Yankees and Clocks in Dallas County, Arkansas

clockThere is a beautiful antique Seth Thomas mantel clock in the closet at my house.  It belongs to my son Jack, who is twenty six years old, but doesn’t really have a place to keep the old clock yet.

The story behind the Seth Thomas clock comes from the Stell side of my family. I heard it hundreds of times growing up but it was never written down. For generations the Stell family lived near Fordyce, in the Big Woods of Dallas County Arkansas, an area full of pine trees and farm land.

Just two months before the start of the Civil War in 1861, a  clock peddle from Connecticut was traveling through Dallas County, Arkansas.  My great grandfather, William Dallas Stell was a teen-ager when the enthusiastic clock peddler’s wagon rolled up to their farm house. He was invited to wash up and stay for dinner.

The young man accepted the invitation and while they ate he explained his predicament. He told the family he was from Connecticut and fully understood the war was about to begin.  His brothers already planned to fight with the Union and he felt he had to return and fight along side them.

He was afraid however that he’d never make it back in time because of his wagon and the Seth Thomas clocks he was carrying with him.  He made a deal with my great great grand father as young William Dallas Stell listened.  He wanted to leave the wagon and the clocks in the barn.  If he lived through the war he would return and give Mr. Stell a clock. If he did not return all three or four clocks and the wagon would belong to the Stell family.

The men shook hands and the younger man said he was certain the war wouldn’t last too long. The next morning, at first light, the young clock peddler took off on horseback to join his own brothers.

The barn, the wagon and the clocks survived the Civil War, but they young man never returned. Each boy in the family was given a clock with the instructions  it was to stay in the Stell family.

And so, the young Yankee  peddlers clock sits in my closet waiting for my son, who bears his great grand father’s name, Jack Stell, to finally take it home.



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Almost A Love Story

valMy mom, Ann Stell McDaniel, hated this story, but in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m going to tell it.

My parents met and “fell in love” in third grade at Jones School, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. From day one until my dad died it was a beautiful war zone, a romantic, tumultuous roller coaster ride. Even the first year, when they were just eight years old was brutal.

My mom’s family had money.  She was an only child and her father was a surgeon at St. Joseph’s. In the early thirties they had just moved into a big, beautiful two story home on Prospect Avenue.

For my father’s family money was tight. His family lived on Whittington Avenue, on the other side of West Mountain.  Because there were lots of mouths to feed, Dad always had several jobs to help the family. In February of 1931 he was working as a stock boy at a drug store down town.  Because he was only eight he couldn’t handle the cash register but he cleaned up and made deliveries.

That year there was an enormous box of candy in the front window for Valentine’s Day.  Dad swore it was almost as big as he was. He couldn’t stop staring at the silky read heart shaped box and he knew he had to get that candy for his one true love…Ann Stell.

For two weeks he worked extra hours, even skipping school twice, to save up enough money to buy my mom the giant box of candy. On Valentine’s Day he had just enough money to buy his true love the chocolate she deserved. Proudly, he marched up Prospect Avenue carrying the heart shaped box in both hands.  He climbed the steps to her front door and rang the door ball.

After a moment her maid, Miss Willie answered the door and called for Ann to come down stairs.

Grinning, dad tried to hand my mom the box of chocolates but she shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, my mother doesn’t let me eat cheap candy.”

When she went inside dad trudged back down the steps, then sat down on the curb in front of her house and ate chocolate until he threw up.

Mom really  hated that story. So, in her defense, I will tell you she was very very spoiled and sometimes used her good fortune to take care of Dad.   Every Christmas, when they were little, she would ask for things like Erector Sets,  Army toys and sets of paint, knowing she would get everything on her list. Obviously she was asking for stuff my dad wanted. It’s true, she broke his heart over and over but then she did her best to put it back together.



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Mean Middle Age Women….It Never Stops

bra strapIt’s an old story but I’m still surprised. Some women just can’t stop being bitches. The worst ones are those who do it in the name of friendship. Because that means one of two things. 1. They don’t actually understand the meaning of friendship or 2. They are liars.

My oldest daughter, Mary, recently got a great new job. She’s so excited, I’m so proud and almost all her friends are so proud. Except for one. Melissa. Instead of saying “congratulations” the first thing out of her mouth was, “Oh my god, you don’t have any experience like that. How are you gonna pull that off?  And no offense, you don’t even have the right clothes for that job.”

