Road of Change, Uncategorized

Road of Change: Missouri to Oklahoma

In Arkansas, we saw Texarkana and then on to Little Rock. So much of the scenery flashed by us because we were so deep in our thoughts and hurts. We did the usual bathroom breaks.  We ate fast food in the car, adding to the crumbs already there.  We would have to get the car cleaned at some point because it was rapidly reaching a point where it was too disgusting to ride in.  

Outside of Little Rock, we picked up state road 65 that would take us to Branson, Missouri.  We just need to cut across the southwest side of Missouri, so we wouldn’t spend much time there.  

Dinner in Branson consisted of yet another burger and fries and a chain hotel for the night.  At this rate, I would likely gain 50 pounds before the trip was over.  What was Lillian thinking making us do this?  How can anyone eat without gaining a ton of weight while on a road trip.  In my hotel that night, I looked up information about how to lose weight while on vacation and found some great ideas.  And I had a perfect alibi traveling with me–Snow.

That morning, after dressing in my traveling pants, a tank top and my sneakers, I ate a whole wheat bagel at the complimentary breakfast buffet in the hotel.  I grabbed a banana and a coffee and took them back to my room.  I packed up my things and took them out to the Cayenne.

Snow eagerly awaited her morning walk, so I took her to the back of the hotel parking lot to allow her to poop.  Then, we walked to the lobby and I asked for a walking map of the area so I could walk my dog, and of course, myself.  Chris called me when we were about four blocks from the hotel to ask me when we were leaving and I told him I was walking Snow and would be back in about thirty minutes.

“Where are you walking her to?  Colorado?” he asked.

           I blew out a sigh and then answered him.  “Sitting in a car all day and eating nothing but hamburgers and fries will not do anything for my school girl figure.  I felt like going for a walk this morning.  I will call you when I am ready to go.  Smoke a few cigarettes and get some breakfast.”  I hung up without saying goodbye.  I didn’t really care if Chris had to wait for me.  The time I spent walking the dog was well worth it in my opinion.

Of course, he was impatient and fuming by the time I returned to the parking lot with Snow.  I made him wait a little longer while I went back into my room and used the toilet.  A quick survey made sure I had not forgotten anything in the room. The car was running and Snow was perched in the backseat when I closed the door.  Chris stopped by the front of the hotel and I went in to return the room key cards.  We hit the road by 9:30 a.m.  The next stop: Oklahoma City.

Chris plugged in his iPod to the sound system and turned the music up.  The music played loudly enough that we couldn’t talk if we wanted to and I am certain that was the object.  I am the one who made the rules, so I couldn’t renege.  

After about an hour of emo tunes and 90’s rock blasting through my head, the song we danced to at our wedding came on and I saw the slight smile on Chris’s face.  I hoped it evoked a fond memory from our past.

We learned a tango for our wedding dance and danced to Asi Se Baila El Tango by Bailongo! and Vero Verdier.  We spent several days in a dance studio with a small man who had the incongruous name of Mr. Carlton.  When he told me his name, I instantly got a mental image of him doing “the Carlton.” He stood 5’4” in two inch dancing shoes and weighed about 100 pounds.  His straight black hair never moved on his head because he used so much pommade.  But, the man could tango.

Lillian bribed Chris by promising him enough money for a down payment on a house if he went through with the dance lessons.  As usual, he pouted and complained about having to do anything out of his comfort zone.  But, he wanted a house badly enough to suffer the humiliation of dancing with me.

Mr. Carlton dimmed the lights in the dance studio on the day of our first dance lesson and put on a deeply dramatic song.  A tiny Oriental girl came out of the back dressed in a black leotard, spike heels, and a skirt that only covered her bottom.  Mr. Carlton pulled off his coat and tossed it aside and jerked on the girl’s arm, pulling her in closely.  They writhed and swirled and posed on the dance floor.  Everything except the two people dancing vanished from the earth as I watched them maneuver their way across the floor, never losing eye contact with each other.  I was mesmerized.

Chris said, “I can’t do that!” as soon as the dancers completed their routine.  

Mr. Carlton shouted at him, “Of course, you can’t.  That’s why you came to me.  Jasmine and I wanted to show you what you will learn over the next few weeks.”  He murmured a thank you to the girl and she vanished from the room as quickly as she arrived. “Now, we begin.  You have your shoes?”  

Lillian brought dancing shoes for both of us that we would wear at the reception.  Although mine had heels, they were comfortable to wear.  Chris’s shoes were shiny black and he would wear them for the wedding and the reception.

We put on our shoes and Mr. Carlton inspected the fit.  He announced that they would work perfectly and then commanded we stand for our first lesson.  Chris kissed my hair and said, “You have to know how much I love you if I am willing to do this for you.”

I countered with, “You are doing this for a house.”

Chris said, “I do love you, house or not.”

I blushed and Mr. Carlton told us to get to work and to stop flirting.  For the next two hours we practiced our posing, getting our frame correct, staring deeply into each other’s eyes.  At the end of the session, I felt like I had just ran a marathon.  I was sweaty and tired.  My arms and calves ached.  My head ached.  My feet felt swollen inside the shoes. Chris looked very much the same.

As we drove home after that first dance lesson, Chris told me, “I have a new respect for anyone who dances.  That is a lot of very hard work.”  He was silent for a few moments and then he asked me, “Do you think we can do it?”

“I hope so.”

“How long have we got to learn this stuff?”

“The wedding is four months away.  Mr. Carlton has scheduled us for two lessons a week.  Yes, I think we can do it.”

“You know, we have to get this perfect.  It’ll impressed the hell out of Mom.”  

It bothered me a little bit that he was learning the tango to impress Lillian rather than me, but I kept my mouth shut.  At least he was going to try.

The next lesson was dismal.  Mr. Carlton yelled at us for being stiff as a two by four.  He flailed his hands and ranted.  The muscles in my arms ached terribly from the first dance lesson and I felt like I was moving through glue.  Chris didn’t say anything, but I imagine he felt much the same.

The third lesson went a little better and the fourth even better.  We discovered we could judge our progress by how much Mr. Carlton yelled.  Less yelling meant better dancing.

I progressed with my wedding plans in the midst of all of the dance lessons.  Six months before the dance lessons, my mother and I went to Kleinfeld’s in New York to get a wedding dress.  As usual, we clashed terribly.  Mom wanted me to wear a mermaid gown and I wanted something a bit more vintage.  We settled on a dress that was reminiscent of the beaded dress that Ginger Rogers wore in the movie Top Hat.  The Hollywood Golden Age themed wedding moved ahead at warp speed.  Mom wanted to impress all of her friends from the Hamptons, so we got married in Mom’s backyard.  Neither Chris nor I knew most of the guests, but we only had eyes for each other, anyway. The money Mom and Dad spent on the wedding was embarrassing.  We got through it.

I had a second dress of the wedding reception; one far more conducive to dancing a tango in that it was similar to my wedding dress but without the train and missing most of the beads. It conjured images of Ginger, again wearing a white silk gown.  Chris wore a top hat and tails. Matt, Chris’s best man, introduced us as we entered the tented pavilion my mother had erected in her yard for the reception.  “Ladies, gentlemen, honored guests.  May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Archer, Chris and Ann.”

