every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope

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Not in My Easter Bonnet!

c. 1955 with my cousins in our Easter finery

c. 1955 with my cousins in our Easter finery

Many years ago, when no woman left her house without a hat and gloves and purse, when head coverings for women were mandatory in some churches, when women still wore stockings, when men knew when to wear a necktie and polished their shoes, dressing up was fun.  Now, everyone acts like it’s elitist or sexist or pretentious.  Except on Easter Sunday.

You can count on seeing hats on women and girls and even a few men in church on Easter Sunday.  People you don’t see the rest of the year will show up looking as if they stepped out of a Doris Day movie.

If you dressed up in an elegant hat to go shopping at the mall, your fellow shoppers would look around for the hidden

Easter 1959

Easter 1959

camera.  If you wore a cocktail hat to a restaurant, people would snicker over their martinis.  If you wore a hat to a wedding, you’d surely lose it when dancing to “Uptown Funk.”  (Unless you’re Bruno Mars, whose fedora appears to be anchored to that bandana beneath it, but I don’t think I’d wear a bandana to a wedding.)

Hats are sexy.  You can flirt demurely from beneath a brim or boldly behind a veil or avert your eyes entirely. A well-

placed flower or feather screams romance, although I once bought a straw hat with the palest pink flowers and a pale pink and sage checked ribbon.  The Veterinarian said that all I needed was a price tag dangling from the front, and I could be Minnie Pearl’s clone.

White for Easter 1962?  Rules be damned in the go-go 60s.

White for Easter 1962? Rules be damned in the go-go 60s.

Some people complain that they don’t look good in hats, but I think they just aren’t used to wearing them.  You need to go to a store with lots of different hats and try on every

single one of them to figure out which hat looks good on you.  I, for one, look spectacular in a large-brimmed hat but ridiculous in a baseball cap.  I just don’t have the right shaped head.  The last time I wore a baseball cap, to an actual baseball game, I stuffed the interior to give it some shape.  I’m much happier in one of my sturdy straw hats, which I always wear to the beach for sun protection and to pretend that no one can see me in my swim suit.

Google hats and find out how to wear them.  Don’t assume that they’re only perched on the back of your head.  And make sure your hair is styled to go with the hat.  The smaller the hat, the smaller the hairstyle.   A pony tail is great with a baseball cap.  A chignon (low bun) or French twist works with a fascinator.  Flowing hair works with a broad-brimmed hat.

I won’t be wearing a hat this Easter.  When you sing in a church choir and are covered by cassock (black robe) and cotta (the white thing), a hat

Easter 1968 - I didn't get the memo about hats on the back of my head.

Easter 1968 – I didn’t get the memo about hats on the back of the head, but I’d still wear that outfit, if it fit (which it wouldn’t).

looks pretty stupid.  I guess I could wear it into church at 7:45 when we rehearse, but, by 8:30, I’ll be wearing my choir dress until 1pm, which defeats the purpose.  No one will see it, anyway.  After singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus at two services (9 and 11, historic St. James Episcopal Church, Monkton, if you’re in the area), I won’t much feel like showing off.  And an Easter bonnet needs an Easter dress (which no one will see under the choir robe) and high heels (which you can’t stand in for four hours of singing).

I won’t be wearing my beautiful black straw with a black straw bow, attempting to channel my inner-Audrey Hepburn.  (Of course, Audrey was tall and elegant, and I am short and a pretender.)  I won’t be wearing the beautiful black velour felt that I got in the mid-60s, which remains wearable.  I won’t be wearing either of My Mother’s vintage 1950s hats, one black velvet with a sassy feather and veil and the other brown felted wool with a brown veil.  (It would take a lot of nerve, even for me, to wear either of them out in public, much less to church.)  Nor the navy cloche nor an azure and lime green straw nor an ivory straw with a fine cloud of dotted tulle circling the crown.  Geez, I wish I had somewhere to wear any of them.  sigh

Easter 1971, right after spring break --- too tan, too much white pearlized eyeshadow

Easter 1971, right after spring break — too tan, too much white pearlized eyeshadow

Come on, let’s bring back hats!  In the cause of sun protection.  In the cause of beauty.  In the cause of romance.  In the cause of civilization.  Hats.  They’re not just for Easter any more.

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Those Hills are Still Alive

Gaga flips skirtDid you catch Lady Gaga honoring the 50th Anniversary of the film version of The Sound of Music on the Academy Awards
last week?  Were you shocked?  I was apprehensive when she started to sing, because  I didn’t want to see a travesty made of a film whose score was embedded in my 13-year old brain.  As I listened to her well-rehearsed singing, I saw her nervousness in the amateurish way she flipped her gown.  Stefani Germanotta, the girl behind the outrageous Mother Monster disguise, could have been performing in her living room for the neighbors.  I saw how important this was for her, and I started rooting for her.  For the first time ever, I identified with her as a performer.

Of course, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” for the neighbors in your living room is in no way akin to having your foibles aired to hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.  Still, your reputation as an in-your-face know-it-all is at stake, especially when you take on some of the most beloved music ever put on film.

When I was growing up in the not-yet psychedelic 60s, it was a treat to dress up in your Sunday best (i.e., pretty dress, coat, probably patent leather shoes, and gloves) and go into downtown Detroit to see a movie at one of the grand old movie houses.  The Sound of Music premiered in March, 1962 at the now-demolished Madison Theater, which was built in 1917.  I saw it on the huge, curved screen and wept for the brave family, as they escaped the Nazis. It was a triumphant, happily-ever-after kind of story with pretty scenery, pretty people, and pretty music.  Who did not want to be Maria?

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and taught by nuns who had no sense of humor beyond corporal punishment (so it seemed).  It never occurred to me that nuns smiled or sang or had fulfilling lives locked away in a convent.  I could well imagine that they would give “a problem like Maria” the heave-ho from their cloistered world.  I had not imagined that the heave-ho would send the problem into a beautiful home with a handsome father and adorable children, with evil Nazis threatening their idyll in the Alps.

In the days before VHS tapes, DVDs, and video on demand, the soundtrack album of a movie or stage show allowed you to experience it over and over again.  In 1965, The Sound of Music became my favorite, surpassing Mary Poppins.  I wanted to waltz with the sorely misguided Rolf in my family’s conservatory.  I wanted to ride through the streets of Salzburg singing about “bright copper kettles” (which I had never seen) and “warm woolen mittens” (which I owned).  I wanted to sing “Edelweiss” on a darkened stage with tears streaming down my face.  I wanted to laugh in the face of the Baroness.  And, yes, I imagined myself bravely walking down the aisle to marry the handsome Captain while nuns sang “How do solve a problem like Maria?”  With marriage, evidently.  Ah, Captain von Trapp…

I saw Christopher Plummer again onstage as Iago with James Earl Jones as the titular “Othello.”  What a performer!  Forget how good he was pretending onscreen that he didn’t hate playing Captain von Trapp in what he has described as potential “mawkishness.”  Here he was on a Sunday afternoon at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore in 1981, providing me with a lesson in stagecraft. At his entrance, the audience applauded enthusiastically.

