Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Treat

Happy Halloween!! As you may know, this is our first Trick-or-Treat night in our new neighborhood and I've got to tell you, I'm a little nervous about it. It's always difficult when Alan and I move into a new community, basically because we don't have children. From what I can see, when my neighbors all moved into their homes, their kids all became immediate friends and spent hour upon hour at each others' houses. Their parents have no choice but to become acquainted. Soon they're all attending PTA meetings and cub scout jamborees together while Alan and I watch from the wings. We are "That Childless Couple," and, to be honest, I'm a little paranoid about it! I always imagine we immediately become the target of everyone's suspicion ("Do they HATE children?") or pity ("She must be barren!").

Either way, because I love nothing more than cute, adorable witches, supermen, ninjas, and werewolves coming to my door, I've always tried to win-over our new neighborhood children and their parents long before October 31st rolls around. As I wrote in an earlier post, my terrier has always been my weapon of choice in previous years. All the kids in my former communities have had absolutely NO idea what my name is, but they all most certainly knew that the crazy, sprinkler-chasing, pool-diving, trick-performing dog that lived with me was named Trixie!! They all eventually learned that if they showed up on my porch Halloween night, not only would they get excellent candy, they'd also get to see Trixie in her pumpkin/bumble bee/lady bug/scary monster costume. Not ONE of them ever wanted to miss that!!

As I think about it today, I guess I'm actually a tiny bit obsessed with the idea of trick-or-treaters! Maybe because I don't have the privilege of dressing-up my own toddlers, I really relish the few minutes I have gazing at all the costumed cuteness at my front door. When we lived in Orlando, in our Avalon Park community, we quickly learned it was the absolute PERFECT trick-or-treat neighborhood. The houses were close together (kids could get LOTS of candy with little walking effort!), the streets were well-lit, and there were children living EVERYWHERE!!! If I was out gardening in the front yard when two kids would ride by on their bikes, I'd always turn, wave, and say, "Do you know what you're going to be for Halloween yet?" They'd usually look at me with a confused expression and reply,

"Um, no. It's June."
"Hey, it's never too early to plan," I'd remind them!

By far, though, my favorite Avalon Park trick-or-treater was a little one year-old girl that moved in with her brother and parents just two doors down from us. To say she was "cherubic" would be making a supreme understatement, the child was beautiful. She had short, curly brown hair that softly framed her round face. Her cute locks perfectly accented her enormous, heavily-lashed blue eyes. The minute I saw her as she walked by one morning with her mom, escorting her brother to school, only one thought entered my mind: "I can't WAIT to see her on Halloween!"

The big night arrived and Trixie, Alan and I began to pass out our Snickers bars to ghosts, mermaids, and pirates. Then the doorbell rang, we opened the door and there she stood with her brother (aka Batman). Our little cherub was dressed in a leopard leotard, complete with tail and spotted-ear headband. On her gorgeous face was drawn a black nose and whiskers. In a word: ADORABLE!! They were both holding up their empty treat bags (we were their first stop!) and her brother happily shouted, "Trick or Treat!" He eagerly accepted his chocolate bar, thanked us, and hopped down our steps to his waiting mom on the sidewalk. His sister, still standing at our door, didn't seem to mind being left, but was also obviously terribly confused by the whole process. "Say 'Trick or Treat,' Honey," her mom encouraged. She glanced at her mother, then turned back to us with brow furrowed and lips pursed. Alan knelt down with the treat bowl, grabbed a Nestles Crunch bar and dropped it in her bag. She looked at him quizzically, then went to reach in her bag for the treasure this stranger had just placed there. "No, no!!" her mom shouted, "Leave it there! Come on, we have to go to the next house!" Obeying her mom but still clearly confused, our leopard descended the porch steps and joined her family. I talked about it for a year!!

The next year, sometime in September, I guess, Alan and I were having lunch at a local restaurant when we looked over and recognized those same neighbors sitting at a nearby table. When we waved and nodded a quick "Hello," our little cherub, almost two now, took this as an invitation, walked over to our table and sat down next to Alan. She removed his sunglasses from his head and placed them on her face, upside down. I think I could actually hear the audible crumbling of Alan's heart! Because I'm a giant goofball, I immediately asked her my stock questions, "What are you going to be for Halloween?" and "You're coming to my house for candy, right?" (That didn't sound creepy and desperate at all, right?) She told us she was going to be a fairy princess. I tried without success to quell my squeal of delight.

They were the first ones to arrive at our door that Halloween night! Actually, it was a little TOO early, as we had just arrived home from work and Alan didn't even have the treat bowl ready! So, I grabbed Trixie and headed to the front while Alan ran to the kitchen to grab the goodies. I opened the door and there she stood next to her brother (aka Spiderman) in all her sparkly-crowned, netted-winged, wand-waving, fairy-princess glory. Priceless. I didn't have much time to gaze upon her loveliness, however, because as soon as I opened the door, she was quickly walking past me, headed towards Alan in the kitchen. "Hello!" said a surprised Alan, but he quickly recovered, knelt down on our kitchen floor and held out the treat bowl to her. She selected a Milky Way and headed back to the porch. Her mother, mortified, apologized profusely. We waved it away instantly, still laughing. "She's just really not grasping the whole "trick-or-treat" concept, is she?" I joked. Mom agreed and called to her daughter, who quickly bonked Spiderman on the head with her glitter-crusted wand and descended the stairs of my porch. I'll always wonder if she ever got the hang of it by the end of the evening!

As I've said, I'm worried about my chances this year. My sweet Trixie has grown older and her sprinkler-chasing, child-entertaining days are far behind her, I'm afraid. Our homes in the new neighborhood are much farther apart, it's very hilly, and the weatherman is predicting rain. I've seen the local kids pass by as I've been out working in the yard, and they've always politely returned my vigorous waves and chipper "Hellos!" to them. But I know they're not real happy with me. The family that used to live in my house had three children, three of their pals. So, basically, I am the lady that moved into the home from which their best friends had to leave. I also didn't provide them with any "replacement playmates." Not cool.

But I have a plan!! I went to the store yesterday and purchased a giant package of FULL-SIZED candy bars!! No "fun size" for MY kids!! The way I see it, if I can get just ONE brave child to ring my doorbell and see the KICK ASS treats that I am distributing tonight, word will quickly spread. Soon, I'll have hundreds of costumed children on my porch! OK, maybe dozens. Actually, I'd be happy with just ONE fairy princess...

Thanks for reading!! Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Every time I complete a new blog entry, I immediately e-mail my new post to each of my four siblings. They've known me longer than anyone and they've supported me dutifully through all my career, husband, and hairstyle changes. I greatly value their opinions. So a few entries ago, when I sent off my latest piece, I attached a quick note, confessing that my ideas for topics were running a little dry, and if anyone had a suggestion, I'd gratefully accept it. My sister Kathy responded almost immediately with a long, really creative list (rest assured, you will be seeing her ideas implemented in several upcoming posts).