The orchestra cued the music and I slowly walked out to the dance platform.  From the opposite side of the platform, Chris appeared and tossed his coat aside, just like Mr. Carlton did that first day at dance lessons.  Our bodies molded together as we went through the well-rehearsed steps of the tango.  We received a round of applause which would have happened even if we danced poorly.  Mom beamed and Chris blushed.  I caught a glimpse of Lillian and she shook her head slowly from side to side.  Later she told me that entire wedding was pretentious and I agreed.

Of course the wedding was pretentious, but few people could say no to Lilith Weaver.  So, the lavish and pretentious wedding proceeded, and Chris and I had fun.  And so did my six bridesmaids and Chris’s six groomsmen.  That evening, I danced with a Senator or two, a Hollywood producer, a couple of Wall Street Millionaires, and an actor who was famous for creating a superhero on the big screen. We dined on lobster, Beef Wellington, caviar, and a wedding cake decorated to look like a white top hat with Swarovski crystals and white roses to garnish.  Just like my wedding bouquet.  White roses, Swarovski Crystals and silk ribbons.

By the time I danced with my Dad, I had my shoes off and Mom was scandalized.  She informed me as she and a famous TV chef danced by that only tramps and hobos went without shoes.  Dad whirled me a way and told me to ignore Lilith and to enjoy myself.  Chris and Lillian danced closer to us and Lillian pushed Chris into my arms and grabbed my dad for a spin around the floor with him.  Mom fumed at Dad for dancing with the indefatigable Lillian Archer.

Other than our tango, Chris was a terrible dancer.  He was just barely able to do a box step.  I only danced with him two or three times during the night.  Matt, on the other hand, was accomplished and lithe on the floor.  He graced me with several dances while Barbara smiled at him in approval.

Around midnight, the party started to wind down and Carolyn, my maid of honor, announced that it was time for me to go so everyone else could go.  Matt instructed the orchestra to play a slow romantic song and Chris and I had one last box step dance together.  We went upstairs to stay overnight in Mom’s guestroom.

I was happy to have a lavish wedding, but afterward, I knew Mom had over spent.  All I had remaining were some memories and an album full of photographs.

Chris pulled the car over so we could get a selfie of the Oklahoma Welcome sign. I smiled because I was still thinking about our tango and Chris just looked annoyed.  I sent the photo to Mr. Cartwright and to Lily.   I also sent one to Matt.  He would enjoy the image of Snow with her two front paws on Chris’s leg, begging for a pat on her head.  Maybe that’s why he looked annoyed.


Blog Entries, Mystery Shopping

Mystery Shopping is a REAL job

A lot of people have the wrong idea about mystery shopping.  They think it is a scam, a way for someone to collect their private information, multi-level marketing, phishing, or like those paid surveys online that NEVER pay.

Nothing is farther from the truth.  Mystery shopping is a legitimate business that is growing every year.  And, there is good money to be made with mystery shopping.

What, exactly, is mystery shopping.  It is large part of market research.  A shopper poses as a normal customer and “shops” the business, whether it is a retail store, a doctor’s office, an upscale restaurant, a fast food location, or car repair shop.  

Photo by Mar Newhall on Unsplash

Many business owners, especially those with multiple stores or even national and international coverage, want to know how employees are treating customers.  After posing as a customer, the shopper normally fills out a report, recording observations such as the interaction of employees and customers, and the physical area where the shop is conducted.

Today, customer service is the one thing that will separate the sheep and the goats, so to speak.  Superior customer service defines whether someone will return to that location and most businesses depend on repeat business to stay alive.

Here’s how Mystery Shopping works:

  • A shopper signs up with a mystery shopping firm, normally as an independent contractor
  • The firm posts available jobs on a job board and if the shopper meets the qualifications to do the shop–age, gender, ranking within the firm–they can request the assignment
  • Once the shopper is assigned the job, they read all of the guidelines regarding the assignment.  
  • They go to the location and perform the assigned tasks such as interacting with employees to taking photos of the area
  • Once all the tasks are completed, the shopper then fills out a report including as much detail as possible

The firm will pay the shopper the fee previously agreed upon.  The only downside is a shopper may have to wait 4-8 weeks to get paid.  Knowing that going in, a shopper can make arrangements ahead of time, financially.  Once the money starts rolling in, a shopper can continually make money knowing the money they earned last month will support them while they are doing this month’s shops.

A word of warning

Scams do exist.  Never pay to get a shop assigned to you.  Firms pay YOU and not the reverse.  Never agree to cash checks for a firm or to send money to a foreign address on behalf of a firm.  A legitimate firm will NEVER ask you to do this.  Before agreeing to shop for a firm, look them up online.  Read what others have to say about them. Read the reviews that shoppers post about the firm. Are they fair?  Do they pay on time?  Do they find reasons to NOT pay a shopper?  

Spending a little bit of time researching will save you a lot of heartache later.

Road of Change

Road of Change: Arkansas to Missouri

We stopped for lunch in Texarkana at a place called Pop’s Place because they featured outdoor seating.  Snow lay quietly beside my chair while I ate bacon wrapped shrimp.  

Chris remained silent until we relaxed with coffee at then end of the meal. “Do you feel better?”  he asked me.

“Yes.  I do.  It hits me sometimes, at weird moments.  Something will trigger a memory and it is like Trip died just yesterday.”

Chris nodded and then, surprisingly, said, “It happens to me, too.  Sometimes.”  He focused on his coffee and not one me.  He stared into the cup like he expected to find the answer to the meaning of life in the dark liquid.

For my part, I was just shocked he said anything at all about Trip.  He never mentioned our son.  He never talked about him.  He never cried, at least not when I was watching.  Lily and I spent a lot of time talking about him right after it happened.  When we started, if Chris was near, he would get up and leave like he didn’t want to be reminded of the tragedy.

Death is hard for anyone to accept.  When someone we love dies, we all go through a lot of mental changes.  We cry, we scream even if it just in our mind, we wonder if it is our fault, we get angry, we get confused, we sit in a corner and try our best to not think about anything.  I have lost my son, my husband and now Lillian.  I hoped I never had to deal with the feelings of loss again.

We got into the car, found Interstate 30, again and continued toward Little Rock.  We passed towns, forests, farms and fields.  We stopped every couple of hours so Snow could pee and we could get something to drink to keep us going to out next overnight stop.

About halfway to Little Rock, I propped my feet on the dash and responded to a text from Lily:

Lily:  Hi, Mom.  How’s it going?

Me:  Okay.  We’re in Arkansas.

Lily:  How’s Snow?

Me:  She is very happy.  Sleeping in the back seat right now. How’s it going with Carolyn and the boys?

Lily:  Ham jumped off the garage roof because he said he was trying to fly and sprained his ankle.  Aunt C grounded him so he will stay off of his foot long enough for it to heal.

Me:  Did she take him to the ER?

Lily:  She did.  You could hear him scream all over the hospital when they X-rayed his ankle.

Me:  I’m glad it wasn’t more serious.

