Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell



7 Days: Merry Mags (Reprisal)

Mags Circa 1975 and 2015

Four friends, forty years…

The gift of friendship is one of the most life-affirming, sustaining and positive forces in anyone’s life. Forty years ago, these three girls and I were inseparable, the terror of Tyro Junior High School. After college, careers, children, illness, marriage and divorce, broken hearts, ailing parents, second chances, getting skinny and then getting fat again, we seriously reconnected with each other about five years ago with the tenacity of a baby hanging on to its mama.

We deemed ourselves “The Steel Magnolias” as an ode to our Southerness and our ability to persevere through the ups and downs life.Over time, our name was shortened to “The Mags” because although we are Southern, we are simply not that genteel or proper.

Some days, I feel so, well old… but when we are together, the years simply melt away. At our get-together last night, I surprised them with this picture I found among some old family photos. After much analysis of our clothing and hairstyles, we believe this was taken around Christmas, 1975.

Look closely you can see Marilyn (who at that time, went by the nickname, “Ralph”) seated, posing as Santa dressed in an impromptu Santa outfit: toilet paper beard, toboggan and Christmas bow hat. Vick’s the child on Santa’s lap while Tracy and I look on. Then, just as now, I was the daydreamer in the group, my eyes looking off-camera, lost in my own thoughts and my own little world. Tracy, the beautiful blonde, my friend of “Shoe – Whore” fame, still towers over everyone else’s head and represents the heart and soul of the Mags.

Last night, after several bottles of wine, crackers, cheese and pizza, one of us thought we should recreate the original photo. Trying to coerce the cooperation of the cell phone, the props and all parties involved was a bit like herding cats. Of all the photos that were taken, Tracy sent me this one. I was like, “Are you serious, this is the best one? You’ve got to be kidding me…”

On the outside, we’ve gained the weight- equivalent of another middle-aged woman- there’s another Mag draped around our hips and poking out of our skinny jeans! Our boobs have migrated impossibly south, dropped way down yonder like the crystal ball in Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve. We’re using night serums on our face and waxing the chin hairs from our chinny-chin-chins.

The irony is that if you asked any one of us the most surprising thing about a friendship spanning more than forty years, we would tell you how little we have changed.

The four of us are as different as night and day. We’re teachers and CPA’s, hospital administrators and creative types, writers, preppies and earth puppies, direct and evasive, sex kittens and hermits. There’s several tattoos in very strategic places among the group.

As to who and where, my lips are sealed…

Today, we’re still there for each other in all the old ways, but more so. We laugh harder and cry more easily. We listen more carefully and we’re not afraid to ask the hard questions or disagree. We hug harder and hang on longer. These women are my “go to girls” and I’ve no doubt they would love me through anything. They’d help me hide a body, break me out of jail or at least hide a key in my cheesecake.

Because if we’re together, you bet there will be dessert!

If you have friends like these, thank God for that gift! They will go with you through hell and back. If you don’t have friends like these, do something about it NOW! Make a phone call or look up your old friends on Facebook. Time leaves it mark on all of us but good friends and laughter are truly the best antidote for aging.

Merry Christmas Mags!!!

9 Days: Christmas Circa 1968 (Reprisal)

cowboy christmas Hands down, Christmas circa 1968 was one of my most memorable Christmases ever. Just look at that aluminum Christmas tree with the shiny blue balls. The rotating color wheel of red, blue, gold and green. The cowboy outfit (notice I did not say cowgirl!) complete with real boots, vest and a white leather neck lariat. I’m not sure why, but Santa also brought me a blonde wig. If I look very closely under the tree, I can see the bag of oranges that I never appreciated but that Santa always left, without fail, in my stocking.

At this moment, I felt like I had everything in the world I could possibly ever wanted, except for a real horse. I even received not one, two but three of those years later after I’d worn my parents down by my constant nagging.

It’s a blessing that, as children, we can be so easily fulfilled. While I am not wealthy, I must say that now that I am an adult, I have most everything I “need” and yet my “wants” are impossible to put under a tree. So I have been giving it some thought. If I could have anything in the world, this is what I would wish for…

 My Grown Up Christmas List

The world would be free of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and mental illness. Those I know who are afflicted with these conditions would be healthy. Broken hearts and wounded spirits would be healed.

The world would be free of prejudice, bigotry, ignorance and hunger.

Every day would be two hours longer, giving me more time to cook more, exercise  and write. Better make that three hours longer!

