Raw Eggs and Christ’s Power

lukesThere’s something about Easter.  For a few shining moments your vision clears and the beauty shines through.

I grew up in St. Luke’s Episcopal church in Hot Springs, AR.  My parents even got married there back in the 40′s. I have so many astonishingly crisp memories of St. Lukes, with my family, before they all died. So, for me it is a scared place.

Once, when I was in the choir I had to go to the bath room, so I got up the courage to genuflect and walk past the alter in front of the entire congregation so I could pee.  When I returned I did the same thing, only this time I bowed in front of Christ and the alter.  A wave of snickering rolled through the church. Apparently I’d tucked the back of my choir robe and dress into my panty hose. I mooned the whole church at eight.

I kissed my first boy on the St. Luke’s play ground.

One Christmas eve my parents got in a fight DURING MIDNIGHT MASS, my dad stormed out and walked 9 miles home.

One year my mom was in charge of hiding all the Easter eggs in the park. They’d just cut the grass so mom sadly hid them all in poison ivy.  The next year she forgot to boil two dozen eggs before coloring them.  They took her off Easter egg duty.

When I was little I thought I could gauge God’s mood and his feelings towards me and the church by looking at the shadows on the painting of Jesus above the alter.

I remember my brother Jack (he died when he was 23 or so) pushing me so high on the old St. Luke’s swing set I though I would fly out and sail across the city.

But, like a moron, I got mad at St. Luke’s a few years ago. I think it was because our old priest, Father Larry, never told me he liked what I’d written about St. Luke’s in my novel Invisible Branches.  I wrote beautiful sweet stuff about the church but he never said a word. And it was a hell of a book (even though there were stupid typos)  Boy did that priest piss me off and hurt my feelings. So…I took it out on my family and myself and I guess blamed the whole church.

Yeah, what an idiot.

But we went back yesterday. As the choir marched in (Episcopalians love a good parade) with the organ and flute, brass and timpani my heart soared and I started crying. Sandor sang and nearly choked on communion wine.  I fussed at the kids for playing thumb wars during the sermon. People waved at us as though we hadn’t missed a Sunday. It was perfect and blessed and healing. That’s what happens when a moron gives up an old grudge and forgiveness arrives like a Christmas present. Even if it took years and years.

There’s just something about Easter.



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Gross Teeth and Cash in My Pocket

nelly-grillzIt’s Spring time and that means fifth grade Science Fair projects.  Sandor and I started going through the possibilities.  Of course the grosser and most disgusting moved to the top.

He decided he wanted to get some teeth, put them in different sodas and document how quickly they rotted. Sounded pretty easy. But we would need some teeth. Sandor had one in his room and I found that a little odd.

The next day I asked the facebook world and some friends about getting teeth. Everybody felt pretty sure dentists wouldn’t give me teeth. That would be a little like trafficking human body parts. Friends offered cow and deer teeth so there was a back up plan.

The next day  I walked across the street to a local dentist just to ask if deer and cow had teeth similar to human. Much to my surprise and horror they said,” we have teeth you can have.” A nurse appeared with six sealed envelopes. There was a tooth in each one.  But they were ancient, disgusting, brown and rotting with crowns and caps. Of course they were gross, nobody asks a dentist to pull a nice pretty white tooth.

When she told me lots of people asked for teeth I felt a little squirrely. Who wants used teeth, witches… voodoo people?

Then she gave me some latex gloves and a mask, “They’ve all been sterilized but you might want him to wear these while he’s touching them.”

When I got back to the office a friend named dick and I started looking at my new and disgusting teeth. Two of them had great big gold crowns.

“You should take these to my buddies at the pawn shop.”


“Seriously, take these in.” I made a face at him.

Driving home my oldest daughter, Mary called. She needed two hundred dollars for the dentist. Seriously.

Sandor of course wanted to keep all the teeth because they were gross. but they weren’t staying in my house.

So, yesterday I went to the pawn shop with my little baggie of teeth. Those guys got excited and  immediately broke the teeth out with a hammer. The fillings were 16 karat. They gave me eighty dollars….which of course went to Mary, who needed money so she could go to the dentist and get a filling.



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My Oldest Kids Got Ripped Off In Life

jackandmaryI couldn’t sleep last night.  At 3:00 am I realized my two oldest children, Jack and Mary, are getting screwed…big time.

When Lexie graduates from high school next month I’m going to host some sort of party/reception. Nice food, big smiles and pictures…cause I’m so proud of her!  I didn’t do that for Jack or Mary.  I think a bunch of us just went to dinner at Don Juan’s, ate too much cheese dip, and called it a day.

