Category Archives: column archives

The Story of Christmas, by Bandit

Bandit, helping Mommy with her column.

Bandit, helping Mommy with her column.

Once upon a time, in a December long ago, I was on a deadline with no idea what I wanted to write when Bandit, my Border Collie, offered to write my column for me. I took him up on the offer. With Christmas just a week away, I thought it might fun to share Bandit’s story of Christmas.

The Story of Christmas
by Bandit*

It is almost Christmas time and pretty soon we will have parties and Santa will come and leave lots of presents.

Do you know why? You don’t? Then I will tell you the story of Christmas!

Once upon a time a man named Joseph and his wife Mary were traveling across the country to a family reunion. On the way, they stopped at a hotel. Mary wasn’t feeling so good. I guess riding on a donkey for eleventeen hundred miles can make you feel pretty barfy.

This was not a hotel like the one me and Mommy stayed at when we went to visit my Grandpa. That time, I got scared when Mommy left me alone in the room and I chewed a big hole in the door. That was a nice hotel with very nice people who did not put me in jail for being a Bad Dog.

Joseph and Mary stopped at hotel with people who were not so nice. It was very busy and everyone was cranky because there were so many people on their way to their own family reunions. So when Joseph and Mary went inside, the check-in guy said, “Sorry, buster. You don’t have a reservation and we don’t have any rooms.”

Joseph said to the check-in guy, “Can’t you see my wife Mary has a really bad belly ache from riding on a donkey for eleventeen hundred miles? Don’t you have any place we can sleep?”

The check-in guy, who it turns out wasn’t so mean after all, said, “Gee, Mister. I am very sorry your wife feels barfy. But I really don’t have any rooms. I guess you could stay out in the barn.” Continue reading

My June column in Refreshed Magazine

Refreshed June 2014 with borderFor my June column in the San Diego-based Refreshed Magazine, I mused on my 50th birthday – a few weeks before I even turned 50. Since I hadn’t yet experienced the joy of reaching a half century, I turned to friends for some thoughts. You can read the column online here.

Bats in the belfry

The essentials of bat whacking: gloves, a tennis racket, and a bag to dispose of the body.

The essentials of bat whacking: gloves, a tennis racket, and a bag to dispose of the body.

It’s midnight and I’m lying in bed, reading a book, when all of the sudden I hear the pitter patter of little feet scurrying in the ceiling above my head.

Dammit. There’s something in the attic.

Bandit sits up and cocks his head to listen, then jumps down from the bed to follow the sound around the room, eyes fixed on the ceiling.

Great. It sounds like maybe two somethings.

I call to my  husband, “David! Something’s in the attic!!”

He’s just gotten home from a long day at work, just taken a shower, and isn’t interested in whatever phantom noise I’m panicked about. Spring usually brings a procession of bugs and spiders and weirdo beetles I’m always calling for him to kill. No emergency, he thinks. I wait. The scurrying continues.

“There’s something in the attic!” I call.

When darling husband comes into the room, he cocks his head to listen, wearing that “there’s nothing there” impatient frown … and then he hears it too.

There’s a critter line dancing right above our heads. Continue reading

There’s more than a little mischief going on behind that charming smile …

I once had a conversation with my daughter where her contribution consisted almost entirely of the phrase, “What’s that?” I don’t know whether I should have felt honored, because she thought I was so powerful that I could read her mind, or frightened, because she’d found new way to systematically drive me insane.

Here’s the column I wrote about that experience, pulled from the archives of pieces that have appeared over the years in various newspapers and online. If you’ve got children, you can probably relate.

Mind Reading Mommy
By Joanne Brokaw

Parenting is a tough job. Not only are you expected to birth another human being, you have to feed, clothe, teach, bathe, chauffeur, discipline and otherwise raise the child so that they become a productive member of society.

Oh, and let’s not forget the mind reading.

I remember once when my daughter was about three years old, we were driving on the expressway, wrapped in our little automotive cocoon, when from the back seat I heard her sweet little voice ask, “Mommy, what’s that?”

“What’s what?” I asked.

“That.” I looked in the rearview mirror to see her sitting in her car seat pointing out the front windshield.

“Is it inside or outside the car?”

“It’s that thing, right there.”

