HampoLand

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A Tragic Doggy Tale

We have three dogs and two lovely new couches. I bought the couches last week and I’m very proud of them.  But the world is not the same not in our home.

I’m only going to write about two of our dogs today and I’ll change their names. I don’t want them to be upset by my story about them.

  1. Bert is a white dog with brown spots.  He’s some sort of pit bull mix, which is funny because I always swore I’d never have a pit bull. But God has a sense of humor. Bert showed up in our yard a few years ago. He’d been so abused he wouldn’t let us touch home for two or three weeks.  Bert is an uncomplicated dog and now so happy with his life. His thick white tail wags constantly and thumps joyously on furniture and our legs. He sleeps on his back, untroubled by serious thought, and snores like a freight train.
  2. Hamlet is a brown boxer mix who Lex rescued from starvation several years ago.  He’s an exceedingly handsome dog with expressive ears and six toes, that kind of freak me out.  He is hopelessly in love with Lex and I suspect he has rather complicated thoughts.

When the new couches were delivered all the dogs were very excited and sniffy.  They watched as we tried out different positions, trying to discover “the perfect spot.” Then they all returned to their doggie lives. Except for Hamlet.

For several days he’s been very unhappy and out of sorts. He paces back and forth in front of the couches, annoyed that he’s not allowed to curl up on them.  There are lots of other comfy places for the dogs, in the house.  Rugs and doggy beds.  They can even snuggle with Sandor in a real bed. But Hamlet doesn’t care about those places any more.  He only wants to be on the new couches.

At night we literally have to put shoes and chairs on the couches to keep him off.  If I walk into the kitchen, he immediately jumps into my spot. I tell him to get down and he moves very very slowly, obviously annoyed with me.

Sure, Bert made a move for the couches a couple of times. But we yelled at him, so he got down and has moved on.  He doesn’t even care about the couches anymore.

Bert rolls and wiggles on his back, cheerfully scratching a hard to reach spot, while Hamlet sulks in front of the couches.  Bert happily pesters me for a treat in the kitchen, while Hamlet stares dolefully at the off limit couches.

Bert and I have both tried to get Hamlet to play, but he refuses. I sit on the floor, looking into his handsome eyes and scratching his favorite spot. He ignores me. Hamlet is obsessed with the couches he can’t have. He has the Garden of Eden and all the delicious fruit, but only wants the forbidden apple.

The moral of the story? I don’t think God planned on all of us having everything.  We each have different gifts and wonders to enjoy. Love what you have, add to your world, make it bigger and better if you want. But don’t lose a single day being jealous of those who have what you do not.

Be a Bert.

 

 

 

 

A Miracle on Central

Yesterday while listening to Alan Alda discuss his Parkinson’s diagnosis and I remembered a miraculous story from a long long time ago. If you fact check this story I’m sure it’s loaded with inaccuracies but it’s a true story.

My grandfather, Dr. Jack Stell, was a surgeon in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He studied at Ouachita Baptist University and Tulane, then opened his practice here, between 1915 and 1920. As a surgeon at St. Josephs’ , he was loved, even adored by his nurses, who were all nuns at the time, because it was a Catholic hospital.

As a Baptist in the early 1900s my grandfather was not a fan of the Catholic church and he did not approve of the Pope’s power or position. But he loved, respected and needed  his nurse-nuns.

During the early 1940s something started happening. Many of the local surgeons were enlisted during WWII and working to put soldiers back together elsewhere. So, there something of a shortage of surgeons in Hot Springs. Daddy Jack (the grandkids name for him) was extremely busy.  He and his habit clad nurses worked almost constantly.  But, Daddy Jack started noticing that something was wrong.  Tiny tremors in  his fingers then hand hands, began frustrating him. At first, no one noticed. But he knew something was terribly wrong.

After a year or so he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s . But Hot Springs and the hospital still desperately needed his surgical talents.

When I was a little girl, in the 60’s, my mother, and ancient withered nuns, would tell me stories about my grandfather. Old nuns in  dark  heavy habits , would  take me into their offices, give me ice cream or pudding from the hospital kitchen and tell me stories.  The one repeated to me so many times was simple and beautiful.

