Art of Association

What the IRS and a legendary ’63 VW Bug (that could fly) have in common

By Jim Moriarty

It was tax time, moving day for money, and the website requested the answer to one of my security questions:

What was the make of your first car?

The answer is Volkswagen. It’s OK if you know because I took the precaution of layering in an extra level of cyber impregnability by misspelling the word, using an “o” where an “e” was required. I would like to say this was done as a diabolically clever defense against Russian hackers except that it was more a case of inadvertent stupidity. Or vertent stupidity. Whatever.

My first car was, however, a white VW bug. I think it was a ’63 purchased after its atomic half-life had expired, if the porous condition of the front wheel wells was any indication. As with most first cars, I didn’t stray far from what I knew. Growing up, the family car had been a little black VW bug, and I meant to reprise those cuddly memories. The air-cooled engine was in the back. The trunk was in the front. The bumpers looked like the teeth of a Bond villain. There was a lever on the floor you could flip with the toes of your right foot to access the reserve gas tank, the very existence of which suggested the dashboard gauge was more of a guidepost than a hard and fast rule. The heat worked, but only in the summer, and the sunroof slid back and forth like Weird Al Yankovich’s accordion. Yet, we were fond of it.

Near Christmas, after my mother got her bonus, the four of us — three boys and a little old lady — would drive to the tree lot by the highway, pick out something that still had a few needles on it, jam it down into the sunroof and drive home with the top third of our new spruce bending in the wind. We took Karwick Road home because of its legendary dip. Not to suggest that people who grow up in flat parts of the globe are easily amused, but this spot was known countywide and jumping it was pretty much what everyone did on Saturday nights if the movie was sold out. If you accelerated just right going into the Karwick Road jump, you could get all four wheels of a VW bug, with tree and four passengers, entirely off the ground. So, it was the recollection of a family hurtling through the air singing about Good King Wenceslas that I meant to recapture with my first automobile purchase.

But, you can’t go home again — at least not in a ’63 bug.

The first trip of any length I made in the white version of my black memory was my honeymoon. Our honeymoon. We went to French Lick. (Insert joke here.) While we were there, my bride, the War Department, got an abscessed tooth. We left for home, of course, though I was conflicted. Her jaw was swollen so badly I was afraid to take her home for fear her father would assume the worst and shoot me. On the trip back, it snowed. Heavy, cold snow. Since it was winter and not summer, the heater didn’t work. The air streaming into the car was so cold we took to stuffing dirty socks and underwear into the vents to try to preserve what little body heat we could. Because the remaining steel in the front wheel wells looked more like a lace doily than, say, sheet metal, slushy, salty water from the road sloshed about in the space at my new wife’s feet forcing her to ride with her face bandaged, medicated against the pain, wrapped in her winter coat with her boots propped against the windshield.

We couldn’t find anyplace to stop and thaw out because it was January 1st and everything was closed. It was the year of the oil embargo so even the gas stations weren’t open. Finally, in the distance we saw a banner:

New Year’s Day Mattress Sale

Stumbling into the furniture store like witless survivors of the Donner Party, we threw ourselves on the nearest queen-sized bed and stayed there until we could feel our extremities again.

And that’s how the IRS got paid.  PS

Jim Moriarty is senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at


Mimi’s Dress

A wedding to remember, a grandmother no one will ever forget

By Anna Kraus

Through it all there was Mimi.

I got married a year ago this month. It was a destination wedding of sorts, held in Seaside, a quaint beach town located along the panhandle of Florida. Our small home there has been the site of family gatherings and vacations for as long as I can remember. As an Army brat it is the closest thing to a hometown that my family and I have. It is a special place.

Friends and family gathered for the weekend to celebrate my husband-to-be and me, and the weekend was kicked off with a rehearsal dinner that everyone was invited to. Everyone was invited because everyone, including friends, was family. A local restaurant paid homage to my husband’s family with paella cooked on an open flame, wine glasses filled with Spanish wine and Champagne bottles popping. Love was shared, toasts were made, and new acquaintances became old friends.

I got ready for the ceremony at my parents’ beach house, a bubble gum pink house that barely holds five people that was overrun with bridesmaids’ dresses, makeup, our two golden retrievers, Max and Molly, and camera equipment. It was frantic and cramped and hectic and it was perfect, made more so by being able to wear my Mimi’s wedding gown. My mother helped me dress, buttoning a thousand buttons and then (not so gently) throwing her veil on my head. Photographers whirled around us and puppies stepped on hemlines.

