Category Archives: From Married Life

#TBT: But They Were Both Green!


God’s gift to men-children everywhere. For some reason, all mine were green elephants and purple hippos. Coincidence? I think not.

This post first ran on February 16, 2011

I’ve had some people ask me if I had personal experience as my guide for my last post. To that, I can only answer “Of course!” I am still amazed by the amount of knowledge I lost on January 7, 1995. (That would be the day Budge and I started dating, in case you aren’t keeping up!) For the last ten years, I had been a passable driver, notching only one wreck in that decade. It was a GOOD wreck, but still, it was only one and, to set the record straight, Budge had TWO wrecks in the six months before we met. More importantly, I had managed for the previous 20 years to dress myself in clean and decent fashion. I admit that when I was younger, I benefited from the miracle that was the original Granimals line of clothing, but even after I outgrew my mix and match zoo, I still looked presentable.

In one day, I not only lost the ability to drive, it seems I was no longer competent to dress myself either. Strangely, the only thing different from 1-6-95 to 1-7-95 was that I had become joined at the heart, if not the hip — at first at least, to She-Who-Was-To-Be-Called-Budge. Now, to get everyone just joining us up to speed, Budge was a student where I was a first year teacher. We met. We clicked. We became the worst kept secret in the school district and the fact I didn’t get fired (at least not for our relationship) has always warmed my heart because people must have thought I was a good enough man to have a relationship like this without taking advantage of a poor, lovestruck teenage girl.

Yeah, RIGHT! If they ONLY knew how brazen my future wife was!

Anyway, when I started teaching, I was a bit strapped for clothes fit to wear in front of a classroom full of students. Four years of college will do that to a guy’s wardrobe. I did, however, have ONE outfit that I thought was, to use the student vernacular of those days, “Da Bomb!” It was a nice, heavy cloth Duck Head button up shirt that I wore with Duck Head cargo pants.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with Duck Head, you didn’t go to college in the South in the late ’80s or early ’90s. They were a ubiquitous brand of khaki pants and pastel shirts in solids, plaids, and stripes. Some of us called them “the poor man’s Polo” since they were better made but lacked some of the cachet of Mr. Lauren’s little red horsey. They certainly were a great deal more affordable, especially when every dollar one saved on clothing was money that could be put towards paying down student loans! Yeah, I know and you’re right, whatever we saved went to beer, but it’s nice to think about what might have been had we been a bit more responsible.

But I digress.

This is pretty close to what mine looked like. Snazzy, right?

I had this one well-made, well-maintained and — to my eye anyway — STYLISH outfit. Since I am a firm believer in the old adage, “If one guitar string breaks in the middle of the set, play harder on the other five” I wore this particular outfit once per week, every week, from the time I got my job at the school in October until the outfit’s untimely demise six months later. Now, I’ve noted the cut, construction, and origin of this outfit, but what I failed to mention, and what apparently is SUPREMELY important, is that both the shirt and the pants were green. Apparently, that presented somewhat of a problem.

This would be a good time for me to reiterate one fundamental difference between men and women that happens to be most germane to this recollection. Men, to use computer terminology, are 4 bit color depth beings. If you’ve ever hooked up a monitor to your computer that wasn’t quite compatible and it reverted back to the lowest color setting, you’ve seen color through a man’s eye. We have red, blue, green, white, black, grey, and beige (and we’re not to sure about beige.)

Mine were a little lighter, but this is reasonably close. Does anyone else see a problem? I certainly didn’t!

Women, however, are 256 XVGA HD 1080 color compatible. They do not have “beige.” They have eggshell, off-white, candlelight, old lace, ecru (which I always though was a bird from Australia), flat champagne, and at least ten other “shades” for what men call “beige” and which no being in possession of less than two X chromosomes could discern a difference between even if held at gunpoint.

So, I thought the shirt was green and the pants were green. No problem. To Budge, however, I discovered that the pants were “olive” and the shirt was “dark lime.” Here I thought I was supposed to wear the clothes and she’s making it sound like I need to eat them. The very first time I brought her home to meet Mama, before I had revealed to Mama that Budge was — in fact — a student which is a story for another time, Budge went into my room — later to be our room — took out my “olive” pants, brought them into the kitchen, and threw them in the trash. She then told me that I could wear THE shirt with jeans and nothing else.

Life would simpler. I might even get to buy my own clothes again!

When I pointed out to her that I had worn that same outfit once a week for six months and she had NEVER said one word about it, she had a ready reply: “I know that, honey, and I told ‘the girls’ when we first started dating that once I found out I was coming over here the first thing on the agenda was to GET RID OF THAT OUTFIT!”

That, beloved, is how I found out that green actually doesn’t “go with” green and from that day to this, I have not bought an item of clothing to be worn in public without my Budge’s express approval.

I want my Granimals back!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

A Tale of Two Walkways


1000px-cthulhu_rising_by_somniturne1I’m hurrying to get this down. I fear it may be the last missive I write for a long time, maybe ever. If this be my last communication to the readers I love, know I did not faint nor flag in the fight. I pressed onward, met my enemy, and conquered him, but every victory has a price and this one is no different. In my zealous prosecution of the conflict, I have angered ancient foul beings of immense power and no mercy. I broke a sacred vow nearly two decades old. Now the cold hand of panic, raw gnawing terror grips me as the focus of their wrath turns towards me in its fullest. Already my fingers stiffen, my lower back is beginning to lock up, I cannot lift my arms above my head, my legs are in such knots I dare not attempt to poop for fear I may not be able to stand up from the toilet. These eldritch abominations possess long memories and when they are trifled with, they will have blood.

I can hear you thinking, “What, dearest Feet, have you done to deserve such a black fate? What vow could be so solemn its foreswearing cost so great a price?” The answer is as simple as it is deadly . . . I have constructed a stone walkway. I swore a blood oath I would never attempt such an undertaking again, but I did and now I have enraged the Dread Gods of DIY.

To fully understand the gravity of this matter, I must take you to the time I made this ill-advised oath. It was early in the summer of 1996. Budge and I had successfully navigated two years of dating and engagement without the principal of the school where I was a teacher and Budge a student discovering our love affair and having me summarily executed . . . or at least fired. I know I have piqued your interest, but alas, tis a story for another telling, and should I survive my current entanglement, I will tell it in due time.

For now, join me in a postage-stamp-sized backyard in a gated community where Budge’s dad decided it would be a capital idea to build a patio and walkway of concrete and flagstones.  I had serious doubts about the endeavor, but I owed quite the existential debt to Dad since I’d dated his daughter for over a year without him knowing. Once he found out — Budge broke down and told HIM without first telling ME she was telling HIM — he took the whole matter in stride, as he does most things. Still, he’s a shrewd man who knows when he’s got a wriggling worm impaled on the hook and ripe for catching a fish or a favor. In this case, my brutal, Herculean labor was the favor in question.