I looked ahead as I drove and ventured a guess. “The windshield? This glass that we’re looking through?” I reached forward to tap the window. Continue reading

The Unsung Celebrity

Flags at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. (photo credit: WikiCommons)

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to share one of my favorite pieces with you. I wrote it in 2004 – I can’t believe it’s been that long – after returning from my first Erma Bombeck humor writing conference.  It’s been reprinted a bunch of times, but it’s still one of the few pieces that makes me weepy. (And I wrote it!)

All of these years, I’ve wondered about Kyle – Who was he? Where is he now? With just a first name and the airport he flew out of, I have no clue how to even find him. He could have been from Ohio or Kentucky; could still be in the military or not.

In any event, on this Memorial Day, remember those who served – liked my grandfather, John Francis Sheerin, in WWII; or my great, great grandfather Samuel Keltz, in the Civil War; or my brother in law, who serves now in the Air National Guard (flying those gas stations in the sky).

And in honor of Kyle, this is for all of the military service men and women whose names we’ll never know, who serve so we might be blissfully ignorant of how much our freedom really costs.

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The Unsung Celebrity

He looked like just another fresh-faced, Midwestern college student heading back to classes after spring break. Tall and handsome, dressed in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap, he was surrounded by what could only be his family, gathered together to send him back into the big world.

I was returning home to Rochester, NY after spending three days in Dayton, OH for the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer’s Conference, where we’d been encouraged to see the humor in the mundane, the laughter in our surroundings, and the comedy in our pain.

Maybe that’s why I noticed the young man. A woman who could only be his mother was wrapped tightly around his waist, reluctant to say goodbye, a gesture I’m all too familiar with whenever I send my daughter Cassie back to the wilds of Buffalo State College, an entire hour from home.

I was with two other women from the conference, chatting and laughing, and the young man ended up behind us in the security line. I leaned across our group and tapped him on the arm. “Where are you going that your family is going to miss you so much?” I asked with a smile. “The DMZ in South Korea,” he responded politely.

It took a minute for that to sink in. The DMZ is the Demilitarized Zone. He wasn’t a student. He was a soldier.

Suddenly this wasn’t so funny. I looked beyond him, and noticed that his family was still gathered beyond the security ropes, his mother teary-eyed and wringing her hands, not daring to take her eyes off her son for even a moment lest she lose him forever in the crowd. I leaned back to the young man. “What’s your name?” “Kyle,” he replied. “I’m going to pray for you, Kyle,” I promised, and turned around, not sure what else to say.

We were directed through different security lines, and Kyle was through the checkpoint before me. As I met up with my friends and we headed to the coffee shop before going our separate ways, I saw Kyle off to one side putting his belongings back into his carryon. I wanted to stop and talk to him, but I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to run back and tell his family that he would be OK, but I didn’t know if that was true.

So I said nothing, and headed for the coffee shop, where I found a group of reality TV celebrities who had been in town for a charity event. Chatter and laughter poured out into the terminal, and fans were getting autographs and taking pictures. We’re reality TV junkies at my house, and I had my picture taken just for kicks.

Winding the film in my camera, I looked down the terminal and noticed Kyle walking by himself to his gate. In an instant, the contrast between the pseudo-celebs and Kyle became all too clear. I was standing with a group of people who were admired simply because they’d been on television, enduring a month on some tropical island, eating coconuts and rice, and battling each other for a cash prize and the chance of product endorsements. They were surrounded by fans who wanted to shower them with attention.

And here was Kyle, headed out to endure a real bout with survival. Real enemies, real sacrifice, real danger. And no one noticed him.

I know almost nothing about Kyle. Surely, he is someone’s son. Quite possibly, he is someone’s brother. Very likely, he is some young woman’s prince charming.

But I know now what I want to say to you, Kyle. You are the foundation upon which this country is built, young men and women willing to leave behind safety, security and family so that I may remain at home and enjoy the fruits of freedom, even if that includes watching mindless television and writing columns just for laughs.

You are more than any television survivor, more middle-American than any Average Joe. You, Kyle, are my hero. I missed my chance. You are the real celebrity, and I should have had my picture taken with you.

(c) Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved.

I’ve been going through some old columns, written over the years for a variety of community newspapers or niche magazines. Someone suggested I compile them into a book.