But there was one of Kathy's suggestions that I didn't quite understand at first glance. It simply read, "Your GPS." Now, Kathy knows that we have a GPS system in our car. Don't get me wrong, it's been a wonderful, handy tool to own, I love it! But why, I wondered, does Kathy believe that an electronic device mounted in my dashboard makes an interesting writing topic? Then it hit me. Kathy wasn't referring to my car's digital mapping system. She was talking about MY "internal" GPS. It's a fantastic idea, actually, because my internal GPS is seriously BROKEN. Always has been. My sweet sister, trying her very hardest not to sound insulting, wrote, "Your GPS," instead of, "Write about how you have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever and couldn't possibly find your way out of a paper bag!" That's probably how I would've put it, had the roles been reversed!

I don't even know how to begin to describe my direction ineptness. I absolutely despise the "traffic reporter" that broadcasts over my radio in the middle of rush hour, who spends about seven seconds telling me about the 900 accidents that have occurred that morning. Mr. Speedy-Talker then informs me about all the "huge back-ups," and the better, quicker routes to take. By the time I'm able to mentally locate the first intersection mentioned and figure out it's relation to where I am, I've completely missed what has happened there and all the information about ways to avoid it. I scream at my radio "SLOW DOWN!" or, "SAY IT AGAIN!!" That bastard never listens.

The city of Orlando, where I lived for sixteen years, is a fairly modern place with navigable highways and tourist-friendly, easy-to-understand signage. I got lost daily! I'd do great going from our house to work, but it was when I had to make stops in between those two places where I'd get all turned-around. Poor Alan just learned to live with the inevitable calls he'd receive from me saying, "OK, I'm at Whole Foods, I need to get to the pet store, do I get on I-4 for that?" Or, "Well, I was trying to get to the courthouse downtown and somehow I ended up in Fort Lauderdale. How do I get home?" To his credit, my sweet, kind husband has never, EVER said what most would remark at these moments. Things like, "Wow, you really are a big, dumb idiot, aren't you?" or "You're exhausting me! Can't I just put you in a Home somewhere?" No, my Sweetheart simply asks me to identify the nearest landmark, then verbally points me in the right direction. I really love that man!!

You can imagine Alan's response when we purchased our new car a few years back, and the dealer inquired if we would like to include the new GPS system in our package. I hesitated, thinking it seemed like an awfully extravagant electronic toy. If I remember correctly, Alan said something along the lines of, "YES, YES, OH DEAR GOD, YES!!! Install the GPS! I don't care how much it costs!!"

The really comforting part of my handicap is that my sister, Laura, is just as directionally challenged as I am. When we were teens, we'd leave together on a shopping trip, get involved in a deep conversation as we drove along, then suddenly snap back into reality. We'd inevitably look around at our unfamiliar surroundings and then exclaim, "Hey, who moved the mall?"

The best example of our busted internal GPS came when Laura and I were in high school and were asked to perform our "Honey Bun" dance routine on the local TV talent showcase, "The Gene Carroll Show." Gene was Cleveland's very own version of Ed Sullivan, and he hosted a weekly Sunday morning program showcasing all the local "talent" in the Cleveland area. The shows were taped in downtown Cleveland during the week, then broadcast that Sunday. Our dance teacher got Laura and I the gig, but told us she wouldn't be able to take us to the taping, could we get there on our own? NO PROBLEM!! We were sixteen and seventeen, practically grown adults, for crying out loud! Of COURSE we could drive the twenty miles to downtown Cleveland, piece of cake!!

I need to pause this story here to explain something about my father. Dad was/is the biggest Nervous Nellie on the planet. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a quiet, suburban neighborhood in a place called Sagamore Hills. The crime rate was literally non-existent on my street, yet he was convinced that all five of his children would be stabbed, raped, kidnapped, and/or impregnated by the time we each reached the age of twelve. The summer before my sophmore year of college, a few of my female classmates asked if I wanted to skip living in a dorm the following year and get an apartment with them near the theater building. When I approached Dad with the idea, his response was short and sweet: "You'll get raped." Apparently, the "rapage" factor was way higher when you lived in an apartment with four girlfriends instead of a co-ed dorm on campus. Guess where I stayed all four years of college? (Hint: It wasn't in the apartment with my girlfriends!)

So, it goes without saying that even though the exciting, vibrant city of Cleveland was only a mere twenty-five minutes away, the Donnelly children rarely saw it, because my father forbade it. When we became interested in theater and the touring companies of "A Chorus Line" and "Annie" came through town, my mother gave-in to our pleading and agreed to take us, but not to the evening performances. Mom wrote a note to our teachers saying we had dental appointments, got us excused early from school, and we attended the Wednesday afternoon matinees. This, it was apparently determined, was the time of day when downtown Cleveland was much less "rapey."

So, having never really been to the area, Laura and I basically had no idea what route to take to get to our Gene Carroll Show taping. However, mom gave us a map (actually, it was more like a world atlas. Picture a globe, only in book form. In Mom's defense, it did have a "Northeast Ohio" page). We also decided to take a male with us to, you know, fight off all the rapists and such. I had just started dating Alan, so we asked him to come with us. That's right, Alan. Alan, the Alabama boy who had been living in the state of Ohio for all of three months. That Alan. (Seriously, what could go wrong?)

So we actually made it to the taping (Praise God!) with no problems. We arrived at the studio, executed our routine with flawless , sailor-suited perfection and were an immediate, enormous hit. The evening was a complete success! Until...

When we left the TV studio, we immediately noticed that it had gotten really dark. No problem, we thought, we had our trusty atlas. We began our journey home, talking excitedly about the obvious "nailing" of our performance and of our impatience to actually see ourselves on TV. Suddenly, though, things began to look unfamiliar. Alan, who was driving, asked us to consult the globe. Laura and I studied the map and determined that yes, we were definitely headed in the right direction. It was a full thirty or so miles later, when we started seeing signs for Ashtabula, that Alan stopped the car and grabbed the map from us. Apparently, Laura and I had mixed-up the whole east/west thing, and when we told Alan we were definitely headed west, we were, in fact, headed east. We were also out of gas. We rolled into a gas station and called Alan's dad, who told us to just stay put, drove out to meet us, filled our tank and had us follow him home.