The dress itself is not really my style; I would not have picked it. It is a ball gown with yards of tulle and lace and stitching. I would have chosen something more modern with fewer frills. But wearing a gown that multiple generations of my family — my Mimi, my aunt and my mom — had worn made the moment I walked down the aisle that much more special.   

The wedding was held in a beautiful, small chapel in town. It holds 100 people, the exterior is white wash, and the interior is stained cedar with enormous windows that take up all the wall space, filling the one-room chapel with sun. Almost every pew was full. After the ceremony pictures were taken and I was whisked back to the house to change into something easier to wear. At the reception I showed off a dress more my style, a short white dress better suited for dancing until all hours of the night.

And there was dancing and singing, eating and drinking and festivity. Lights were strung across an outdoor square. Farm tables were decorated with blush garden roses and greenery. Candles twinkled and provided light as the sun set and everyone at the wedding celebrated my husband and me.

Through it all there was Mimi. At the rehearsal dinner she charmed and captivated. She adopted an old friend as “an honorary Barnes girl” and embraced new family as if they had been part of every family gathering for as long as she could remember. She conversed and cajoled as only Mimi could. She posed for pictures, encircled by her family, new and old. Mimi loved it.

At the wedding Mimi sat in the front row, delighting over being with all her family and honored by the fact that her eldest granddaughter was wearing her wedding dress. As I danced with family and friends at the reception, Mimi was right where she loved being, surrounded by family, in the center of things, holding court under a gas lamp for warmth. Mimi loved it.

Mimi passed away in October. It was a blow to our family, driving home the point that the extended family had lost the heart that kept us all truly connected. But it was also a chance to gather, and to gather is good. To gather together is a means to support and love and embrace each other. She brought us all together as only Mimi could. But Mimi’s absence was felt. She should have been holding court, staying up just as late as the rest of us as we all swirled around her. Sipping a glass of wine and staying right in the thick of things as we told stories and made memories. And Mimi would have loved it.  PS

Anna Kraus is Cos Barnes’ granddaughter. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband, Andrew. 

The Time of Her Life

A beautiful ring, an elegant watch, and memories of a girl in a world at war

By Joyce Reehling

Time ticks away, and now my mom is 91 and living on her own for over 17 years, not far from my youngest sister in Pennsylvania. In the last several years she has taken to divesting herself of things now rather than waiting for the “Will” to do it for her. “Why should I miss the look on your face when I give it to you?” she rightly asks. Each of us “girls,” of which there are four, has received items from her ranging from very old cookie cutters to beloved jewelry.

And so it is that I was given two items, both of which held memories and surprises.

Mom asked me to close my eyes and hold out my hand. I felt a small box. I opened my eyes and saw my Nana’s engagement ring. I burst into tears because I had not thought of the ring ever being mine. I was stunned to have it, a lovely old-cut diamond sitting in a setting that screams early 1900s.

My Nana wore it all the time. She could sit for what seemed like hours and stroke my hair while we listened to radio soap operas and lulled me into a state of bliss. She had the most beautiful hands, which I can see to this day. And she was always wearing this ring.

Mom wore it for many years until arthritis made it too difficult. Linked by this ring, I feel both women with me more keenly. I love it and it will go to one of my nieces in what I hope is about 30 years. Like Mom, I will do it in time to see the look on her face.

I always try to get Mom to talk about old Baltimore, the life of the city, her family and her life before me. For some reason on my last visit she wanted to talk more about her youth. Then she went into her bedroom and emerged with a little bundle of tissue. Inside was a watch. Her parents had given this to her when she graduated high school. It was without a strap and no longer working.

“Please have it. If you can get it to work, fine, but it is such a lovely old thing.”

And so it is that it traveled home to Pinehurst. I took it to Cotes Watches in Southern Pines and presented it. The gentleman said, “Oh, an Eska, that is lovely. So, your mom was a nurse.”

“No,” I said, “but during the war she worked for a photographer in Baltimore developing prints.” Another vocation that required seeing and timing in the dark.

Well, he held it like a newborn babe and said it needed either new hands or, for a little more money, he could send it to a place that would restore the original glowing hands.

“Let’s keep it as original as possible,” I said, and off the watch went to find its glow and be cleaned and ready to keep time for me.