And several months ago I told Lex, if she gets a full ride to college we would buy her some sort of new/used vehicle.  She’s been driving a Ford Explorer that Mary totaled twice. It’s time to bury that thing.

Every single car we bought for Mary and Jack (or they bought for themselves ) was beyond crappy. They had terrible awful ugly cars. Because we didn’t have the money to buy them anything decent.

When Jack and Mary were in high school (and they both earned 100 percent full rides to college too) Alex and I made less money AND there were four kids at home. Sandor was a baby boy, Lexie was in elementary school and they were both in high school.  The pizza pie was sliced pretty thin back then, so nobody every got anything nice new.

When Jack and Mary were little they would split a single happy meal. Somebody got the fries and somebody got the burger. We ate things like “pizza toast” for dinner twice a week. That’s toast with red sauce and a slice of cheese.

Jack was in sixth grade the first time we bought him a sixty dollar pair of real basketball shoes…that didn’t come from Wal-Mart and it was a big damn deal.

Several times a year Mary and Jack would come home to a dark house cause the electricity had been shut off.   We’d always get it turned back on it just took some “doing.”…maybe a trip to the pawnshop with Alex’s 9mm.  (we always got the gun back).

Our life isn’t like that anymore. We make a little more money now and Jack and Mary are grown up. They take care of themselves.  So we have greater resources and fewer folks to take care of. That means Sandor and Lex live a blessed life compared to Jack and Mary.

Hell, last week I bought Sandor a 20 dollar yoyo and all he had to do was take out the garbage and wash my car.

But Jack and Mary also got different versions of Alex and Diana back then. Alex played basketball in the yard all the time with Jack. And they played hard. In fact I organized a father and son basketball tournament , Cobra Jam, just so my guys could show off their skills. Back then, Alex went on field trips and would even do garnish demonstrations at school for the kids.  I threw massive 4th and 5th grade Halloween parties and Alex scared little children till they peed. And I was enormously impulsive and funny. One night Alex came home and to find the kids and I were in the yard at midnight trying to create an ice skating rink. They had a pet snake one winter, so we went out and caught fifty frogs then froze them…… in the freezer. Yeah, there were frogs in zip locks jumping around in our freezer for almost an hour. I was the first one in line to jump off the high dive every summer and I’d spend hours squatting in creeks to catch crawdads with the kids.

We were pretty poor but we had a lot of energy and bad ideas back then. We were different versions of Alex and Diana. We’ve never been able to give the all the kids the same thing or the same experiences. Though I wish I could.

Actually, I don’t know which version is better but I do know we’ve given them all every thing we could, from pizza toast to graduation parties.  We’ve given them our everything, heart body and soul.




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Child Attacked By A Blood Thirsty Goose

gooseWhen my dad, Irvin Granger McDaniel was growing up the great depression was eating America’s lunch.   Jobs were impossible to find, especially for my Grandfather, who was an architect in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Who builds stuff when the unemployment rate hits horrendous 25 percent? Nobody.

But my dad was a resource full kid in worn out dungarees and managed to find several job though he was only eight. Like lots of little boys at the time he sold magazines and delivered newspapers on his bike. The magazines were ten cents each and he delivered them door to door on his bike.

There was a great big fat lady, Mrs Hunter, who lived  on Whittington Avenue,  just three or four block from his house. She was a problem and very tough to collect from.  In fact, she owed my dad more than a dollar.  He was in trouble with his boss and his mom because that dollar was dinner for the family of six.

Mrs. Hunter also had a great big white goose that lived in her front yard and served as a watch-dog.  Dad hated that goose.Every time he tried to deliver his magazines or collect his ten cents it would attack him, running with it’s huge wings out stretched, honking and biting and hissing. The goose, when truly enraged was bigger than Dad’s bike and scared him so much he got mad and teared up every time he passed the house.

When Mrs. Hunter’s magazine tab hit $1.20, my grandmother looked my dad in the eye and with a baby girl on her hip said something like, “young man, don’t you come home without that dollar twenty, you understand me?”

“Yes ma’am”

“Irvin, we’re not gonna eat tonight if you don’t collect that money. You hear me?”

“Yes ma’am,”

Slowly and full of dread, he peddled off to  deliver all his papers and magazines. Then with absolute fear, he forced himself to turn his bike towards Mrs. Hunters house.  His saddle bags were empty, there was nothing left for him to do but collect his money.  He could hear the goose honking before he could actually see the little house. Irvin dropped his bike outside the front yard gate, picked up a long stick, took a deep breath then hopped the short fence and ran as fast as his short legs could manage. The goose was right behind him flapping mightily and biting his pants legs.