Lily:  One of the dogs got ou. Austin and I chased her all over the neighborhood before we caught her.  Jack got grounded for letting her out.  Austin got grounded for calling Jack a shit head.  So far, I am the only one Aunt C hasn’t put in time out.

Me:  Sounds lively over there.  Are you alright?

Lily:  Sure.  Carolyn says Hi, btw.

Me:  Hi to Carolyn.

Lily:  Grandmother Lilith called me and apologized for not taking me for the summer.  She and Grandfather are in the Hamptons.

Me:  What a piece of work she is!

Lily:  I am so glad I could stay with Aunt C.  Going to get a pedicure and nails done in a bit.  Maybe get our hair done. Will send pics. Love you.

Me:  Love you, too.

I closed my messenger and told Chris, “Ham sprained his ankle when he jumped off of the garage roof.  Jack got grounded for letting one of the dogs out and Austin got grounded for calling Jack a shit head.”

“So everything is pretty much normal at Carolyn’s house.”

“Sounds like it.”  I smiled.

“They all got grounded when we were there for Christmas Eve dinner.”

“Yes, they did.”  I smiled at the memory.

We arrived at Carolyn’s house about two in the afternoon and the boys were wound up because they were anticipating Christmas.  Carolyn had made some marzipan and cookies and they were all hyped up on sugar.  Carolyn chased the boys outside by swatting their fannies with a broom and Lily went with them to organize a game of football:  Lily, Ham and Louis against Chris, Austin and Jackson.  

Instead of football, mayhem resulted.  

Jackson pushed Ham into a rose bush and Ham hit Jackson in the head with a plastic baseball bat.  Austin jumped on Ham to keep him from beating the crap out of Jack and punched Ham in the face.  Ham played the baby card and screamed like he was dying.  Austin ended up with a bloody knuckle where Ham’s tooth sliced it open.  Ham lost his front tooth, but Carolyn said it was loose anyway and ready to come out.

Louis put all three boys on a timeout step on the stairs and then told the Elf on the Shelf everything that happened.

Carolyn yelled from the kitchen, “What, now?”

Louis replied, “Our three feral boys are in time out.”

Carolyn walked into the living room and looked at the stairs that were littered with pouting kids.  “They aren’t feral,”  she said.

“Yes, they are.  They run around like puppies, chewing on everyone’s shoes and peeing on the leather couch,”  Louis said.

“They haven’t done that,” Carolyn protested.

“That’s only because we haven’t turned our backs on them, yet.”  He said and she laughed.  Louis soundly kissed his wife in the living room and then he said, “Go finish dinner and I’ll keep them all caged and hopefully we won’t need an emergency room before dessert.”

Carolyn is my younger sister and we look like twins.  Her blond hair is longer than mine without a trace of curl.  Our faces are identical and our eyes the same color.  She stands about an inch taller than me and weighs about 40 pounds less because of chasing her boys all day, I assumed.

Louis has straight dark brown hair and brown eyes and is absolutely sexy.  His Latino heritage glowed in his perfect brown skin and his bright white teeth.  Carolyn is nearly three inches taller than Louis, but neither one minds the height difference.

“Carolyn has her hands full,” I said to Chris. “I can understand why she decided to be a homemaker instead of working.”

“But Louis keeps things ticking over most of the time,” Chris said.  He genuinely liked and admired Louis Aragon. “Those kids just get out of hand in a second.  Even with a roomful of adults watching.  They will probably all grow up to be multi-millionaires.  That kind of spirit is hard to tame.”

“The Aragons make be glad we have a daughter.”

“Do you think Carolyn will use her degree when the boys get older?”  Chris asked.

“I don’t know.  There is a high demand for nurses, so she may get back into that field.”

“They would certainly have more money.  Louis doesn’t make that much installing air conditioners and heaters.”

“I think for them, it’s not about money.  They have enough to keep a roof over their heads and to feed everyone.  Neither one seems interested in a huge house or a huge mortgage payment, despite Lilith trying to influence Carolyn into buying a house in the Hamptons.”

“I find that hard to understand,”  Chris said.  “How can they not want to better themselves?”

“Carolyn has a lot less stress than I do and she and Louis are very happy together.  How can her life be somehow less than ours?  They concentrate on integrity and honesty and love.  Louis is very spiritual and he makes certain that the boys are getting a good spiritual education.  He is also a firm and fair disciplinarian. He adores Carolyn and deeply loves his kids.  He is involved in every aspect of their lives. Louis is a good, decent man.”

Chris fell silent for several minutes and then said, “Louis is everything I am not.”  

“Jeez. That is not what I was saying.”

“You didn’t have to.  Why do you think I looked around for someone who appreciates me for what I am?”

“And what are you?  A philanderer?  A liar?”

“See?  That’s what I’m saying.  You never give me credit for the things I do.  Look how much money I bring home.  That should count for something.”

“You are a good monetary provider,” I conceded.   “But, Chris, there is more to life than making money.  That is all I was saying.  I wasn’t trying to compare you and Louis.”

“Yeah, right.”  Chris said and fell into another pouty mood.  And we still had 38 states to go plus Washington D.C.

Again, pouty faces greeted Mr. Cartwright when I emailed the selfie in front of the Welcome to Missouri sign.  Next stop, Branson Missouri.



Road of Change

Road of Change: Arkansas

We left the hotel right before checkout time at 11:00 am.  Snow hopped into the back of the car and sat up straight watching everything out of the front window.  Chris opted to drive and I decided to let him, giving me a day off.

Chris picked up Interstate 10 and then took I 610 to I 69 N toward Little Rock.  Finally out of Houston, Chris was able to put his foot down and we traveled at a reasonable pace.

Around the time we merged onto US 59 N, Snow got tired of the view, so she settled down on her bed and went sleep.  What a life she has, so free from worry and all the human stuff we find ourselves tangled in.

I looked at Chris and asked, “Do you remember when we got her?”

“Yeah.  She was this tiny ball of white fluffy fur. I still think we should have named her Dust Bunny instead of Snow.”

I smiled.  Lily, Trip and I had gone shopping one Saturday about two years ago.  I had never had pets before, as my mother didn’t want an animal in the house and it never came up between Chris and me.  A local pet store was having a puppy sale and we walked over to see the little dogs on display. Trip ran over to the displays that were outside the pet store on the sidewalk.  Forty or fifty puppies yipped at us from their cages that were spread the length of the walkway in front of the store.  I spotted Snow and she looked up at me, her brown eyes full of expectation.

“What kind of dog is it?”  I asked the lady who sat on a folding metal chair beside the cardboard box. The woman had brown hair shot with grey, was well over 200 lbs and gave me a grandmotherly impression.

“A German Spitz.  She is the last one left from the last litter. I figured I would bring her down here to the sale to see if I could find her a good home.”

“I am not familiar with dogs,” I told her.

“Spitz are great family dogs and they have sweet dispositions.  Their fur is dense and they don’t shed like a lot of other dogs.  They are easy to care for.  You just have to brush them and feed them and give them a bath once in a while.”

“I’m not sure about this…”  I said, hesitantly.  “A dog is a huge responsibility.”