Daddy Jack told his nurses about the diagnosis. Together, they decided before each operation, they would all kneel, on the cold tile floor in the operating room, and they would pray, as one, for his hands to be steady and true. The Baptist doctor and Catholic nuns joined hands and asked for a miracle.

God listened. For almost two years Dr. Jack Stell and his nuns prayed and continued with the life saving surgeries.

Once Hot Springs was repopulated with a few more surgeons, Dr. Jack Stell retired to his home on Prospect avenue.

As a little girl, I would eat my pudding, listening to the old nuns as they wiped their eyes with handkerchiefs they miraculously produced from their sleeves.

Today, I understand the power of their faith, love and conviction. Back then, I only knew I had to sit and listen to their stories in order to get any goodies.

 

Love At Rocky’s Corner

Dating is a funny thing.  You want to help each other…but how much and when?  All those boundaries have to be worked out.

Twenty five or twenty six years ago when Alex and I first started dating, I was trying to get my little magazine, The Spring, up and running and I worked as a waitress at Rocky’s Corner, a legendary Hot Springs Pizzeria.

I’d left my first husband in Key West and was struggling to make things work. Jack and Mary were three and four and we all lived on pizza toast and spaghetti noodles. I met Alex and the first thing he did, was start making “real dinners” for us. The kids were so excited to have three things on their plate, at the same time!!

Alex and I had been dating about a month when he realized how bad the brakes were on my car.   He was so concerned he asked several times if I would let him get me some new brakes, and then I could pay him back.  But I refused.  I didn’t need his help and I wasn’t going to take him money. We’d only been dating a month.

So, Alex came up with a solution on his own. One afternoon, while I was working lunch, unbeknownst to me, Alex snuck into the office at Rocky’s to talk to the owner Joey Diorio. Joey was the PERFECT Chicago style pizza place owner.  He had the look, the accent and the attitude. He was a Chicago style pizza pie come to life, thick and cheesy, loud, abrasive, loving and funny. Alex explained the situation to Joey who immediately understood.  He summoned an older waitress from Romania or  Czechoslovakia, with a heavy accent, to his office. A few minutes latter she stole my car keys out of my purse while I was taking a drink order and delivered them to Alex and Joey.

Alex then snuck out, stole my car and got my breaks fixed.  Two hours latter he returned, put the car in the same spot, then took my keys back to Joey, who found the old Romanian or Czechoslovakian waitress, who returned my keys to my purse. She’d been winking at me all day, but I didn’t suspect anything.

Two hours later I got off, sat at the bar counting my tips and drinking a draft beer. I said goodbye to everyone and Joey was acting super odd. Smiling too much and telling me to have a safe ride home.

Going home, everything was great. I had the windows down and the radio turned up loud.  I was probably listening to Color Me Bad singing “I Wanna Sex You Up.” It was all just great till I came to the first stop sign…..and almost went through the windshield.

I’ve been married to that car thief for a long time now. But sometimes that’s what loves does. Puts you right through the windshield.

 

Figuring Out Marriage, Slowly

Twenty one years ago, when our youngest daughter was born, Alex and I were in no way comfortable leaving her with a baby sitter.  We decided we’d be poor for a few years and I would stay home with her full time.

Alex was working fifty or sixty hours a week as a chef and I was at home with the kiddos. At first it was kind of cool but then it seemed the walls were closing in on me. I was expected to stay home, cook, clean and try to fix up our perpetually falling apart five acre red neck ranch, while he made fancy food and talking to cute waitresses.

When he came home, they kids were usually already asleep and he was too exhausted to actually talk to me. Or, if he did talk it seemed like all he talked about were the hostesses and waitresses. At least that’s what I heard, and it killed me.

I felt left behind, lonesome for adult conversation, unappreciated and abandoned.  Alex got to talk to grown ups, hot grown ups and eat nice food, take a cigarette break and catch up on the news, while I was at home feeding kids,  painting the living room and trying to clean goo out of the microwave.

Now Alex is retired. I work full time in radio and we are still trying to save our redneck ranch.

Twenty two years latter, and our situation is exactly the same, except we’re not crazy poor anymore. Two or three times a week clients and co-workers ask me to go out for a beer after work, but I remember what it was like, waiting and waiting for Alex to come home, years ago. If he was an hour and a half late, I was so sad. He’d been with people all day, why didn’t he want to come hang out with me?