I just got it back and bought a bright red strap to match the sweeping second hand and now wear it daily. A war watch that timed chemicals as they revealed recon photos, photos of friends, photos of young men off to war, photos of life. My mom timed life with this watch, her life as a young girl during a war. The lives of others. One photo at a time.

I asked her just yesterday to tell me more about that time, but her only ready memory was that sometimes going out to lunch or on her way to the streetcar to ride home, she would put one foot in the gutter and one on the sidewalk to bounce up and down like a kid as she walked.

“I wasn’t always serious, ya know; it was just fun. I must have looked crazy, but no one said anything.”

And who would? She was just 18 and it was a world at war. A good time for a good time.

Now when I look at the watch I see a young girl, as yet unmarried, then comes a tall Marine for a husband, whom she would outlive, and the young girl has reached the age of 91. And she keeps on ticking.  PS

Joyce Reehling is a frequent contributor and good friend of PineStraw.

Frozen in Place

When the best tool is the telephone

By Jim Moriarty

I’m not handy. Not to make excuses, but I come by this naturally. As my mother, who suffered from dementia at the end of her days, once explained to me in a depressingly lucid moment, “Your father couldn’t put up a stepladder.”

So, the prospects for the successful completion of virtually any gender-stereotypical task around my house were dismally low. Yet, hope sprung eternal in my wife, the War Department. This was an expectation I viewed with roughly the same enthusiasm the nail has for the hammer. Which brings me to the case of the frozen pipes.

The kitchen in our previous home was added on to the original building. Beneath this one-room expansion was a crawl space. Well, not exactly a crawl space, more like a duck-walking stoop space. And, underneath the floor of this one-room expansion were water pipes, water being a desirable element in almost any kitchen.

Though winters here tend to be blessedly mild, there was a certain inevitability that at some point we would endure a brief snap of weather bitter enough to cause the exposed pipes under this one-room expansion to freeze as solid as the Athabasca Glacier. It was equally predictable that I would be dispatched by the War Department to this version of the Russian front.

A friend of mine, who truly ought to be in witness protection, built the house he lives in near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan with his own two hands. Where he got the knowledge to do all this wiring and plumbing and hammering was as confounding to me as molecular biology. His father couldn’t put up a stepladder either. Anyway, this person — a card-carrying member of the cult of the handy who was held up to me at every turn as the quintessential model of the serviceable American spouse — instructed me on the ins and outs of fixing frozen pipes. How could you go wrong with advice from someone who lives where winter is so snappy you can get Manolo Blahnik snowshoes?

He told me about the butane torch. The flux. The sandpaper. The solder. All of it. He assured me the flux would suck the solder into the newly fashioned pipe joint like smoke out of a hookah in a Paris opium den. Then, in a hushed tone as if the phone line was tapped by Local 421 of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, he revealed the secret of a successful watertight seal. Bread. “Bread?” I asked. I could hear him nod.

So, off I went. Equipped with a pipe cutter, my flux, my fire, my sandpaper, my solder and two slices of Bunny Bread, I duck-walked into the Valley of Death. I confess, the actual order in which events transpired over the next several hours remains muddled. I do recall it beginning with the removal of the diseased and fractured section of copper tubing which, if I do say so myself, was accomplished with the skill and precision of a vascular surgeon. Thereafter, things went downhill.

The bread, it had been explained to me, would sop up any excess moisture. I had been properly cautioned that moisture was the Achilles heel of a tight seal. I stuffed the bread into the pipe with my finger like I was packing a charge of black powder into a Civil War howitzer. The pipes were appropriately sanded and fluxed. At the moment of truth, however, when I fired up the torch and applied the solder, the pipe spit at me like an enraged camel.

So, I started over. Same. I started over again. Same. I got more bread. Same. And again. More bread to the front, dammit! And again. And again. Did I already say that the crawl space under the kitchen was at something of an awkward height? It was too high to kneel and reach the pipes but too low to stand. In short, I was frozen, as it were, in what could only be described as a diabolical stress position. Had the War Department piped in Bee Gees music at sufficient decibels I would have confessed to the Ripper murders. Of course, with every aborted attempt and subsequent pipe trimming, the copper tubes got just a wee bit shorter. This resulted in my yanking on the pipes, first to my left, then to my right, in a kind of tug of war to make the ends meet. Still no luck. So often did I stretch the pipes, bread them, sand them, flux them and fire them that I used all the white bread in the house and resorted to wheat. That was when the War Department called our plumber.