Then Trip chimed in.  “Please, Mom.  She is so pretty and so fluffy. Please.  I’ve always wanted a dog.”

And Lily said, “Trip and I can help you with her.”  Now I had two kids and a dog watching me with expectation.

I turned my attention back to the lady.  “I have never had a pet before.”

“How about this,”  the woman said.  “You take the puppy and I will help you get started with her.  I can show you how to house train her, how to feed her and even some basic training, like sit and stay and walking her with a leash.  If in a few weeks you discover you can’t handle her, I will take her back.  She has got a fine pedigree and I could sell her to someone else.  You have a nice family and I would love to see this sweet little dog with nice people.  She was the runt of the litter and I have a soft spot for this little one.”

“I don’t want a show dog,”  I told her.  

“Not a problem.”

“I don’t need papers on her,” I told the lady.

“Again, not a problem.  She was bullied by her littermates because she was the smallest and I want her to go to a nice family.  She needs a family who will love her.  I am real picky about who I place my dogs with.  This little one has been loved and played with by me since she opened her eyes. She just wants love.”

“How much?”  I asked the lady and we concluded the deal with Trip and Lily squealing with delight behind me.

“Here’s my card,” the woman said and I read her name, Debbie Durbin.  “I have a leash for her and her collar and a cage.  The cage will seem really big for her now, but she will grow to be about 30 or 35 pounds.”

Debbie gave me the name of the puppy’s vet, some house training instructions, suggested some food I should buy.  Just like that, I became a dog owner.

That afternoon, Lily and Trip ran and played with their new toy until she was exhausted and happy and fell asleep in the huge cage Debbie provided.  It had a blanket in the bottom Snow was familiar with and Debbie gave me a ticking clock to put in there, too, so Snow wouldn’t feel alone.

Chris came in for dinner.  “What in the hell is that?”  he demanded when he saw the dog cage in the kitchen.

“It’s a dog,”  I told him.

“I can see it’s a dog.  Why is it here?”

“I bought her today from a very nice lady named Debbie Durbin.”

“We’ve never had a dog,” Chris pointed out.  No kidding.

“We’ve never had any kind of pet.”  I pointed out.

“What’s its name?”

“We haven’t officially decided, but the kids want to call her Snowball.”

Trip and Lily ran into the kitchen and Trip reached into the cage to pick up the sleepy puppy.  “Isn’t she cute?”  Trip asked his Dad and then put the puppy in Chris’s hand.

“She doesn’t weigh anything,”  he said.  He held her close to his face and her tiny pink tongue darted out of her mouth and touched his cheek.

“See, Dad, she likes you,”  Trip said.

I smiled and then said to them, “You better take her outside, now, Trip.  Walk her around on her leash until she pees, then tell her she is a good dog and pet her, then bring her back inside.”

“Okay, Mom.”  Trip held his hands out and Chris gave him the puppy.  

Chris said to me, once they were outside, “You know he will lose interest in just a few days and you’ll have to take care of her.”

“I know.  It’s not a problem.”  

And just that quickly, Snow became part of our family.  She became just Snow almost immediately instead of Snowball.  

Training a dog was not as difficult as I imagined.  I bought a baby gate that kept her confined to the kitchen during her training, thinking tile is much easier to clean up than rugs or hardwood.  She only had a couple of accidents before she got the idea that she was supposed to go outside.  

Within two weeks, I removed the baby gate and gave her the run of the house.  Trip worked with her to get her to sit on command, to stay, to come and to heel when she was on her leash.  I spent the money to create a sizable run for her in our backyard to keep her from the flower beds and the swimming pool.  She had a dog house with her name painted on the top and grass to run on.  I don’t think she ever actually stayed in her dog house unless Trip got in first and coaxed her.

So many of early memories of Snow coincide with Trip.  He loved having a dog and spent a lot of time with her.  In his room, the don’t-get-on-the-furniture rule was non-existent because Trip allowed her to sleep in his bed.  He crept down the stairs when he thought everyone was sleeping, opened her cage and she followed him upstairs, very happy to sleep with him.

I knew what he did, but didn’t dissuade him.  Snow was with us only about four months before Trip died.  I remembered her watching as the EMTs tried to revive our son.  She whimpered several times and barked at the EMTs when they took Trip away on a stretcher.  For weeks after Trip died, Snow went outside and watched at the gate where she last saw him–the one the EMTs used to take him out on the stretcher.  One day, she stopped watching the gate, apparently convinced that Trip was never coming home.

My face felt wet and I wiped away a tear.  I hoped Chris didn’t see it.

“Oh, Jeez,” he said.  Crap, he saw it.  “What, now?”  he asked.

“I was thinking about Trip and Snow,”  I told him.  For a moment, I thought Chris was going to say something, but he refrained from making any remarks, snide or otherwise.

Chris pulled the Cayenne to the side of the road beside the Welcome to Arkansas sign and I snapped the selfie, me with a bright red nose from crying and Chris looking helpless.



Road of Change: Texas to Arkansas


The GPS told us the actual drive time to San Antonio was about 7 hours, but it didn’t take into consideration the traffic in Houston. We averaged about 20 miles an hour just about all the way across the city. Houston was hot and humid.  The Cayenne started to overheat in the slow traffic, so I was forced to open the windows and turn off the AC.  Even with 26 lanes of traffic, we crept along for what seemed like a hundred miles.  

Because of our late start, we stopped at the Candlewood Suites in Houston’s City Centre, never actually traveling all the way across the city. We ate dinner in the onsite Grille, Chris eating light because he still suffered from the effect of his binge the previous night.  I was secretly happy he felt bad.

I have never had much sympathy for anyone with a hangover.  It is a fully preventable disease.  Chris suffered in silence because he knew I would give him a piece of my mind if he complained. Or so I thought.  He rarely told me what was on his mind, so I got into a habit of assigning thoughts to him that may or may not be accurate.

About halfway through our meal, he said, “I will never drink that much again.  I still feel like shit.  Let’s not leave early tomorrow. Maybe we can take a day and sleep in.  At least I need to.”

I nodded and said, “Go back to the room, now and go to sleep.  Call me when you wake up in the morning.  They have coffee and a continental breakfast down here in the morning until 11:00 am.”

“Maybe we should get on the road after the morning rush hour,”  he said.

“Just call me when you are ready to get moving,”  I repeated.

“You will answer your phone?”

I glared at him, rose from my chair and walked back to my room, unescorted.

I opened my laptop and tried to determine if there was a better route to take to get this over with quicker.  After a few minutes, I gave up and turned on the TV to watch the same movie I watched the previous evening.  The second time around, it didn’t get any better.  I was bored with the trip and bored with my traveling companion.  We had to do something different or we would likely just give up and go home.  Was a house really worth all of this aggravation?

I called Chris’s cell phone and he answered with “What?”

“I was thinking.  Maybe we should try to make this trip more bearable.  Like maybe we should pick a tourist spot in each state and make it a point to visit.”


“It will give us something to look forward to instead of just a month or more of driving,”  I said.  “I took Snow to a plantation in Baton Rouge while you were still in bed and it was great fun.  I learned a little about the state of Louisiana, too.  It broke up the monotony of just driving.”