However, the production capitalized on Mr. Jones’ notoriety as the voice of Darth Vader.  In my feeble memory, the stage direction had him boldly make his first entrance at upstage center.  Othello was wearing all black, including a black cape.   His first lines were delivered from beneath a helmet.  The audience went wild.

I turned to The Veterinarian and said, “Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy.  This production’s going south in a hurry.”  I was confused.  Were we to think that Othello and Darth are the same?  Or was it just a cheap ploy to entertain the audience?  Or, worst of all, were they going to upstage Mr. Plummer with their theatrics?

Othello 2 (2)There was more about the staging (especially the lighting, as I recall) that I didn’t like.  I recently noticed that Kelsey Grammer, pre-Cheers, played “Cassio” in that production, which, I am sorry to say, didn’t make an impression on me, either.  [I don’t recall who played Desdemona, and a google search was no help.] As the play progressed, though, its esteemed leads lived up to their reputations.  They told the story without gimmicks, although there were more theatrics, some unintended.

During a duel, one of the actors’ swords flew from his hand, off the stage, and into the lap of an elderly lady in the front row.  The theater went silent.  Ushers hesitantly moved forward.  Without breaking character, Mr. Plummer leapt from the stage and knelt on one knee in front of the startled lady.  He removed the sword and spoke quietly to her, then kissed her hand and ran up the stairs, back on the stage, and, still in character, haughtily tossed the sword to its actor.  The house went wild.  I swooned in my seat.   Mr. Plummer went on to Broadway and won a Tony award for his Iago.  I would have given it to him just for what I saw in that production.  Ah, Captain von Trapp…

Theatrics, used appropriately, can add excitement to a production.  Some, like the falling chandelier in Phantom of the Opera, are costly, yet “cheap tricks.”  Others make ordinary lives more interesting.  Apparently, the play and movie version of The Sound of Music were dramatized to make the story of the von Trapps more thrilling, as if defying the Nazis wasn’t compelling enough.  There was no dramatic escape across the Alps, just a train ride to Italy and a boat to London, then on to the U.S.  The Captain actually was quite genial, and Maria said in her autobiography Maria that she married the Captain for the sake of the children and learned to love him later, a different kind of romance.

I sang The Sound of Music around my house for three years, until I became captivated by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, a much edgier story line for an adolescent girl who was “sixteen going on seventeen” in the more cynical, psychedelic late 60s.  I saw myself on that tugboat in New York Harbor singing my lungs out, chasing down my star-crossed lover, a bittersweet story, a different kind of romance.  Both movies were based on real people, but fleeting happiness is not as compelling in the long run, so I went back to Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s more hopeful story.

At the end of her Sound of Music medley, Stefani looked humbled at the appearance of the fabulous Julie Andrews onstage with her.  All the time she was singing the iconic songs (my only complaint is that she mimicked Ms. Andrews’ English accent, as I mimicked Ms. Streisand’s Brooklyn accent), she knew that the icon, herself, was standing in the wings.  How much braver is it to be yourself than to hide behind outlandish costumes and snarl at your audience, “cheap tricks,” all of them?  Brava, Ms. Germanotta, brava!

While I sing in choral groups (and once sang in a chorus on the stage at Carnegie Hall under the direction of the great John Rutter), I will never sing a solo in front of anyone except the BFF, not even in the shower, never again in someone’s living room or basement or garage.  And no one is asking me to, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


It’s a boring week.  I’ve discovered that I can test my prospective dates by making them read this blog first.  I say, “Read my blog, and let me know if you’re still interested.”  The blog is a deal-breaker, which makes it the perfect test.  My profile photos are catchy, my text clever, but the “real me” is just too much, apparently.  “Real Suzanne” is not coming over to your house on a first date for a drink and does not want to have sex with you within the first several months that I know you, if ever.  “Real Suzanne” can tell if you’re a phony.  “Real Suzanne” is probably a lot smarter than you are, which is a real turn-off, for her.

I got lots of scammers this week.  Anthropologists have missed the best marker of all to attract a mate, good grammar.  One had a well-written profile in which he said he flies his own airplane, so, after he emailed me in broken English, I responded by asking what kind of airplane he flies?  Naturally, he did not respond.  They never do when they know you’re going to catch them in a lie.

I did not respond to an email from a guy with no profile photo that said, “I lie if I not tell you your sexy!! [sic]”

From a guy whose photo looks like a young Paul Newman, ” i hope the weather is getting better over there for you too. [sic]” He lives in NY and shows a photo of himself with a recently deceased celebrity whom he identifies as his father.

I reported another one who stole a woman’s photo and profile and claimed that she was his intermediary.

I had two emails from different men who claim to have post-graduate degrees with this explanation, “I have tried to upload more pictures but I really do not know how it works been my first time on a dating site. [sic]”

From the geographically-challenged, a guy named “Pedro” who lives about 40 miles south of me, “do you have a lot of snow back there? [sic]”

And this:

Scammer 2 (2)

Yep, go away Forever!




Cooked by the Book

How did you learn to cook?  Maybe you didn’t.  Some people learn from their mothers, but My Mother wasn’t very experimental.  She knew what she knew, and that’s what she cooked.  She made the usual comfort food, pot roast, fudge, and spaghetti.  She also made foods unique to where I grew up in Detroit, like stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut and City Chicken, and food from her old Kentucky home that no one north of the Mason-Dixon line had seen in the 1950s, like cooked eggnog, Red Velvet cake, and unsweetened cornbread.  She only owned one cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, so my exposure to international cuisine was limited.

The book that started it all for me.

The book that started it all for me.

The summer that I got married (1972), I worked for a lady who had traveled the world and who insisted that I needed a copy

of The Joy of Cooking, the 1971 edition of the classic by Irma Rombauer.  I had never heard of it and found it daunting, as I leafed through it.  Make my own stock?  What was wrong with Campbell’s soup in a can?  Béarnaise sauce?  What was tarragon?  Pâté à choux?  Cabbage paste? They seemed so exotic.  So time-consuming.  So uncomfortable.

The Veterinarian knew how to cook bacon, eggs, and that mid-Atlantic mystery food of his childhood, scrapple (Rapa-brand, of course).  His mother made the food of her Virginia childhood, fried chicken, fried chicken livers, and scrambled eggs with shad roe (the accompaniment to the scrapple).  She passed along to her son her mother’s recipe for chip dip, cream cheese flavored with Worcestershire sauce.

Armed with Joy of Cooking and the current edition of Betty Crocker, we set up housekeeping.  Within months, we gave our first dinner party for another couple.  We decided to have ham (because who can’t heat up a ham?), scalloped potatoes, a vegetable that escapes memory, and cheesecake for dessert.  From Betty Crocker, I had learned to make a medium white sauce for the potatoes, and the results were a revelation of creaminess.  The cheesecake was an easy recipe from my best friend’s mother.  I put the softened cream cheese in the blender with the eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and, when it stuck to the sides of the jar, I scraped it down with a wooden spatula, WHILE THE BLENDER WAS RUNNING.