Laura and I were sure our father would be fit to be tied when we finally arrived home. I can honestly tell you that I don't have the slightest recollection of what played-out when we walked through our front door late that night. They say that people who undergo traumatic events are often unable to recall that experience after they recover. They say the mind acts as a kind of buffer to allow peaceful healing. Perhaps this is what happened to my memory of that night. I guess we'll never know. I DO remember, however, very vividly, the next morning when Laura and I came drowsily down to the breakfast table, prepared for an intense fatherly tongue-lashing. Dad looked up from his newspaper, turned to my mother and said, "Hey, look who's here. It's Louis and Clark!"

Thanks for reading!! (And thanks, Kathy!!)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Loyal Be Thy Sons and Daughters...

I just arrived home from a truly wonderful weekend spent with my husband in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse is a very prominent city in my life for many reasons. It's the place I lived when I left home for the first time to attend the University there. As a musical theater major at Syracuse, my classmates and I honed our dance, vocal, and acting skills, working without ceasing to accomplish the highly-coveted status of "Triple Threat." It was where we performed in various productions, worked on backstage crews, and even caught a football game or two in-between our rehearsal schedules. Syracuse is the place where I met and fell in love with a fellow theater major who eventually proposed to me shortly before graduation. It's also the location where he and I returned after living in NYC for a short time, so that he could teach dance back at the University. It was at that time when he eventually left me, making Syracuse the place in which I spent many sad, troubled nights grieving, trying to make sense of the whole mess.

Because of that awful, horrible time involving my ex-husband's abrupt exit and our eventual divorce, my memories of SU have become a little cloudy and jaded, I'm afraid. Our separation at the time became the fuel for some pretty juicy SU Drama Department gossip, and my only way to deal with the intense hurt was to draw further and further away. While living in Orlando, if I received Syracuse University literature in the mail regarding Drama Department reunions or invitations to alumni weekends, I'd wait for the inevitable, familiar sting of sadness and hurt to subside, then drop the flyer in the recycling bin. I hadn't been back to SU since I left over sixteen years ago. But, Alan had some business in the area, and there just happened to be an SU football game that weekend, so he asked if I'd like to join him. I decided it was time.

It's only been very recently, maybe the last five years or so, that I've been able to gaze at old photos from my time as a student at SU. I have albums filled with all of us mugging for the camera backstage in our dressing rooms, arms thrown around each other, unyielding in our quest together to become famous. These are mixed with the countless pictures of my ex-husband and I, walking hand in hand on campus, sitting in a diner on Marshall street, so in love and full of hope and promise. I study the faces in those old photos, searching for signs of the tragic end that will eventually occur. All I can see is youthful happiness and excitement, two young lovers, invincible about their future.

So as Alan and I drove around the campus this past weekend, I smiled and sighed as we passed by my old dorms, the library where I worked, and the beautiful Visual and Performing Arts building where we daily climbed the hundreds of steps to attend voice classes. We parked the car and strolled down Marshall Street, the campus "strip." Some places had changed, of course, like the Starbucks located in the space a bookstore used to inhabit, and the former McDonald's that was now home to a Sushi bar. But I was also tickled to see how many of the old haunts remained, like Cosmos Diner, Manny's Campus Clothing Store, and my absolute favorite, Varsity Pizza.

The Varsity is an institution at Syracuse, it first opened in 1928 and is still owned and operated by the same family today. I have never, EVER, in all the places I've lived, tasted better pizza than the ones made at The Varsity. Just tremendous. It could be the no-frills atmosphere of the place that makes them seem so delicious, like the orange and blue chairs at the tables and the same giant old black and white photos that adorn the walls. These photos are of Ernie Davis, the SU rowing team, Lacrosse Players, and a tenor sax player marching on the field, to name a few. On the wall above the area where you place your order hang the flags of the opponents the football team will be facing during the present season. All the ones that have been turned upside down are the schools SU has defeated!

The Varsity is where my fellow drama classmates and I would gather every Wednesday after a late-afternoon, department-wide lab we were required to attend at the theater building. We'd all trudge up the hill afterwards, grab our usual table, throw in a couple of bucks for a pie or two and a pitcher of coke, then eat, talk, and laugh until it was time to hike back down the hill for rehearsal of some kind. It was a standing date every week, whomever could make it knew to just show-up at The Varsity, and someone would always be there. Actually, I think it was at those gatherings at The Varsity that my ex-husband and I began to fall in love.

So, this past Saturday, as I sat in a booth and waited for Alan to place our order, I looked over at that cluster of tables where we all used to gather, discussing our classes and worrying about our finals. I know many, many young students have congregated at that particular area since, but it still seemed to sparkle with that sweet memory of those years in the mid-eighties when it was US who sat there. I cradled my chin in my hand and smiled as I pictured each of those young, talented faces and recalled all the things they've accomplished since.

After lunch, Alan and I got back in the car and drove just past campus, past Thorndon Park, to a little yellow house on Cherry Street. The upstairs of the house was made into an apartment, and it's where my ex and I lived when we moved back to Syracuse. It's also the place where I stood a few months later and listened to him tell me he didn't want to be married anymore, then watched as he left. As we sat in the car out front and gazed up at the house, the first thought that hit me was how good it looked. It had a fresh coat of paint, and the large maple tree in the front yard had turned a beautiful shade of orange, providing a carpet of vibrant leaves on it's lawn. It seemed somehow amazing that there was no sign of the sadness that had taken place inside, no stain revealing the middle-of-the-night, floor-pacing grief that once occurred nightly within those walls.

As we sat there, looking at this sweet, quaint little home, Alan grabbed my hand and said, "This is the place where our story re-started! I have such happy memories here!" He was right. It was a few years after my ex's departure, after picking myself up, finding work, and finally getting on with my life, that Alan found me again here. I was living HERE when he called all those Syracuse phone numbers to finally track MINE down, the one belonging to this house. It was in that tiny place that, after months of hour-long phone conversations, he decided to make the trip to see me in person. He talked about ascending the stairs of the house, taking a deep breath, and knocking on my door. I, on the other side, turned the deadbolt, placed my hand on the door knob, paused, then said to him through the door, "Are you ready?" Then I opened the door and there he stood, My Future.

It was then that it struck me. All these years, when I have thought of Syracuse, my mind would immediately focus on all the intense, bad things that happened for me in this town. I've been letting all the grieving, sad memories overshadow all the supremely sweet ones. I allowed all the floor-walking, weepy nights to block the exciting come-from-behind football games, the really top-quality shows we performed in, and the ridiculously good pizza we consumed while discussing our surely-inevitable bright futures. Why was I giving the bad memories all that power?

The truth is, I'm thankful for ALL my Syracuse memories, even the sad ones. As a result of going through that hard time, I now appreciate the relationships in my life much more than I ever would have before. I love deeper, I laugh louder, and I live more intensely because that time has taught me how fragile life can be. The sad times will always have their place, no doubt. But I decided on my trip last weekend that I'm no longer going to let them overshadow the majority of beautiful, fun, sweet remembrances I also hold.