Micheal Buble would be my friend. Also Adele. I thought about having Oprah as a friend but I am not sure… she can be a little pushy.

I could sit down (on earth) with my parents once again. And my Aunt Betty Jo and Aunt Johnnie.

No one would be cruel to animals and most everyone would spay and neuter their pets. Also, our pets would age at the same rate we do.

My son and his wife Meredith would have a long, happy life together and a happy family. They wouldn’t have to work so hard or be so tired.

I would feel hopeful and optimistic about the state of our government. Oh, and politicians would be honest. (Yeah, right!)

Sugar, ice cream and chocolate chip cookies would be good for you.

The litter box would be perpetually self cleaning.

The people I know who can not become pregnant would be able to have children. And these children would be loved.

I would get my Master’s Degree and a scholarship, while I am at it.

I would have white teeth. And longer legs. And that cowlick on the back of my head would go away.

Folks with the burden of financial problems would find this burden lifted and would not need to make choices based on economics.

My dryer would also iron my clothes. Oh, and the dishwasher would automatically put the dishes into the cupboard.

I would keep my house* and my neighborhood, but I would move them further out in the countryside where I could see more sky and experience more quiet, except for the sound of whippoorwills, crickets, cicadas and the occasional rooster. Somehow, it would only take me 5 minutes to drive to work and the grocery store.

*Actually I would add more closets inside my house…

I would travel more. I want to walk across England, from coast-to-coast. I would like to spend 3 weeks in Tuscany and Florence. I would drive the Pacific Coast Highway. I would go nearly anywhere except Las Vegas, one of the few places I don’t care to visit, but if I had to go there, I’d rent a car and drive into the desert. Maybe I simply want to be a travel writer and I could get paid to do this.

All of us would remember to laugh more. And not worry about the things we cannot change.

My book would be a best seller and then I’d write another book.




Deep Purple Dream


In case there is a morsel of doubt, it’s true. I’ve turned into my mother.

My mother, God bless her, never met a stranger. In her elder years-after she was widowed- I often took mom on various outings about town, just to have something to do. If I happened to leave her alone a few minutes, she would strike up a conversation with the first person she encountered. I’d return from my brief absence- having retrieved my forgotten loaf of bread or completed my restroom visit- only to discover that I had become the center of a conversation in which my mother revealed everything she knew about me to a complete stranger. She did the same thing when she went out with my sister.

“Oh, this is my youngest daughter, Susan” mom would begin brightly to her new friend. I would nod politely while eyeing the ever- growing line at the cash register. “She’s an interior designer in Greensboro… and yes, her husband is the art teacher. They have one son, Brennen… She IS a wonderful daughter. My other daughter, Janie, lives in Thomasville. She and her husband have a beautiful place at Ocean Isle Beach… yes, she is the teacher…” and on and on it would go until the line reached the back of the store.

Mom was bold and furiously friendly, blissfully ignorant of social boundaries. I recall the time mom ran into Dean Smith at the airport. I was digging through the depths of my pocketbook when mom wandered off. When I looked up, she was standing at the baggage claim watching Dean Smith search for his luggage on the revolving gurney. Dean was there, casually cool, trying to be a regular Joe looking for his duffle bag, while my mother examined him like a specimen under a magnifying glass. Really, she was bent all the way over, inspecting (it would appear) his shoes or somethin’ low. I practically had to peel her off him.

Since I have become my mother, middle age has emboldened me to do all sorts of foolish things that somehow remind me of my mother. I recently had the opportunity to meet my childhood crush, Donny Osmond at a local trade show, the High Point International Furniture Market. Donny and his wife have a furniture line called DOH- Donnie Osmond Home. It just so happened my BFF Angela was overseeing the design work on the space adjacent to his showroom. Being the excellent friend that she is and knowing about my childhood infatuation, she procured the means for me to meet him on the day of his appearance at DOH, hawking his dining room suits and upholstered beds to other middle-aged women like myself.

When the day finally arrived, I swathed myself in the most purple of outfits (true fans know Donnie’s favorite color is purple) and arrived in the showroom at the specified time. I entered through the back door and moseyed through the vignettes in search of his Highness. Our mutual friend, Brandi, manages both showrooms. Knowing my intentions, she spotted me there wandering the showroom alone, came over and inquired if I had met him yet.

Pulling my by the arm, she hauled me to the front. “Where’s Donnie?” she asked his publicists, who were standing up front nibbling cubes of pineapple from the Edible Arrangements bouquet.