That’s right, at our first dinner party, we served a dessert with extra fiber, wood chips.  We ran it through a sieve and were able to get out the big chunks.  I was near hysteria, until The Veterinarian pointed out that the graham cracker crust disguised the very tiny splinters that were left.  After all, he reassured me, the spatula was clean, and the wood was organic.  Washed down with enough Blue Nun wine, our dinner was a success.  (And the other couple remain dear friends after 42 years.)

Soon, we branched out.  We couldn’t afford to dine out often, so we cooked for ourselves.  There was lots of trial and error, but, mostly, we found that, with regular practice, cooking wasn’t so hard.  We watched Julia Child, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), and a wacky minister who went by the name “Frugal Gourmet.”  We delved into that Joy of Cooking, whose step-by-step directions and explanations of buying and storing food revealed techniques and tastes that we had never imagined.  We started cooking with wine, real wine, not that salty stuff labeled “Cooking Wine.”  We started drinking better wine, too.

Old friends

Old friends

Then, I acquired a copy of Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and we were off and running into heart disease territory.  I can still reproduce her signature Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Carottes Vichy, and Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne without looking at the recipe.  The Veterinarian perfected Vichysoisse [btw, you pronounce the final “s” because an “e” follows it — don’t let a snooty waiter bully you into saying, “Vishyswa”] and turning ordinary granulated white sugar and water into the perfect golden syrup for Crème Renversée au Caramel.  [Helpful hint:  Use a microwave.]

We acquired even more cookbooks, such as Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet, which taught us to cook efficiently with fresh ingredients, and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, which explained the chemistry of baking.

Within 10 years, we were full-fledged foodies.  As we began to travel, restaurants famed and unknown were always on our must-sees.  We returned home to reproduce our favorite dishes either from memory or from their cookbooks, such as Union Square Café  in NYC (for the Tuna Burger and Garlic Potato Chips), The Inn at Little Washington (for the Butter Pecan Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce), Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (Etouffée and Blue Cheese Dressing), The Ivy in London (Roast Poulet des Landes), and Hawaii’s Roy’s (Chocolate Soufflé).

The two very best recipes came from Chef Cindy Wolf of Baltimore’s Charleston.  She shared her stock and lobster bisque recipes, which The Veterinarian adapted and left me.  Yep, he actually left lobster and veal stock and a Paul Prudhomme gumbo in the freezer, proving you can’t take it with you.

We also created and adapted traditional recipes.  He used melted butter and added coconut to Toll House cookies to give them more crunch, and I used almonds in the graham cracker crust and folded in beaten egg whites to the filling of the classic Key Lime Pie recipe.  Over the years, we learned that there is no kitchen disaster that can’t be remedied, even if it ends up in the trash 10 minutes before your guests arrive.  The cheese course becomes the appetizer or the dessert, or, maybe the main course, if you turn it into fondue or pasta.

With the advent of Google, there is almost no recipe that you can’t find online.  In fact, you can find hundreds of recipes for the same dish and can pick and choose between them to create a unique version.  I learned to make my own Tom Kha Gai soup that way and have lowered the fat in the Cheesecake Factory’s Louisiana Chicken Pasta.

Some things never change.  I still use the Betty Crocker fudge recipe that My Mother used.  I still make the best real Red Velvet cake with Buttercream Frosting and an awesome stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut.  I’ve adapted the City Chicken to simmer in white wine and veal stock, unheard of in 1950s Detroit kitchens, and I actually learned to make that pâté à choux to reproduce Detroit’s favorite Sanders’ Hot Fudge cream puff shells.

Several years ago, a friend gave me a vintage copy of The Joy of Cooking, which started The Veterinarian collecting them.  Imagine my surprise to find, in the 1931 edition, the recipe for his grandmother’s cream cheese chip dip.  It survived the 1943 edition, but, by 1971, it had disappeared, maybe because it says to spread the mixture on the potato chips.  Who in their right mind would do that?  Not even the most ardent foodie, I suspect.  [Hint:  Stir a little milk into the softened cream cheese, add a few drops of Worcestershire and some grated onion, and the mixture will be thin enough to serve with chips.  Wouldn’t Irma Rombauer be surprised to know that it’s my good luck charm whenever the Baltimore Ravens play?]


My one month trial to chemistry expired, so the site “treated” me to a free month.  When I declined to renew my match subscription, they offered me three free months.  Good.  I’ll still have something to write about.

This morning alone, the scammers are either cloning each other, or there’s just one guy or gal with a lot of time on their hands.  The theme is “I will love to know you better [sic], as long as you have a pulse”, although I suspect that may be optional, if I, the “lonely” little widow, can provide access to my bank account.  You be the judge.

It’s not the distance that’s the potential problem.  It’s your multiple personality disorder:

photo (5)

His profile disappeared because someone else complained about him before I opened the email.

From a man whose name leads me to believe that he is not the Catholic that he claims to be in any way, shape, or form:

Anything with a pulse

Anything with a pulse

From a man who is only slightly more discriminating, but pulse may be an option in the 105-year old date:


105?  Really?  I’m soooo flattered to be included!

Finally, we can agree that this guy is still a “boy”:

photo (8)

Well, I’m not lonely enough for that, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


All Creatures Great and Small and Online

As open and loving and nurturing as my parents were, we never had any pets, which is probably just as well, because we couldn’t keep goldfish alive.  My only childhood experiences with dogs were a neighbor’s biting boxer that was kept on a chain and a little mutt that one of the neighborhood boys used to sic on me when I walked past his house.  (You know, boys are soooo mean!)

In dating The Veterinarian, I hit the weird pet jackpot.  His indulgent parents not only had a sweet collie, but they allowed him to keep snakes, turtles, rats, mice (guess what they were for), a tegu lizard, and a spider monkey that had been known to swing from the dining room chandelier.  His interest in veterinary medicine began when he was unable to find a doctor who could/would treat them.  I was eager to keep them all at arm’s length.

When we’d only been married for a week, without checking with me, my bridegroom took in a stray dog, a 14-pound Shetland Sheepdog.  I was completely freaked out and convinced that she was waiting for me to fall asleep so she could rip out my throat. Instead, she would sit at my feet, looking at me with a perpetually dazed expression in her enormous brown eyes and ripped out the arms of the loveseat that my mother-in-law loaned us.

In 1973, my young husband and a friend were accepted into veterinary school.  Spouses of the new students were invited to the “New Student Spouses Tea” at the home of the dean and his wife by the wives of the other deans and faculty members, a quaint custom that surely doesn’t happen in this 21st liberated century.  Most veterinary students are now women, and I doubt if any of their spouses/significant others are comfortable, not to mention willing, to sit on little, straight-backed chairs balancing delicate china and hot tea on their laps.  Unless they’re Downton Abbey fans, of course.