We drove away from Cherry Street that day and headed to the Carrier Dome to watch the football game. Before it started, the marching band took the field and played the fight song, the National Anthem, then the Alma Mater. I actually know the words to the SU alma mater because I sang it for a campus event when I was a student there. It's a beautiful song, but my favorite line has always been the last: "Loyal be thy sons and daughters, to thy memory." Being loyal to memories. I like that. The good, the bad, all of them make up who I have become thus far. I'm no longer going to allow one to cloud the other. It took me awhile, 'Cuse, but I think I've finally got it! Go Orange!!

Thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Excuse me...

So here's the thing: Trixie and I are leaving shortly on a road trip to visit my college alma mater, Syracuse University. My husband will eventually join us there so that he can serve as a witness as I once again bring my bad luck to another football team of which I am a fan (Go, Orange!!). So, with all the packing and such going on, I find myself distracted enough NOT to be able to hear any blog topic that may be rattling around in the old noggin. But I've been wanting to devote an entry to something else that's been on my mind--I thought I'd do that today. Will you indulge me? Here goes...

To Every Teenage/Twenty-Something Cashier at the Grocery Store/Department Store/Garden Center Where I Shop: Yes, I know you don't want to be here, working for minimum wage so you can afford all that thick, black eyeliner and those low, low, low-rise, skin-tight jeans you're wearing. I know you've got much better things to be concentrating on, like the fact that you think your boyfriend may be cheating or that you may have just flunked your biology pop-quiz, stuff that's WAY more pressing than ringing up my silly birdseed and potting soil. But here's the thing: this is your job. You're being paid to be here. And guess what? This is life! Like it or not, we all have to do stuff we don't want to do every now and then. Maybe you should join the rest of us, stop pouting, and ring up my stuff. And would it really kill you to smile once in a while? You don't even have to show teeth or anything, just a little turn-up at the corners of your mouth when I make eye contact with you and cheerily say, "Hi!" would be just AWESOME! And while I've got your attention, can you and I make a deal? If you promise to stop staring at my (adorable!) pumpkin sweater in horrified disbelief, I'll pretend that I can't see your ass-crack every time you bend over in those jeans you painted on this morning. Deal?

To the Guy I "Waved-In" When There Was a Line of Traffic Backed-Up at the Light: Remember me? I was the person in the copper Infiniti FX who watched you sit there at the exit of that gas station while SEVERAL cars drove by, refusing to let you merge-in. I'm the one who stopped, holding up all the angry, horn-blowing, selfish drivers behind me to allow you in ahead of me. I even smiled at you, remember? You were so taken-back by the fact that someone was actually being courteous that you hesitated at first, wondering if it was all some cruel joke I was playing. You seemed to wonder if just when you attempted to pull out, I would rush ahead, laugh, and then point and shout "Sucker!" at you. But I waited, and you pulled in front of me. Remember how you mouthed the words, "Thank you," then smiled and performed the international "wave of appreciation" that all courteous motorists know to do when someone has been thoughtful? Remember? You don't? Huh. Maybe that's because you NEVER DID IT!!! Seriously! You couldn't manage a simple "thank you" wave? Really?

To the Elderly Woman Who's Shopping Cart Bumped Into Mine Because She Was Walking Briskly, Looking at Breakfast Cereal, Instead of in the Direction She Was Going: Hey, everybody's done that, right? No big deal! But you know what the rest of us do when we've hit someone so hard that their cart rolls back on their feet (feet that were particularly SORE that day from an intensely strenuous morning run!)? WE APOLOGIZE! Really, we do! We say, "Oh, I'm so sorry! What was I thinking? Are you OK?" Seriously, that's what courteous, kind human beings do! What we don't do, usually, is what YOU did, which is SCOWL at me for having the audacity to actually be standing in a public place, inhabiting the same aisle as you, shopping for corn flakes! The NERVE!!

And Finally, To Every Man, Woman, and Child That I Have Passed On the Sidewalk or Trail in the Last 20+ Years While Running: I'm the girl wearing the black running pants, Cleveland Browns t-shirt, and unattractive bandana around my head. My "weapons" include a heart-rate monitor watch and a wash cloth I use to wipe the sweat off my face. When I make eye contact with you as I pass, nod my head and wave my hand slightly, cheerfully saying, "Morning," I'm simply greeting you. I'm not trying to "hook-up" with you, sell you something, or rape you. Would it really kill you to give me a simple nod back? I promise I won't follow you home or stalk your children at the bus stop. I'm just being friendly. And the truth is, when you completely ignore me like you always do, never acknowledging my presence, even though I run by you EVERY day, well it just hurts my feelings! There. I said it. (Seriously, is it the bandana that's off-putting?)

Wow! That felt GREAT! I hope this has cleared-up any questions you all may have had about how to behave like courteous, caring human beings on this planet. I know you've been waiting on pins and needles for me to give you these very instructions, and that you will now rush right out and implement all my excellent advice. Well, all I can say is-- You're Welcome!!

Thanks for reading!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ghost Writing

Today I've decided to start with a confession to an extremely embarrassing guilty pleasure of mine. Every friday evening at 8 o'clock I pour myself a glass of red wine and prepare a plate of low fat cheese, crackers, grapes, veggies and dip. Then I turn on the TV and watch a full episode, start to finish, of The Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. If you've never heard of this show, trust me, you must consider yourself very, very lucky indeed. Seriously, don't start watching it. It's terrible. The Ghost Whisperer's premise is that Melinda Gordon (Ms. Hewitt) has a gift in which she can see and converse with the dead. Well, not ALL the dead, just the ones that are "earth-bound" for some reason and haven't yet "crossed-over into the light." Melinda helps them work through their troubles, which usually requires contacting their skeptical relatives and convincing THEM that she can talk to their dearly departed. ("He's telling me he gave you a gold locket for your tenth wedding anniversary. He says you keep it in the jewelry box on your dresser next to the love notes he sent you!!") At the conclusion of each show Melinda usually gathers them all together ("Your husband is here with us"), interprets for the dead, resolves the issues that have kept the spirit hanging around, and watches tearfully as the soul, now at-peace, sees and then "crosses over" into the light that has been waiting for him all along. The show is poorly written, the acting is of soap opera caliber (although I must admit, Jen is an AWESOME crier!), and the saccharin-sweet happy endings are enough to leave you with a major tooth ache. I'm addicted to it!!

Alan says he thinks the reason the show has been so successful is because the ghosts are frequently visiting Jen in the middle of the night, so she must arise from her satin-sheeted bed wearing only her silk, low-cut negliges that accent her extremely well-endowed (a-hem) "talents." (She also sleeps in full, heavy make-up, complete with false eyelashes...WHY?) Anyway, the show is dreadful--and I LOVE it!! I have no idea why. I normally have no patience for shows that are poorly written and acted, and I've never been able to sit through a full ten minutes of any soap opera. So why am I addicted to this show? The answer, I fear, is even more embarrassing: I LOVE a good ghost story!!