Did I mention we had a plumber?

When Jim showed up — the irony that his name was the same as mine didn’t escape me — he looked through the tiny door into my kitchen crawl space where I was crouched, hunks of white and brown bread scattered about my feet, bolts of pain shooting through my lower back and hamstrings, and said, “You havin’ a picnic in there?”

No.  PS

Jim Moriarty is senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at

The Amazing Mr. Whittle

Keeping memories for two

By Jim Moriarty

Near the end of the day, on the top floor at St. Joseph of the Pines, a man who spent much of his working life in a research laboratory places his wheelchair directly behind the wheelchair of his wife, whose mind has wandered into the mists of age, and puts to fair use the laws of force and motion. With him supplying the force and her the motion, they roll in tandem down the hallway to the sunroom, where he parks them side-by-side so they can look through the broad windows at sunset.

Robert Lamar Whittle — “Just like whittling a stick,” he says as if he was saying it for the first time — turned 99 in October. He goes by Lamar because his father had a prior claim on Bob. Edna, his wife, is 97. They met at a church Christmas party in Sylvester, Georgia. So far it’s lasted 74 years.

Mr. Whittle remembers his father’s sawmill near Cedar Key on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the springs near the mouth of the Suwannee River. “The water was so clear you could see the white sand in the bottom 50 feet from the shore,” he says. The lumber business went bust in 1929, sending the family north into Worth County, Georgia.

Mr. Whittle remembers for two now, and he remembers pretty much all of it. He worked his way through Berry College in Rome. “It’s still there,” he says. “Still functioning.” When World War II began, the War Manpower Commission put his name on a list of scientific and technical people. “When the Manhattan Project was begun, I was sent down to Columbia University and I spent the rest of the war years there,” he says. “The only uranium we had was in some barrels that were stored on Staten Island. The British had collected that uranium ore in the Congo. I don’t know if they were afraid the ship was going to be sunk by submarines, but they docked it there on Staten Island and unloaded the uranium. I didn’t play much part in the development of the bomb. I worked mostly on magnetic detection of submarines.”

After the war, Mr. Whittle worked with ITT laboratories in Nutley, New Jersey. He and Edna, the dedicated gardener, had three daughters, who all live in North Carolina now. When the researching days were done, they retired to Georgia to raise peaches. But, the next time your commercial airliner drops out of the clouds and touches down on a wet runway like a butterfly, remember Mr. Whittle. “One of the developments that I think was most important was the instrument landing system for aircraft,” he says. That came shortly after the war, 1946 or so. It’s one of the few details he can’t quite lay his hands on. “That became the worldwide standard for blind landings of aircraft. I participated in the demonstration of that in Indianapolis.”

One of the researchers Mr. Whittle worked with at Columbia was Gene Fubini. “He was scientific adviser to Jack Kennedy when Kennedy was president,” says Mr. Whittle, and then for President Johnson, too. His father was the Italian mathematician Guido Fubini, who has his very own theorem. “I’ve been with a lot of really first-class people. We were sitting around the table one time discussing a project the military wanted us to do and Gene said, ‘Fellas, before we take on any other projects, it ought to meet three criteria. The first is, is it a job that needs to be done? Some of these are just trivial and a waste of time. Number two, are we the ones to do it? Maybe there’s somebody else better equipped than we are. And third, and most important, is there going to be any fun in it? If there’s not going to be any fun in it, don’t do it.’

“So,” says Mr. Whittle, “I remembered that. If there’s not going to be any fun in it, don’t do it.”

Time is the gift wrapped in uncertainty, that we make of what we can. He takes Edna’s hand because hers shakes. “It’s been a good life, I’ll tell you.”  PS

Jim Moriarty is Senior Editor of PineStraw and can be reached at

Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrim

Norman Rockwell, not John Wayne, informs our Thanksgiving celebrations

By Tom Allen

For Americans, Norman Rockwell’s depiction of a family Thanksgiving is as familiar as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” or James McNeill Whistler’s portrait of his mother.

But if art imitates life, growing up, I was brushed out of Rockwell’s painting more often than not.

I vaguely recall a few traditional Thanksgivings with family, albeit half the size of Rockwell’s troupe. Our table featured a roasted Butterball, Granny’s dressing, and jellied Ocean Spray.  Sweet tea, laced with ReaLemon Juice, washed down bowls of collards and turnips, taters and snap beans. My Methodist granny occasionally popped the cork on a bottle of “French wine.” Pecan pie (I didn’t have pumpkin until my 30s) completed the feast. Football and a carb-induced nap rounded out the afternoon. Hugs were plentiful but conversation, scant. The celebration ended by 3 p.m.