“Well, if I agree to that, where would we stop, next?”

“We are turning north toward Little Rock, Arkansas next.  We go from US 59 to Interstate 30 North.  There is a nice dog park we can stop at in Texarkana.”

“Okay.  Whatever,”  he said.

I hung up on him and looked into the park a little.  Like everything else in our lives, I had to make the plans.  It was like Chris just rode along in life without thinking about anything.

Finally, I decided to drive instead of sightseeing.  Maybe I would feel better once we got to Little Rock.




That Sunday Feeling

After wrestling with the blankets all night and waking up so tangled up that I could barely get out of bed, I realized it is Sunday.  Sunday and I can sleep without an alarm.  Sunday and I can make a tasty brunch.  Sunday and I can just be lazy and happy.  I can do what I want.

I read an article about being resurrected. I browsed through Facebook and even made a couple of posts.  I waited to put on clothes, preferring my pajamas and no bra.

I felt like a cat who finds a spot of sun to take a nap.  I felt like a stack of pancakes.  I felt like journaling in a hammock.

I felt like experiencing the silence you find in an empty church building.

Sunday feels like a warm blanket and a nap.IMG-2262


Road of Change

Road of Change: Louisiana to Texas

Interstate 10 crossed Lake Pontchartrain with a 23 mile long bridge.  We reached the bridge at nearly 6 pm and decided to not go all the way to Texas.  We drove as far as Baton Rouge and stayed at a small interstate motel mostly because of its onsite restaurant and the sign which said it was pet friendly.

Again, we got two rooms and I went inside to get cleaned up for dinner.  After my shower, I called Matthew.

“It’s the Anne Archer,”  he said.

“No.  Not the Anne Archer.  An Anne Archer,”  I replied.

“Well, An Anne Archer, you haven’t killed Chris yet.  He called me a few minutes ago, mostly to complain about having to spend time in the car with you.  He did not find a sympathetic ear, here.  I yelled at him about cheating on you, and yelled at him about smoking.  He whined and said everyone was beating him up all the time.  I told him to behave himself and that would stop.”

“Well, then you know how this trip is going.  He’s about as much fun as root canal.”

“Has it been very awful for you?”

“No.  I actually got him to admit he should have been at the wake.  We have Lillian’s ashes with us and he talked to her a couple of times.”

“Probably more than he did when she was alive.”

“I daresay.  Now, how is Barbara faring?”

“Not much change from day to day.  But overall, we see improvement from week to week.  She sends her love.  I know because she just blew me a kiss.”

“I love her, too.  Check in with Lily from time to time.  My sister’s three boys are hellions and I want to make sure they don’t tie her to a tree or lock her in the tool shed.”

“Righteo.”  He disconnected the call.

I stared at the framed generic landscape that hung on the wall in my room for what seemed to be hours, though only minutes passed.  My mind raced with all that happened in the past couple of weeks.  Mostly, I wondered how I could survive a month on the road with Chris.  Things between us grew worse and not better.  He sulked all the way through Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana.  Dark and brooding, but he didn’t tell me why.  Admittedly, I didn’t ask.

A glance at my watch told me it was nearly 9:00 pm.  I decided that I would wander to the restaurant.  If I couldn’t get anything to bring back to the room, a call to room service was the next best thing.  

Chris sat in the bar with a nearly empty glass of amber liquid in front of him.  I watched him for a moment and he said to me, “Are you going to join me?”

He slurred his words.  Obviously, the drink in front of him was number three or number four.

“I didn’t come down here to drink.  I want some food.”

“Suit yourself,” the disinterested voice said.

“I’m leaving at 8:00 am sharp, with or without you.”

“Bitch.”  Like I said.  Dark and brooding.

I walked into the restaurant and asked the hostess if I could get something to take back to my room.  She shook her head sadly and then suggested I call room service.

I thanked her and returned to my room.  The braised chicken breast I ordered arrived a few minutes later and I ate while watching a nameless movie on the hotel TV.  

I emailed Lily, not wanting to call in case she was already in bed, and I told her that Snow was having a great time.  I asked about Carolyn’s boys and then shut the lid on my laptop.  

My younger sister, by seven years, had three boys, each named after the city they were born in.  Austin was born in Austin, Texas,  Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi and Ham which is short for Hampton, in Hampton, Virginia.  They continued the tradition started by Louis’s mother who named her only son after St. Louis, Missouri.  Carolyn and Louis were exceedingly happy.  They didn’t own a pot or a window and they seemed much happier for it.

Another of Lillian’s favorite sayings:  They didn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of, referring to a poor person.

I have a younger brother, too. Ian married Stephanie and they had two boys named Drum and Banjoe.  My family wins the prize for weird children names.  Stephanie named the two kids after her favorite instruments.  Granted, she played the banjo exceptionally well and played the drums a little, but that seemed no reason to ruin her boys with those strange names.  I didn’t like much that Stephanie did and spent little time thinking about her.  

Even my own two children won the Strange Name Award.  Lily was named after grandmothers Lilith and Lillian.  Her middle name is Anne, named after me, of course. Our son was Christian Matthew Archer the Third.  Lily started calling him Triple when she saw his name written the first time with the Roman numeral for three at the end.  By the time he was two, his name was shortened to Trip.  

Trip, my only son.  The only son I would ever have because a tubal ligation made sure no additional Archers entered the world.  

Trip was eight when he died, nearly two years ago.  Trip’s hair was blonde like mine and curly like Chris’s.  His eyes blue and his face cherubic.  Trip smiled continually, was always well behaved and happy.  He listened, obeyed, ate all his veggies.  I know my memory is distorted by his death, but I can never think of any time he cried or did something he wasn’t supposed to do.

We hosted a Fourth of July party at our house with Lillian, and a few friends.  The children played in the pool and the adults sat in our outdoor living room to talk, eat, drink and have a good time.  No one watched the kids closely.  Trip dove into the pool, head first, at the shallow end.  His head hit the bottom and his neck snapped like a twig.  I winced when I remember his lifeless body floating to the surface.  The world went totally silent in the next few moments.  Then, I heard someone screaming.  Lillian told me later, it was me who screamed.  I don’t remember doing it.

Again, I fell asleep with Snow at my side and HBO playing endless movies and tears staining my face.

I woke at 6:00 am and ordered room service for my breakfast.  Snow ate her Blue and drank water.  She frolicked by the door, eager to go outside.

I dressed, walked her, and returned to the room to get ready to leave.  I called Chris’s room and he answered with a groan.  “Are you ready to go?”  I asked.

“No.  I’m still in bed.”


“I was in the bar until around two.  I need to sleep.”

I hung up on him.  Well, if Chris was going to sleep all day, then Snow and I could explore Baton Rouge. I let her sit in the front seat and she was happy with that arrangement.  We drove up and down streets in the downtown section looking at buildings and then headed out of town to see what the suburbs looked like.  I almost missed the sign for the Magnolia Mound Plantation and impulsively decided to take a look.