That’s an unbelievable mean spirited comment and only works to undermine Mary’s confidence (if she actually cared what Melissa thought). Is that what Melissa was trying to do? She says, “No! of course not!” But the truth is Melissa has been stuck in the same lame job for five years. She doesn’t have the guts, drive or intelligence to work her way up and she want’s to keep everybody down in the ugly trenches with her. If you step back and think about it, Melissa’s comment just makes her look pathetic and jealous.

This weekend I was the MC for a  big event, with well over a thousand people. I was nervous because I felt old, but excited too.Things were going along beautifully. Literally dozens and dozens of folks, strangers and friends, stopped me and made positive comments. “You look beautiful,” “You’re doing a great job,” “Take a picture with me.”

Then a “friend” stopped me and smiling said something like, “Hampo, I’ve got to take you shopping.” Seriously? I was stunned. Moments later I had to take the mike and get back up on stage.

Her comment was not helpful, friendly or funny. And even if it was true, why would a “friend” say something like that when there was nothing I could do to change the situation?

A real  friend would say, “Your bra strap is showing” or “you have lipstick on your teeth.” Cause that’s fixable.

Maybe other people in the audience were thinking the same thing, fortunately they had enough tact and kindness of heart not to say anything. Or maybe, they didn’t agree with her and I looked just fine.

So why would she say something so unnecessary and bitchy?

I hear people make derogatory remarks about this person’s and other’s appearance but I would never never ever repeat them because that’s not what friends do.  Friends build each other up. Period.

I always told my kids the one thing they can not say to friends is, “No offense but………”

If you start a sentence that way you are going to something mean and hateful. Sure, it might be true, but that doesn’t give you the right to say it! And I told them not to trust kids who start  sentences with “No offense but….”

Mean girls are the same in third grade, in your twenties and right on into old age. Wish them well, be respectful, maybe even have a beer together but watch always your back.



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Idiot Eighteen Year Olds….. Part I and II

pregAs a brand new crop of kids turn eighteen and nineteen there is a roar of power and then a groan as roughly twenty five percent of them do something profoundly stupid. One in four will make a mistake so big it will literally change the course of their lives.  They will get pregnant, they will flunk out of school, they will fall in love with some dude in a foreign country then take out a bunch of student loans and send the money to him. They will get busted with drugs and lose their scholarships, they will get a tattoo of an electric guitar  on their forehead.

At eighteen they have the power and authority  to do things on their own, without our permission. The problem is their brain is still developing.  It won’t be fully cooked for a few more years.  So they have adult authority and responsibility but they don’t have enough brain power yet. Sure your kid is smart, she scored a 30 on her ACT, but she’s still really dumb in some ways. And it’s not one hundred percent her fault.

Remember, your kid didn’t get pregnant or get fired for flipping of the boss, or get thrown out of college to hurt you. They did it cause they are dumb and immature. It’s not about you so stop acting like it is..

I’m writing this for two reasons,

First: I’ve been through it and I know how horrible it is to watch a child you love more than life itself screw up so profoundly. You and every other adult tell your kid she’s about to wreck her own world. But she won’t listen. She’s eighteen. She can do what she wants and you literally can’t stop her. I’ve been there.

The second reason is because there are parents out there who are messing up just as badly. I keep running into kids who have done something stupid and horrible, like flunking out of college freshman year, and their parents don’t just get mad….they basically cut them off and won’t forgive them.

Hey parents, stop screwing up like that! Go on get mad, be furious, break stuff, don’t talk to them for a couple of weeks, stop paying for their phone or car or whatever. But then….it’s your job…to help them move forward, past the terrible mistake.

If they are sorry and realized they screwed up big time, you have help them get back on track.  It might take a year for the anger to go away, but it’s your job as the adult, with the fully formed brain, to help them back up.

If she’s pregnant you have to help, you can’t just throw up your hands and say “well that’s it, I’m done.”

If your brilliant boy is out of school and working at Taco Bell because he never went to class and just played video games for three months he’s probably learned his lesson. If he wants to go back to college help him.  Notice I did not say pay for it, but help him find a way.

If your kid moved to Colorado as soon as he turned eighteen because there’s legal pot there, then falls flat on his face. Forgive him after a while and give that boy a hand.