Once Irvin  made it to the front porch he knocked as hard as he could but kept his back pressed to the door so he could wack the pissed off goose every time it approached.

Mrs. Hunter opened the front door but not the screen.

“Yes Irvin?”

“Mrs. Hunter, I need that dollar twenty you owe for magazines.” He could smell liver and onions cooking.

“Irvin McDaniel, you know I don’t have a dollar twenty. You’ll just have to come back some other time.”

“No ma’am. I have to have that money. My momma said I can’t come home till you pay up. You have to pay me Mrs. Hunter.”

“Irvin McDaniel you better not be sassing me or I’ll let your father know in a heart beat.  You can’t tell adults what we will and won’t do. Your father should do something about that mouth of yours young man.”

He was still swatting the goose as he spoke, “Yes ma’am I just have to get the money today or we won’t have dinner. You have to pay me Mrs. Hunter.” As he spoke the goose lunged but he managed to kick it in the neck.

Mrs. Hunter never answered, she just slammed the door closed. Then the goose came in for the third attack. It had Irvin’s pants leg in it’s flashing orange bill. Suddenly rage swept through his seventy pound body, and Irvin McDaniel grabbed that goose by it’s long silky neck then twisted with both hands. …hard. The goose was silent, it’s wings stopped beating the air and without thinking Dad dragged the massive dead bird back to his bike, shoved it into his empty saddle bags and peddled. One of the foul’s great wings flopped outside the bag and dragged on the ground a little.

But Dad didn’t care. He’d taken care of the dinner plans for the family.








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Say The Word….Arkansas…Damn It!!!

mapBowling ball sized hail is falling outside.  The hairs on my arm stand up because a tornado is six miles up the road. Devastation is on my door step so I turn on the TV. The handsome national weather man is standing in front of a map of our beautiful country.  Instantly, I notice the angry red blob covering the south east corner of America.

He smiles and says, “Now this is a dangerous part of the country right now. Death storms are swirling across Texas, West of Oklahoma all the way to Tennessee, and this area above Louisiana is really gonna get wiped off the map.” His hand hangs over the Natural State, over Arkansas….but he never ever says the word. ARKANSAS.

Why don’t weather men ever say the name of our state? It’s bizarre and kind of hurts my feelings.  Arkansas is part of the club, we pay taxes, we have Wal-Marts, we vote and have guns and we know the secret hand-shake. But weather men ignore us constantly.

We are more than “the area under Missouri”  or “this expanse from Dallas to Memphis”.  That’s Arkansas you moron. Why can’t you just say the name of the state?

We were granted statehood back in 1836, so it’s not like we’re the new kid in class. You should be able to remember our name.

It’s true, we have an obesity problem, and a poverty problem, an education problem and a football problem but we are a great state.  Lot’s of awesome people came from Arkansas, including Al Green, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Sonny Liston and Bill Clinton.

So when the zombie apocalypse begins and Little Rock and Hot Springs are taken over, when the country is flooded and a thirty foot wall of water rolls over Malvern and Bismarck, when a freak lightening storm sets the entire freaking state on fire and we are nothing but a scalded, smoldering wasteland….say our name! It’s ARKANSAS!!



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Boobs Are Getting Bigger!

braI’m going to lay it right out here, breasts in America are getting bigger. And I feel fairly certain it’s because we are all getting fatter.  Breasts are made of fat, so when a woman gains ten pounds her boobs get bigger.  Any woman will validate this fact.

But here’s more evidence of swelling boobage. I went shopping a couple of days ago and found myself surround by rows and rows of giant bras. I’m talking about massive bras with cups bigger than my son’s head.

I have pretty big boobs and have worn a 36 or 38 D for most of my life.  When I was a teenager they were considered gigantic, freakish, worthy of lengthy conversatons. Today that’s not the case, because so many women have boobs much much bigger and they lt them hang out there…all the time. Twenty years ago finding a bra that size was really hard and they were all ugly granny bras.  As a teenager I was sure all the bigger  bras had been designed by structural engineers and Baptist ministers. They might as well have been cut from burlap.  And the strap across the back was at least three inches, there’s no way that looked sexy.It was terrible.

Additionally, (as though buying a really hideous looking big bra when you are 15 isn’t bad enough),  most stores in the 70′s 80′s put the big bras on the lowest rack. So we had to search for our big ugly bras on our knees. Its no wonder I never wanted to go shopping.