At the entrance, I asked the lady if I could bring Snow on the property and she said yes because it was a slow day.  I paid two admissions, one for me and one for Snow, and then we two went in search of plantation’s wonders.  We saw the original house, slave quarters and overseer’s houses.  We had the tour guide to ourselves and he was very informed about the history of the place.  The old man flirted with me and petted Snow.  If I were a few years older, I thought wistfully.

After three hours of wandering the grounds, Snow and I got back into the car and I drove to a burger place to buy two burgers.  I shared one with Snow.  I turned on the GPS to guide us back to the hotel, where Chris, presumably, still slept it off.

I was wrong. Back at the hotel, Chris fumed.

“Where the hell have you been?”  he demanded.

“Snow and I played tourist while you nursed a hangover.”

“Whatever.  I am ready to go.  Now.  Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

“It’s in my purse and turned off.  Maybe, I didn’t want to talk to you.”  I got out of the car and handed Snow’s leash to Chris.  “Walk her while I grab my stuff.”  I packed up before I went sightseeing, so transferring the items to the car was the work of a moment.  

Chris returned to the car with Snow while I loaded my things into the back.  He went back into his room to get his suitcase and I, once again, climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Hey, it’s my turn to drive.”

“Nope.  If you snooze, you lose,”  I said.  “I was ready to go five hours ago.”

“We are not under any kind of time frame,” he said as he opened the passenger side door.  

“I thought you were the one who wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.”

“There is no need to drive twelve hours every day,”  Chris said.

“Hey Lillian, did you hear that?  Chris wants to lengthen our trip by not driving twelve hours each day,” I said.

“I didn’t say that, Mom.  You hear what she does?  She twists everything I say.”

“Lillian, you heard for yourself.  I didn’t twist anything. Your son is an ass.”

“You can’t say ass in front of Lillian.”

“What’s she going to do?  Wash my mouth out with soap?”

“Look, Anne, I don’t want to argue.  My head is killing me.”

“Lillian, Chris has a hangover.  Drink some water,”  I told him.

“Yeah, that’s right, Mom.  I drank too much last night.  It’s the only way I can get along with her.”

“Lillian wants to know if you are going to get drunk every night?”

“So what if I do?  She going to send me to my room with no dessert?  Mom, I am smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish.”

“Captain Cliche certainly is,”  I told Lillian.  

“I can’t do anything right, can I?  He demanded.

“Not lately,”  I said and he fell into a sulk, again.  What a baby he is.

I didn’t say a word when I pulled onto the shoulder next to the Welcome to Texas sign.  He got out of the car and Snow jumped over the seat and followed him out.  We took the selfie while Snow munched on some grass.  Maybe our fighting was upsetting her stomach.  I know it upset mine. I emailed the selfie to Mr. Cartwright, but not to Lily.  I didn’t have the heart to email the picture of with Snow in the background harking up the grass she just ate


Road of Change

Road of Change: Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana

We stopped for lunch in Mobile at a seafood restaurant just off of I 10. Because they had outdoor seating, they let Snow stay with us, on a leash, of course. For a little while, it felt like old times because Chris and I chatted amiably about inconsequential things to pass the time and to make us both feel as if we had a dining companion.  I have never enjoyed eating alone, so even a cheating husband was better company than no one.  If it were just me, a burger in a paper bag defined lunch.

Traveling along the interstate means most of the really nice views are missed. Interstate travel is about speed–get where you are going as fast as you can. The ribbon of asphalt carved its way through a lot of trees interrupted by the inevitable fast food restaurants and gas stations along the interchanges. On only the second day of travel, I decided that the interstate highways may be the quickest way to travel, but you don’t get to see the real America.  I enjoyed driving across Mobile Bay and that is all I can say about the trip through Alabama.

We arrived at the Welcome to Mississippi a short time after our lunch in the seafood place.  Again, neither of us showed smiles, the earlier camaraderie gone.  Clearly we still weren’t happy about having to spend time together.  The trip before us seemed daunting and endless.  Snow frolicked on the shoulder of the road, getting happier each minute we traveled.  At least one of us was enjoying ourselves.

I emailed the photo to Mr. Cartwright and, also impulsively, I emailed one to Lily.  I wondered if she missed us.  I am certain she didn’t miss our fighting and arguing.

Again, the interstate provided little entertainment through Mississippi.  We stopped at a couple of different interstate convenience stores to use bathrooms, grab snacks and to let Snow pee. We filled the very thirsty gas tank and I was secretly glad Lillian paid for the gas.  While Chris smoked in a parking lot, I gave Lillian my gratitude.

We managed to pick up quite a bit of traffic in Gulfport, but I still maintained at least 55 mph all the way. At the Louisiana welcome station, we got out of the car and I took another selfie of the two of us.  A portrait of two people who were bored, irritated, and disheveled by the road trip. The photo wheeled through cyberspace to Mr. Cartwright.


Road of Change

Road of Change: Florida to Alabama

This is a long one to make up for not posting for  a few days!  If you want to start from the beginning of the novel, click here

We stopped at a chain hotel in Yulee, Florida.  We both went into the lobby and Chris told the girl that we wanted two rooms.  She looked from him to me and back to him.  He said, “She snores,” at exactly the same time I said, “He snores.”  She said nothing. I like discretion in my customer Service Representatives.  The girl filled our request and we went to our rooms adjoining with no connecting door.  I ordered the pizza to be delivered and Chris and I waited outside of our rooms for the pizza man to arrive. Snow stood faithfully by my side on the sidewalk.

The sun had been down for two hours, but the night was clear and the air warm and humid.  Not unusual for Florida.

I signed for the pizza having given them the card number over the phone.  Chris looked at the pizza box and then me.  “This is stupid.  We can eat either in your room or mine.  I don’t want to stand on the sidewalk while chewing on pepperoni.”

I nodded and went into my room.  He followed holding the box and the bag that held our fizzy drinks.  The room had a small table, so we ate there, devouring the entire medium pizza. I gave Snow the pizza bones.

After our meal, Chris went to his room with no argument and I immediately got into the shower.  I rinsed my shirt out in the warm water and hung it on the towel bar to dry using a hanger I put in my suitcase for that purpose.  I wanted to see if the hype was true.  If so, the shirt will be dry and odor-free in the morning.

I felt better after standing in the water longer than I would have had I been at home.  I dried my hair with the hotel dryer and wiggled between the clean sheets.  With HBO playing quietly on the TV, and Snow softly snoring beside me, I fell asleep.  No scary dreams or monsters under the bed.  The monster stayed in his own room.

The next morning, Chris and I walked to the Waffle House across the street from the hotel and ate a carb-filled American breakfast.  I limited mine to eggs, bacon and toast, while Chris loaded up on the same, plus hashbrowns.

I trotted back across the street to the hotel to finish getting ready to continue our journey and to take Snow for a walk.  I left her in the room while we ate breakfast and she ate all of the Blue Buffalo I put in her bowl and drank most of her water, so she was ready for her morning constitutional.  I picked up her poo with the doggy poo disposal bag and dropped it in the dumpster at the back of the hotel.  Snow was eager to get back in the car and travel.