Late one afternoon, our friend’s wife and I drove over to the dean’s house together.  I was barely 21, the youngest woman there.  Many of the new students were veterans of Viet Nam, and some even had multiple children.  My friend’s husband was a Navy vet vet student [great alliteration, eh?].  Knowing none of the other women, we sat together as the presentation portion of the program began.

“We are all so happy to welcome our newest families,” Mrs. Dean began in her soft, southern drawl, always a classy sound way, way north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  “We want to get to know you better, so we’re going to go around the room and introduce ourselves. Please give your name, what you do, and tell us something about you that no one will forget.”

“What should I say?”  My friend whispered.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I’m going to tell them that I don’t like animals.”

“What???”  My friend’s eyes widened.  “You wouldn’t, would you?”

“Well, it’s the most memorable thing about me.”  Had there been an empty chair, she would have steered clear of me.  Guilt by association is always a painful thing.

We listened as the wwivves each described their admirable jobs as teachers, nurses, researchers, librarians, and managers, citing their interests in “knitting,” “being from Ohio,” “reading,” or “camping.”  Then, it was my turn.

“My name is Suzanne, and I have been married for less than a year.  I’m a full-time English major and just finished my junior year here at the university.” I very briefly hesitated, as if I were racking my feeble brain for a thought, “And…um… the most interesting thing I can tell you about me is that I don’t really much care for animals.”  I shrugged and crinkled my face in apology.

There was dead silence, a stunned “Did she really say that?” silence.  Then, there was polite laughter, and they moved on to the remaining women.  No one else launched a missile as explosive as “Gee, animal lovers, I don’t relate to animals,” but, as we stood to say our good-byes, women rushed over to ask me if I was serious.

“I didn’t grow up with pets and am very uncomfortable around them.  We have a dog, but I’m still not sure she’s not going to attack me at any moment.”

“Does she bite?”

“So far, just shoes.  And the sofa.  Her name is Fleurie.”

“What kind of dog, dear?” A faculty wife asked.

“A Sheltie,” I replied.

A Sheltie?”  There was more laughter.  “But Shelties don’t bite.  I thought you meant a Doberman.”

I shrugged.  My friend was standing off to one side looking mortified.  In fairness, my friend has put up with my nonsense for 42 years.  In fact, she, her Veterinarian, and I are going on vacation together next month.  But, I’ll tell you what.  No one ever forgot me, and, when the class graduated, I was awarded the “Outstanding Wife Award”, given by the Auxiliary to the American Veterinary Medical Association.  It’s a pretty little silver Revere bowl with my name engraved on it. They gave it to me because I wrote the class newsletter for three years, which is more than I get for writing this crappy blog.  I bet they don’t give the “Outstanding Wife Award” any more, either.

Veterinary medicine has been very, very, very good to me.  I’ve made hundreds of friends around the world, veterinarians, spouses, clients, and countless others in the veterinary industry.  I’ve also heard and seen the most disgusting things imaginable, usually during a fine meal in an expensive restaurant, with other diners staring, open-mouthed, in the background.  Veterinarians just can’t leave their work in the office.

Ever eaten lunch with a dead a cow?  I have.  Ever seen a dog whose owners, high on God-only-knows-what, tried to cut off its tail with a kitchen knife?  I have.  Ever seen an owl puke up a pellet?  I have.  Ever seen warbles wriggle under the skin of a rabbit?  I have.  Ever had a great blue heron try to spear your eyeball with its beak?  I have.  Ever seen an eight-foot long python relieve itself and fling it all over the exam room?  I have.  Ever had to throw a deranged woman out of your clinic because she wanted the doctor to collect semen from her vicious dog, who had just bitten the doctor before said activity could take place, so she could breed it to her even more vicious bitch?  I have, AND I tacked on a huge surcharge to her bill for bringing them in for such a stupid undertaking.  As the Veterinarian (who was not present during the visit) told her when she complained, “You have no business breeding these vicious dogs, and we’re not going to help you do it.”  Hard to know who the real bitch was.

The Daughter meets Hedwig in the clinic.

The Daughter meets Hedwig in the clinic. Hedwig recovered and was later released.

I’ve also held a bald eagle more than once (they’re surprisingly heavy), helped deliver puppies by C-section in the middle of the night (frequently), watched a dog’s heart beat in its open chest (more than once), seen many a joyous family reunited with a blocked cat they thought was a goner, and watched countless parrot chicks peck their way out a shell.  And how many brownie points can you earn by letting The Daughter hold one of your patients, a (sedated) real-life version of Harry Potter’s beloved snowy owl, Hedwig?  The poor thing had flown off course and ended up, malnourished, on a pier in Baltimore Harbor…the owl, that is.  The Daughter remains on course as of this writing.


I’ve had some interesting conversations with a man I met online who teaches communication.  I actually invited him to read a good chunk of this blog, and he didn’t flinch!  As far as I can tell, he doesn’t think I’m insane.  I, on the other hand, am not so sure.  Read on.

Someone emailed me that he does “informal portrait photography as a hobby” and called my really tasteful profile photo “a terrific image.”  In his profile, he says that he enjoys “photographing freaks and hipsters at local festivals.”   Can’t he see that I’m “Outstanding Wife” material? Maybe he follows the blog.

The goofiest profile photo was of a garbage can with a duffle bag arranged over one side so that an American flag decal was displayed prominently.  In the lower right-hand corner, you can see what appears to be a man’s shoulder in a fluorescent green T-shirt and a human ear. That’s it.  No face. Maybe he should meet the portrait photographer.

Then, there’s a modest-looking man with a middle-aged woman wearing matching Hawaiian print shirts.  I don’t think it’s his mother.  Maybe she’s his daughter.  Maybe she’s his sister.  Maybe she’s his ex.  Who knows?  Who cares?  Sheesh.  If I have to ask…

The creepiest profile photo appears to be an 80-year old woman in an embroidered peasant blouse and the profile name “viciousprez.”  The written profile says he is 62 and a “widow/widower,” “athletic and toned,” last read “Holy Bible,” and “For Fun” he says, “I have two sides.”  Honey, that’s what bothers me.  In “Additional Photos,” he shows a couple shots of an attractive gray-haired man with his arms around the waist of a pretty blond and two more photos of the older lady.   I wrote, “All right, I have no sense and just have to ask.  What is going on in your profile?”  No one ever answers my emails, so I will probably never find out.  If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

But my absolute favorite was the photo of a 50-year old man who looked a lot like The Veterinarian did at 50.  I was stunned and took a closer look, not because in my wildest dreams do I think a 50-year old man would be interested in me, but because, in the selfie, taken behind the wheel of a car, my late husband’s doppelgänger is wearing a gold band on the third finger of his left hand.  I kid you not.  If I was braver, I would have saved the image and posted it here for all the world to see.  Maybe it is The Veterinarian’s doppelgänger, or more accurately, his zombie, because, certainly, a man who posts a selfie of himself wearing a wedding ring on a dating site is brainless.