Here’s a weird thought. When I was growing up bra companies bragged that their bras ‘lifted and separated.”  Back then we wanted our boobs to poke out separately …no touching.  Now boobs get smashed together to create cleavage. Well guess what, they get sweaty when you smush them together. And that’s not a really good thing.

The on going discussion about “side boob” is a new thing too.  When our old bras lifted and separated they had direction so side boob wasn’t an issue.

Life is better now for women with enormous ta-tas. Now, stores are filled with hundreds of glorious looking giant bras, shiny and sparkly and hot looking, even for those with boobies the size of basket balls.  Lots of bras, big enough to hold three puppies, are even kept at eye level because big boobs are the norm.

What does all this mean? Well, I’m really worried about the obesity rate in America , but I know there are a lot of “breast Men” in the world who love the new big ta-ta norm. So, at least for those guys the future is looking magnificent.

****If you want to read more about men and their evolutionary feelings about breasts this is a pretty interesting site.http://www.breastoptions.com/bigbreasts.html

#This is a re-written reprint because I went shopping again today and the bras were bigger and even prettier. Lucky me :-)





That Deep and Filthy Ditch

I GrangerThis is one of my favorite Irvin Stories.  He told it to me for years and it always meant something different. Now, when I retell it to my kids, I smile cause I realize how much I missed.

It’s the early 1960′s in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Dad was taking two clients to lunch. They stood in sharp suits with skinny ties, waiting to cross the street. There was a guy digging a great big ditch next to the sidewalk. The three men stood discussing plans for a new building. While they were talking the ditch digger mumbled something derogatory, spit on Dad’s black dress shoe, then threw another shovel of dirt in the opposite direction.

Dad’s first instinct was to jump down in the ditch and beat the guys ass. My dad wasn’t a big man but he had a volcanic  temper and was powerful. But he resisted that urge, ignored the spit for a moment, then in front of his clients, said to the guy, “That’s a good looking ditch you’ve got going. You’re lines are straight and it’s nearly perfectly level. How long you been working on it?”

Ditch digger, “Little over a week.”

Dad, “I wish I could get my men to take the time to do a job right like that. It would improve the whole damn project.”

Ditch digger,”Yeah, I try to keep it all pretty tight. I don’t like it when things are uneven.”

“Well keep up the good work Boss.”

“Wait a minute,” the Ditch digger said, as he pulled out his bandana,” I got some dirt there on your shoe,” and he wiped off the spit.

When my son, Sandor hears this story, he focuses on the fact that Dad didn’t jump down in the ditch and fight the guy. Last night he said, ”Because then he’d be down low too, and dirty, just like the ditch digger, right?” He’s absolutely right.

But it’s the second half of the story that still blesses me everyday, that reminds me of the never ending power of lifting other up. I can only imagine what Dad’s clients were thinking about their architect.



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The Best Funeral….Ever

handsYesterday, my husband Alex, asked me to go to a funeral with him. Alex is the Executive Chef at a monstrously large thoroughbred race track.  The funeral was  for his Sous Chef, who died pretty suddenly.

I didn’t  know what to expect because the service was going to be held in the track chapel. ( Yes, racetracks have chapels for the jockeys, trainers, hot walkers etc.)

I’d only met David once or twice and he seemed like a very nice man, warm and fun. He’d  been at Oaklawn for less than a year so I was surprised the chapel was completely full. All the chairs were taken and folks were standing against the walls, waiting for the service.

After ten or fifteen minutes the Chaplin asked if anyone would like to say a few words.  This can be a really awkward moment at a funeral because you just never know. It’s so sad when nobody has anything to say and everyone sits in uncomfortable silence.

But that’s not what happened at David’s funeral. Immediately several guys lined up, dish washers and prep cooks from the main kitchen, then big white ladies who sell beer and hot dogs, valets, security guys and more dish washers.  Black, white and Hispanic. Young and old, well-dressed and trashy, guys with penny sized gages and tattoos on their necks and tear drop tats on their face, guys with no teeth and gold teeth, clean cut cowgirls and corporate folks in polo shirts and kakis.  So many folks walked nervously to the microphone to talk about Chef David.

He had done something for everyone of them. He changed their days and their lives and they were so very sorry to have lost him.  Over and over this beautiful array of humanity said Chef David was a great man and had done so very much for them. But David didn’t give them money or jobs.  All he did, for all them, every single day, was shake their hand, hug them, smile, he remembered their names, asked how they were doing and how their kids were. He told the lazy ones they needed to work harder. He told the angry ones they had to stop fighting with everyone. Then he smiled, hugged them and shook their hand.