I brushed teeth and hair.  I gathered all of my belongings quickly because I didn’t unpack the suitcase.  The shirt I put on before breakfast behaved as promised.  It dried overnight and didn’t smell funky.  The hype is right, so far.  I would see in a month if it still held true.

Chris still puttered in his room, so I opened the back of the Cayenne, put my suitcase inside and decided it was my turn to drive.  We mapped our journey at breakfast–head west on Interstate 10 to Alabama, Mississippi and into Louisiana.  We may even be able to get to Texas before stopping again.  

Chris glared at me when he saw me at the wheel.  I popped open the back of the Cayenne and he tossed his suitcase in like he was throwing for the winning touchdown.  Snow gave a yip because he startled her.  He said, automatically, “Sorry, Snow, but your mom pissed me off, again.”

“Hey, genius, if you dump out your mother’s ashes, you get to clean them up.  And bring up a bottle of water.”  I said.

“Why can’t I drive?” he asked handing me the bottle through the open window.

“Because,”  I said.

“That’s it?  Just because?”

“That’s what I said,”  He glared some more so I said, “You can drive when I get tired.”

He crossed in front of the car and pulled the passenger door open.  After fumbling with the seat belt he said, “Whatever.”

He reeked of cigarette smoke, again.  “Open your window,”  I commanded.

“It’s hot out there,” he countered.

“Then quit smoking and you can keep the window closed.”

“Are you going to gripe at me all the way back home?”


I pulled out of the hotel parking lot, stopped by the front desk long enough to check out and then headed on I 95 S to catch I 10 W.  Maybe we could make it all the way to Texas today, a twelve hour drive.

Driving down the Interstate highway proved to be less than exciting.  The lack of interesting scenery lulled me into drowsiness.  Chris napped, outright, and I grew angrier every time I glanced in his direction.  The very least he could do was to stay awake and help me stay awake.  I pointed the car to a convenience store and went inside to buy a huge cup of coffee.  I took advantage of the restroom and headed out of the store in time to see Chris lighting a cigarette.  At least he had Snow on a leash so she could pee while he smoked.

I pumped gas.  Chris aimed for the car, so I let Snow back into the backseat.  He went inside the store to, presumably, use the facilities.  I pulled the Cayenne up to the front of the store and away from the gas pumps to wait for him.  He returned with a bag of doughnuts and a cup of coffee for himself.  “You want a glazed?”  he asked me and I reached into the bag to remove the sticky pastry.  He reached inside and broke one in half for Snow.  She gulped the donut down without even tasting it and look at him from the back seat with great expectations.  He fed her the other half of her donut and told her to lie down after she gulped it away.

“Thanks,”  I said.  I licked the sugar from my fingers and inched the speedometer up another five miles per hour.

“You’d better be careful.  You are going almost 80 and the speed limit is 70,”  Chris said to me.

“No, kidding.  I am keeping up the the trucks and they keep tabs on the cops, so I don’t have to.”  He crashed into a mailbox just the previous day, so I didn’t want to hear any diving advice from him.

“Fine.  Do it your way,”  he said.

I blew out an exasperated sigh. Then, “Okay.  I am making a new rule for the car.  Whoever is driving gets to decide the speed, the route and what music to play,”  I said, setting Sirius to Jazz.

“You have a lot of rules,”  he commented.

“I’m not done.  No smoking in the car, no talking to or texting your girlfriend while we are in the car. Does that cover it?”

He grunted, then said.  “And we have only been on the road since yesterday.  This will be a fun trip with you making up rules all day every day.”

“You hear that Lillian?”  I addressed the back of the Cayenne.  “Your son doesn’t like to follow rules.  Big surprise, that.”

“Do you always talk to dead people?”  he asked, unkindly.

“Your mother is with us on this trip.  It is the least we can do.  Talking to her.  We don’t want her to get lonely.”

“I don’t want to talk to her,”  Chris said.

“Why not?”  I asked.

“I am pissed as hell that she died.”  He turned his gaze to the trees along the highway.

A breakthrough.  Christian Matthew Archer Junior admitted to being angry that his mother died.  “You know, Chris,”  I said.  “If you talk to her, you won’t miss her so much.”

“Talk to her about what?”  he demanded.

“Anything.  Everything.  She’s your mom and in her eyes, you are perfect.  Nothing you say or do will make her think less of you.”

“I feel stupid.”

“Okay.  I will start.  Hey, Lillian.  It’s been a fews days since you died.  We had a nice wake for you and over a hundred people showed up.  We rented the Garden Club for the day and it was decorated with roses from your garden.  We put that portrait of you that hung in your guest room on an easel and draped a blue scarf over the edges.  Because your dress is blue in the portrait, Lily and I decided a blue scarf was better rather than black.  We know you are not a slave to convention. We drank your favorite wine and played your record albums on the turntable.”

“Mom had great taste in music,”  Chris said.  “She liked a lot of different kinds, depending on her mood. One day it was Beethoven, the next it was Pentatonix.”

“The wake was really nice, Chris.  You should have been there.”

“I hate funerals.”

“Chris, a wake is not a funeral.  Everyone shared memories of Lillian.  We laughed at jokes she made.  We talked about our favorite things about her.”

“I thought it would be everyone crying and talking about how bad they felt.

“No, not at all.  The only tears were right at the end when we gave her a final toast and said goodbye.”

“Maybe I should have gone to the wake.  What stories did you hear?”

My first impulse was to snap at him and tell him he should have gone to the wake and he would know what others had to say.  But, we had to start somewhere to get along.  So, “Jeff Richardson, you know the guy next door to her, told a story about Lillian hanging up clothes on the line she strung between those two big oaks in her backyard.  She reached up to hung a sheet and her pants fell down around her ankles.  She wasn’t wearing any panties that day and he said her backside was the whitest thing he had ever seen.  And if her backside was white her face was the reddest he had ever seen.  He politely turned his back while she pulled her pants back up.  She said to him,  “That will teach me to come outside with no step-ins on.”  He said back to her,  “At least you washed before you came outside because no one’s butt can be that white if it’s dirty.”

“She said to him, “A true gentleman would have pretended he saw nothing.”  And then Jeff said,  “Mrs. Lillian.  You have been telling me since I was nine years old that I am no gentleman.”  Then, Lillian said,  “And I was right.””

Chris started to chuckle and then he laughed in earnest.  “I can see all of that happening.  Mom really did tell Jeff he was no gentleman the first time he came into her house without wiping his feet.  He’s older than me, so he mostly came over to visit Matthew. I was the little brother who was always underfoot and he and Matt tried everything they could to get rid of me. Jeff bought the house from his parents when they went to the retirement community in Florida.  Jeff has kinda looked after Lillian all these years.  He kept her car serviced, cleaned her gutters, shoveled snow from her driveway. Things I should have done.  That’s why I know he will fix the mailbox I ran over.”

Lillian adored her youngest son and he spent as little time with her as possible.  Another taboo topic Chris refused to discuss.  I decided to find out why by going around to the back door.

“You remember Joyce Broome?”  I asked.

“Yes.  She and mom had lunch together at least once a week.  I never understood why she and mom were so close.  Mom was sixty years older than Joyce.”  I glanced at my husband.  How could he be so out of touch with his mother’s life?  