A friend at church asked me if online dating is safe.  I told him much the same thing that I have written here and showed him a “like” that I had just received.  It showed a slight, obviously young (20-ish) man who described himself as a “54-year old former marine.”

“You can tell he’s a fake, right?”  I asked.  My friend was incredulous.

It’s time to update my own profile, I guess.  I’m going to polish up that tarnished Revere bowl and take a selfie of myself with it to prove that I’m certifiable.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


Will you be my Valentine?

Valentine Don 2Such a simple, yet loaded, question.  For anyone who has sent one, Valentines are as much about the giver as the recipient.  On Valentine’s Day, we express our love, gratitude, and loyalty to our loved ones, and, if appropriate, we extol their romantic appeal.  (Let’s skip lust, shall we?)

In elementary school, we made Valentine “mailboxes” out of construction paper to hang on our desk.  Every classmate received a Valentine, and we weren’t allowed to give a nasty Valentine to someone we didn’t like.  Valentines were a lesson about friendship and basic civility, at the very least.

“I’m not giving Bobby a Valentine this year,” I’d say.

“Why not?” My Mother would counter.

“Because he chases me with grasshoppers at recess.”

“Maybe he wouldn’t do that, if you were nicer to him.”

“Ewww.  And he chews on the points of pencils.”

“Don’t you eat paste?”

“Well, yeah, but paste tastes good, and that pencil lead turns his mouth gray.”

“Either everybody gets a Valentine, or nobody gets a Valentine.”

I would shuffle through my little box of assorted Valentines, pull out my least favorite, and write “B-O-B-B-Y” on it with a shudder.

Once into junior high school, Valentines disappeared.  They were replaced with the dreaded “Valentine’s Dance,” an evening function where you wore your best dress, and the boys wore a jacket and tie.  You danced with your girlfriends in large circles to the music of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Petula Clark, the Temptations, and whoever else was on the top-40 chart.  If you were really, really, really lucky, one of the boys in your class would ask you to slow dance.  It only happened to me once, when some other girls convinced the shortest boy in my 8th grade class to dance with me, one of the three shortest girls.  I don’t remember the song, but it was the longest  2 minutes 14 seconds of my life.  He was wearing a tweed jacket and wasn’t happy at all.  I was just relieved when it was over.

You see, there are no Valentines for mouthy girls.   For a smart girl, I should  have  learned to hold my tongue  (still should, for that matter),  but no boy was cute enough to sacrifice my lofty principles.   There were no dates  for the prom or homecoming dances, because, in those days, you couldn’t go to the formal dances without a date.  You stayed at home.

Unless you were me.

Valentine Mom

Vintage Valentine from My Mother

For the junior prom in 1969, I threw a sleepover for all of my girlfriends who weren’t invited to the big dance.  Eight of us were playing records and laughing (think a Taylor Swift fan party without money) in my family’s basement “rec room,” when, suddenly, there was a knock at my parents’ back door.

“Uh, there are some boys that want to talk to you,” my dad called down the stairs.  No young man had ever approached my home, so my dad was really confused.

“Huh?” I looked up to the door, where my Secret Crush stood in the freezing February night.  I heard sudden furtive giggling behind me and bolted up the stairs.

“Hello,” I said, somewhat defiantly.

“Uh, what are you doing?” Mr. Secret Crush, who had only spoken to me to get answers on tests in my English class, asked.  I knew that he and his friends had driven into Ontario to play ice hockey and drink near-beer all afternoon instead of going to the prom.

“We’re having a party,” I replied.

“Uh, can we come in?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I gave him my coyest look.


“No.”  My heart was pounding, and the shrew that lives in my head was screaming, “Are you crazy?  You’ve waited two years for this!”  Ever a woman of principle and stupidity I said,

“If you want to party, we should go to the prom.”

“What?”  There was more giggling behind me and snickering behind him.

“Sure,” I looked at my watch, “it’s just 7:30.  We could go over now.  We’ll even buy our own tickets.”

He looked at his letter jacket and corduroy pants.  The girls were wearing skirts, culottes (remember them?), or slacks.

“We’re not dressed for it,”  he said, but I was up for the dare.

“I didn’t hear there was a dress code.  Who says we can’t go?”

“Well, uh — um,” he stammered, “Ok.  Um.  I’ll drive.  We can go in two cars.”

“Let me get my coat.”  We piled into their cars and drove the short two miles to the high school.  I jumped out of the car and headed to the door.  In reality, I wasn’t sure school officials would let us in, but I was having more fun than I’d ever had in my life.

“Wait,” Mr. Secret Crush stopped.  “You aren’t serious, are you?”

And in that moment, he stopped being my secret crush.  He didn’t have the guts to be my boyfriend.

“Well, I was, but I can’t go in alone, without a date.”  He shrugged.  We piled back into the cars and drove home.

“Can we come in now?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so.”  I knew that I was ruining my chances of ever dating anyone in high school, but I also was no pushover.

A year later, somehow, The Veterinarian came along, my first (and only) boyfriend.  I regularly pinched myself that I had landed someone so desirable.  Not only was he smart, well-respected, and sophisticated (he knew how to eat a lobster, which was almost unheard-of in 1960s middle class Midwestern families), he was an accomplished athlete, a diver on our school’s accomplished swim team.

As Valentine’s Day approached, I was delirious, dreaming of the cards and flowers and gifts that would be showered on me by my handsome, popular boyfriend.  I searched for the perfect card and wrote an appropriately loving note in it.   On February 14, 1970, I proudly sat in the stands for a statewide meet that would determine how large a college scholarship he might get.  In the morning prelims, he qualified first out of 50 divers.  In the afternoon finals, he was hanging onto a slim lead in the final round when something went wrong on the last dive.  He finished third. That night, he came over to my house, despondent.

There would be no full scholarship to the NCAA Division I school that he, the eldest of six children, hoped to attend, although he would be offered both full academic and athletic scholarships to a Division II school.  We sat quietly on the sofa in the rec room.  I suppressed my eagerness to get to the Valentine’s celebration and waited.  He talked about everything but the holiday.  He talked about everything but me.

I should have understood that this was what love is really about.  I should have realized that you can’t give a greater gift to your beloved than to help them put the pieces back together.  When he left, I took out the Valentine that I had not given him, tore it up, and threw it in the trash.  He simply hadn’t remembered it was Valentine’s Day, but I thought that I was crushed.

The next year, 1971, our freshman year in college, after considerable hinting from me, he remembered.  I wished he hadn’t.  The first Valentine that he ever gave me was a joke card whose cover read, “I couldn’t love you more…” and inside, “…unless you were Sophia Loren Ali MacGraw” (he had penciled in). I think I threw the card at him in my fury.  It’s a wonder we stayed together for 42 years, isn’t it?  That’s love, too, I guess.

The third year was the charm.

The third year was the charm.