As grandkids grew and elders’ health declined, meals became more eclectic, less Rockwellian. One Thanksgiving during college, after Santa concluded the Macy’s parade, baked spaghetti greeted Dad and me. Grateful, I bowed my head, smiled at Mom’s aberration, then dug in. Who needs a broad-breasted bird when baked pasta is just as good?

My last year in seminary, a cute brunette I met during study abroad invited me to share Thanksgiving on her family’s Kentucky horse farm. I invested in a haircut and a blue oxford cloth button-down. Alas, my dorm became my Old Kentucky Home for the holiday. At 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, Ann called to say her mother came down with strep throat. Maybe next year.

Providence intervened. A motley crew of would-be ministers concocted a Thanksgiving feast. Scott, dumped just days before by a reluctant fiancée, stirred up a bowl of instant mashed potatoes. Dave warmed canned green beans in his microwave. I snagged a Mrs. Smith’s Pecan Pie, reduced for quick sale, at Kroger. Luis, whose family fled Cuba with nothing but the clothes on their backs, roasted the turkey. The dorm smelled of cumin for days. Vernon, deaf and mute from birth, signed grace. We all said, “Amen.”

Years later, our family would include two teenage daughters. We made the every-other-year trek to north Georgia for Thanksgiving with my wife’s folks. Work schedules disrupted Thanksgiving Day, so we dined on Friday. We left Whispering Pines Thanksgiving morning, only to return an hour later for a forgotten suitcase. By afternoon, our nerves were frazzled by traffic and our stomachs groaned from hunger. Restaurants off the interstate were closed. With gas running low, we pulled into a Shell station. Empty booths inside the convenience store provided a place to spread what we’d packed for the road — chicken salad, saltines, grapes and Nabs. We bowed our heads, gave thanks, then washed down our moveable feast with Dr. Pepper, Cheerwine and Diet Coke. We shook our heads, smiled about the day’s happenings, and made a memory we talk about, every year, on the fourth Thursday of November.

Norman Rockwell’s painting depicts three generations gathered around a dining room table. Grandma, aproned and coiffed for the holiday meal, delivers the turkey on, no doubt, her mother’s china platter. Grandpa, in suit and tie, grinning and famished, stands behind her, waiting to pray, carve and eat. The painting was one of four, illustrating a 1943 series of Saturday Evening Post essays. Based on Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, outlined in his 1941 State of the Union address, Rockwell appropriately named his Thanksgiving portrait “Freedom from Want.”

Seventy years later American families look different. Yet, Roosevelt’s words and the Rockwell portrayal remain timeless. Thanksgiving is still about gratitude. So, yes, give thanks for all you have while remembering to make room at the table for others, so they, too, experience gratitude.

Then, no matter what your menu or who you consider family, everyone will have a special meal, a reason to smile, and hopefully, because of your kindness, a memory to cherish forever.  PS

Tom Allen is minister of education at First Baptist Church in Southern Pines.

The Great Divide

What stays? What goes? Only Heaven knows

By Susan Kelly

William Faulkner freaks will tell you that a seminal scene in The Sound and the Fury is the basis for all that follows in his famous novel. A little girl named Caddy falls into a puddle. When she climbs a tree, her brothers see her muddy drawers and predict their mother’s fury that Caddy has gotten dirty.

What, you might fairly ask, has this English-majorish observation to do with downsizing?

Downsizing necessitates decisions, divesting and division, tasks that are, by turn, hilarious, tedious and heartbreaking. Never mind the big stuff; this weekend, we — myself and my two sisters — were merely dealing with the contents of our mother’s chests and closets and shelves. And so we find ourselves faced with What Goes, What Stays, What We Want, and What We Can’t Bear to Think About piles.

“Sentiment,” I quote from a past writing teacher who was quoting someone else, “is giving something more tenderness than God intended it to have.” We’re staring sentimentally at three pyramids of toys that defined each of us, certainly then, and kind of now.

My Steiff stuffed animals — brought from NYC by my father in the “rag trade” — and with which I made up endless stories. The writer. Save.

Her Barbies (and Kens and Midges) as well as their clothes, exquisitely made, with labels sewn in the collars, and tiny buttons and buttonholes, and real zippers. The clotheshorse extrovert. Save.