The day before, Dad “dug out” the shape of the patio and walkway. I cast aspersions because “scratched” would have been more accurate. The entire excavation dirt pile fit in a decent sized wheelbarrow with room to spare. Dad allayed my doubts about the ability of this small quarrying to hold enough concrete to anchor the flagstones by pointing to a pile of wood-looking stuff that upon closer examination proved to be slats cut from paneling. According to Dad, we were going to build a concrete form around the dugout area by stapling the slats to strategically anchored 2×4 stakes he had driven into the ground. It seemed a sound enough plan to me . . . this was before I learned Dad had never actually built a form or POURED any concrete slabs in his life . . . and he’d picked up the notion somewhere (I still think it was Budge) that I knew how to work concrete.

Any doubts I had about the disaster potential the day presented dissipated with the very first action Dad performed that fateful morning. We were going to staple the paneling to the aforementioned stakes with ¾” heavy duty staples. For this project, Dad replaced his venerable Bostitch stapler with a Black and Decker PowerShot stapler. The new model advertised much easier stapling and I must say the PowerShot easily sank a monster staple all the way to the bone of the heel of Dad’s hand with his very first shot. Dad winced at the pain, but when he moved the staple gun, no staple was in the stake. Dad thought he’d had a misfeed so he promptly shot another staple . . . right into the same hand. Turns out, the PowerShot is ass-backwards . . . something about leverage . . . and the staple comes out the opposite end from all other stapler. When no staple appeared the second time despite the pain in his hand, Dad looked down at the stapler and saw the blood seeping around two bottomed-out staples. It took a pair of needle nose pliers, two hearty yanks, and generous application of the curse word vocabulary Dad accumulated in a 20 year Navy career to remove those staples. The dew wasn’t dry on the grass; we already had bleeding.


I’d love to say Dad’s blood sacrifice paved the way for a smooth day, but I’d be lying. After we finally managed to get the “form” secured around noon, we discovered WHY professional cement finishers can make a good living. First, the cement mixer Dad rented wouldn’t fit through the gate into the back yard so we had to mix a batch, dump said batch into a wheelbarrow, and maneuver the wheelbarrow across the driveway — slopping cement every step of the way —  and pour the remainder into the excavation. Our batches of cement followed the “Goldilocks Principle.” The first batch was too thick, the second batch was too runny, the third batch was too stiff again . . . it was about ten batches before we finally achieved “just right” status and woefully few batches duplicated it. The Sun lay low in the sky before we had the form filled with something resembling concrete. I’d have loved to call it a night, but we were committed now the concrete was poured. We had to place the flagstones before it hardened.

What we were aiming for.

What we were aiming for.

Now, the “plan” called for us to CAREFULLY place each stone in its ideal location where it would harmonize with its neighbors. That lasted MAYBE four stones. We unceremoniously plopped the rest wherever our strength gave out with a given rock. Turned out, the lack of excavation depth was a blessing. If we’d dug properly, the stones would’ve been submerged. As it was, we laid a field of icebergs . . . some jutted proudly from the grey sea; others only a hinted at what lay beneath. Past midnight we heaved the final rock into place. It wasn’t very level, it wasn’t very uniform, but Sandy (Budge’s stepmom) declared it beautiful so it WAS done. I made my vow, with Dad as witness; I’d never build another stone walkway again and I kept my it. . . until today.

What we got.

What we got.

Today, I broke my word to the DIY Dread Lords and finished MY stone walkway. My design was much simpler. I didn’t use concrete, just dug a trench 5″ deep, 3′ wide, and about 20′ long from the driveway to the front steps, lined it with landscaping fabric, poured and leveled sand on top of that, installed some plastic edging, then filled the trench with 40 bags of pea gravel and raked everything smooth as a Zen monk’s rock garden. Each bag of sand and gravel weighed 50 pounds. The last time I moved 50 pound bags of ANYTHING, I was sixteen years old working at Community Cash in Fountain Inn. The electric pallet jack ran out of juice so three of us had to unload a semi trailer truck load of dog food by hand. So, my walkway is done; my vow broken. Budge has proclaimed it “beautiful.” Now I must pay the Gods of DIY. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know I was unable to appease those black hearted monsters and have gone to my doom (or at least to bed early) broken and in pain, but with all flags flying and pea gravel in my Crocs.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

Ma and Pa Finch: Our First Sign of Spring!

Ma Finch looking over a likely nesting spot.

Ma Finch looking over a likely nesting spot.

When I went out to get the mail after lunch today, a blur of wings and cheep-cheeped expletives announced what has become the surest sign of spring — Ma and Pa, a pair of beautiful finches, were poking around in the channel beneath our front porch awning for the perfect nesting site. These two may or may not be the exact same pair of birds who have built nests beneath our awnings for the last five years, but I’m relatively certain if they are not the identical two, then they are the offspring of those who have come before.

I’ve consulted Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and our interlopers are either a pair of house finches or a duo of purple finches. I honestly cannot tell the color plates in the book apart, but then I make no claims to being an expert birder. I do love watching them though.

Each year our avian visitors typically raise three to five obstreperous and demanding youngsters, some of whom I’m pretty sure have returned the next year to build their own nests. Once these little scraps of skin and feathers hatch, entering and leaving through our front door becomes somewhat hazardous. Ma and Pa are always either on the nest or very nearby and they inevitably interpret our need to walk down our front steps as being hazardous to their young. It seems they don’t associate the nesting material we put out for their use and the bird seed we keep supplied with US. I suppose in their minds these helpful items just “appear.”

After about ten days, the little ones are fully fledged. Then the sad waiting game begins. At some point, Ma and Pa leave the nest for the comfort of a nearby oak signaling the gravy train and room service have come to an end. Compelled by empty bellies, one by one the little fuzzballs hop up on the edge of the nest and launch themselves skyward. So far — knock wood — we’ve had a 100% success rate with flying.

This year's Ma again. She seems to be checking out the view.

This year’s Ma again. She seems to be checking out the view.

Two springs ago, however, we did have our first holdout. He (HAD to be a male I’m sure) was the runt of the nest of five and when Ma and Pa pulled back and the other nestlings left, he decided the newly roomy nest was to his liking and he showed no signs of leaving. For two whole days, he remained in what he’d adopted as his bachelor pad. I figured he would have gotten hungry, but one evening during the holdout, I caught Ma bringing a care package to him. Pa wouldn’t have approved, I’m sure. After two days, however, he must have gotten lonely watching his four siblings swooping through the air nearby. I was lucky enough to be sitting where I had a view as he finally decided to climb to the lip of the only home he’d ever known and launch himself into the blue. It wasn’t the most graceful first flight, but it was enough.