I was awake at 2:45 one night this week and logged onto a dating site, because I thought I’d be less likely to be engaged in an “instant” conversation with a creepy stranger in the middle of the night.  (Yeah,  I get the irony, but I never IM anyone.) But I was wrong!  Like a scene from a horror movie, within 30 seconds, up popped a photo of what appeared to be a serial killer with the message “how u doin beautiful” [sic].  I couldn’t log out fast enough and was shaking like a leaf in the safety of my own little bed with the security alarm set and my BFF at the ready.

There used to be a joke that a man’s ideal woman was part Julia Child-part Playmate of the Month.  I’m more Martha Stewart-Roseanne Barr, an attractive woman who can cook up a storm with a mouth like a sailor (sorry, sailors).  Even Martha does online dating these days, and, if a woman with her money can’t find a man, I surely can’t, either.  But I’ll bet she makes a better Valentine out of papier mâché and gold leaf than I can.

Several of this week’s scammer messages contained the phrase “you appear so gentle, kind, and dear.”  [rotflmao] Before reporting one of them, I responded, “Come on.  No reputable American male would ever open an email to a woman with ‘Hello, my dear’.”

Every year, My Dad sent me a Valentine.

Every year, My Dad sent me a Valentine.

All of this points out why I will probably never have a successful relationship again.  I’m still mouthy.  I’ve never been described as “gentle.”  I am exhausted by the thought of breaking in another man.  I don’t want to do the Valentine’s dance because we are all stuck in the 1960s, moving awkwardly with one another.  I, of course, was no hippie, so I can’t do the dance under the spell of a lava lamp or controlled substances, either.

Today, I changed my profile to include “Friendships begin with civility, honesty, and humor.  Lasting relationships succeed with humility, respect, generosity, forgiveness, and compromise.”  Widowers will understand that love comes from the mundane, but I’m hoping it rings a bell with those from failed relationships.  I doubt that it will have any meaning to the newly divorced and certainly not to the “currently separated.”  They’re all resumés and hurt feelings.

I, however, will receive Valentines from my loved ones, some traditional, some electronic, and have a treasure box full of old Valentines and a heart full of memories, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!






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Christmas Past

My First Christmas

My First Christmas

My Mother and I were sitting around looking at old photos, which is always a source of amusement, wistfulness, and horror, simultaneously.  I have pulled out the Christmas ones that have held up the best to share with you, since I sincerely believe that the best humor is self-deprecating, and these all tell a whole lot about who I am today.  I hope that they (and that cup of “Christmas Cheer” that you’re enjoying) bring your own fond memories of Christmas past to this Christmas present.

My Mother says that my dad always carried this dog-eared photo of my first Christmas in his wallet, even after I was married and gone.  I remember nothing about it, except that I still have the Teddy bear stored away.    Check out those metal icicles on the tree behind me.  Every year, My Mother personally hung each one, strand by strand, because she didn’t trust anyone else to hang them properly.  I must admit, I’ve never seen anything come as close to the dazzling effect that she created.

My First Visit with Santa

My First Visit with Santa

Several things come to mind when I think of my first visit to Santa.  First, this was taken at the flagship store of the  J.L. Hudson Co., in downtown Detroit, the only place that had the Real Santa waiting to listen to your wish list — well, I think there may have been about 10 of them, carefully hidden throughout an elaborate display of animated dolls, toys, and figures.  Second, it is apparent from the intense look that I am giving Santa that I learned at an early age to control stage-fright.  Third, I see that the jowls I had in 1953 have made a return appearance 61 years later.

Christmas Carols

Christmas Carols

As we looked at the photos, My Mother remarked, ruefully, “Homemade dresses.  You girls always had to wear homemade dresses.”  I reassured her that I thought it was pretty awesome that I had a new outfit for every major occasion and holiday, AND I designed it.  Nothing shameful about these pretty red cotton velveteen outfits from Christmas 1961, and, yes, My Mother sewed all those rows of lace onto the blouses.  That’s what the mothers that I knew used to do, and I am ever so grateful that she taught me to sew, too.

Christmas Snark

Christmas Snark

Now, we move into the snarky teenaged years.  This is probably 1965.   50 years later, I am still appalled that my naturally brunette hair is not flipping crisply on the ends like Marlo Thomas’, but that’s a subject for another blog (“How I survived an Adolescence in the 1960s of Really Bad, No Good Curly Hair”).

On to college, in my trendy midi skirt from Christmas 1970.  You will note that the icicles continue to hang perfectly from our tree, although, as I recall, they had become plastic, which My Mother grumbled about for two weeks, trying to keep the static electricity they generated from clumping them together.  I, on the other hand, note that, just as the jowls from my childhood have returned, my recent surgery has restored some other body parts to their former glory.   wink, winkimage

It seems that there are no Christmas photos of me post-marriage in 1972.  Actually, I found one from 1984 that’s too dark and mostly out-of-focus that you would find hilarious.  I am glamorous in a Joan Collins-style bouffant coif, pink angora sweater with HUGE shoulder pads, ivory wool slacks, and ivory suede boots.  It’s such a shame that I can’t reproduce it for your entertainment.  Paint this picture in your mind’s eye and run with it:  “Dallas” meets “Dynasty” at a party hosted by Dolly Parton.  If you graduated from high school anytime before 1990, you’ll get it, and I’m gonna guess you have a similar photo lurking in a shoe box in the back of your closet, too.

imageFinally, here’s the most recent photo of me taken at Christmas, and it is easily my favorite.  Trying to recreate the Christmas memories of our youth, when everything was bigger, shinier, and more fun, the Veterinarian and I visited NYC at the holidays almost every year.  We gazed at the glittering displays in the department store windows, ate roasted chestnuts on the street corner, and skated at Rockefeller Center.  Here we are in front of its famous tree in a photo taken by The Daughter.   Do you recognize me now with the blonde hair?

Yes, Scrooge, Christmas present is very much like Christmas past.  May your days be merry and bright!

My Sister and I

My Sister and I 1957


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Skating on Thin Ice

As a child, I wasn’t much into team sports.  I was terrified of dodgeball (how is it a sanctioned sport to hurl a ball at a 40-pound child hard enough to make her fall down?).  I dreaded basketball (how realistic is it to ask a 4’9” child to heave a basketball into a regulation-height hoop?).  And I especially hated sprint races in swimming class (how realistic is it to set the same child in a race against a child with the equivalent arm-span of Michael Phelps?).  Cruel jokes all, to said child.

As much as I hated sports and as much as I hated (and still hate) winter, I also had a need for speed, loving ice skating, downhill skiing, and tobogganing.  Since Michigan spends so many months with snow on the ground and ice on the lakes, you couldn’t escape outdoor activities.  All the major parks had ice rinks and toboggan runs (steep hills with stairs to make your climb back to the top easier), and while real hills for skiing are few and far between in the glacier-leveled state, to a child, any rise was good enough to strap on child-sized skis and zoom down the hill.