That seems like a lot of work, so just for kicks (and to keep the blog fresh) I thought I’d start sharing them here. Up first: one of my favorites, written about the kid who checked out my groceries. I imagine Spencer now, drifting his way across the country and charming middle-aged moms from coast to coast. Keep the dream alive, kiddo …

Youth and Groceries
by Joanne Brokaw

At the grocery store today I watched Spencer, the checkout boy, as he talked a blue streak to the middle aged mom ahead of me in line, exuding youthful energy as he scanned broccoli and toilet paper, bantering with her young boy about how great it is to be sick because you get to miss school and watch cartoons all day.

When it was my turn in line, he greeted me with his usual “How’s it going? Did you find everything you were looking for?” and then suddenly said, “You have amazing eyes. What color are they? Blue? Green?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, a bit startled. “It kind of depends on what color I’m wearing, I guess.”

“You don’t know? Well, you’re wearing grey so today they’re blue. Piercing blue-green. Great eyes.” He flashed his surfer smile and shook his shaggy bangs out of his eyes as he stuffed my tilapia and cat food into a bag.

The grey he was referring to could have been the old grey hooded sweatshirt I was wearing, or the dark circles underneath my eyes that come from a lack of sun or sleep, or maybe from the stray grey hair that was poking out from my messy ponytail. Either way, it was clearly not a come on; I have leftovers in my refrigerator older than this kid. It’s just his natural personality, his ease with himself and with others, his ability to simply make conversation, unable to not converse. Continue reading

On a trip in 2006. Nope, still don’t know how the plane stays in the air. (That’s Key West below. If I have to crash, I guess it’s as good a place as any, right?)

In my continuing effort to pull out columns that might be worth reprinting in an e-book, let me share another of my favorites. It’s from 2008, just after the airlines started charging passengers to check their luggage. (Who knew I would be right, and that airlines would start charging to check our first piece of luggage? Really, I should play the lottery more often.)

Anyway, for the record, my brother-in-law, who is both a commercial and military pilot, has tried for years to explain to me how a plane stays aloft. I still don’t get it. Not that that should surprise any of my regular readers.

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That’ll Be An Extra $25, Please
by Joanne Brokaw

I need to emphasize right at the start that I’m not an aeronautical expert. I can’t figure out how a plane flies without flapping its wings like a bird, so it will come as no surprise that I don’t understand the new airline policies about luggage.

If you’ve traveled by plane recently you know that most airlines, in an effort to offset rising fuel costs, are now charging passengers anywhere from $25 to $100 to check a second suitcase.

I thought perhaps the airlines were encouraging passengers to pack lighter so the planes would weigh less and therefore use less gas. But on a recent flight, our take-off was delayed so the crew could add ballast to the plane because, as the pilot happily informed us, the passengers “didn’t check enough luggage.”

Excuse me. Did you want me to check a second suitcase or not? Because I had a lot of stuff I could have packed if I knew you needed more weight. I just didn’t want to pay an extra $25 to haul three pair of black boots, two jackets and four pair of jeans through the friendly skies, just in case I changed my mind about what I wanted to wear while I was in Ohio for 48 hours.

I’m not sure what the charge for checking a second suitcase is intended to accomplish, if it’s not to make the planes lighter. Sure, the airlines will generate some additional income – for a while at least, until passengers learn to stuff everything into one suitcase. Then they’ll be forced to start charging us for the basics, like checking our first suitcase, using the lavatory during a flight, and breathing pressurized cabin oxygen.

First, though, the airlines are trying to save a few bucks by flying more slowly. One airline expects to save $42 million this year [at the time of this writing] by extending each flight by two or three minutes.

So let me get this straight. First you make me cram everything I need into one suitcase (and still keep it under 50 pounds) while you turn around and add extra weight to the plane? And now you’re going to fly slower (as if being suspended magically in the atmosphere for hours isn’t nerve-wracking enough already)?

How about a compromise? I’ll agree to pay an extra $25 for a suitcase filled with shoes so that your airline staff doesn’t need to add ballast to the plane, and I’ll be patient and wait three more minutes to get to my destination. In exchange, you’ll have let me collect tips as I undress in the security line. If I have to remove half of my clothing just to get to my gate I might as well get something in return.

Think about it. With a long enough wait going through security, I could make enough money to pay for that extra suitcase.

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Read more columns from the archives