I told him, “Joyce used to write a gossip column for the Pilot. She published a story about Margaret Whitney that was not terribly flattering and Lillian got mad about it.  She went to the newspaper’s editor to complain about the story and he sent her to Joyce.  Lillian marched up to Joyce’s desk and told her that the story was incorrect.  Joyce asked Lillian how she knew that, and Lillian explained that she and Margaret had been friends right up to Margaret’s death a week before.  After they talked for a few minutes, Lillian told Joyce that she needed to be a serious writer instead of writing gossip that had no basis in truth.  They went to lunch to further discuss it.  Finally, Lillian became Joyce’s mentor and muse.  Everything Joyce wrote, she ran by Lillian to get approval.  Joyce learned to love Lillian very much.”

“I didn’t know that,”  Chris said.

“Joyce told the story at the wake.  I never knew the whole story, either, until then.  Joyce said Lilian used to tell her, “You’re not writing for a rag, girl.  You are a good serious writer, so ditch the gossip and write the truth.”  Joyce said Lillian taught her to be a reporter.  Joyce finally won a Pulitzer for a story about a homeless woman who slept in her car four nights a week because on her salary at her receptionist’s job, she couldn’t afford an apartment.  She went to a Motel Six every weekend to wash her hair, wash her clothes and to sleep in a real bed.”

“Joyce won a Pulitzer?  That’s amazing.”

“She just finished her third novel and it is getting published in a few weeks.”

Chris looked over his shoulder for long minutes and then said, “Mom, I am really sorry I missed your wake.”

“Do you know her favorite joke or her favorite story?”  I asked Chris.

“Uh… I don’t think so.”

“It’s one she tells about Barney Simpson.”

“Barney is Matt’s friend who is a gymnast and who almost got into the Olympics?” Chris asked me.

“Yes.  That’s him.  When he first met Lillian he told her he was a gymnast.  Lillian said, “Really?  Can you do a backflip?”  Barney replied, “Yes.  Can you?”  and Lillian said, “No.  You’ll have to teach me.  I’ll be able to do it because I can do everything else.”  Barney said he believed her because she was Lillian and no one ever doubted anything she said. And when Lillian was 60 years old, she did a backflip on Barney’s trampoline.”

Chris thought for a moment and then said,  “That’s not really funny.”

“That was her favorite story–doing a backflip at the age of 60.  Oh, her favorite joke. Sally Friedman told the story.  She said that Lillian and she went to a Bette Midler concert and Bette told a Sophie Tucker joke that Lillian loved.”

“Who’s Sophie Tucker?”  Chris asked.

“She was in the Ziegfeld Follies. Sophie told jokes because she thought she was big and ugly and she wanted people to laugh with her and not at her.  Anyway, Lillian’s favorite joke was borrowed from Bette Midler who borrowed it from Sophie Tucker.  Sophie is talking to her friend Clementine and a delivery man brings her two dozen yellow roses.  Soph read the card and it said, Love always from your boyfriend, Ernie.  Soph looks at Clementine and says, ‘Clem, you know what this means, don’t you?  I’ll have to spend the next two weeks flat of my back in bed with my legs spread wide open.’  And Clem says,  ‘Why? Soph?  Ain’t you got a vase?’”  

At the wake, I laughed again at the joke that I had heard Lillian tell many times.  Most of the time she only said the punch line, “Why? Soph?  Ain’t you got a vase?”  anytime someone misunderstood something she said.  I had to ask her what it meant and when Lillian told me the joke, I laughed all day, every time I thought about it.”

For the first time on our trip, Chris laughed.  Out loud.  For nearly a minute.  Not the hysterical laugh while watching clothes fly out of a dresser.  This was a real laugh from the real Christian Matthew Archer Junior.

Then, Chris said, “I always thought it was that line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Butch blew the railroad car, the safe and all the money to smithereens:  You use enough dynamite there, Butch?”

I laughed again, remembering Lillian did say that line whenever someone did too much of anything.

I pulled the car over and we got out at the Welcome to Alabama sign.  That selfie captured our giggling faces as we remembered Lillian’s jokes. I emailed it to Mr. Cartwright.


Road of Change

Road of Change: Georgia to Florida

The trip across South Carolina went quickly and mostly in silence.  The traffic increased as we neared the Charleston exit.  

Seven hours in the car and we were both still alive.   But, that’s all I can say about it.  I watched trees, listened to Chris complain about the road construction and felt generally miserable about this entire trip.  Why didn’t he just move out of my house and in with Kathy?  Why did Lillian make us do this?

“He is in so much trouble,”  Chris said, suddenly.

“Who?”  I asked, whipping my head around to face Chris. I stilled fumed at him and his lack of responsibility and had no clue what he was talking about.

“That guy in the pick-up in front of us.  He has a dresser back there that isn’t tied down and the drawers have come open.  Stuff is blowing out.”

I watched a pair of jeans fly out of the back of the truck and land in the weeds beside the road.  Then, a sequined blouse came out of the drawer to flutter down and get snagged on a tree.

“I hope she has clothes somewhere else, or she will end up naked,” I said.

“Look! A suede jacket,”  Chris said.

“Oh, my,”  I said.  Then, a red peignoir flew out of a drawer.  “No sexy nighty for him.”  I held up my phone and began taking pictures every time a clothing article flew out of the back of the truck.  

“There goes a pink lace bra,”  he said.

“That guy has no idea this is going on behind him,”  I said, as a pair of black lacy panty hose flew out of the dresser.

“It could be his clothes,”  Chris said and in spite of my anger, I laughed out loud.  Every time another clothing article flew out of the dresser, Chris and I laughed.  We watched bras, panties, blouses and jeans fly away.

Several miles passed and just as I was going to announce the dresser was finally empty, a fuzzy white sweater blew out of the back of the pick-up truck, sparking another round of hilarity.  Even though the laughter had an hysterical edge, it felt good.  Little in my life seemed funny for more than a month.  The man exited at the interchange for Brunswick.  So went our entertainment.  

“You would think he would turn around once in awhile,”  Chris said.

“Or at least look at his mirrors,”  I said.  “But, it was really funny when that peignoir got hung up in a tree and that blue sequined blouse.”

“It will be even funnier when she makes him go back to get everything,”  Chris said.  

“He is in for a long night,” I said. We laughed again.

After a few more miles, Chris said, “I am stopping at the first hotel in Florida.  We need to figure out where we are going from there.  Maybe we can share a pizza.  Lillian only gave us one credit card for the trip and I can’t eat a whole delivered pizza myself.”

“Okay, but we are getting separate rooms.  Plus it has to be a hotel that accepts pets.  Snow stays with me.”

“Fine by me,”  he said as he pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road so we could take another selfie at the Welcome to Florida sign.  This time, we had small smiles that didn’t reach our eyes.  Snow barked at a car that passed because a Blue Tick Hound had his head stuck out of the window and his tongue hanging out.  Just saying howdy to the passersby. Maybe she was interested in him.  Don’t do it, Snow.  Men are nothing but trouble.