He listened and loved. They knew he cared about them and that meant everything.  And that’s how Chef David changed the world.

I’ve never cried so much at a funeral and I’ve been to a lot of them. I’ve buried every member of my immediate family but I’ve never been so moved by the power of a hand shake, a hug and a smile.

I left dehydrated but inspired and uplifted., determined to be a little bit more like Chef David Lausten.




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1000 Gallons of Schnapps

This isn’t really my story to teschnappsll but Alex’s family  doesn’t blabber on like McDaniel’s so I love telling it for them.

Alex’ grandmother or Nagymamma (pronounced “nudge mummy”) was Hungarian. She spoke a little English and was one of the toughest old ladies on the planet. She was also blunt as a 2×4. My grandmother’s were not rough or tough or blunt.They were elegant, quirky and lovely…they were Southern.

If Alex, the kids and I arrived at her house for Sunday dinner fifteen minutes late, the doors would be locked, the lights turned off. If you were late you didn’t eat.

She lived through the Nazi  and both Russian invasions of Hungary.  And boy did she hate the Russians, even more than the Nazis. One time she told me, “A Nazi will steal your wedding ring, a Russian will cut off you finger to steal your wedding ring.”

In 1956 when the Soviets invaded Hungary, yet again, Nagymamma was prepared.  Unfortunately, Hungary is right in the middle of a beautiful but troubled neighborhood and has been invaded by countless forces for thousands of years.  So Nagymammy knew exactly what soldiers did when they occupied a foreign country, because she’d lived through it so many times. The soldiers march in, drink all the liquor and destroy what they don’t’ drink.  As a result the locals don’t have any alcohol thus making the invasion and occupation even more miserable.

Nagymammy  felt certain the Russians were getting ready to invade her home land months earlier so she came up with a plan. Alex’s grandmother was known for her homemade Schnapps. Well, she called it schnapps but it was hardcore moonshine with a little bit of fruit.  The stuff was crystal clear and brutal.  A  single shot could clear your sinus cavity for a week or render you speechless for the day. A little bit could cure most diseases, three shots and you’d go blind.

Nagymammy cooked up over fifty  hectoliters of schnapps (that’s over 1,000 gallons), bottled it then sent her husband into the field with a post hold digger. Together they buried all those bottles then waited for the Russian soldiers to do what they always did. Drink and destroy.

Several months latter her region of Hungary was bone dry and sick of sobriety. That’s when Nagymammy and her husband went back out into the field and started digging.

Over the course of a year that tough old woman was able to dig up and sell enough of her schnapps to get her family out of Hungary and to America. The Hampo family’s American Dream was fueled by some wicked schnapps and a remarkable woman who was tougher than the Russians.



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Little Boys Telling Big Lies

boysLittle boys, 8-12 years old, lie all the time.  They tell huge, impossible, floppy lies that defy logic and reason.  Note: I did not say these boys are “liars”. But they lie all the time.

Sandor and I talk about this all the time, especially after one of his friends makes up some absurd and ridiculous story.

Last week Sandor and Hunter got into a minor argument because Hunter was telling everybody in fifth grade, “when you get the flu shot a tiny piece of the needle breaks off in your arm. That’s how the medicine gets in you.”

His friend Cody has insisted for two years that his dad played for the NBA. I’ve seen Cody Dixon’s dad, he’s short, round and smokes generic cigarettes.  Maybe he WENT to an NBA game but he did not play for the NBA.

Half of Sandor’s cheerful redneck  friends claim they are related to Eminem or Labron James.

They just lie about stuff non-stop. We inadvertently  set Sandor up a few years ago so he’s included in the category. We had a post card of Albert Einstein hanging on our fridge.  Sandor noticed he had crazy caterpillar eyebrows like Alex .  So we told 3rd grade Sandor , Albert Einstein was his great great uncle. He believe us.

This morning it happened again. I was telling Sandor and Lex about the Ukrainian president. After three months of violent protests he gave up and ran away to a Russian military base. Now the protesters are giving tours of the luxurious Ukrainian capital and estates.

Sandor stopped eating his pancakes and  said, “So Obama ran off to Russia?”

“No, The Ukrainian president did that. Not our president!” I laughed.

“Oh,” Sandor sounded a little disappointed.  “I was gonna tell everybody at school.”

So that’s how it happens and little boys tell the most extraordinary  lies.


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