When I blew up my own universe as a sophomore in college, my mom eventually forgave me and helped me get my dumb ass 19 year old self straightened out.

When Mary obliterated her promising future the day she turned eighteen we were all so mad and heart broken, we could barely look at the girl. But eventually we forgave and she succeeded mightily.  In our house we call it “Mary Part Two” and it’s a very real and important thing.

I have a friend who’s son got messed up with drugs when he was eighteen or nineteen. He ended up robbing a shoe store with an unloaded gun.  He will be released from prison when he’s thirty. But while he was locked up his mom never gave up on him. He went to school and learned how to be a plumber and electrician.  He’s already got a job lined up and the boy isn’t bitter.  He told his mom he’d probably be dead if he hadn’t gone to prison. He’s going to go on and have a successful life and I’m so proud of his entire family.

Parents you can’t give up. Don’t make it easy on them but you have to forgive and love and encourage. It’s the job God gave you when he blessed you with that child. Now do it.

If you like this: buy my book. It’s fun and cheap…on Amazon.







Boring Man Jobs

dirt bikeThis morning I kind of hollered down the hall at work to several co-workers, “I’m paying the little boys fifteen dollars each to take all the Christmas lights off the outside of the house today.”

Someone asked, “Are they supervised?” That’s a reasonable question.

“No,” I said, “But Sam and Sandor are twelve now. I figured if they are old enough to ride a dirt bike and shoot an AR 15 sniper rifle they are old enough to take down the Christmas lights.   I don’t want them to get the grown up good stuff  and not the boring man skills.”

After I said it I realized how smart and right I was!

In my desire to give my kids the best life, the most active life, a well rounded and meaningful life, I’m sometimes guilty of forgetting life isn’t all about the “awesome stuff”.  Real life is full of tedious, boring and necessary chores.

Now that Sandor knows how to handle an assault rifle I’m sure he’ll be able to keeps us safe during a zombie apocalypse but in the mean time I need him to step up and help with some normal “man jobs”.  We live in the county so he needs to know how to burn all the boxes and wrapping paper from Christmas in a safe manner, unsupervised. He knows not to use gas to get things going. And he better understand he needs to tend the  smoky fire with a rake and access to a hose without wandering off to chase a lizard or letting it get too big even though that looks really cool.

Now that he can jump his 125 dirt bike across the creek, I need him to climb up the ladder and take all the Christmas lights off the house and sweep the roof.  And I shouldn’t have to watch him.

I want my kid to be brave and cool, all parents do.  But I need him to be practical too. Even after he makes his bed it looks like there’s a Great Dane sleeping under the covers but he’s pretty good with a staple gun and drill.

Because he’s twelve he likes driving my little truck around a parking lot, that means he’s also old enough to jump start the truck for me on cold mornings…unsupervised.  Because we’ve been doing it together for years.

The truth is, I don’t want my son to grow up because he’s the baby. But it’s my responsibility as a parent to teach him how to be a man…even when it’s not that much fun.

And in return he gets to keep playing with all those “big boy toys.” It’s a fair trade.

If you like this story you can get a whole book full for just $2.99 on Amazon!



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The Evolution of Children

mary and jackI recently read something that said husbands and wives get bored with each other because we never change.  But we never get “bored” with our kids because we expect them to change constantly and that’s what they do.

This isn’t an earth shattering revelation but man is it a true statement.

My husband, Alex Hampo is the exact same man he was when we got married.  He works too much, smokes too much and doesn’t take care of himself.. He loves his family first and foremost, in fact he really doesn’t like anyone but our family. He’s fearless and hates confrontation unless it’s in his kitchen.  Then he’ll bow up on a bus or a big ass dishwasher.

My kids, on the other hand are lava lamps. The change is constant.

Growing up we all felt pretty certain Mary would eventually be a lawyer/political figure. She was addicted to Murder She Wrote, loved to argue…dramatically and was passionate about all kinds of political topics.  When people would make ugly remarks about lawyers and politicians, trying to discourage her I told her time and time again, “A good attorney or lawyer can do more good in a single day than the rest of us can accomplish in a life time.”

Then she got to college and things changed.  Mary was all about non-profits and saving the world through the  .org people. She even considered starting her own organization that made birthday cakes for little kids in shelters. Her non-profit passion lasted for five years. Now she’s sick of non profits and more than a little discouraged by their sense of entitlement and  lack of hustle.