So, I’ve made a rule for myself. I can accept these invitation once every two weeks, because seeing Alex is more important to me, our relationship and marriage are more important to me. I have to remind myself, he’s been home alone all day, he’s is waiting to talk to me, probably has dinner ready. Hanging out with friends would just be a bitchy , selfish move. Hanging out with friends or clients after work means I’m building a little life that he’s not a part of. It means I’m leaving the man I love and married behind.

The other issue I struggle with is having the energy to be a good partner when I get home. Yes, I talked to boat loads of clients, ran around like a mad woman trying to keep clients happy, wrote copy and made sales but the stuff he does at home, for us, is just as important.  I have to GET OVER MYSELF !  The things I do are not more important that the work he does at home. I can easily convince my stuck up self my work is “important” but it’s no more important or essential than what he accomplishes every day at home.

And we have a never ending list of projects to get done. WE. I shouldn’t expect him to do them alone.  I need to get my ass in gear and help him accomplish the stuff we set out to do. Even if it’s at a slower pace.

After twenty five or twenty six years I’m still trying to figure out how to be a good wife and partner. It takes a while to catch on. But I have learned this. The team is more important, because those clients and friends come and go. The team is more important, because the team means love and strength and together we can get so much more accomplished. And the team keeps me from being alone. And the team has my back when nobody else does.

Along time ago someone told me, “Marriage isn’t about being happy. Marriage is about making sure your spouse is happy.  If both sides focus on that goal, it works….beautifully.”

They Tapped My Daughters Phone! For Real

My daughter Mary called and said emphatically, “I think my phone is tapped, Mom.”
I smiled and wondered if she was off her medication because this has happened before. Then in my smarmy, patient Mom voice I said, “Why would anybody tap your phone honey?”
She took the bait. “Ok, consider this. I work with Middle Eastern refugees and I’m studying Arabic.”
“Yeah, but look at the stuff you teach your students. How to shop and use coupons, how to rent an apartment and fill out a job application, that’s not crazy or dangerous.”
“I know, Mom, but they don’t know that. they just know I spend a lot of time with Middle Eastern refuges.”
I nodded. “Ok.”
“Because my students are from the Middle East, I study a lot of Middle Eastern websites so I can understand where they are coming from. I check out sights from Syria, Iran,Eritrea, Congo, Somalia, you know.”
“yeah, I get that.” I say, seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together.
She continued, “Andy and I work with the ACLU and go to a lot of protests. And I took a pretty long trip to Uganda this year.”
I sighed, “Yeah, I forgot about that. ”
“And technically I work for a Chinese corporation. I mean, that’s who writes my checks.”
That’s when I grimaced. “Man, you do check a lot of boxes. If I was the CIA or something like that, I’d totally be checking you out. I think our tax dollars are being well spent.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, and a lot of my friends have told me my phone makes funny noises right before I pick up.”
I grunted, “That’s not good. Ok, if they interview you you just need to tell the FBI or CIA, who ever that you are Episcopal, and Episcopalians don’t get radicalized. We play golf.”
Mary laughed, “Good point.”
“Ok, and honey, there’s a whole list of words and phrases you probably need to avoid on the phone. But I can’t tell you what they are.”
The truth is Mary, my beautiful daughter is super patrotic, loves America and wants to save the world. But if you call her….you probably need to be careful what you say.

Why I’m A LibTard

This morning I went to the polls and asked for a Democratic ticket. Because I live in rural Arkansas a lot of folks are shocked when I’m willing to make that admission. So, I wanted to lay out just a few of the reasons I generally vote as a democrat.

