawless land of Indiana, to set off in the driveway. Dad half-heartedly endorsed Mom’s edict to stop because those things “were just too dangerous”, but you could tell only the strictest discipline kept him from elbowing the boys aside to light the fuses himself.

To this day, almost every 4th of July, Dad and some of the family take the boat down the river to watch the fireworks over the water. That’s the only way to see them.

tells a shaggy dog story with the best of them. There’s a real art to telling the long, involved joke known as the shaggy dog. Dad has great delivery, no doubt. The problem is remembering the whole story. Early on, he developed a system. He wrote down his best material and kept the notes tucked in the front pocket of his shirt.

Our parents used to host cocktail and dinner parties pretty often when we were kids. Dad would duck into a corner, surreptitiously refer to his notes, and then sally forth to slay the crowd with his latest gems.

All his shirts still have pockets, and they still bulge with papers. I know for a fact most of those papers are jokes, now sent by friends via that new, joke-passing technology, email.

is a devout man. He spent years in the seminary before deciding the priesthood was not for him. But his faith and devotion to God have been constants in his life; something he and Mom passed on to their children.

When we were kids, we said family prayers almost every night. As I entered my teens, I must admit that I didn’t have quite the appreciation for this ritual that I have now, in retrospect.

Sometimes, in the middle of our devotions, one of my brothers would let one fly: pass gas, fart, release the Silent-But-Deadly hounds of hell. Of course we all started giggling, then looked guiltily to our parents. They tried to maintain the mood. But more often than not, Dad would lose it. He’d start laughing. It was that highly contagious laughter that you couldn’t resist. We all joined in, laughing until we were leaning on the couch, crying. When it was obvious this train was not going to get back on the holy track, he’d waive us weakly from the room.

Prayers called on account of laughter. I think God understood.

God called him home after 90 years plus 2 weeks on this earth.  I figure St. Peter had a mosquito problem in heaven, so now Dad is leaping and pirouetting from cloud to cloud, still wearing that beloved smile.

He was the finest man I’ve ever known.

Dr. G.W. “Bill” Richart



Rest in peace, Daddy.

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