Next week Mary starts a new job with a law firm and is more excited than I’ve seen her in years. She’ll be a Litigation Specialist . I’m not sure what that means but at twenty six she now officially has a job that sounds way more important than mine.

Jack went to college to make me happy. He graduated, handed me my diploma and started his life.  He’s always been exceptionally good with money For six or seven years now Jack has worked as a bartender and manager at some of the best known bars and restaurants from Manhattan to Nashville. He makes huge money for a young man. He dates beautiful women and is able to buy himself anything he wants from electronics to expensive tennis shoes.  But what Jack really loves to do is save his money and go on grand adventures. He goes surfing in Puerto Rico, hiking in Hawaii, he spent a month just hanging out on the beaches of Belize and swimming with manatee. He roams the globe from Turkey to Kentucky.

Last November jack called to tell me he wasn’t coming home for Christmas this year.  We were all shocked. Jack loves Christmas with the family. He explained he’d decided to host a dinner for all the homeless men in his Nashville neighborhood. He’d enlisted lots of local restaurants  to help, there were goodie bags with socks and gloves for the guys who showed up. And he had lots of unlikely volunteers who really wanted to help too. Bar people, who don’t normally volunteer, but were suddenly touched by the power and magic of giving to others. He called me Christmas eve so excited , so full of stories about serving these homeless men I just listened and cried.

Jack, the money making glob trotting man is now working on a way to create a Non-profit that connects unexpected volunteers with projects they can really get behind.

Jack and Mary have flip flopped and it’s absolutely spectacular. Nothing boring about it. I just want them to find their joy in life.

And Alex, maybe he’s changed a little.  He doesn’t mind if I buy crunchy peanut butter anymore and he’s learned how to text like a teenage girl. “I luv u”  with a little winky face. That’s progress.


If you like this story you can get a whole book full for just $2.99 on Amazon!





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My Pet Freaking Peeves in the Grocery Store

groceriesThere are days I leave Wal-Mart with shaking hands and doubting humanity. What’s wrong with people and why do they do the dumbest most inconsiderate stuff while shopping.

My pet freaking peeves:

1. Cashier, when you are bagging my groceries please don’t put three cans of dog food with the grapes, tomatoes and bananas.  Do you hate me? Do you want me to have a miserable life? Apparently so. My question is….do you do that to your own produce or just mine? And you’re a grown ass woman, you know better.

2. Lazy people rolling up and down the isles in the battery powered carts….when there’s nothing wrong with them.  I see you in the parking lot, chasing you grand child, chasing a quarter rolling between the cars, trotting toward you friend for a big hug. But you get in the store and ride in a cart cause you’re LAZY. Some of you guys…I know there’s nothing wrong…you just don’t want to walk! Then you act all entitled, as though you are royalty and were supposed to leap out of the way so you can pass. Or you stop in the middle of the isle, for twenty minutes, while you text your sister and nobody can get around you.

3. Ladies, why do you run into a friend and you both park your carts right in front of the milk while you catch up. I stand staring at you, praying you’ll scoot over so I can grab a half gallon of one percent milk. But you are so engrossed in your conversation you don’t even  notice. Get out of my way…go do that in front of the men’s underwear section. There’s never anyone there.

4. It happens to everyone, sometimes you start picking out apples and suddenly…boom. There’s a produce landslide. Apples are bouncing across the floor endangering children and old people and getting really bruised.  And then you just walk away. How can you do that? Stop and  clean up your mess.  But put the abused apples in a bag, not back on top of the pile. Don’t ruin every bodies’ apple experience.

5. Parents, stop being mean to your children in the store, especially when they are in the shopping cart.  It makes you look like a horrible ass and I’m pretty sure yelling at a kid and smacking them will not make them stop crying or cheer them up.

And finally #6.  Did you realize by the time you get home you have to touch your groceries 6 times!.1.put things in cart 2.put things on cashier belt 3. put bags back in cart 4.put bags in car 5. get bags out of car 6 put stuff away. No wonder I hate my food by the time it’s all finished.


There are some things I like when I go shopping.

I like when I make a face at a baby and they laugh.

When I’m walking in and somebody says…”here, take my cart.”

When I have two items and the lady with 78 lets me get in front of her.

When there are fruit samples, so I don’t  end up with a bag of apples that taste and feel like the recently bounced across the produce section.