“In the bathroom,” they replied. I implored Brandi that there was no hurry; I certainly didn’t want to bother Donny Osmond while he was on the toilet. Instead, I picked at the grapes and strawberries and made small talk with the receptionist.

This was not a hard thing for me to do, of course, because I am my mother’s daughter.

Five minutes later, Brandi reappeared. By this time the grapes and strawberries were gone. “Where’s Donny?” she asked the publicists again. Donny and I had not even met yet but I already had the feeling he was avoiding me. Brandi stormed off and found him, sitting in – what they referred to as an office-  but really, it looked like he was in a small storage room.

He was avoiding me for sure.

I follow Brandi inside. “Donny,” began Brandi, “This is Susan. She is one of your biggest fans. Her friend Angela is in charge of the floor design crew that set up our showroom.She helped decorate our showroom.”

That’s when our eyes met and I’ve gotta say, well, he looked tired.

He’d had some work done, but he was still trim and handsome. Smaller than I had somehow envisioned. Still, he had than mane of thick black hair and the wide smile of Chicklet teeth I remembered from his television days. He extended his hand for a handshake.

Now, you know there was no way I was going to be satisfied with that. Not after waiting forty years to meet him. “Can I have a hug?” I asked as I moved in. (Trump has nothing on me; really, I gave the poor man no choice.) Poor Donny was cornered in the storage room by a very nervous and excited woman swathed in purple, still holding the toothpick from her sampling of the Edible Arrangements.

That’s when mama really took over. I began babbling… thanking Donny – of all things- for being part of my youth (I did NOT say fantasies) and for his family’s positive influence in my growing up years. I told him how much my family had enjoyed watching his and Marie’s television show. Of course, since I babble when I am nervous, I went on and on… Donny looked confused for a moment until he understood what I was getting at.

“Yes,” he said. “It was a more innocent time…” He shook his head, looking a bit sad and even more tired. I agreed, even though the memory of my twelve year old thoughts was not so “Sweet and Innocent.” I nodded like an idiot.

“Ugh huh..”

Then somehow, in this brief conversation, I got him to tell me where he was staying. Coincidentally, it happened to be the hotel owned by my employer. As the company’s longtime interior designer, I had, of course, decorated his room. I may have asked him which floor.

No, I am certain, I did ask “Which floor?”

Poor Donny. I am my mother’s daughter; there was no hiding from me. He assured me that his suite was very nice. And that his wife was coming the next day.

“How con-veen-ient” I thought, but instead, I nodded like a normal person and tried not to give my weirdness away.

I didn’t mention my past history, that I had been a type of Donny Osmond stalker once before, though not in the way you might think. As a preteen, I made obscene phone calls to my friend Crystal Orrell, pretending I was him. “Hello Crystal,” I began in my deepest Donny voice. “This is Donny Osmond. Is your refrigerator running?”… or something like that. No, I couldn’t be content like a normal person stalking Donny Osmond, I wanted to BE him. I wondered briefly if this was related to my brief fascination with trying to be like my male cousins, trying to pee standing up.

It didn’t work. Not the peeing, well yes- that did work- but not very efficiently, I mean the being Donny Osmond. Crystal’s mom called my mom and I got in a wee bit of trouble.

Really, as we stood there both inches and worlds apart, Donny looked like he was eyeing the exit in case he needed to make a fast getaway. I didn’t want to bother him- I might be bold but not impolite. I needed to leave and so, of course, I asked for a photo. “Let’s take a selfie” he volunteered; that was fine with me. There really wasn’t room enough in that room anyway for a photographer.

We vogued, right there in the storage room office. I held the phone out and he- well.. let’s just say he pushed my button.

The next day, I learned that Donny was scheduled to make another appearance with an art vendor I am acquainted with. I was there to say hello again, looking spiffy in my other purple outfit, black boots and a gold metallic belt. This time, since he was bringing his wife, you bet I was bringing my husband.

“Ugh, I don’t want to meet him” Perry whined. “That’s weird.”

“You’ve GOT to meet him, honey”, I said. “You’ve just got to.” (“This is my youngest daughter’s husband the art teacher,” I heard mother say.)

We found Donny perched as if he’d like to fly away, beneath  a row of abstract paintings. I waited in line, hubby in tow, making a point to catch the eye of the gallery’s owner with whom I knew from years of doing business together. Janice started to make the introductions, “Oh we’ve met”, I assured her. She looked back and forth at Donny, me , perplexed.