Her Tonka trucks. A big, shin-high pickup truck, a horse trailer, a hook-and-ladder, an earthmover. The tomboy. Suppressed sob … Sell. Because not a daughter or daughter-in-law alive would ever permit the no-doubt lethally leaded paint and sharp, semi-rusted corners of the metal vehicles in the sanitized, only-eats-non-GMO-avocados fingers of their helicopter-parented offspring. Tears blinked back.

We let the Barnabas Network guy have the Schlitz beer can lamp (he had a collection of beer can lamps, I kid you not.) We kept our Stokes County grandfather’s lapboard with the inlaid checkerboard where, if I could get a single king, I won. (I never did.) I sat on the radiator cover and watched him eat a hundred pieces of watermelon — cut not in wedges but in rounds, like a doughnut — on that lapboard as we watched “Jeopardy!” together.

At one point, after we’d unhesitatingly pitched the homemade afghan we remembered being sick — red measles to the vomits — beneath on the den sofa, the three of us laid flat on our backs on the floor to rest. “Get up and look at me,” I told the youngest. “This is what I’d look like with a face-lift.” At another point, my mother said, “I want to watch this part,” as we prepared to divide up table linens, from Italian damask to exquisite lace hems to monogrammed satin-hemmed napkins the size of small tablecloths to, well, tablecloths. We were made to understand that each set had its story: wedding present, purchased in France, etc. We counted, chose, caressed, chose, hovered, chose, thought silently and disloyally about drawer space and lifestyle. “This is boring,” my mother announced, and left.

But about those underpants.

“Where’s my Joy of Cooking?” she asks.

Exchange of panicked glances. Her Joy of Cooking was no longer a book. It was a chunk composed of a single frayed, faded, fabric-covered cardboard whose visible spine was stitched with what looked like kitchen twine holding clumps and singles of thin yellow pages with 6-point-font printing. And no pictures.

“It’s falling apart,” we object. “Do you think you’re going to be cooking recipes from The Joy of Cooking?” we ask. “We’ll get you a new one,” we offer.

“The new one doesn’t have the same recipes,” she says.

Like what? I think. Chilled beef consomme? No loss.

“I want it,” she says. This, from the same woman who threw out decades of travel pictures, even her wedding album, without a twinge.

“It’s in the car,” I say, cool as Melanie Wilkes lying to the Yankees. “I’ll get it.”

My mother’s Joy of Cooking was not in the car. It was buried somewhere in a black plastic bag in the Dumpster squatting in the asphalt parking lot of an elementary school. Which is how I came to find myself folded at the hips like a hinge over the sharp, rusty, Tonka truck-like Dumpster edge, fishing, digging, clawing, groping and tearing at bags of cafeteria refuse, supply room cast-offs and restroom detritus (Is that a book spine I feel or a box of rotting fish sticks?) in 100-degree heat while my sister stands behind me saying unhelpful things like, “I hope they don’t have closed circuit cameras to catch people illegally throwing stuff away.”

If so, kindergarten show and tell can be the film of my drawers and backside as I’m trying not to fall into the dark, stinking, super-heated, steel-walled abyss of a Dumpster interior. Although at the very least you should be in high school to really appreciate The Sound and the Fury. And you need to be 86 to really appreciate your original Joy of Cooking. Because I recovered it.

My sister recovered, too. The Tonka trucks sold instantly on consignment, for a lot of money. Plus, no one came down with lockjaw.  PS

In a former life, Susan Kelly published five novels, won some awards, did some teaching, and made a lot of speeches. These days, she’s freelancing and making up for all that time she spent indoors writing those five novels.

A Letter from My 93-year-old Self

By Sara Phile

Dear Renee,

Here I am, and there you are. You have always had a problem with just being, and you still do. Could you just be for a minute, though? Try.

Your best friends at 33 are still your best friends at 93. What a gift. Cherish every talk, every coffee date, even every argument. They aren’t going anywhere. Your are lucky.

You will never make much money, but you are OK with that. You are pretty smart with money, and will continue to be. In a few years he will want to go to Alaska. You will say no, that you can’t afford it, and while it may seem like you can’t, just go. Go.

Speaking of him, he is one of the best friends I just mentioned. You and he will finally agree on that 10-year-long discussion that keeps coming back. It will be resolved. However, that other one?  The one that you can’t even think about right now or you will go into a hysterical fit, it won’t be resolved, but you will learn to just let it go, and you will be OK.