It's true! One of my favorite "Bonding Questions" (see earlier post) is, "Have you ever seen a ghost, and if so, tell me EVERYTHING!!" Then I lean forward, fists clenched near my mouth, and squeal in delighted horror when my friend or co-worker gets to the scary, "unexplained phenomenon" part!

Whenever we visit a new place on vacation, like St. Augustine, Key West, Gettysburg, the Rocky Mountains, or New England, I always make a bee-line to the local bookstore and purchase a copy of that town's version of "The Ghosts of..." book. They're filled with fascinating folklore and history of each place! Perhaps I should say something in my own defense before I continue: I am not a horror movie buff at all. I don't enjoy slasher films and, quite frankly, even the early, tamer Vincent Price versions are still a bit disturbing to me. But, the ghost story books are a fantastic way to learn about the rich past of the places you are visiting, and I figure the scary tales describing what has reportedly appeared in their old, historical buildings is just icing on the cake!!

My first "Ghosts of..." book was written about the old city of St. Augustine, Florida. St. Augustine was first visited by Ponce de Leon in 1513, but it was the eccentric oil tycoon, Henry Flagler, who really revived the town back in 1883, making it a winter destination for Northerners. He is responsible for some of the city's grandest architecture, including a college that now bears his name. Both Flager and de Leon have been spotted still "strolling" the cobbled streets of their cherished old town. I read my "Ghosts of St. Augustine" book shortly before Alan and I were to spend our anniversary there. We had reservations at one of their many old, charming bed and breakfasts there. The book was overflowing with stories regarding the early settlers, forbidden love, and souls whose lives were ended too soon and hence "still walked the floors" of the places they once inhabited. I was RIVETED!! So riveted, in fact, that when we arrived at our lovely Inn the following week, I was completely TERRIFIED that we were "not alone," and made Alan keep the lights on all night! Nice romantic anniversary, huh?

But I think my favorite ghost story has got to be the one attached to the beautiful Marerro's Guest Mansion where Alan and I always stay when we visit Key West. Here's how the story goes:

Francisco Marerro, a wealthy Cuban cigar maker, built a large, beautiful mansion on Fleming street as a wedding present for his new, lovely young bride, Enriquetta. She loved the big house and took exceptional care of it, giving birth to and raising eight children while residing there with her handsome husband. Francisco's work frequently took him on long business trips back to Cuba, but Enriquetta seldom minded, she had her house and children to keep her busy. Then one fateful day officials arrived on the young woman's porch and informed her that her beloved husband had died unexpectedly during a recent trip back to Havana. Enriquetta was heartbroken, sick with grief and lamented that things couldn't get much worse. Except that they did. Several days later, on that same porch, a beautiful hispanic woman appeared with legal papers in hand. She informed Enriquetta that her husband had been a bigamist, that SHE was the first wife of Francisco, and therefore all his belongings, including Enriquetta's cherished house, was now HERS. A nasty court battle ensued (you can still view the records of the trial at the Key West Courthouse!), but the judge eventually had no other choice than to evict Enriquetta and her children--the papers were valid.

So, on that day in 1891, as a crowd gathered to morbidly witness her and her children becoming homeless, Enriquetta firmly stood on the porch of her cherished wedding gift and made this proclamation to the horde of rubber-neckers: "You are all witnessing a great injustice today. And though you are removing me from my home, you should know that this house is rightfully mine, and with God as my witness, I will remain here in spirit!" Now penniless, Enriquetta eventually died in the streets a few years later.

But legend has it that Enriquetta has kept her promise! They say she is thrilled to be "back" in the home she loves and continues to "take care" of it. She also doesn't put up with rowdy guests who stay there! They say if you've been partying a little too much on Duvall street some night and come back to your room acting loud and boisterous, your suitcases will be "magically" packed when you awake in the morning! She's also been known to "lock" rowdy guests out of their rooms, even when they insert the appropriate key in their door. The experts claim that the way to tell if Enriquetta "approves" of you is to look up immediately upon entering the mansion. There you will see a large, glass chandelier above your head. If it's still, you're OK. If the chandelier is swinging ever so slightly, Enriquetta is signaling to the innkeeper that you are trouble! I must say, I'm not proud of the fact that I look up and check that stupid chandelier EVERY time I enter that house!!

To be honest, though, Alan and I have stayed at Marerro's several times and have never come across the "ghostly mistress." But I WILL confess that a few times, we've waited, hidden, for the Key West Ghost tour to walk-up in front of the house. We let the host tell Enriquetta's story, then right before he finishes, we scream loudly, raise our hands above our heads, and come running out the front door in fake terror! I'd like to think that this amuses Enriquetta (it must, she's let us stay!).

Have you ever been on a Ghost Tour? I've dragged poor Alan to two in Key West and one terrible one in Gettysburg. Gettysburg is reportedly one of the "most haunted" places in America. This may be true, but I've got to tell you, their ghost stories are truly lame. I guess it's hard to make a "ghost soldier" walking around a battlefield sound interesting, particularly since Gettysburg is daily inundated with hundreds of civil war re-enactors. So, when ghost-sighters say, "The ghost looked so REAL!" it makes one wonder if, perhaps, they really were just viewing some historical fanatic in a store-bought "Rebel" costume!

To be honest, as infatuated as I am with the idea of ghosts, I would also be TERRIFIED if I ever encountered one! I watch those mild, "ghost history" shows on the History Channel when Alan's out of town and kick myself for the remainder of the evening as I sit, petrified, squeezing an annoyed Trixie to my chest and jumping six feet in the air every time I hear the wind blow outside. It's really quite pitiful.

But I love the stories. I love how they take you back to a time long-gone and tell of things gone wrong, sometimes as a warning. They remind you of life's fragileness and how fleeting our time here on earth can be. And even though sometimes I feel my belief waning a bit, I think I'll still read my books and walk those tours, and I'll even probably end-up sleeping with the lights on afterward!

I hope that if ghosts really DO exist, if there really are some poor souls out there that don't realize they've died or have some unfinished business, they'll somehow know that help is at hand. Somehow, I hope they find Jennifer Love Hewitt, who will show them her cleavage, bat her fake-lashed eyes, and send them on their spiritual, light-enhanced way. All in a neat, one-hour episode, of course!