“Yes,” said Donny. “We met yesterday at the …”

(You cornered me in the storage room is what he was thinking!)

I pulled Perry up there and introduced him to Donny. “The artwork looks great,” I offered, and just to prove my point, I craned my neck at the soft, pastel colored artwork lining the gallery’s walls. There was a very aggressive looking woman standing nearby, probably from Florida, with tanned skin, sparkly jewelry and stand-up bangs. Like me, she was wearing a LOT of purple. I could tell, she wanted me to be brief. She stood next in line  looking like she could just eat Donny Osmond up.


“I was hoping to meet Debbie,” I suddenly remarked to Donny, making casual conversation. I couldn’t believe it; we were already on a first name basis. Not Mrs. Osmond, not your wife, but Debbie- like she was my long lost college friend or somethin’.

“Oh she’s around- over there she is…” he said, and he pointed to an attractive, petite lady talking with a small group of women. There, he’d thrown me off the scent! I ditched Perry and Donny, walked right over to eye my competiion. I stood behind them, giving the other ladies the evil eye til I could introduce myself.

Debbie Osmond was gracious and lovely. We talked about our kids, about my son getting married and about her nearly empty nest, which I knew about already because after all, I am a stalker.

I had googled her.

Afterwards, Perry gave me a hard time. He thinks it’s hilarious… that I impersonate Donny Osmond, that I tried to pee standing up, that I have stalked Donny Osmond and now his poor lovely, unsuspecting wife.

What can I say? I am my mother’s daughter. (The youngest… the interior designer… whose husband is an art teacher… who has a son named Brennen…) 


Every Day Heroes

My hero, Fred Kirby, with my brother and sister, Tony and Janie, and some kid that is not, but should have been me!
My hero, Fred Kirby, with my brother and sister, Tony and Janie, and some kid that is not, but should have been me!

Who are your heroes? As a little girl, my hands down hero was a singing cowboy named Fred Kirby. A staple for all baby boomers throughout central North Carolina, Fred Kirby and the Little Rascals aired for years Sunday afternoons on our local Charlotte station WBTV, Channel 3. They were all local stations back then.

Fred Kirby sang all of my favorite songs. Who can forget Jimmy Crack Corn, The Big Rock Candy Mountain and his classic, Atomic Power?

“How we-ee-ee-ee-ee LOVE the Little Ras-cals,Little Ras-cals, Little Ras-cals…”

In addition to those classic scenes playing his guitar and singing, Fred Kirby rode his horse Calico while his side-kick, Uncle Jim, entertained us with his classic buffoonery. The show also aired short clips of “Our Gang”, The Little Rascals. Who can forget Darla and Alfalfa, the Buckwheat and throaty voiced Froggy? Who can forget the classic and completely politically incorrect episode when Uncle George broke out of the nuthouse and chased the Little Rascals around for their candy saying “Yum, yum. Eat’em up!”? In the end, the Rascal’s are saved by little Spanky who shot Uncle George in the arse and out the window with a roman candle?

My hero, Fred Kirby, had a long career in the entertainment industry and entertained generations of children before and after me. He faithfully wore his cowboy hat and red cowboy shirt with white fringe and made summer and weekend appearances for years at a local attraction in the mountains near Boone NC called Tweetsie Railroad. It was a highlight of my preschool years when mama and daddy took me to Tweetsie to see Fred Kirby in person and ride the train. Numerous times a day, the old steam engine, Tweetsie, wound its way for several miles through the Appalachian mountains where it would invariably be attacked by Indians. On the day we made this classic trip, one of the Indians decided he was going to pretend to scalp my mama. It was classic “Mur-Louise” when she fought back and hit him in the head with her pocketbook. Ultimately, we all came out alive when the cowboys came to our rescue.

These days, there are very few characters on my television set that are worthy of being cast as heroes. Even our old friends Batman and Superman are squabbling between themselves. I have to ask, really, is it worth those paltry millions to further confuse the next generation of kids as to which of these guys are the good and which are the bad guys? Doesn’t that generation have it bad enough?

More importantly, I find there’s simply no need to look for pretend heroes when there are real life heroes in my daily life that inspire and amaze me. Let me tell you about a few…

There’s my neighbor Janice who has faced numerous difficulties including the tragic loss of her son, Deebs, years ago. I recently learned that every year, she and her ex-husband visit her son’s elementary school and tell the children her son’s story. Every year in May, she courageously reopens those wounds and has to find the strength to heal again. For her courage to continue to stay open to love despite the pain it costs her, Janice is my hero.