I feel better now.

If you like this check out my book on Amazon. It’s only 2.99! Raising Kids You Actually Like



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Harrison’s Blanket

gunMom was off the couch before the sound of skidding tires stopped. Then there was the crash noise, it was like a building getting blown up. And right then I knew it was a real bad accident.

“Call 911,” she said, then she was gone, running barefoot across the yard to the accident.  We live on a curve on Highway 5 in Garland County. I don’t know why, but people are always having wrecks right in front of our house. Mom says people underestimate the curve, I think they just drive too fast.

I talked to the 911 lady for a minute, then looked out at Mom.  She was squatting next to some bushes on the drive way, close to the road. Then she stood up and yelled, “Harrison, bring me a blanket, hurry up!” That seemed kind of weird cause it was a hot day but I grabbed a blanket off the couch. It’s real soft and has a picture of a wolf howling at the moon on it. I didn’t take my favorite one, a really soft Razorback blanket, but it was a pretty good one

When I got down to Mom, she was next to some guy who was shaking so hard his teeth were rattling.  She wrapped the blanket around him and he tried to say something to her.

He must have crawled up our driveway, away from the wreck, for some reason. Maybe he didn’t want to see his friends all messed up.

There was smoke floating around and I could smell gasoline.

The guy kept saying something and Mom couldn’t understand him so she leaned closer,”What is it?”

He cleared his voice, “I should have died. I should have died right here with her. I should be dead. God, I can’t believe you didn’t kill me.”

“No, don’t say that.  God kept you alive for a reason. I’m so sorry about the girl, was she your friend?”

He didn’t answer, just curled up tighter into himself and leaned against mom like he was a little kid.

I started to walk down to the road to look at the cars but Mom stopped me. ”Don’t go down there Harrison. You don’t need to see that. Run up to the house for me and start a pot of coffee.”

I nodded but didn’t move.  I was just looking at the guy.  He was so sweaty and dirty and banged up it was hard to tell what he looked like. He was tall and skinny with a bunch a bad tattoos on his arms and legs and a big thing on his neck that I couldn’t figure out. It kind of looked like a weird shaped  cross with some lightning bolts in it.

She gave me the look that said “hurry up and go”,  I didn’t want to leave her alone with him.

Just then, we both heard the sirens way off in the distance and the guy opened his eyes. “I can’t be here, I gotta go.” He tried to stand up but couldn’t do it so Mom and I each got under one arm. We started to walk him down closer to the road but he wouldn’t let us. “No, I can’t talk to them. I can’t go down there I gotta get out of here.”

“Why?” Mom asked but he just shook his head and tried to give her the blanket back.

Mom wrapped it tighter around him, “you can’t go anywhere like this. Will you go up to the house with us? Just till you get your legs back?”

More sirens were stopping in front of our house. Each sounded different.

He nodded and let us take him up to the living room. Because he was so tall we kind of dropped him on the couch and he groaned and took a deep breath.

“Are you ok?” Mom asked as she sat down next to him.

“Just my ribs, nothing I can’t handle. I’m ok.”

“Harrison, go get a bowl of warm water and a wash cloth.

“Yes ma’am.”

I heard him say, ”That’s a good kid” as I ran back to the bathroom.

It took me a little while to find a clean wash cloth and I knew Mom would get mad if I brought them a gross one. Finally, I found one in the dryer but when I came back they were really talking.  He was sort of crying and Mom had her hand on his shoulder. The sirens outside had all stopped but I could hear the rumbling of a tow truck or two and people were yelling at each other.

He said, “She was the only thing keeping me clean and from going back, you know? And now she’s dead out there.  I don’t know why I’m sitting on this couch and she’s out there dead.”

I knew with these kinds of conversations I needed to wait for Mom to wave me down.  I couldn’t just bust in. I used to do that when I was little and it really made my dad mad.  Once he back fisted me and I flew half way across the room like you see guys do in the movies.

Finally they both saw me, and Mom said. “Bring it on down Baby.”

I put the bowl on the coffee table in front of the couch.  It’s made out of a lobster trap my dad got when he was down in Florida.

The guy looked at me and said, “So what’s your name man?”


“Cool, like Harrison Ford.” There was still a little bit of blood coming out of his nose and he sniffled it back up. “Thanks for helping me man. I appreciate it. My name is Leviticus, from the bible but people just call me Lev.” He coughed then and made a face like it really hurt.