Thanks for reading!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Fifteen years ago on this day, October 15th, Alan and I were married under the shade of an outdoor gazebo at Disney's Yacht Club Resort. It was an overcast morning, and it looked like there could be a chance of rain. We decided to risk it and go with the outdoor plans anyway. We weren't disappointed. Our small group of friends and family took their seats, the string quartet was cued to begin, and I walked down the garden path to meet my handsome, smiling groom under the gazebo. We turned to the pastor, he winked at us both and began, "Dearly beloved..." I promise you I'm not lying when I say that with those two words, the clouds quickly parted and the sun broke through. It shone for the remainder of that perfect day!

Alan actually proposed in December of the previous year, and as we deliberated about when to hold the ceremony, we immediately agreed on the month of October. We reasoned we would celebrate each anniversary vacationing in the beautiful Autumn splendor of the North, and we could honeymoon at a spot located somewhere deep in the colorful New England woods. But, as the wedding expenses grew and our savings dwindled, we decided our Vermont Inn would have to wait. We'd just spend a few nights at Disney instead, enjoy our family that made the trip to Orlando for the wedding, and catch New England another time.

This year, fifteen anniversaries later, we finally made good on that promise we made back then. We arrived last Sunday at Mills Falls Inn, located right along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in the tiny, picturesque town of Meredith, NH. It was definitely worth the wait! Seriously, if you live in the Northeastern portion of this great country, you must immediately step away from your computer and rush outside to drink-in the awesome display that Autumn is showing you right now. Go ahead, I'll wait. Breathtaking, isn't it? I've spent the last sixteen years in Florida, sweating my way through September, October and November. My poor Cleveland, Ohio soul just ached to be sitting in the middle of the crisp, colorful woods of the North, donned in a cable knit sweater, wrapping my cold hands around a steamy mug of apple cider!

You'd think with so much built-up expectation, I'd have been disappointed with what greeted us in New England. You would be gravely mistaken!! It was just gorgeous. I think my favorite excursion we took was an old fashioned "foliage-viewing" train ride through the woods. The brochure promised that the old train would wind it's way past countless lakes, deer and Christmas tree farms, through vintage stations and over trestle bridges. Sign us up! When we arrived at the station to check in, Alan surprised me by telling me he had upgraded our seats to the privately owned "lounge car" located at the front of the train (LOVE him!!). It was a wonderfully nostalgic car decorated with old fashioned couches, tables, and a vintage bar, complete with glass decanters filled with amber liquid. On the walls hung pictures displaying the train as it originally appeared back in the 30's, and the hidden speakers played the quiet strains of Frank Sinatra crooning "All of Me." It was perfect!

We picked a table for two by the window and had a seat in the cushy chairs while the rest of the guests boarded. Soon an older gentleman with straggly gray hair and beard appeared dressed in a three-piece, navy blue, pin-striped suit, complete with watch chain and conductor hat. He introduced himself as Gary and told us he'd be taking care of us during the extent of our four hour journey together. He then proceeded to tell us about all the experience he had in the railroad business. He named all the different jobs he'd held over the years and the many railroad companies with which he was employed. Towards the end of his speech, almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that he would be assisted today by Ryan, a young, twenty-something, short boy dressed in the identical three-piece suit and hat. Ryan smiled and waved as he was introduced, but soon disappeared around the corner. He appeared again instantly with a tray of tea and coffee, walking through the car and quietly offering the refreshments to each couple. The same was repeated with a basket of snacks, a tray of chocolates, and an armful of bottled waters. Each time Ryan smiled, leaned in with his treats, and moved on. He was taking such good care of us, we didn't really notice that we hadn't seen the older Gary for quite some time.

But soon the train was moving and our gorgeous journey into the fall foliage began. It was somehow even lovelier when viewed through that large old window of our train car. Ryan, who had shed his tray and basket, stood awkwardly at the head of the car, cleared his throat to get our attention, then announced in broken sentences, "Ok...coming up...on the right hand a deer farm. It's where they have deer...and also you can see the deer and take their picture if you want to." He was clearly nervous, but trying very hard. So we all smiled broadly at him and leaned in when he spoke, offering him encouragement with our eyes. When he stepped out of the car for a few moments, one of the older women giggled to the rest of us, "Isn't Ryan just ADORABLE?" We all laughed and nodded in agreement.

Ryan appeared again and I watched as he approached a party of four sitting near the front of the car. He asked, "Where are you from?" Soon they were all happily chatting about the hot weather in Miami, the hurricanes in Florida, and the wonderfully cool weather in New England. Ryan never looked completely relaxed, but his kind expression was genuine and it never waned.

About thirty minutes into the ride, Gary appeared again, but we almost didn't recognize him. He had changed from his lovely, vintage conductor's uniform to a pair of dirty sneakers, wrinkled khaki pants, and faded blue T-shirt. There was an audible gasp from the guests in the car. "Sorry, I just couldn't stand to be in that uncomfortable monkey suit any longer!" he said laughing, then quickly disappeared again. It was then that we realized that Gary had done nothing on our trip so far except welcome us on board and recite his resume. Everything else had been cheerfully handled by Ryan. Someone asked him, "How come YOU don't get to change out of YOUR suit?" Ryan looked down, grinned shyly and replied, "Oh, I don't mind this."

So, as my Northern soul was slowly being replenished with the sights of majestically gorgeous scenery and the crisp, cool scent of Autumn air, I started thinking a lot about the "Changing of the Seasons." We always refer to growing old as being in the "Autumn of our Years." I guess we are to believe that the "Winter of our Years" is death. When I got home, I did
some on-line research about the reasons that leaves change color, and then eventually fall from the trees. The truth is, the trees aren't dying when they shed their leaves, they're simply "moving on" to the next season. They "know" that the days are shorter and winter is coming, so they "shed" their leaves and go into a type of hibernation, living off the food they've stored during the summer.

I wonder if Gary has ever read about Autumn leaves. I think about how he has lived a full life, one that he has obviously loved. But it seems to me that Gary has now made the decision that those glory days have passed, and it's time to check out and simply wait for the "Winter of his death." Gary has given up on the living part. As far as he's concerned, there are no more seasons for him, no Spring arriving to replenish his branches after Winter has past. This was it for him, no need to try anymore.

I think about how easy it would be for me to be Gary. I've always hated change. I've always been quite content exactly where I am, thank you very much, no need for "moving on" or making room for improvement. My Mom loves to tell me about how reluctant I always was to move on to the next grade in school. I never wanted to leave elementary school, Jr. High, and then High School. I was having a wonderful time in each, I feared the unknown of the new school, and didn't really see the need to move on. I wanted to keep my "leaves" right where they were. I haven't gotten much better as an adult. Because of Alan's promotion, I've left a job in Florida that I loved very much, with no real opportunity to do the same in the area of my new home. I must admit, sometimes it's pretty tempting to just say, "Well, that's that" and prepare for "Winter."