There are my cousins Glenn, Julia and Alex who after the loss of Glenn’s mother (my Aunt BJ last summer) are now courageously fighting Glenn’s aggressive stage 4 cancer. Cancer has totally changed their lives but they are committed to doing everything possible to wage war on this brutal disease. The stress it puts on them as individuals and a family is great but they do it with faith and grace. For this and the love they continue to share with others during their own difficult times, Glenn, Julia and Alex are my heroes.

There are my friends Linda and Tracy who over the last five or six years suffered unexpected, mid-life breakups of their marriages. Through their experiences, I have learned that divorce is much more than the breakup of a marriage. It is the dissolution of a family unit. It is a complete loss of trust between individuals. It is the death of a dream. To watch them come out of those dark times to create even stronger, better and more authentic lives is nothing less than awe- inspiring. Linda and Tracy are my heroes.

There is my young friend who was a drug addict. After many years, she found the strength to come clean and she lives her life today in recovery. As a single mother, today she works two jobs to support her family. She is dedicated and tough. She is compassionate and makes time to help others. This friend knows who she is. She is my hero.

My list of heroes could go on and on. Today’s real-life superheros do not need to don a cowboy hat or wriggle into spandex to assume their magic powers. Everyday, they get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other and bravely do battle.


Check out these old clips and information:

Fred Kirby on You-Tube:
Little Rascals’ Uncle George (enturity)
Little Rascals’ Uncle George (clip)
Little Rascals’ Where Are they Now? (My mom and dad used to tell me that one of the Little Rascals became a Doctor at Baptist Hospital in Winston Salem, but if that was true. I do not remember which one…)


ballet_shoesAs a child, I dreamed of becoming an elegant ballerina but it was one of those things in life that was not meant to be. For years, I begged my mother to let me take dance lessons like my childhood best friend, Debbie Koontz. My parents refused by saying that the dance studio was located too far from our house on Goat Pasture Road and besides, dance lessons were too expensive. Mother also did not feel that I needed instructions in dance since she had already discovered my “talent.” Our family had inherited an old upright piano from my paternal grandmother and I had played it out of sheer boredom for most all of my life. While I could easily capture any melody by ear, my form was stuck in the basics of chords and one finger pecking.
Consequently, instead of dancing, mother signed me up for piano lessons even as Debbie Koontz took the dance lessons I wanted for myself. When we spent the night together, Debbie would show me all the steps she had mastered, the shuffle steps of tap, the jazz hands of jazz and the holy plies of ballet. I remember coveting Debbie’s beautiful recital costumes, full of sparkle and froth, as well as her pale pink satin ballet slippers. It was like a mark of womanhood when Debbie went thru the dancer’s rite of passage and finally received her first pair of toe shoes.


More than forty years had passed since my last sleep-over at Debbie’s house and I had still not forgotten how badly I had wanted to be a dancer. Upon learning that a friend of my son’s was taking adult ballet lessons in nearby Clemmons, I shared with her my childhood story. “Come to class with me,” his friend Devon encouraged. “This class is not for people who have danced all their lives. Everyone’s a beginner. Besides, there is a mix of ladies in there. In fact, one of them is a mom like you.” My eyes lit up. What a great idea! I could do this. I briefly considered my health. I was not in the best shape. “Ballet for adults” is obviously not without its risks. In addition to the potential damage to my self-esteem, there would also be a risk of physical injury. Regardless, I became something of a risk-taker on the verge of my golden years and I figured if I had the chance to mark something off my bucket list, I was going to do it.
On the evening we were to attend the class, I was a bit late leaving work. When I got home, I couldn’t decide what to wear. “What to wear?” has been the eternal question that has plagued me for every event in my life. When I die, would someone please remember to etch those words onto my tombstone and make this final wardrobe selection for me? I called Devon to ask for advice. She suggested I wear yoga pants and thick socks. I perused the drawer of my casual pants. Hmmm, I wasn’t 100% clear on what she meant by “yoga pants.” I owned one pair of grey sweat pants that were slightly flared at the bottom like yoga pants but they did not seem very danceable. Since it had been a warm day, I thought maybe I should wear something cooler. I didn’t have a lot of suitable clothes to choose from. Finally, I found some beige capri length pants and paired them with a white v-neck tee and my metallic flip flops. I didn’t own a full length mirror but I could tell from the view of my upper half in the little bathroom mirror over my sink that I looked decidedly “un-ballerina-ish.” I needed some drama. I needed to look like the girls on So You Think You Can Dance. Maybe I needed to channel Irene Cara on Flash Dance. I remembered an orange and lemon sherbet- colored scarf that was buried in my closet and so I dug around until I found it and wrapped it around my neck and shoulders. I felt I looked a bit more like a dancer although certainly not a ballerina. I noticed the clock said a few minutes after 7 PM. I had to leave right then or I would be late!
I drove like a mad woman to Devon’s house. In my rushing, I forgot to bring my socks so I called ahead to ask Devon to bring me a pair of hers. As she slips in the car and buckles her seat belt, she gives me the once-over out of the corner of her eyes. I can tell I have missed the mark on the wardrobe. Sensing her disappointment, I begin explaining the confusion over the pants and the scarf. Devon seems more concerned that no one will be able to see my knees which I consider a blessing. I realize that Devon is wearing a black leotard beneath her yoga pants and that I have failed to understand the complex layers of a ballerina’s wardrobe. Then, she confesses that the only clean socks she could find were either toe socks or tube socks. My mind flashed back to the multi colored toe socks I wore in 1976; every toe was a different color. Thank God she decided to forego the toe socks but I can tell that the purple and pink- banded tube socks she brought me are not going to match the sherbet hues of my scarf.