Mom rubbed his back and said, “Harrison, would you do me a favor but you have to do it exactly like I tell you. Run half way down the driveway and ask one of the officers if they need anything. But do not go all the way down to the road, do you understand?”

“Mom, I’ll be fine. I’ve seen gross stuff before,” as soon as I said it I knew I’d screwed up.  Lev looked down and mom gave me one of those looks.

“I’m sorry, I just meant…”Mom shook her head.

None of the cops would even talk to me. When I got back Lev was drinking  water and mom was just listening. Every time he stopped talking, I thought he was going to cry again.

My mom is really good at talking to people about the bad stuff, about the things that happen that you wish never ever happened.  She talks to mostly ladies about their husbands and boyfriends and dads after they hurt them real bad.

When I was little, like eight or nine, Mom and I stayed in a place called The Safe House. We were there a couple of weeks so my dad couldn’t find us.  Mom made all kinds of friends there. Lots of ladies talked and talked to her about the stuff that was hard.

She told me,  they talked about the stuff they pretended never happened.  Then she made me remember a couple of really bad times with Dad. About the time he burned me on the shoulder with his cigarette, and once hit mom so hard her tooth flew out and went under the couch, stuff I really wanted to forget. That’s when I understood what Mom meant about  those ladies. After a while, she was so good at listening The Safe House gave her a job.

A couple of times the husbands got really mad at Mom for talking to their wife’s. So she started going to the firing range with her new gun. It was really fun. She got way better than me, but I didn’t care.

They were on the couch talking for a long time, so I went to the kitchen and made a ham and cheese sandwich with ketchup.  Then I went back to the living room and asked them if they wanted me to make them one.  They both shook their head no, and mom kind of smiled at me so I knew I’d done the right then.  I was picking some of the crust off my sandwich when Lev leaned forward and I saw a black pistol tucked into the back of his pants. The blanket was tucked behind it, that’s why I could see it.

I stopped chewing and my mouth kind of went really dry. I tried to look at mom hard and shift my eyes toward the gun but she didn’t figure out what I was doing. Suddenly, I really wanted Lev out of our house and away from my mom. I liked him, kind of, but I just had a weird feeling. I didn’t leave the living room after that.

After a really long time, everything out front was cleared up and Lev asked my Mom if she could give him a ride down to The Bucket, a gas station and store about three miles from our house. He called somebody on her phone and said, ‘I can’t talk about it right now Brother. You just gotta pick me up.”

He kept that wolf blanket pulled around him real tight the whole way there even though it was real hot outside. After a few minutes of everybody being really quiet and weird Lev said, “I didn’t even know your house was up there. I’ve never seen it before.”

Mom kind of laughed. “Yeah, we like it that way. Nobody messes with you if they don’t know where you are.”

I said, “Mom calls our driveway  the worm hole.” Nobody said anything after that.

When Lev got out of the car he tried to give it back but Mom told him to keep it. I was glad she did that, cause he still looked cold and I really didn’t want that blanket anymore. He told my mom thanks, a bunch of times then got into a really beat up old Ford pickup with a bashed in driver’s door.  He kind of nodded at us with a real serious or worried expression, like he knew something.

I saw Lev two more times that first semester.  Mom started letting me run into the Bucket to pay for gas and then she let me pump it too.  I walked in one morning and he was at the counter buying cigarettes.  It was only a few weeks since the wreck but he looked a hundred years older. And he was even skinner.  There were a couple of sores on his arms, I guess they were still left over from the wreck. Lev looked at me twice then said, “Hey, I know you.”

I nodded at him and tried to smile, but it was hard because his eyes looked so bad. They looked like eyes that are all red before you edit them on the computer.

“How’s your Momma doing?”

“She’s good.” I put a ten dollar bill on the counter for the gas.

“You tell her I said thanks”. Then as I was walking out I heard him say to the guy behind the counter, “That bitch saved my ass after the wreck. If they’d found me in that car I’d have been in jail till I was dead.”

It kind of made me mad that he called Mom a bitch, even if he was sort of bragging.  My dad used to call her that all the time and I’d get real mad but Mom always told me to ignore him. She said he was just mad at the world and took it out on the people he loved.