Three years ago, we had an awning built over the back deck as well and no sooner had its paint dried than another set of the same species moved in. This location, however, has more in the way of hazards than the front porch; so much so that Budge wants me to put up a rubber snake or something to discourage potential nesters. See, out front, if a little one doesn’t make a successful first flight, we’ve got several azaleas and boxwoods very close by he can climb up in and try once more. Out back though, if he doesn’t get it right the first time, one of two things is going to happen. First, he could land in the pool. For the record, finches swim about as well as I do. If they miss the pool, though and land in the back yard, they have to contend with Keaudie and Jack and while Jack at 14 isn’t nearly as fast as he once was, he can still outrun a fledgeling. Luckily though, we haven’t had any casualties yet.

This is Pa from last year. He's a little blurry because I never could catch him perfectly still.

This is Pa from last year. He’s a little blurry because I never could catch him perfectly still.

Even as I type this, Ma and Pa are twitching back and forth from one end of the awning to the other. Hopefully, they will take the hint we left them in the form of last year’s nest which sits at the OTHER end of the porch and build down there. I’m sure it will be less stressful for them and I won’t have to worry about losing an eye when Ma goes frailing into the night to protect hearth and home as I try to enter the front door!

Hope the weather is treating you great wherever you are and make sure to keep those feet clean!

Love y’all!

War of the Mouses


My beloved Budge is going to stroke out when she reads this post because she is certain we will be labeled nasty people in the eyes of the world. Let me assure you we are certainly NOT nasty people. I am descended from grandmothers who ironed towels and sheets. My precious Papa Wham vacuumed the entire house EVERY Saturday morning including window sills, drapes, baseboards and any other surface his Electrolux canister vacuum wouldn’t suck up. Until COPD brought my sweet Mama low, I would not have hesitated to drink a cup of water from the toilet in my Mama’s home because she kept house THAT spotlessly. I don’t keep a nasty house.

Mus Musculum aka Bane of My Existence.

Now I told you all that to tell you this . . .

For three months, we’ve been finding mouse poo in our drawers and cabinets. This put Budge into 100% flip-out mode. Me? Not so much. I’m a very easy-going guy. I really don’t like to kill anything I don’t absolutely have to including spiders, snakes, and mice. We’re all just trying to get on with our lives. They got little mouths to feed just like we do. I’m big on live and let live, even in the animal world. I just made sure to clean a little harder and keep as much mouse offal out of Budge’s sight as possible. That was my plan and it was working well until yesterday.

Yesterday I opened the silverware drawer to get a fork for my two Buttermilk Eggo Waffles when I spied a puddle of mouse pee in the fork slot. Okay, like I said, I’m an easy-going, even-tempered man. I don’t wish any ill will on God’s creatures, great or small. Mice got to have a life just like we do. HOWEVER, I don’t go all up in their nests and pee all over their kitchen utensils and I really would appreciate the courtesy being returned. I will tolerate a great deal. I will even do some extra cleaning just to keep the peace and balance of nature, but let all rodents hear this and tremble: Put mouse pee in my drawers? It is ON like Donkey Kong.

I didn’t want to kill the little boogers though. I just can’t bear the sight of their little broken bodies in spring traps or the way their dead eyes stare at me from glue traps. I didn’t want anyone dead; I just wanted them to pack up the little Mouse U-Haul rented from the little Mouse Exxon Station and head next door or something. Like the Supersonic song says, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”

Yeah, Boi! We fixin' ta kick it old school 8-bit style!

So, I went to Lowes and stood gaping at the myriad ways man has devised to kill his small furry neighbors. First I picked up three sonic rodent-runner-outer devices. At this point, I probably should have left, but I saw this spray “Designed to Repel ALL Rodents and Unwanted Animals. Triggers the Animal’s Flight Instinct.” I figured, cool, I’ll take one of these as well and put it around the spots I think they are using to get into the house. Once I got home, Operation Mouse Eviction began in earnest.

First, I plugged the sonic doo-dads into the outlets nearest the biggest problem areas. Then . . . I started to use the spray. I spritzed a big ol’ glob of it at the back of the pantry when — sweet mother of mayhem — the smell hit me. I now realized WHY Repel-ALL  “Triggers the Animal’s Flight Instinct.” I’ve smelled some stuff in my day, but this was hideous! No wonder a mouse wouldn’t come near it! I doubt a BUZZARD would come near it. This concoction would gag a maggot down off a gut wagon.

I read the REST of the label — specifically the part where it said “IMPORTANT: For Outdoor Use Only!” In the warnings it said “May trigger mild nausea.” Sure, if projectile vomiting like you’ve got a fatal case of Mekong Delta Stomach Flu is considered “mild nausea” this stuff will do the trick. It was so bad, the four cats RAN out of the kitchen like they had stolen something and jumped up on the back of the couch. Then they just stood and stared wide-eyed at me with this look that said, “Daddy, we love you, but you have really screwed the pooch this time.” All I could do was cover my nose and get out the Pine-Sol and air freshener.

Oh crap, honey! Did you inhale some of that stuff?

By the time Budge got home, the stench had greatly abated. Actually, she complained that the Brazilian Carnaval Febreze Air Freshener  I used to mask the smell was worse than the lingering undertones of the Repel-ALL. (Just so you know, Brazilian Carnaval Febreze ALSO reeks, just in a different, sickeningly sweet “whorehouse in Rio perfumey” way) I just looked at her and said, “You don’t like the smell of the air freshener? Take a whiff of the straight stuff from the spray bottle!” Of course, when she moved to actually pick up the bottle and squirt a bit, I grabbed her hand and said, “Whoa, Budge, you remember the vertigo baked spaghetti?” She turned pale. I said, “Worse.” The bottle stayed where it was.

I ended up dipping cotton balls in the noxious brew and dropping them down the holes next to the drain pipes where the critters were getting in and immediately plugged those holes with Brillo Scented Steel Wool Soap Pads. I don’t know if it’s the soap powder or what, but it keeps the fumes out of the cabinets. Most importantly, when I checked all the little mouse haunts this morning pee nor poo was anywhere to be found, so apparently the stuff works as advertised. I’m calling it a win anyway. Budge ordered me to get the mice out of the house. The mice are out of the house. Case closed. War won.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean because you don’t want them smelling like Repel-ALL!


Of Blind Squirrels and Acorns


Every so often, I manage to get it right.

When Budge and I moved to our home thirteen years ago, we noticed one serious flaw — apparently, our front steps were designed and built by a hobbit with a grudge. Three steps led up to the front porch and they were six inches wide at best. The narrow treads were compounded by the angle of the steps that felt more like climbing a ladder than walking stairs.

My mom almost tripped up them the day we moved in. My beloved Budge (whose Indian name is “princess-trips-over-sunshine”) fell on them twice within the first week we lived here. I can’t number how many work days started off horribly for her with a spill down the steps. Twice, she turned her ankle during a fall badly enough to go to the ER. Last January during an icy spell, I had my feet go out from under me and hung suspended above the demon-possessed hunks of wood long enough and high enough to think about just how badly it was going to hurt once I hit.