But now, I think of Ryan. I've decided I want to be Ryan. I've been resting a bit, hibernating since the move and living off the Florida memories I've stored. It's time to re-emerge, move-on and create a new "Spring." I sincerely hope it will have something to do with writing and with this blog I've started. Like Ryan, I may be a little clumsy and awkward at first, and I'm sure I'll make a plethora of mistakes. But Ryan has taught me that the important part is the trying, trying with a happy attitude and a kind smile.

How about you? Is there some Autumn happening in your life these days? Are you being forced to shed some "leaves" of your past that have brought you safety and comfort? Are you staring at some tough days of Winter ahead? May I make a suggestion? Don't be like Gary. It's not the end. There's a beautiful Spring around the bend. And in the meantime, if it gets hard or uncomfortable, be like Ryan. Put a big smile on your face, clear your throat and state, "Oh, I don't mind this!"

Thanks for reading!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Take it Back

Dear Mr. Smicklas:

I'm sure you probably don't remember me. I was one of your students when you were the band director at Nordonia High School back in the 80's. I was one of the "Donnelly Girls." I played alto and baritone saxophones in concert band, and was on the drill team in marching band.

You're probably more likely to remember my husband, Alan Emery. He was the concert-t-shirt-wearing, smarmy kid with the southern accent who's antics probably provoked you to question your decision to go into teaching. He drove you crazy, but you put up with him because he was a tremendously talented flugabone and bass clarinet player. He, along with a few fellow band mates, once TP'd your house. Instead of calling the police, you invited them in to enjoy pizza with you, your wife, and two toddler boys. Ring any bells?

Anyway, a few of us former Nordonia Band members reunited this past weekend for a football game back at the old alma mater. Naturally your name came up several times as we reminisced about our shared past. Like all intense leaders, there were several varying opinions regarding your teaching style. It was then that I realized something. I've never told you how my four years under your leadership has directly affected the way I've carried out the rest of my life. I wanted to remedy that today.

You took over as Band Director at Nordonia my freshman year. The band had always been pretty good, thanks to the supreme dedication of the elementary/jr. high band director, Mr. Kirk. But you came along and told us we could be better. You told us we were sloppy and undisciplined, but that we had the potential to be great, and you were going to get us there.

It started at band camp. Don't you just hate what that horrible movie, "American Pie," has done to the perception of band camp? Thanks to a few clueless Hollywood idiots, everyone now believes that band camp is some retreat in the woods where everyone paddles around in canoes and does unspeakable things with flutes. We know better don't we? Band camp under your leadership took place at Ashland College. We spent one week in the hot, humid month of August, sleeping in a dorm, eating cafeteria food and marching. Lots and lots of marching. We literally marched from sun-up to sun-down. In that short week we learned, and then perfected, the pre-game and half-time routines for the upcoming football season. Kids would be dropping like flies, fainting from heat exhaustion. You'd simply have one of the band parents get them some water, sit-out for a minute, then go right back to marching.

You had a saying that everyone learned very quickly and soon hated with a deep passion: "Take it Back." This was uttered when we'd get half-way through a routine and you'd see something you didn't like. You'd then blow your whistle from your perch on top of a ladder, pick up your megaphone and cite the culprit's error. Then you'd say, "Take it back," and we'd all head to the end zone, ready to start all over for the billionth time. I was once the reason to "Take it Back." I was exhausted and stepped-off too early in the cadence count. I knew my error immediately and cringed when the inevitable shrill of your whistle echoed off the rooftops of the surrounding campus buildings. "Take it back for Donnelly," you said into your megaphone. I turned to my fellow band mates and tried to apologize with my eyes as we all walked back in tired silence to the end zone. They all forgave me, comrades in fatigue that they were!

It's funny though. As tiring as those long practices were, we still found time for plenty of antics in the evenings. This included freshman slaves being put through shaving cream-saturated initiations and other harmless hazing pranks. I know you always turned a blind eye to the "festivities," but I'm pretty sure you were aware of what was going on. I think you also knew that a really tremendous thing happens when you're with a group of your peers, working harder than you ever have before: long lasting, deep friendships emerge. When you have to rely on each other for encouragement and support, and when you're really quite sure you can't "take it back" one more time, some pretty tight bonds begin to form.

You showed us how tough we never knew we were. At the end of some of those long, hot days when every muscle ached and we were physically and mentally spent, you'd say, "Do it again." I remember quite distinctly thinking, "I can't," and believing it with every fiber of my tired, sore body. But guess what? I did it again. And again. I DID have it in me--only YOU seemed to know that.

As you well know, all that work paid-off. We were a tremendous, classy, disciplined unit. We performed not only at football games, but state-wide band shows and competitions. There were none like us. While other local schools sported "Dance Band" style shows, with sloppy, showy disco numbers, you told us that our style was "Class." They executed "Saturday Night Fever" selections and Beach Boys medleys. We marched with complete precision, thigh parallel to the ground, and performed classical numbers like "New World Symphony" and "Tchaikovsky's 4th."

Everyone knows that being a part of marching band is considered highly nerdish. No one who is a band member could ever be included in the group of popular, cool kids. I guess our school was no exception. But you gave us something even the cool kids couldn't deny us -- RESPECT. We were damn good, and the whole school knew it.

Your leadership skills extended way past your efforts with the band as a whole. Your attention to us as individuals was unprecedented. When I began applying to potential colleges my junior year, I shyly came to you and asked if you would write a letter of recommendation to the schools for which I was applying. You agreed without hesitation. I confess, I peeked in the envelope you handed me the next day and read what you wrote. Your kind words of praise, although greatly exaggerated, made me beam with pride. I know you did the same for countless others as well.

So, as we forty-something, former band mates reunited at that football game this past weekend, we passed around delighted hugs and told each other we hadn't changed a bit. Then we sat down on those same bleachers and watched the current Nordonia Lancer Marching Band take the field. Except that it had rained that day, and the field was very muddy. So both schools just stood on the field instead and played their prepared songs. We all laughed as we thought of how you NEVER would have stood for this. We'd have been out there, knee-deep in mud, and would've been the recipients of your cold, hard stare if we dared to dog-it and NOT lift our thighs parallel to the ground, mud or not!

Oh, they were so undisciplined, Mr. Smicklas! They moved their heads from side to side, looking around, when they were supposed to be at attention. And we could definitely see them chatting with each other as they exited the field. When they marched by, Alan noticed one of the percussionists actually had a small bag of doritos sitting on her drum head. Apparently, she enjoyed a snack while performing.

Two of our band alums were also parents of a child in the current band. They said they knew the band was undisciplined and not very skilled, but that the kids truly loved their director and genuinely had a very good time. I'm sure they did. I hope they'll have nothing but wonderful memories for years to come, involving their precious years as members of the Nordonia Marching Band.