The next time I saw Lev he was sitting on the curb in front of the Movie Store. He was smoking a cigarette. When Mom and I got out of the car he looked right at us but didn’t say anything. I took Mom’s hand even though I don’t do that in front of people any more. We walked past him but he didn’t say anything. He just stared at us as like he was mad or something. He looked gross.  Mom was squeezing my hand really tight until we got in the store.

I looked up at her and she just said, “I don’t know Harrison. He looked pretty messed up. We need to just leave him alone.”

“You don’t have to tell me. He looks like a zombie.” I said and took off to look for a movie.

Right about then, Jim, who owns the video store, started walking outside. He stopped and said to Mom, “Freaking tweekers will sit there and run everybody off.”

Then I watched him talking to Lev. Pretty soon Lev stood up, he stared at Jim like he was gonna say some thing or bow up on him, but then he just walked across the parking lot toward the woods.

Christmas vacation that year was awesome.  We actually had snow for a couple of days and my best friend Hunter stayed with us for four days, because his mom was having a baby.

On the day before school started, Mom had to go to Walmart. She said it was gonna be a really quick trip and I could stay home by myself if I wanted.

Once she left, I snuggled up in her big bed with all the quilts and pillows and my Razorback blanket to watch Sponge Bob.  I made a fort and then fell asleep. When I woke up, I knew something was wrong. I could hear somebody in the house and it wasn’t Mom, it was somebody who walked different and was kind of banging into things.  I moved the edge of the blanket just enough so I could peek out without anybody seeing me.

Lev walked into Mom’s room and looked around. He looked worse than anything I’d ever seen, with his hair all over the place and sores on his face.  He walked over to her dresser and started shoving all her jewelry in his big green coat pockets. I could see his pistol shoved down the back of his pants. Then he opened up her drawers and started throwing all her underwear and stuff out on the floor. My heart was beating so hard I could see my tee shirt moving.  It sounded like it was right up in my ears and I was really scared Lev would hear it too. I tried to breath real soft. Then he backed up close enough to the bed where I could have poked his pants, or grabbed his gun. But I was too scared to move.

Then he started going through the third drawer when Mom stepped into the room and she already had her 9mm leveled on him. I poked my foot out just a little at the end of the bed and wiggled it so she’d know I was there. She didn’t do anything different but I kind of knew she saw me.

Lev stood up and looked at her. Then he took a step back, towards me, like he was gonna sit down on the edge of the bed or something. He had his hands up.

Then he dropped his right hand and it started going backwards, but he was talking nice to Mom. She just said, “The first words you ever said to me were the truth. You should have died that day.” Then she fired two rounds, almost at the same time, it seemed like.

Lev almost fell on top of me, but he missed the bed and fell on the floor. There was still a really loud ringing and the room smelled like fireworks. I wiggled out and ran to Mom. I hugged her so hard and cried and tried to breathe normal.

She was crying and hugging me real hard, then she said, “I got all the way up there then remembered how much I hate shopping alone.”

She pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket but I kept on hugging her.  She smelled like soap and smoke. She called 911 and told them what had happened but she never stopped kind of brushing the back of my head with her fingers, like she was trying to get tangles out of my hair. It’s the same thing she does when I can’t sleep and she sits on the edge of my bed talking to me until I fall asleep.

I could feel my heart slowing down and I could almost breathe normal. Mom peeled my arms off of her  and said, “Let’s get a Coke and sit outside till everybody get here.”


“The police.”

“Why are they coming?”

“Harrison, I shot a man. The police have to come.”

“But he was stealing your stuff.” My hands and legs started shaking as I thought about what might happen. What if they arrested her? What if they put her in the police car? Would they let me go with her?

She took my hand and held it really tight and we walked to the refrigerator to get a couple of Cokes then went outside to the porch. My hands were so sweaty I had to wipe them on my pants. When I tried to open my Coke my fingers were shaking so hard Mom took the can from me and popped it.

Then she put her arm around me and pulled me really close to her. My ears were still ringing and the fireworks smell was stuck in my nose. I leaned my head on her shoulder and closed my eyes. Then we sat there together, waiting to hear the sirens.

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Cat Poop Under The Boy’s Bed

boy sleeping in bed (2)When I put on my big boy pants and commit to vacuuming my eleven year old son’s room I go through most feelings one experiences when faced with the  death of a friend. Fear, grief, anger,  denial and then acceptance.