Our steps were a comical, if deadly, conversation starter as everyone who came to our home for the first time noticed how ill-designed they were. One of our friends — young woman who is very tall and statuesque with feet of proportionate size — literally had to ascend and descend the steps sideways because enough of her foot wouldn’t fit on the tread perpendicularly to walk up or down safely. Several visitors mentioned we walk upon a death trap every day.

I was pretty much forced to agree and within a month here and falling twice, I had vowed I would rip out those horrid timbers and replace them with properly proportioned pedestrian pathways.

Then last Tuesday morning, after thirteen years of cheating death, I got a wild hair and decided RIGHT NOW was the time to fix the steps. Here is where things get intriguing. See, I’m one of those sad males who never learned the basics of carpentry from my father or my grandfathers. As a result, I never approach a project like this without anxious trepidation and the knowledge that severe personal injury is always a possibility when I handle power tools.

Now, anyone who knows carpentry can look at my work and tell which side I started on because I learn from my mistakes “on-the-fly” and tend to get better as I go. For instance, the left handrail took me three hours to do correctly. The right one took forty minutes.

Another funny think about me and building stuff is I use screws even though nails are much cheaper. See, I can squeeze the trigger of a drill and put a three-inch long deck screw where I want it, but I can’t hit a nail on the head twice in a row with a hammer if someone had a gun to my head. If my soul’s salvation depended on me hammering a nail home without bending it, I would split Hell wide open. I watch in open-mouthed awe as my daddy and others easily drive nails home with three hammer blows while my nails look like the twisty blacksmith’s toys in Cracker Barrel stores.

Just hit my finger . . . ouch.

I also use screws for everyone’s safety, but I’m not talking about holding power or “up to code” stuff. I’m talking about unreasonably violent pain reactions. If I slip with a drill and bang my hand, when I give a primal scream and chunk the drill from my hand, it’s only going as far as the cord length. However, if I crush my fingernail with a hammer, I turn into a reasonable facsimile of Thor: God of Thunder and hurl my clawed version of Mjolnir with all my pain-assisted, adrenaline-rushed might in whatever direction I happen to be facing and endanger windows, cars, children, pets and low-flying aircraft. I figure I’m better off with screws.

With all this in mind, by sundown Tuesday, I had developed my stair plans from several WikiHow articles and a handful of YouTube videos. I had a solid plan of attack and went to Lowe’s and bought the materials with the last vestiges of our surprise tax refund.

Starting early Wednesday morning — and with a lot of digging and demolition — I managed had the “landing” level and the up and down stringers attached by lunchtime. Of course, I did have to take one stringer down and redo it after I realized I’d put it four inches too far over. Once upon a time in my life I’d have just left it and moved on thinking “good enough is good enough” but I really wanted this done right. Besides, once I realized what I’d done wrong, I’d already hung the four stringers once so redoing one wasn’t a big deal. By the time Budge got home, I had just screwed down the final tread. You cannot imagine how shocked I was when my measurements actually WORKED CORRECTLY. The top tread is smooth and level with the porch. Like the title says, even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and then.

I didn’t want to push my luck so I knocked off for the day and started anew Thursday morning. My plan was to be finished by lunch. I managed to do that — if I were eating lunch in the Hawaiian Time Zone. I had some “design issues” with the hand rails. I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to attach them for the most strength and security. By the time I installed the first upright, I’d been sitting on the top step holding a 2×4 and sporting a dazed look for about an hour.

Still, I had the steps completed when Budge got home. I didn’t lose much blood or skin, but my back hasn’t let me forget I’m not in my 20s anymore. Ever critical of myself, I told Budge the steps looked like a complete amateur built them. She reminded me “Professionals built the Titanic; amateurs built the Ark.” She even put up a picture of them on Facebook she was so proud of me. I love my Budge.

So, if you need any steps built, please don’t call me, but remember I love y’all and keep those feet clean!

The Christmas Day Budge Channeled Gypsy


When the lead pic is Gypsy Rose Lee, you just KNOW this is gonna be interesting.

1675 years ago today, the still-nascent Christians first celebrated the Birth of Christ on Christmas Day; 1211 years ago, Charlemagne became the first Holy Roman Emperor; 945 years ago, William the Bastard took the crown of England; 235 years ago, Washington crossed the Delaware and defeated the Hessians; 193 years ago, the choir of St. Nikolaus Cathedral in Oberndorff, Austria performed “Silent Night” for the first time; 97 years ago, several groups of Allied and Central Powers soldiers spontaneously stopped the Great War to sing carols and play soccer; twenty years ago, the final President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned; fifteen years ago, child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey was murdered (probably by her psycho brother); and two years ago, a crazy Nigerian tried to use his underwear to blow up an airplane.

These were all extremely important, memorable events to be certain, but none of them can match the Christmas morning ten years ago today when my beloved Budge made her burlesque debut on the back deck of our new home.

See what had happened was, it was Christmas morning and the two of us had breakfast in the living room in front of our tree, then exchanged gifts with each other. We were supposed to be at Daddy and Teresa’s for Christmas lunch at noon, so about ten o’clock, Budge went to get a shower while I took some of my new presents out to my workshop. At the time, my precious Jackie Boy and Beauregard (better known as Beau and Jack) were in their primes and I hadn’t yet taken the initiative to have their little testosterone factories shut down. Both of them were jealous of me and had scrapped quite violently before.

Even if you don't save a life, you may save a trip to the ER!!

While I was outside, I dropped something — I can’t even remember what — and when I stooped to get it, Jack ran up to me. Beau must have figured Jack was attacking me because he set into Jack ferociously. They were snarling and biting each other around the neck and generally tearing each others flesh (and my nerves) to pieces. Now I have been raised around dogs all my life. One of my earliest companions was a full blood American Pit Bulldog named Queen. I know dogs and dog behavior and one thing I knew to NEVER do was to get between two fighting dogs.

Well, I forgot myself in my desire to get this fight broken up. Beau was on top of Jack so I reached to grab his collar so I could pull him backwards. Just as my fingers touched Beau’s collar, Jack whipped around and tried to latch onto Beau’s neck. Unfortunately, my hand and wrist happened to be in his line of fire. He clamped down on my left wrist with malice and forethought. Pain exploded in my hand instantly, but just as quickly as he had bitten down, Jack released me.

I looked down at my wrist and four holes were spouting bright red gouts of blood. I grabbed my injured wrist with my opposite hand and staggered towards the back door. I was bleeding like the proverbial “stuck hog” and I didn’t want our utility room looking like an abattoir so I opened the back door, leaving a bloody hand print on the knob, and called out to Budge to please come to my assistance.

Now my Budge is a pretty cool-headed person and handles most emergencies well; however, she doesn’t handle ME being hurt OR large amounts of blood very well. She walked out to the back door wrapped in a towel fresh from the shower with her hair wrapped in a second towel. I recall her words being “Honey, I’m getting ready. What do you wa — OHMYGODWHATHAPPENED!!” I asked her for a clean towel so I could wrap my bleeding limb. At this point, I figured she would pick a towel out of the hamper that was at her feet or, failing that, she would take the towel from her hair.