  1. I strongly support feeding kids breakfast and lunch at school and providing free after school programs.  These things are constantly on the chopping block and that frightens me.  I’ve known too many kids who literally don’t have food at home and school meals are just about the only thing they can depend on. The same can be said for Senior Feeding programs.  It is our moral duty to take care of the vulnerable. This administration doesn’t really seem to agree.
  2. I’m a hard core environmental voter, maybe because I have four kids and want to leave them something beautiful here on our precious blue and green planet.  I want to protect the gulf of Mexico, the Arctic, the National Parks, whales, coral reefs, bees and  the Buffalo River. I could go on.  I think coal and fracking are  dangerous and filthy.   I understand this may cost jobs but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.  We are smart and I believe can find ways to create jobs without threatening the environment. I’m a big fan of Capitalism but I believe we can do better.
  3. I believe in global Warming and fully support alternative energy like  solar and wind.
  4. God gave us a beautiful planet and I think it’s a sin to abuse and deface it.
  5. I like guns, I own guns. But I don’t think any civilian should own assault style fire arms. No body but the military should be able to kill 20 people in one minute.
  6. “Tough on Crime” sounds wonderful but has put far too many young black men in our prisons for minor offenses. This costs tax payers billions of dollars and is often times not effective. I’ve seen first hand white people get much lighter sentences than black people. I believe the  system is rigged to benefit the wealthy and the white.
  7. I think regulation to protect consumers are good.
  8. Gay people don’t threaten me or my family and I believe they should have equal rights to marry whom ever they like.  And God loves gay folks the same way he loves me, flaws and all.
  9. Cuba, swing those doors open.  Cutting them off hasn’t worked for 50 years.  Also, opening trade with Cuba is great for the Arkansas farmers.
  10. I support DACCA, give them a path to citizenship. Don’t be cruel, they were kids.
  11. Some of my more liberal friends would probably suggest I’m too hawkish because I believe in a strong Military and I like guns. but there you go. We’re all different. I could add to this list but I think I’ve made my point.  One last thing.  conservative talk show hosts like Rush, Glen and Chris constantly state that liberals are “angry, hateful and don’t love America, despise Capitalism, don’t believe in God and want to take ALL YOUR GUNS.”  That’s just not true.

Because I’m A Middle Age White Lady

Last week I competed in a Poetry Slam and out of 15 poets I came in 15th! Dead last! But we had a great time, Sandor decided he likes Slam Poetry at 15 and some folks have contacted me cause they actually liked my poems.
So here you go…

Middle Age White Lady

When my sons are pulled over by the police, late at night, I’ve never been worried
Because I am a middle age white lady … and they are my blue eyed sons.

When I wander aimlessly through the Dollar Store
Suspicious cashiers never follow me
Never wait for me to shove a bag of Funyuns in my pants.
They don’t study my enormous purse as I check out,
Because I am a Middle Age White lady.

My children go to a wonderful redneck public school with soooo much money.
My kids get all kinds of lavish opportunities from their school district
They March on a million dollar AstroTurf football field

Because they are the children of a middle age white lady.

Because I have several bank accounts and credit cards,
a responsible amount of debt
I pay thousands of dollars less for my cars. Thousands!
Because I am a middle age white lady.

300 years ago, when my ancestors came to America
They were searching for freedom and opportunity… Fortune and adventure

It’s easier to be me, much easier, I guess. Because white privlidge does exist.
And those who say it’s not a real thing are morons and in denial.
My family is safer, we have glorious opportunities ….. because I am.
Just because I am.

And here’s the second poem…It’s a true story. I didn’t get to read it at the Poetry Slam because even a 10 year old girl in a unicorn shirt got a better score than I did.  But I think that was just the “cute vote.”

This one is called

Bad First Wife

In front of a food truck on Park Avenue you slap my husband on the back.
“Good to see you Buddy”

Hold up a minute! 30 years ago you slept with my husbands first wife.
In his house….in his bed…and now you two are back slapping buddies?.
Instead of backstabbing acquaintances?

He’s supposed to forget all about what you did to him ….or her…in their bed.
He burned that mattress you know…that’s how pissed he was.

What happened to the cold cone of silence?
Listen, Because you slept with his first wife they got a divorce 29 years ago!

Damn it. You’ve aged well and you’ve still got that ruggedly handsome thing going on.
And you’re actually kind of charming.

But you’re the reason they got divorced.
And then I met him.

Well…we’ve had a pretty good run for almost 25 years.
The mortgage on the house is paid off.
Four spectacular kids… full college scholarships.
We just got a glorious new bathtub installed …it’s pretty fantastic.
And after all these years of marriage we still actually like each other…we have fun.