I also find the most astonishing and disturbing items. Today that list included a twenty dollar bill I gave him to buy me a birthday present. There was a pile of what I believe was dried up cat poop….but we don’t have a cat.  I found a pair of shoes he lost last month so we had to go shopping again to replace them. The ten or twenty  uncooked spaghetti noodles under his desk kind of made me wonder and clogged up my vacuum. Of course there was the typical stuff too, ping pong balls, shot glasses filled with colored water and a single fuzzy slipper. But the bra I didn’t recognize under his bed kind of shook me. What has this kid been doing in his room?

I have to do these “throw away” missions when Sandor isn’t home because he’s a strangely sentimental pack rat.  His father is a pack rat because he believes at some point he’ll need fifteen empty coffee cans and the electric drill that doesn’t work.  Sandor hangs on to everything because he’s an incredibly sentimental boy.  He’s not wimpy, he stays dirty sixty percent of the time, loves playing foot ball in the mud and spitting watermelon seeds and cherry pits.  But when it comes to his family or childhood he saves everything. He won’t let me throw away old school books, “what if I forget my teachers.” I wasn’t allowed to throw away a cheap broken yo yo because “it’s the first cool think Nick gave me in kindergarten.” The broken drum sticks have a special place, “those were the first drum sticks I ever broke!” And any out of focus family picture goes in a special drawer.

Then I found something that made me sit down on the edge of his bed. It was a little black and white composition book with his name written on the cover.

Inside he and his best friend had written some rules in their terrible crooked handwriting.

1. Stick up for friends!

2 Be sly around girls.

3 never cook bacon with shirt off!

4 Remember bro code!!!

5. Pals before gals.

6 Stick up for bros

7 Stick with your girl till it gets bad.

8 Be a safe but cool driver

I’m going to have to talk to him about the cat poop and bra. But I think the kid is doing ok.


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I Still Can’t Dance

danceAlright men, this one is for you. But I need you to promise me one thing. This is really, really important.  If your girlfriend, wife, sister or daughter has something in their life and it makes them happy, smile and say, ‘that’s a great thing!”  Even if you are lying. Do it with a smile. Say it like you mean it and love her.

Years ago, I think my husband and I had been married three or four years. He teased me about my dancing. He made fun of me, in a loving fun way. I haven’t danced once since then, in fifteen years later.

Trust me I loved dancing. I am a freak about music.  Ask me for  the lyrics to a Johnny Cash song, Grateful Dead, The Killers, The Clash, Miranda Lambert, George Jones, John Prine, Gil-Scott Heron, Al Green, Aretha Franklin or Keb Mo’. I know them all, every word, and I can hear the beat in my head. But when I dance or try to keep rhythm it comes out all wrong.  In church I have to look at the other people to know when I’m supposed to clap. My kids laugh at me, but they help and they don’t make me feel bad.

But years ago. when I was dancing with my husband and he made fun of me, afterwards….I took it to heart and I stopped dancing. Something in me broke and that was an end.

Dancing is something so wonderful I really don’t have the words. It’s what sets us apart from most animals. It’s an expression of joy, love creativity and passion. When people finish dancing they walk away smiling usually and there are very few things that make us all smile in life.

At that point, when I was made fun of me, I lost something so wonderful and precious and fun.Apparently it’s gone forever.  Fifteen years later I mourn the loss of being able to dance like the death of a friend, who made me smile and laugh. I miss it so because dancing was wonderful and joyous and silly. But it’s gone now. I’m a pretty bold and strong person, so if this could happen to me I can only imagine what has been taken from other people by a single sentence.

After his comments I actually went back and found video of my dancing at bars and weddings. It was awful, spasmatic and embarrassing. I made Elaine, in Seinfeld, look like a Russian Ballerina. But I looked happy.

Tonight I cried and cried as I sat in the bathtub and watched the last twenty minutes of  Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swazey and Jennifer Grey. Their beautiful and brave dancing made me cry so hard, I was embarrassed…even though I was alone.  I so want to dance like those kids, but I never will, not in this life time.

In that moment years and years ago, something was taken from me and it’s just gone.  It’s not any bodies fault….it was just a joke, an off handed remark. Actually I know it’s my fault because I let dance be taken away from me. He couldn’t have done it if I didn’t let him.

So, before you make fun of somebody for something they love, something that brings them joy like line dancing or quilting or speed walking…stop, then shut up.


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