I was wrong.

Ironically, this is one of Budge's favorite movies.

I heard her scream “HERE, TAKE THIS ONE!” and a towel fell at my feet. It was a pink towel and somehow, through the haze of pain and adrenaline, I remembered the towel on her hair being blue. I looked up and there stood my beloved wife au naturel.  She had stripped off her body towel and was standing on the back deck in a deep frost in front of God and everybody just as naked as the day she was born!

I managed to strangle out, “Um, baby?” and she came to her senses with a jolt and dashed back into the house. For about fifteen seconds, if anyone had been in either of our neighbor’s yards or driving by at a proper angle, he or she would have gotten a SHOW! Oh, that was a sight.

Once I got the blood contained, we spent about an hour of Christmas morning in the Hillcrest Hospital ER. Miraculously, the bite had missed any vital tendons or arteries. I ended up with four deep puncture wounds that hurt like CRAP as the nurse flushed them with iodine. Then I got a morphine injection and that was about the last clear thing I remember for the day.

We made it to Daddy’s about thirty minutes late, but by then the morphine was in control of my mind so I spent two hours in a recliner in a doze. We left Daddy’s and went to Charles and Missy’s for Budge’s side’s dinner. Again, I spent the evening in a recliner as Budge related the morning’s events. We made it home about eight that night and I was finally able to give in to the morphine completely and I was GONE to see the Wizard, so to speak.

Because I had such a great night’s sleep, I was able to get up really early the next morning. Budge and I had a fantastic day shopping the after Christmas clearances. To this day, we call it one of our top ten days ever!

And to think, it all started with a dog fight and a strip show 🙂

Love y’all and Merry Christmas, everyone!

Have a great day and keep those feet clean!

For Want of a Code a Ham Was Lost . . . Almost


The object of the quest!

This has been a rough couple of days.

Yesterday morning, I picked up my nearly-dead cell phone to discover a message from my sis-in-law, Missy, who had called at 11:30 PM the previous night in an attempt to relay the message that Dad had been taken to the hospital by ambulance because of chest pains which developed as he and Sandy, my mom-in-law, were watching the final minutes of “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”

This was a cause of concern.

I called Sandy, who was in the room with Dad awaiting the team to come prep him for an exploratory heart catheterization. She said the procedure was scheduled for 1:00 PM. I assured her we would be there. Upon hanging up with Sandy, I waited for Budge to awaken of her own free will to tell her that her Dad was in the hospital about to undergo a bit of heart surgery.

She took the news quite well.

Dad's troubles lay in the LAD and the OM vessels.

We spent the rest of the day yesterday in the waiting room of the Heart Cath Lab at St. Francis Hospital in downtown Greenville. The procedure that was to start at 1:00 was delayed by a complete comedy of errors until 4:00 but the doctor managed to detect the blockages and place one stent into one of those blockages in the Left Anterior Descending Coronary Artery (the “LAD” for short). Unfortunately, the plaque dam in the Obtuse Marginal Artery would have to wait because of the deleterious effect of the acidity of the contrast dye used in the procedure. Well, in due time, in this case due time being 11:00 AM this morning, the second stent found its new home and Dad was taken to his room for a period of rest and recovery before he is released tomorrow.

Because of all that drama, I got stuck with ham duty.

See, we — that is to say Budge’s side of the family — planned to gather at Dad and Sandy’s tomorrow night for a Christmas celebration and the guest of honor was slated to be a patented Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. The love Dad and Budge have for Honeybaked Hams is hard to overstate, which may have been partially responsible for those nasty blockages, come to think of it. Now, Budge and Sandy were talking in the waiting room this morning about shoes, wine, children, how Budge broke her toe the night before, etc, etc, when Sandy suddenly exclaimed, “Oh dear, the ham will be ready to pick up at 2:00 today.”

The ham. The Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. Will be ready. At 2:00. TODAY.

Let me recap for you. Dad, Sandy’s husband, Budge’s father, my beloved father-in-law, is having heart surgery at that very moment. Everybody on board? Despite that little bump in the road, however, somehow, a HAM — that was to be served at a dinner that is now cancelled for obvious reasons — shot to the top of the priority board. I don’t know how. That’s not my area. I just know Sandy was worried about the ham so Budge put her at ease with, “We will pick up the ham.” Sandy felt this was a capital idea and wrote out a blank check for us to purchase the Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. Apparently, the ham question was settled. Dad came out of surgery just fine; we all hugged necks and sent Dad off to his room with Sandy close behind.

Then Budge and I realized we were hungry.

So, off we went to Oriental House for lunch. En route, we contacted Erica who joined us for a fine lunch of some kind of meat liberally soaked in “white sauce.” For the record, I don’t know what kind of meat it actually is nor do I have much idea of the ingredients in the “white sauce.” I just know it tastes divine so I adhere to the Apostle Paul’s admonition in his First Epistle to the Corinthian Church and go on about my business.  After the meal, Budge and Erica decided to go see a movie. I reminded Budge that we had ham duty and was informed that now I had ham duty. They went to the movie and I went to pick up the Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham.

I managed to get to the Honeybaked Store on Pleasantburg Drive without incident. I managed to get across the parking lot in the driving rain without incident. However, I did not manage to pick up the ham without incident. I confidently strode to the counter under the “Pick up hams here” sign and a brightly smiling young lady with a beautiful cafe au lait complexion looked at me sweetly and said, “May I have your code please?”

I remembered Budge and Sandy discussing a code earlier. I even remembered the code they were discussing, so I blithely sang out “52252” and waited for my ham to appear.

My ham did not appear and it was here my troubles began.

Abandon all hope ye who enter herein without a CODE!

The sweet child said, “Um, that’s not one of our codes, sir. I need your official Honeybaked Ham code so I can get your ham.” (Incidentally, that code turned out to be the code to get into the garage within which dwells the extra refrigerator where the Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham — in a perfect and code free world — was supposed to be deposited)

I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham. This had seemed a straightforward transaction.

I told the sweet young lady that I had no other code but the ham was under Sandy Sims’ name at which point she smiled and said, “We don’t file hams by name, sir, just codes.”Once again, I explained that I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham.

So, trying to be helpful, she said, “Well how many people are you serving? Maybe we can figure out the code that way.” I never realized it would take an advanced degree in cryptography to buy a ham.

Keeping my smile as plastered on as I could, I told the girl I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham. Furthermore, this time I added that as a MAN, did she really think I would have been entrusted with something as vitally important as the Christmas gathering guest list? So finally, she gave up and got the manager who came out and the first thing this bright apple did was say, “May I have your code, sir?”

I didn’t have a code. I had a blank check. I was to pick up a ham and instead ended up in a Monty Python skit.

At the end of my tether by this point, I told the man to just give me one of the biggest damn hams in the store and if it were the wrong one, I would eat the leftovers myself. This finally garnered me a bag full of a Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham at which point I went to the register to pay.