Dads across the region moved snow around and flooded backyards to make personalized skating rinks for ice hockey and figure skating.  It was a real art to make the ice lump free.  Our next-door neighbors had an in-ground swimming pool, which they lined with logs along the edge in early fall, to protect it from the points of our skates, when the ice froze.  How I loved to skate figures and words into the ice and glide, spin, and leap across it.  Well, I was spinning in my mind, not exactly speedy sit-spins or flying camels.

Grace under pressure

Grace under pressure

In the 1960s, I imagined myself to be Peggy Fleming, gliding regally across the ice.  Never mind that I didn’t have her athleticism, artistry, or beauty.  Never mind that my ankles were as wobbly as Bambi’s and that I was as lazy as sin, I longed to be accomplished and elegant.  Then, my adolescent hormones were seized by the seductive nature of pairs skating, with the spectacular married couple Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov (so rampant were those hormones, evidently, that I could remember “Protopopov” but had to google his wife’s name).  Such a perfect pairing, but I was troubled that they represented the Soviet Union, the “enemy.”

Behind the beauty of sport was the ugliness of Cold War political intrigue that infused international sports at the time.  Since Adolf Hitler seized his country’s hosting of the 1938 Olympics as a showcase of its skewed vision of ethnic superiority, sports had become a battle of moral supremacy.  The triumph of goodness over evil.  Of hard-working amateurs over subsidized athletes.  Of freedom over communism.  Of natural ability over drug-enhancement.  (That one still haunts sports today.)  The total medal count seemed to be the key to the survival of the planet.

Of course, figure skating has also had its zany moments.  Witness Aja Zanova and the Bic Pen Commercial.  Is this camp

Zaniness of skating

Zaniness of skating

or what?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVwOBFN8mgA 

Who could ever forget the obsession over Dorothy Hamill’s hair?  Scott Hamilton’s relentless grin?  Oksana Baiul’s smeary eye makeup?  Anyone skating as a cartoon character in a giant, plush head?  Even Blades of Glory couldn’t match the reality of skating snark.

Or the drama, when handsome Sergei Grinkov dropped lovely Ekaterina Gordeeva on her head and how she persevered in her career after his untimely death.  Or Rudy Galindo came out as gay.  (Well, maybe that wasn’t such a surprise.)  And, twenty years later, they still dredge up the drama of Nancy Kerrigan vs. what’s her name. (I refuse to name her; she’s had enough undeserved fame.)

Now, figure skating is everywhere, even in the summer.  I’ve been casually watching this “Grand Prix” competition (when the Ravens aren’t on), where they travel each week from country to country, competing.  It seems like overkill to me.  Too many injuries.  I miss the skill of compulsory figures that gives the sport its name.  I hate seeing skaters so worried about not completing quad jumps (men) or triple axels (women) that they can’t complete a clean program of grace and skill.  Falling is rarely entertaining, even on America’s Funniest Videos.

The music has become a snooze fest.  The other day, two Japanese skaters competed to the same music from Phantom of the Opera, because, according to the commentators, the music is wildly popular in Japan.  Even I can’t listen to Moonlight Sonata, Waltz of the Flowers, or a montage from Carmen any more without wanting to throw something at the television.  Bolero always makes me think of Torvill and Dean, the hottest couple ever to do anything on the ice.  The music should be retired.  No one will ever use it better than they did.

Take my advice, International Skating Union and sports broadcasters everywhere, bring back the artistry.  Bring in new music.  Bring back sophisticated Dick Button and Peggy Fleming to commentate. Just don’t bring back the Cold War.

DATE UPDATE:  Through match.com, I have a date this Thursday with a witty, intelligent man who suggested a really nice restaurant.  Lucky me!  Fingers-crossed that I have a good time.  (I know better than to start looking at wedding invitations.)  Plus, I see that the two men who never confirmed dates with me continue to check my profile.  Not sure what this means or if one of them is worth it, but, we’ll see.

At the suggestion of a friend, on Saturday, I ventured into Our Time, the sister site of match.com for people over 50.  Using the same profile and photos, I have been deluged with messages and “flirts”.  I dislike it because it doesn’t weed out the atheists and smokers in advance, which makes it trickier to read the profiles.  On the other hand, there have been some different prospects (and some the same).  And I may have accidentally shown interest in the ex of someone I know.  That’s a new dating dilemma.

Within hours of joining Our Time, about 1/3 of the messages that I received were from people with no photos.  Everyone who dabbles in online dating knows that you don’t respond to people who don’t post photos. We savvy online daters can tell a lot from a photo.  For instance, if you look like and claim to be college professor Alistair Winthrop, Ph.D., but write like a non-native speaker of English, I’m gonna delete you.  Likewise, if you have no picture or if parts of your profile are unanswered, I’m gonna skip right over you.

Unfortunately, my would-be stalker also found me at Our Time.  No, my life isn’t dramatic enough, I have a would-be stalker.  He first sent me a bizarre “secret admirer” note last year with his telephone number.  When The Daughter and I googled it, we were shocked to see that we knew him…and we know his wife!  On the advice of my attorneys and of law enforcement, I ignored it.  He wasn’t threatening, just needy, but that’s not my responsibility.  I added him to my prayer list.

Apparently, he was one of the “Mr. No-Profile Photos” that I had deleted on Sunday.  Without identifying himself, he messaged his disappointment to me yesterday, using my first name.  Now, if you’ve ever watched Dr. Phil or have two brain cells to rub together, you know that you never use any part of your real name or address in your profile.  Therefore, my dear Watson, it was elementary to me who it was.  His profile confirmed it, so I took a screen shot of it.

Since I was reading it on my phone, I had to wait to get home to block him.  Several hours later, his profile had disappeared, and the site’s security division says that, while they retain impressions of everything that occurs on their site, they are unable to prevent him from contacting me in the future.  This is why you never give people on these sites your last name, address, personal email address or telephone number.

Well, ladies who follow my blog, don’t worry about your husbands, who aren’t the kind who would be sneaking around on internet dating sites.  And if they were, I respect you enough to warn you.  On the other hand, if you don’t want to know, drop me a note.  In any event, rest assured that I am not interested in any more drama than I already have, so I’ll let them down gently.

This is a different kind of Cold War.  Maybe I should rustle up my own WMD.  I’ve been told that you’re guaranteed to hit something with a shotgun.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


How I learned to stifle misogynists

In my seductive pantsuit, with the Veterinarian c. 1977

In my seductive pantsuit, with the Veterinarian c. 1977

Have you heard about the woman who confronts men who “catcall” to her in public?  She tells them, “Women don’t like to be talked at [sic] by strangers.” One guy replied, “We come from Ohio where we holler at women.”   (Don’t worry, friends from the Buckeye State, I won’t let one man’s misogyny confirm the suspicions of Michiganders.)  I confess that I was jealous.  No one catcalls to me.  But, why would I care about anyone’s crass behavior?  My mother always said that if I ignored the bullies they would stop.  “Don’t give them an audience!”  Some nuts are tougher to crack.