Your kids will be OK. Stop worrying about where they will end up, what they will do or not do. Let them be, please. Also, don’t be too quick to give your opinions on well . . . you’ll see. But for now, be stingy with your opinions. It’s hard for you, I know, but if you hold back, you will have more peace, and peace is always your goal.

You think you love your boys, and you do. You truly love them the best you can. Just wait until you meet your grandkids, though . . .

Right now, you think you have known grief and pain, and you have. You really have. Later, you will know it even deeper. You will have tools though, that you didn’t have at 33. You will be stronger.

I know it’s cliché, and you aren’t big on clichés, but the things you worry about now — past failures, future potential failures, what others think or don’t think, simply aren’t worth your time and energy. I know it’s easier said than done (again, sorry about the cliché), but you need to let go.

Your body will hurt like hell some days, especially your back. Keep practicing yoga and remember that you don’t have to run faster or lift more weight than the person next to you. Why must you always think that you are in a competition?

You love the Shakespeare quote “To thine own self be true,” but at this point in your life, you haven’t fully grasped the meaning and application. You think you know yourself, but you still have some weeding out and ironing to do. You will know soon, though.

As soon as you are able to realize and accept that your self-worth isn’t wrapped up in others’ acceptance or rejection of you, you will start to be at peace. And peace, my friend, is your goal. Once you find peace, you won’t want to let it go, and you will wish you had grasped onto it much sooner.

Today, this very day, is a Saturday in August and you are living in humid North Carolina. Your boys are 12 and 7. They are still in bed right now, but go wake them up with a water gun. They hate it when you do this, but deep down they think it’s funny too. Ask them what they want to do today, and do it. Even if, especially if, it costs money. Don’t analyze. Just go with it. You won’t get these years back.

Love and peace,

Your 93-year-old self

P.S. Extra pieces of red velvet cake aren’t going to kill you. Worrying about it just might.  PS

Sara Phile teaches English composition at Sandhills Community College.

Catching Lightnin’ Bugs

By any descriptive name, they’re pure summer evening magic

By Ray Linville

I never heard the word “firefly” until I was an overgrown adult. When I was living in the North, someone in the winter mentioned that he missed seeing fireflies.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to refer to a lightnin’ bug by any other name. The term “lightnin’ bug” is so descriptive (even if it is a beetle, not a bug — but certainly not a fly). It’s one of the few names that perfectly describes the creature.

You can say “lightnin’ bug” only once to a 2-year-old, and she will immediately know what you’re talking about. “There it is,” my granddaughter said when I asked, “Where’s the lightnin’ bug?” without any explanation.

It’s a familiar sight on summer evenings at dusk as small children marvel at the blinking lights that slowly fly above the ground to heights where they disappear from sight. In a less gentle world, children once even captured these critters to make a lantern. It would be the only light permitted in a dark room and provided the perfect setting for telling tall tales, particularly ghost stories.

When I was growing up, catching lightnin’ bugs was the summer sport of my neighborhood. From older kids, I learned early that using a Mason jar was the perfect way to catch them. The glass jar showed the evening’s collection as it increased and also let the blinking lights harmonize in a silent rhythm. It’s hard to imagine that simply staring into a jar could be so entertaining.

The lesson of catching lightnin’ bugs was not complete until we agreed to release them into the air before we went inside our houses at bedtime. It was the first way that generations of future anglers learned a “catch and release” policy before holding a rod and reel. Even though a lightnin’ bug has a life span of only two months, as kids we were convinced that it would live forever if we didn’t harm it.

As parents, when you think your kids are ready for a “birds and bees” discussion, just remember the lightnin’ bugs. All that summer magic that they produce is simply flashy flirting — males flash their lights to attract the ladies, who reply with their own flashes.

More than half of the people in North Carolina use “lightnin’ bug” exclusively as the name in contrast to about 6 percent who use only the term “firefly.” (The others use both names interchangeably.) In western parts of our country, firefly is exclusively used. Of course, they’re confused because fireflies, er, lightnin’ bugs, that live in California and places in the West don’t light up like the species in our area.

If you want to catch a flashing bug, use a Mason jar, and be sure to call it a lightnin’ bug. Just don’t call it a firefly.  PS

Ray Linville writes about Southern food, history, culture and, sometimes, Mason jars.