The young man had witnessed the entire fracas and so was most solicitous as I filled in the rest of the check for the ridiculous price they asked for a Fully Cooked Honeybaked Sugar Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham. I handed him the check and he looked it over carefully. I was about to ask him if something was wrong when he looked at me most somberly and pointed towards four numbers neatly written at the top of the check in Sandy’s immaculate handwriting as he announced, “Um, sir, that’s your code.”

He managed to keep a straight face. I did not.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Instructions Would be Helpful


Tonight, Budge and I had the privilege to keep the nine-month-old youngest baby boy of some of our friends from our church community group. The parents were going to see Oldest Daughter perform as Comet the Reindeer in the school’s Winter Holiday Christmas program and Middle Daughter would be accompanying the parentals.

However, Baby Boy likes to go to bed at 6:30 to 7:00 in the evening and, even though he is a wonderfully easy baby 99% of the time, he does NOT like being up past his bedtime. With that in mind, Dad gave me a call and asked if we’d get Junior off to bed so He and Mom could enjoy the show.

Since we are childless but adore children, we jumped at the chance!

Now as I said, Junior is an awesome baby. He’s ALMOST got the mechanics of crawling down. He’s got the arm strength built up to hold up his torso and he’s got the rocking motion down, but he just hasn’t quite put all the pieces together to create forward movement.

Mom explained the bedtime routine, told us where the Chicken Enchilada Bake for supper was warming up, and thanked us profusely before heading out the door to the school. Junior played hard for the next 90 minutes. He loves his little soft ball, but he has a hard time keeping it where he wants it and he since he can’t move to get it yet, he gets a little aggravated when it rolls away. So he and I had a great time playing with the ball and the little thing you push down on and it spins. He was having a great time, but all good things wear out and right around 6:35, the little fella started wearing out.

Budge asked me to do the diaper change and put him in his “sleep sack” while she ate supper then she’d take him up and rock him a bit so he’d go to sleep. No problem. Diaper changes don’t bother me at all. When Budge and I kept nursery at our former church, we had a family who sent three children through the nursery and I have no idea what those little ones ate, but they had the WORST diapers imaginable. I won’t gross you out with the hideously gory details, but suffice it to say the diaper, and sometimes even the clothes, didn’t always contain the spillage.

Little Junior’s diaper was a piece o’ cake compared to the Samples’ kids. I got him into the dry and put him in his sleep sack, zipped it up and figured he was ready for the night. Now I’ll admit I was a bit confused about the design of the sleep sack. It looked warm enough aplenty for his tummy to his feet, but his arms and chest were exposed and since I was under the impression the sleep sack replaced blankets in the crib, I was worried that his little upper body was going to get chilled. Still, this was the garment Mom had left for him to sleep in and Mom knows best, so I got him snuggled in the sleep sack, picked up his footie pjs to put in the hamper and went to make the handoff to Budge.

Those of you who know and understand the workings of sleep sacks already realize the problem. I would have loved a call from any one of you about four hours ago.

As soon as Budge saw me holding Junior, she laughed a little. When I queried her about what was so humorous, she informed me THEN that the sleep sack goes on OVER the pjs. Well, that does make sense, but since I like a minimum of cover when I sleep, I projected that onto the baby and figured the sack was all he needed, despite my misgivings about the arms and chest exposure.

Okay, I felt a little aggravated at the fact everyone in the world seemed to know how to dress a babe in a glorified sleeping bag except me, but I got over it quickly in the spirit of getting Junior off to the Land of Nod. So I sat him down and prepared to rectify the mistaken clothing situation.

It was there my troubles began.

See, Junior was an angel for the first undressing and redressing, HOWEVER, it became immediately obvious that he also was not one to suffer fools gladly. I had taken my ONE chance at dressing him properly while he was compliant and calm and I had blown it. Now, I would have to pay for that folly.

Since the sleep sack had just the one zipper, I had him skinned out of it relatively quickly, but then the footie pjs had to go back on. Whoever dreamed up footie pjs should be taken out, stood against the wall, and shot. Then shot again. With the eponymous “footies” on the bottoms of the pj legs, it is impossible to reach up through the leg, take firm hold of the wiggling foot and pull said foot back through the leg. You instead have to do “the point and push” where you start a foot into a pj leg and hope Junior extends his leg. He did . . . after six tries.

Then it was time to get the arms in the sleeves. I could have put socks on a millipede in the time it took me to get Junior’s arms corralled and into their proper resting places. Did you know a baby boy who is pissed off at you because you are too stupid to get him dressed correctly the first time can A) scream louder than the flight deck of a nuclear aircraft carrier during launch and recovery AND B) bend his arm into contortions that would make Houdini proud? By diligent effort, though, I managed to redress the lad in his pjs and wrangle him back into the sleep sack. Of course the zipper stuck a time or two and Budge was making everything soooo very much easier by giving helpful advice like, “Don’t catch his skin in the zipper!”

I really wanted to say, “Hon, I’m a guy. I’m used to ‘not catching things in zippers’ okay?” But I didn’t so I lived to write this entry. When I finally got the zipper zipped and the little tag thingy at the top of the collar buttoned, I threw both hands in the air rodeo style so the judges would know I had finished the hog-tying event. Budge just looked at me with barely disguised laughter of derision and scooped Junior up and took him off to bed.

Hey, all you Gerber and Carter and Oshkosh people? How about some directions printed on the sleep sack? Too much to ask?

In any event, love all of y’all and keep your feet “sleep sack” warm, dry, and clean!

Deuce Part Deux — Laura-Lou Got Married


Laura and her mama, Connie.

So for several years, Laura (Deuce), Budge, and I pretty much hung together non-stop. Laura had many other friends from the school district and Starbucks. She even kept in touch with a good many of her high school friends who moved away from Ware Shoals. She has one high school girlfriend named Shaye Hall whom I am quite ready to meet and ask a question or two about a certain New Kids on the Block concert, but that is a story for another time.

We were together a great deal, but not exclusively. We would usually eat together on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the week and at least once, if not twice on the weekends. We also had long stretches when we didn’t get to see much of Deuce. She’s a pretty amazing actress (but what else can you expect from Drew Barrymore’s bestie?) and a member of the Laurens County Community Theater.

Some members of the LCCT. Laura is the cow.

For about a month each fall and spring, we’d be lucky to see her once a week because she’d have to sandwich rehearsals between two jobs. The shows have always been worth it. Her portrayal of Olene Whiffer is especially memorable. Think Steel Magnolias meets Gypsy Rose and you’ll have a pretty fair picture of Ms. Whiffer.

The last four years, we’ve also had the ritual of sitting with Laura while she was dead panicked about having a job at the school district, which has been her main source of income and benefits. With all the cutbacks since the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, she’s never been sure if her job was next on the chopping block or not. So far though, she’s always managed to have a spot. It probably doesn’t hurt that the superintendent and the high school principal — as well as most everyone else in District 56 — loves her almost as much as we do.