30 years of silence…30 years…that’s a really long time.

And this is a very small town.

I nudge my husband with my elbow, in front of the food truck on Park Avenue.
And he says…“I’m doing all right. It’s good to see you, man.”

Dear John Prine

This morning, I cried so hard, listening to the new John Prine album, the Tree of Forgiveness,  I ran a red light and had to pull over. Mascara rolled down my face. It’s his first new album in 13 years and it’s a dandy. His songs are still beautiful, silly and heartbreaking,  John Prine is the cheerful and melancholy Dr. Seuss of the music world.

I started listening to John Prine when his first album came out in the 70’s. I was thirteen. My big brother Jack who was a freshman in college was a huge fan. He had a beat up pick-up and we’d roll down the windows and howl along to every song.  Two years latter both my dad and Jack died suddenly, two weeks apart and for several years John Prine’s voice, his messages and emotions,were just about  the only music I could tolerate.  His broken voice and sad, goofy songs some how  duct taped my heart for a little bit,  until it began to heal on it’s own.

In the beginning most of John Prine’s songs were really sad. But every album he has grown more hopeful, his view of life has evolved.  The world, I think, used to hurt his soul, now he seems amused and charmed by this planet and her inhabitants.

Over the years I’ve tried to meet John Prine, but it’s never meant to be and that’s ok.  I talk to him in my head sometimes.  Today, I imagined telling him about the two Mennonite men I saw this morning with long beards, big hats and antique hats and they were vaping.

My son Jack is a songwriter in Nashville, he grew up listening to John Prine and the influence is obvious. Jack is taking me to see Mr. Prine live next weekend in a little venue in Nashville. I don’t need to meet him anymore, but if I did I’d tell him I’m happy he’s happy. He wasn’t always. And I’m so glad we’re both still alive. That’s takes a lot of work sometimes. I’d thank him for Jack’s songs because they bring me joy and make me proud. I’d thank him so staying with me all these years.

I was still listening to Tree of Forgiveness when I got to work. I parked, turned off the car and the music stopped suddenly. And that med me cry all over again.

 

Jack and Eddie too me to see John Prine ten years ago.

 

 

Middle School Mean Girls

Last week I accidentally bought a novel…written for children. I decided to read it anyway. Here’s the plot: a 12 year old girl is going into middle school and suddenly (well over the course of a couple of months), her very best friend in the world turns into a Middle School Mean Girl. She becomes popular with the “popular kids”. It’s a heartbreaking story with an uplifting end.

I knew my friend Amy, who is a DJ on one of the stations I work for, had daughters. So, I gave her the plot synopsis and asked if her girls would enjoy it.

“This must be a God thing,” Amy said. Then told me about her beautiful daughter who is going though almost the exact same situation.

Her story killed me because I remember so well, struggling though middle school with my oldest daughter. She had a few wonderful friends for several years, then they all turned on her. We never figured out why. But my girl spent a couple of years in my pocket and miserable. Her former friends were saying all kinds of stuff, about her. They said she was ugly, fat, gay, stupid, a slut and she wasn’t Christian. One of the reasons we took her out of that school was to get away from her old friends.

Every week in restaurants, at the pool, in Walmart I hear middle school girls talk to their parents in a way that is shockingly mean and hateful. The parents just laugh it off, they don’t think their girls are serious. They tell themselves “it’s just a game, or a phase she’ll grow out of”. But they know, in their hearts, they never spoke to their parents that way.

Boys are gross and annoying, they make fart jokes and fall out of booths at restaurants, but they don’t sigh and roll their eyes at their parents, as though warning them to keep their mouth shut. I swear sometimes it looks like the parents are hostages.

So what’s the deal with so many Middle School mean girls? Why do some turn cruel and ugly? Why do they quite caring about old friends and focus on popularity and good hair?

Boys  might get in a fight with their friend, they might even try to beat him up…but they generally don’t get catty, cruel and start spreading rumors.

I think parents might be part of the problem.
We tell our daughters they are beautiful and can be anything from an astrophysicist to pop star, we tell our daughters they are strong, not to be kept down by anyone. We tell our daughters they can accomplish anything. We put our daughters waaaay up on a pedestal, we buy them the very best “high horse” And they listen. they believe us, the believe they are better than other girls, that they are smarter and prettier. We drill this stuff into their heads CONSTANTLY, and so do tv stations, songs on the radio even public service announcements.