But, truth be told, Mr. Smicklas, I feel a little sorry for those kids. They don't know what it's like to be pushed hard, hard enough to truly see their own full potential. They don't know what it's like to be part of a group of people that have sweat, cried, and fainted from heat exhaustion together. They don't know what it's like to march onto a field having complete confidence that they are part of something really tremendous and have earned the respect and love of their classmates.

So, Mr. Smicklas, I'm writing today to thank you. I'm positive that the intense work ethic I posses today is largely due to the fact that you pushed me so hard to be better back then. Thank you for believing in my potential and my abilities. Thank you for never taking "I can't" for an excuse. But, most of all, thank you for the sweet, sweet memories I'll always treasure and the sublime friendships I'll forever cherish. I wouldn't "take them back" for anything on this earth!

Joan (Donnelly Girl #3)

Thanks for reading!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mr. White

Sweetheart, Honey, Baby and Mr. Smarty Pants are just a few examples of the nicknames I use to address my husband. He responds to all of them. But I think the most appropriate moniker ever used to describe my spouse has got to be "Snow White."

Everybody knows who Snow White is, right? She's the overly-perky fairy tale princess who joyfully cooks for and cleans up after seven sloppy dwarfs in their tiny cottage in the woods somewhere. When I think of Snow White, I immediately picture the Disney version of her. This is the puffy-sleeved, yellow-skirted, red-caped, ivory-skinned beauty who is constantly SURROUNDED by birds, squirrels, chipmunks, fawns, and bunnies. Snow White just sits down in the middle of a meadow and woodland creatures emerge from everywhere to listen to her sing and help her with the sweeping. She's just got a way with them, apparently. The same is definitely true of my Alan.

Animals LOVE my husband. I'm using the word LOVE here. If we were to visit your home today, I can confidently tell you what would happen just seconds after we stepped through your doorway. Your dog, cat, hamster, guinea pig, parakeet, and/or rabbit would completely ignore you and me and come bounding happily up to Alan. He'd bend down and perform his miracle "head scratch," thereby ensuring that for the remainder of the visit, your pet will be permanently attached to my husband's side.

The same is true for the animals that live in our house. Trixie loves me, she ADORES Alan. She's happy to see me when I come home, she sprints around the house in wild, celebratory abandon when Alan arrives. Alan tries to convince me that Trixie prefers him because HE doesn't dress her up in Halloween costumes, Cleveland Browns jerseys, and various doggie bandanas like I do, but I know better.

We have owned three cockatiels since we've been married. All of them have been CONSUMED with Alan, calling to him endlessly until he finally gives in and takes them out of the cage and places them on their favorite spot, his shoulder. Never mind that I'M the one that hand-feeds them as babies, cleans their cages, and provides them with endless treats and toys. They prefer Snow White. We have a game we play with our current cockatiel, Vegas. I take her out of her cage, place her on my shoulder and sit down on the couch. We then time how long it takes for our precious wing-clipped little bird to plot, then successfully execute, her long route to get to her precious Alan. This involves shimmying down my arm, bounding across the sleeping Jack Russell Terrier by my side (her sworn enemy!), and finally traversing up the arm and onto the chest of Alan, where she hunkers down near his chin and waits for the head scratching to commence!

Although it's painful for me to admit, I've finally grown to accept the "second fiddle" status I hold in my pets' eyes. I gather as much affection as I can when Alan's out of town and dutifully step aside when the "worshipping" begins upon his arrival back home. The truth is, I love that I married a man who is so gentle and tender, even the animal community recognizes his special gifts.

But Alan's Snow White talent is not limited to the domestic sector of the animal population. Because I am an enormous bleeding heart, we have a "catch and release" rule in our house that is strictly enforced. This applies to all outdoor creatures that have mistakenly made their way into the house and/or screened-in pool enclosure. Alan, with his tender, yet cat-like reflexes, has successfully captured countless lizards, flies, wasps, spiders and snakes and placed them back into the wild from whence they came! We had so many little sparrows that kept getting trapped in our screened enclosure over the years that Alan became proficient in wrangling, grasping, and releasing them in a matter of mere seconds. Snow White couldn't have done any better! Then one day Alan's ability shot him straight to Superhero status...

This was the day that we were driving along the congested highway in Orlando known as Interstate 4. If you've ever visited the city of Orlando and it's theme parks, chances are you've driven on I-4. In fact, many, many people drive on I-4 at any given time of any given day--it's frequently gridlocked. So we weren't really very surprised that day when we came upon a police car, driving slowly in the center lane with it's lights flashing just ahead of us. Whenever a car attempted to pass the slow-moving cruiser to the right or left, the policeman would turn on the siren and motion for them to remain behind him. A closer look revealed why. Just in front of the police car, running for all he was worth, was a small white, stocky, terrified dog weaving back and forth across the lanes, trying to evade the oncoming cars. There was nowhere for him to go but straight ahead, so the poor, panting, exhausted pup just kept running. Finally, he found sanctuary underneath a stalled truck in the right lane, so the cop stopped the cruiser, halted the traffic, and jumped out to try and extract the pooch. Soon another siren-blaring truck arrived and an EMT (his was apparently the only other emergency vehicle in the area) jumped out to assist.

The cop was the first to dive under the stalled truck, sliding on his belly to attempt the rescue. He emerged just seconds later, dog-less, with blood dripping from his freshly-bitten hand. Next the EMT tried his luck and, in less time than the cop, crawled back out holding his bleeding hand in pain. He was not amused. Neither were the passengers in the now thousands of cars stacking up behind us. Horns began to blare. The tourists were growing restless! It was at this point that I turned to my sweet husband and said, "They need you, Snow. Go work your magic!"

In one slick move, Alan leaped from our car and removed his shirt as he hurried towards the frantic scene. With his shirt in his hands, he shimmied under the truck as the rest of us watched in awed silence. All we could see were the bottoms of his sneakers peeking out from beneath the vehicle. Alan emerged just seconds later, holding the trembling dog, his shirt wrapped around it's frightened face, and deposited him in the back of the police cruiser. The crowd broke into thunderous, horn-blaring-accompanied cheers! The police and EMT gave Alan a hearty, bloody handshake, thanked him profusely and left to take the poor pooch back to the address shown on his collar tag. Everyone arrived at their theme parks on time and an exhausted terrier got reunited with his owner, all thanks to my loving, dog-whispering Snow White!

Now, when I sit around with my girlfriends and we brag about our husbands' accomplishments, they all know that it's "game over" when I tell my "Dog on I-4" story. Perhaps their spouses may be younger or wealthier than my Alan, but NONE of them, not ONE, has ever single-handedly saved a terrified mutt on a four lane highway in the middle of rush hour!! Now if he could only get the squirrels in our yard to help with the housework...

Thanks for reading!!