The Gang from Starbucks

Work kept us apart, the theater kept us apart, and football season kept us apart. Once Laura started working at the high school, she took over the Spirit Club. As a “perk” of this office, she got to be at EVERY football game, fair weather or foul, home or away, heat or cold. When I was still at Bell Street, I’d come to a few games as well, but I never made the trek to Union or York. For the record, Union, SC is impossible to get straight to. It’s one of those “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” places.

But I digress.

One issue which never kept us apart, however, was Laura’s dating life. Without putting too fine a point on it, she didn’t have much of one. Now you might ask, as I did when I didn’t know her as well as I do now, how such a beautiful, classy, and outgoing young woman could NOT have three dates per weekend. The answer lies in which Laura shows up for the evening — Ware Shoals Laura or Simpsonville Laura.

See, Simpsonville Laura went to etiquette classes and knows which utensil to start eating with at the most swanky restaurants and receptions. Simpsonville Laura is demure, very sweet, kind, and forgiving. Simpsonville Laura drinks Blue Moon with an orange wedge on the lip of the glass.

This is Simpsonville Laura dangerously close to morphing into Ware Shoals Laura.

Ware Shoals Laura shoots tequila. Not often, but she does. Ware Shoals Laura is the slightly less refined and considerably more dangerous alter ego of Simpsonville Laura. Ware Shoals Laura also went to etiquette classes but she mostly remembers which knife on the table is sharpest and will cut a heart out best. The funny thing is, you could be sitting next to Simpsonville Laura one minute and someone — often me — would say something stupid and when you’d look over, you’d be sitting next to Ware Shoals Laura.

Simpsonville Laura has always loved men with dark handsome looks; Ware Shoals Laura has always loved men with barbecue sauce, Texas Pete, and a side of green beans. Not every guy, not even most guys, had what it takes to deal with sporadic outbreaks of Ware Shoals Laura. Thom didn’t, Eric didn’t, some guy from Greenwood who ate one dinner with us at Wasabi’s didn’t, and poor Pete (Pete the Dude, not Pete the Cat. That’s another story) CERTAINLY didn’t. He’s still got a few things to learn about himself I do believe.

But one did, and that’s where the buckeye comes in.

Laura and Mr. Dick, giver of the sacred buckeye.

Now why in the name of all that’s holy a MICHIGAN WOLVERINE fan would have a BUCKEYE in her possession was somewhat lost on me until I heard the story. Laura’s grandfather, Mr. Dick, had given Laura a genuine buckeye when she was but a wee lass and told her it was because she was greatly loved and very special and when she finally met a boy she loved as much as Mr. Dick loved her, a boy as special to her as she was to Mr. Dick, she should give him the buckeye and he’d be hers forever.

Deuce kept that buckeye a long time and might have kept it forever if it hadn’t been for the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Now this particular group of which Laura is but a junior member is worthy of a blog all their own, but for the sake of time I will summarize. The Ya-Ya’s are a group of young ladies and older women who regularly visit one another, but once a year, they have a Ya-Ya convention at the Beach. It was during one of these annual maritime rendezvous when one of the top ranking Ya-Ya’s mentioned she had a son she wanted Laura to meet.

Some of the Ya-Ya's in the Caribbean.

His name was Cameron Hall and his mother, Elaine, introduced the two of them later that summer. The rest, as the old story goes, is history.

Budge and I knew Laura was going out regularly with Cameron and I figured he had to be at least a decent guy because he was willing to drive up an hour and some change one way from Columbia every time they went on a date. I didn’t know HOW well they were getting along until Laura, Budge, and I were on the way to supper one evening last summer and she ended a cell phone call with “I Love You!” I automatically asked her how her daddy was doing because Mr. Ray Davis was the ONLY person Budge or I EVER heard Laura say “I love you” to on the phone. She was quiet for a minute then said, “Um, That wasn’t Daddy, that was Cameron.”

Wow. This was SERIOUS.

It was so serious she introduced him to Budge and I, which was something she’d only done on one other occasion and only because she wanted some good excuses to dump the Greenwood guy from Wasabi’s. It was SO serious that the night we went to meet Cameron and Laura for dinner at TGI Friday’s in Greenville, I not only traded my normal T-shirt and basketball shorts for khakis and a collared polo, I also wore BIG BOY SHOES instead of my neon colored Crocs.  Laura noticed immediately and later told Cameron that was a fairly big deal.

The minute I saw him I didn’t like him. He was handsome in just the slightly rough way I knew Deuce loved. He was a football fan and he liked USC and . . . well, he was just about as perfect a match as is possible in this fallen world of ours. I didn’t like him because I knew he was probably the one who was going to break up the band. Once I saw him look at Laura though, I had to get over it. He loved her and the way he looked at her proved it. What’s more, he’s a good and gentle man. Hardworking and kind and he treats Deuce as if the Sun and stars spun around her hair on a halo.

This Christmas, after a little more than a year together, Laura gave Cameron Mr. Dick’s buckeye.

The shoals that give Ware Shoals its name.

I started waiting for the inevitable call.

It came this past May after the Ware Shoals Catfish Feastival (and NO that is not a misspelling). Cameron had gotten Big Momma’s 100-year-old diamond ring from Connie, Laura’s mama, and had it reset for her. He, with some timely help from young Jacob, gave her the ring on the rocks of the shoals in sight of the house where Laura grew up near the middle of town she loves like no other place on Earth. My Deuce was getting married.

Cam's beard wasn't that grey when he and Deuce started dating. Just saying.

So, just a tiny bit more than one month ago today, I dusted off my wedding manual, checked over the procedure for properly endorsing a marriage license, and sat going over the vows and ceremony as Budge drove following Laura, Cameron, and Jake, Cameron’s son, down to the Isle Of Palms near Charleston. There, in a simple white dress and Cam in nice khaki slacks repeated after me in cargoes and purple Crocs their vows and “I do’s.” I made it through almost the entire ceremony without crying, but my voice caught just a bit during the prayer.

Last week, they moved in to their new house together in Laurens, SC and tomorrow night we’re gathering in Ware Shoals for a swanky reception. Hopefully, Cameron will let me borrow Deuce back long enough to show me which fork to use.

It hurts a little knowing I won’t get to see Deuce as much as we did, but I look forward to seeing what kind of beautiful love grows from that small brown seed from the Aesculus glabra 

It’s common name is The American Buckeye.

Love y’all!

Deuce, Part I — An Unlikely Alliance


Um, Laura's the big one.

My first day as a librarian at Bell St. Middle School in Laurens District 56, I met Laura. She was in charge of teacher IDs and email passwords so at lunch on the first day of the new teacher orientation, I fell in with the rest of the newbies and trooped down to the IT Department’s basement outpost in what was then the District Office to have my ID made and get a login for the computer network.