In 1977, I found myself at loose ends.  My late husband, the Veterinarian, was beginning his professional career in suburban Washington, DC, and I had recovered from my hysterectomy.  What to do, what to do?  Should I go to graduate school?  Law school?  Drama school?  Focus on writing?  Decisions, decisions.

I pulled out the help-wanted section of The Washington Post and saw a well-known insurance broker’s ad for a customer service representative.  I had worked for an insurance agency in college.  I could make some easy money, meet new people, and try on the life of a career woman.  My interview with the motherly office manager went nicely, and I was hired on the spot.  Could I start the following Monday?  Certainly.

On that very first day in my new job, dressed in my tasteful, mint green polyester pantsuit, one of the agents called me into his office for a “get-acquainted” chat.

“Hey!  Come on in and shut the door,” he was at least 6’3”, pale, and soft in the middle.  The blinds in his office were drawn, the only light coming from a heavily shaded desk lamp.  He motioned to a chair across from him, where I sat while we exchanged pleasantries.  He was 32 with a wife and children.  The son of a minister, he graduated from a little private East Coast college of which I had never heard.  I was 25, from the Midwest, wife of a veterinarian, and graduate of a Big-Ten college of which he had heard.  Then, there was nothing left to say, so, he told me a joke.  It was filthy, and I was thoroughly pissed.

The comedic nuances of Shakespeare, Swift, and Monty Python were not lost on me, and, after all, this was the era of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon of its time (without the BDSM).  I enjoyed a non-demeaning joke told in an appropriate environment about as well as most people who I knew.  Still, strangers didn’t tell other strangers dirty jokes unless they were professional comedians, and a gentleman never told one to an unaccompanied lady.  [Advice to your sons:  According to the Daughter, that remains a major turn-off.  Apparently, a gentleman still doesn’t!]

I remembered that Ann Landers advised  that feigned ignorance would be an effective response to offensive jokes, theorizing that the offender would be too deflated to repeat it.

“Oh,” I demurred.  “Would you tell me that again?  I think I must have missed something.”

“It’s—uh—it’s—,” he stammered, “it’s not important.  Let’s get back to work.”

“Well, thanks for the welcome!” I smiled sweetly and walked out into the fluorescent brightness of the main office.

Instead of playing a Doris Day career girl, as I had naïvely imagined, I was navigating the last, dark days of Mad Men.  I was a novelty, the first female college graduate they had ever hired.   My favorite co-workers were two young women, a sweet newlywed with photos of her adorable Yorkies on her desk and a wisecracker with a dyed black bouffant hairdo, who happily swore, guzzled coffee, chain-smoked, and coughed incessantly.  My vocabulary acquired the “f-word” from her—which I used only in my car while driving on the Capital Beltway, of course.

One day, I was standing alone at the copier, screened by a bank of file cabinets.  Mr. Jokester passed behind me on the way to his office and grabbed my behind.  I, a “liberated” woman, was shocked.  I stood immobile until he was gone, and the copier stopped.  That night I told my husband.

“Next time, kick him in the nuts,” the Veterinarian recommended.

Over the next two years, Mr. Jokester was promoted to office manager, replacing the demoted woman who had hired me, and his reign of terror began.  Everything I did was wrong;  I wasn’t polite enough to clients;  I didn’t work fast enough.  The other agents, older and gentlemanly, were sympathetic to my plight and ran interference with him on my behalf.

Again, I found myself groped at the copier.  This time, I was ready.  (No, I didn’t kick him in the nuts, although I still snicker aloud at the idea.)  I whirled around, caught his eye, and gave him my “Don’t-touch-me-again-or-it-will-be-the-last-time-you-ever-touch-anything” look.  He turned scarlet in annoyance and stomped off to his office with clenched fists, like a chastened little boy.  He never touched me again, but his complaints about my work performance escalated.

Finally, after enduring one last incident of what today would be prosecuted as sexual harassment, I called my husband.  “You don’t need that crappy job,” he said.  I hung up and marched into the office of agency’s president and quit.

“Oh, Suzanne,” Mr. President began, “we don’t want to lose you.”

“I can’t work with Mr. Jokester any longer.  He’s demoralizing the staff.”  I detailed how Mr. Jokester’s new policies were hampering the entire staff’s performance, but I didn’t mention the physical harassment.  In those days, crass personal behavior toward women was considered—get ready for it, younger women— crass but acceptable.  Not by me, but I knew it was pointless to expect this management to do anything about it.

“Would you be willing to meet tomorrow for lunch in Our Fancy Executive Dining Room with Mr. Jokester and Mr. Good-Ol’-Boy (the vice-president and son of the company’s founder), so we can iron this out?”

“Yes, I will, but I won’t change my mind.” I wanted the opportunityto tell them all to go to hell.  I packed up my desk and made my farewells to co-workers, suddenly realizing that I was the only woman in the office who had the resources to leave its toxic environment

At the appointed lunch hour, I arrived in my smart black suit and pearls.  Mr. President was already at the table.  Mr. Good-Ol’-Boy came shortly thereafter, having been torn from a day of sport-fishing on his yacht.  Mr. Jokester arrived 30 minutes late, in his mirrored aviator sunglasses, which he wore throughout the entire meal and spoke not a word.  He didn’t even order food.  No way in hell-on-earth would I return to that office.

“So,” began Mr. President, as the lunch dishes were cleared, “how can we convince you to stay with us?”

“I just cannot stay.  My husband and I are ready to set up our own veterinary practice, so it’s time to move on.”

“I sure would hate ta seeya makin’ a mistake,” slurred Mr. Good-Ol’-Boy, swirling the ice in his empty whisky glass.  “I remember when I was workin’ for — “

“I’m not making a mistake,” I interrupted and took a deep breath of courage. “I’ve enjoyed working with the other agents and all the staff but just look at him.  He hasn’t even taken off his sunglasses.  How am I supposed to deal with that?”

“Oh, that’s just the way he is,” laughed Mr. Good-Ol’-Boy, “He don’t mean anything by it.”

“No, thank you,” I pushed back from the table and stood in my smart black suit and pearls.  Guess which one of the three men didn’t shake my hand or escort me to the elevator?

Respect for others and simple good manners are in even shorter supply now than they were in 1977.  The Daughter is shocked that sexual harassment wasn’t always a punishable offensive in the workplace.  I’m thrilled that today’s women have recourse to such demeaning behavior.  And as far as responding to the myopic assessment of every jerk on the street, I have more important problems.  Such crass behavior has never kept me down.  I always walk with my “Don’t-even-think-about-it” expression on my face, which has always worked for me.

On second thought, maybe it works too well;  it would be nice to be gently appreciated.  A door held.  A seat offered.  I wouldn’t even mind a quiet whistle or discreet “Looking good!”  The shrew who lives in my head reminds me that the odds of that happening to me at this stage of my life are slim-to-none.  But, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo gloria!