But do we ever tell them to be kind? Do we tell and teach them to empathize? Do we tell them to be sweet and nice. No, because those virtues are seen as weakness. I’m thinking back and I don’t think I ever had conversations like that with my girls. I’m sure I hoped they would see their family being nice to folks and get the idea…but I don’t think that’s enough. The truth is, some of our daughters are turning into bitches, right in front of us.

Moms, I’m putting this on your shoulders. I suspect most of us know when our daughters has turned that corner and become a mean girl. But very few of us are willing to own and correct the bad and hurtful behavior. We are too excited our daughter is “popular”. We can’t forsce them to be friends with another girl but we can absolutely demand and make sure they are kind. We need to tell our kids we disapprove of cruel behavior and then demonstrate kindness , everyday, in front of them.

And consider this, when we are all old and dealing with health issues and trying to stay in our own homes , when we need help with everyday life and desperately want someone to treat you kindly and with dignity, chances are our mean ass daughter will be in charge.

Sweetness, kindness and compassion are not weaknesses. They are virtues that make all of us stronger.

A Beautiful Sad Day,,,,,

Cute fluffy white Havanese dog portrait

There is a beautiful and fluffy little designer dog who trots around my office building all week long. His name is Riley. Typically, he wears a scarf, he’s freshly groomed, has adorable brown eyes and endless lashes, and if you have food….Riley loves you.

I’ve known this little man for years. And he’s my best buddy only when I carry fast food into the radio station. Then he’ll sit up, staring at me lovingly, FOR HOURS, until I toss him a French fry or piece of beef. If I give him lettuce he doesn’t love me. If I don’t have food, Riley doesn’t even bother coming in my office. I bitch about Riley all the time because he’s shallow and not very loyal but he’s beautiful and smart.

Today, I learned this lovely little masterpiece of a dog has cancer and he only has a few weeks to live. Today, he walked around the building all day , but he looked so sad and tired and very thin. We can’t give him snacks now because he just throws up. Everybody in the office is sad. He is part of our family.

Two hours after the bad news about Riley, Renee, who I’ve worked with for years and years answered her cell. Something was wrong. She yelled, “Tell Neil my neighbor died and I’ve gotta go help.” Neal is our boss. Latter I learned an 80 year old neighbor served her 82 year old husband a cup of potato soup. He coughed and she thought he was choking. She found a napkin for her husband of 60 years. But he died right there in the dining room, not from chocking, it was just time.

The wife wouldn’t let go of her husband on the floor and the coroner had arrived. Renee sat on the floor for hours crying with her neighbor.

The truth is, and we all know this, everything that is born…dies. One hundred percent.

I don’t’ know if I told you this but when I was sixteen my Dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 52. A couple of weeks latter my brother Jack was killed. He was 24 and in college. At the time he was in love with a girl named Carrie and had three big fluffy dogs.

My mom was so heartbroken she killed herself a couple of years latter. Mom and Dad had been together since 3rd grade. It was just too hard for my mom to be without him.

I was mad at God for a while, sad and upset.  But he’s since given me a family that is unbelievably beautiful and magical.  My four kids really really love each other….all the time.  Nothing is better than that

Everyday things come and go. Dogs, cats, favorite restaurants, video stores, friends and family….they are suddenly gone. Trees get chopped down, houses burn up, books and lovely pieces of jewelry are lost. The guy who argues with you on Facebook but you actually think is clever…he’s gonna go too. So I’m trying to remember to love everything I love, every day. Even cute little dogs that beg too much.

Today take an extra minute to look at your dog, who chew up your patio furniture, the kid down the street who rides his bike in the middle of the street and doesn’t car that he’s in your way, the mean postal lady who gives you the stink eye but makes sure your packages are safe from the dogs.  Sitting through your kids two hour base ball game in the blazing hot sun (and he never gets to play) love those sights and sounds too. These are the things we all love, every day, kind of, love them twice because everything that comes….goes.

Everything that is born, no matter how cute or beautiful….dies. Love it all while you can. And please, remind me to do the same.