Now, when I am nervous, I talk very fast. Think of an auctioneer and double his speed. When I am excited, I also talk very fast. This was my first day as a school librarian AND I was in a new district, I was extremely nervous while being incredibly excited. Think of an auctioneer with Tourette’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Autism and severe ADHD standing in a nest of fire ants with his hair ablaze and you’ll have a close approximation of what Laura received that hot August day.

While,  in line I noticed a Michigan poster on the wall with a photo of Laura and another girl (later I found out it was Ho-Hum Amy) in front of “The Big House” in Ann Arbor. I also saw a photo of an ankle with a crescent moon tattooed on it. In my nervously excited state, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet taking in everything around me and checking it off against info in my head. I was last in line to get my stuff so as soon as Laura spoke to me, I started talking.

According to Laura, the conversation went somewhat thusly (with my part approximating how she says I answered her):

Laura: “Hi. What can I do for you?”

Me: “Hi-my-name-is-Shannon-ShannonWham-W-h-a-m-Wham-just-like-George-Michael’s-old-singing-group-Wham!-before-he-got-weird. Is-that-you-outside-the-BigHouseinMichigan? DidyougotoMichigan?Are-you-a-Michigan-fan-it’s-hard-to-tell-’cause-you-have-a-USCposterontheotherwall-soIthoughtyoumighthave-goneto-USC-but-I-need-to-get-my-idandlogin-Imthenewlibrarian-over-atBellStreet-do-you-have-a-tattoo-is-that-the-tattoo-in-that-picture-ofyourankleisthatyourankle-you-have-a-nice-office-it’sgoodandcooldownhere-it’ssohottoday-that’sareallyprettyplantwhatisit-oh-you-already-got-myidandloginbutI-didn’t-tell-you-my-social-didyou-lookitup-wowyou’refast-well,Igottagoeatlunch-thenextsession-startsinthirtyminutes-thanksalot-itwasnicetomeetyou!

And I left.

She never looked at me after her initial greeting, but over a year later I found out as soon as I left, she went back to where the IT guys ate lunch and announced, “The new librarian over at Bell Street is certifiably insane. I mean, he SERIOUSLY needs medicated,” and she proceeded to recap my entire spiel.

Little did she know how right she was . . .

Among her other multitudinous talents, Laura's a very accomplished actress.

I didn’t see much of her that first year. Of course, the year pretty much passed in a blur anyway. I emailed her when one of my little monsters forgot his or her password so she could fix them up a new one and we’d chat a bit here and there but with no premonitions of what was to come.

The next year started off pretty much the same way. I’d call if I needed something IT-ish and every now and then she’d stop by to drop off something. Laura is a wildly engaging person and she’s hysterically funny to talk to when she gets going. That fall, I found out she loves college football and is a die-hard Michigan fan. As the fates would have it, Appalachian State scored a monumental, historic upset over Michigan in the opening game of the college football season so I downloaded the App State fight song and sent it to her as her ration of crap about that fiasco. Then right after Christmas, I blew a disc out in my back and was laid up and out of work for most of January. She emailed me a time or two while I was out of commission and she was one of the first to call me up and welcome me back once my discs finally healed.

Still, at this juncture, she was a colleague from work who had some similar interests to me and I never dreamed she’d be anything else. Then I called her the Monday afternoon after spring break. The day had just ended and I was feeling spring feverish and blithering on like I do when I’m nervous or excited.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Laura has something in common with my Budge — they are both “Stuffers.” Anything bad that happens to them gets shoved in a huge mental trunk and stuffed away to be dealt with a some indeterminate time in the future. She wasn’t answering like she usually did and that’s when I caught a note in her voice that told me something was very, very wrong.

Since she is such a proficient “stuffer,” anyone would have difficulty discerning anything out of the ordinary was amiss in her voice, but — as I said — I just caught a hint of something not right. Now Laura also has in common with Budge being a VERY private person. Neither one of them “do their business out in the street,” so just casually asking “what’s wrong” wasn’t very likely to get any sort of accurate answer. I suppose I’ll never know why I asked or why she answered. I just know the Lord truly does work in utterly mysterious ways to bring extremely special people into our lives when it’s time.

Turns out her spring break had been HIDEOUS — absolutely hellish. She told me all about it in an hour-long conversation. Out of respect for her privacy, I won’t divulge details but suffice it to say it involved loved ones dying, betrayal, car problems, unexpectedly moving houses . . . just think of the worst week you could have then double it and you’ll get close to Laura’s spring break. She was living in a commercial for Murphy’s Law. I was blown away by how wounded she was and I just wanted to be some comfort, so I think I said something profound like, “Wow. I am so sorry. Can I do anything? If I can help, let me know.” That’s what we Southerners do. “If I can help, let me know” is right up the list with “Bless her heart!”

Two of my favorite people in the world: Budge and Laura, Ace and Deuce.

I talked to her off and on that year but I really got to know her well over the summer when I was volunteering as an IT tech at the DO. The group of us would eat lunch almost daily at El Jalisco,  a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant in Clinton. At the end of the summer, she was moving again and asked if I could help out, so one hot, muggy Saturday afternoon, we moved her from Ware Shoals to Simpsonville.

That next day was the first time I mentioned to Budge we should take Laura out to eat. She had just started working a second job as a barista at Starbucks and hardly ever had time or money for herself. She was making it on her own though. Laura is tough and proud that way. Anyway, Budge was glad for a chance to meet this “Laura” I had been fretting about so we took her to Anita’s Mexican Restaurant. Within a month, Anita’s on Tuesday was a weekly ritual.

As we hung out more and more, I realized Laura was my lost baby sister. She and Budge were like twin sisters and became best of friends. For the next few years, we were inseparable. We’d eat out or I’d cook two or three times a week; Dana and I would take supper to her at Starbucks; we’d go to movies; we even did a few holidays together . . . Laura and Budge used to joke that we were Mormons. Budge was Ace and Laura was Deuce — my two sisterwives.

I have never met a stranger, but a plethora of quirks hinders me making close friends. I haven’t had a friend anywhere as close as Laura since college or before. She could even deal with me during a meltdown. Mama, Budge, and Laura are the only people who can calm me down once I go off the deep end. It helped Budge out more than anyone could understand knowing Laura could help when I was spiraling. She’s one of two people Budge can call and say, “He’s having a bad day,” and Laura would know exactly what was going on and how to help. It gave Budge someone to lean on and another pair of hands when I became more than one handful.

For example, last summer Budge went to Hawaii with Ki-Ki for four weeks. I don’t do well when Budge isn’t around, so Laura called every day to make sure I was out of bed. She even forced me to go out so I didn’t sit in the house like a cabbage while Budge was gone.

So over the last few years, Laura has gone from a casual acquaintance to an adopted sister. For my part, it would have suited me just fine for things to rock and roll on forever and for a good long time, it looked like that’s how it was going to be.

I liked it. I was content. The three of us could take on the world.

However, I didn’t know about the buckeye . . .