We arrive at the dance studio with seconds to spare. I enter, feeling awkward, and begin looking for the other mothers. The instructor asks me if I plan to dance and I assure her that I do.
I had not dressed up for nothin’.

I spot some glittery costumes and accessories in a basket but Devon discourages me from inspecting them too closely. Instead, she instructs me to put on my mismatched tube socks. I decide that rolling them down might be more comfortable and make me look less like a deranged football player. Although my knees do not show, if the instructor is quick, she can catch a good four inches of my lower calf. At Devon’s suggestion, I remove the scarf.
“Gosh, there are a lot of mirrors in here,” I think to myself as I gaze around the room. The barre on the wall was mounted so high, I asked Devon incredulously if we would have to put our legs up on it. Honestly, I could have hung upside down on it like a monkey bar. My next thought was that before we got started, I needed to find a bathroom. Even though I am a newbie, I know that incontinence and ballerinas do not make good dance partners.
The instructor suddenly calls the class to attention before I have a chance to use the restroom and we make our way to the dance floor. I am concerned because there does not seem to be any other moms in the group. There are five students in the class, Devon, myself and three other high school girls. “Where’s the mom?” I whisper to Devon and she gestures towards one of the girls I thought was in high school. The “mom” was thirty, at most. She wore the same wan expression atop her waif- like body as all the other dancers. “Geez, am I the only one here with breasts?” I thought. I try not to look at myself but there are so many mirrors, I cannot help myself. The other girls look like real ballerinas in their black leotards and pink ballet shoes. I look ready to go grocery shopping.
The music starts. Our instructor, Mary, explains about the correct posture for ballet. From her instructions, I ascertain that my bottom half needs to spread out like a castrated frog while simultaneously relaxing my shoulders. Mary begins shouting a series of rapid commands. It is very hard to follow and so I try to imitate Devon’s movements. Mary shouts “Plie, grand plie, demi-moore plie and relevez,” and combines the moves with a confusing number of various feet positions numbered one through five. Then, while our feet play “Twister,” our arms are supposed to do an elaborate series of Vanna White moves that range from “Here, behind door number 3. Your brand new car!” to something like “I’m gonna cover my head with this tiny umbrella!”
It is overwhelming but I try my best to keep up. I am not a quitter, unfortunately even when it is in my best interest to do so. Obviously I am traumatized and delusional; I think I am doing okay, until we perform the coup de grace.
We line up at the short end of the studio. Mary changes the music to something that sounds like the composer was “hepped” up on too much caffeine. She commands us to perform a series of moves whose locomotion will propel us thirty to forty feet across the room to the opposite wall. The moves are like gallop- squat- hop- slide… gallop- squat- hop- slide. Mary looks at me sympathetically and suggests I forego the arm movements which I wasn’t trying to do in the first place. Suddenly I realize that I am on my own, unable to hide amidst the other girls. This is like a race and I am losing, big time. I lurch behind the other girls, sans arms, like a headless rooster. Then, in addition to being unable to master the movements, I make two mistakes. I simultaneously catch my reflection in the wall of mirrors and see the faintest twinkle of amusement in Mary’s eyes.
I finally see how truly desperate this situation is…
I complete my gallop- squat- hop- slide to the other end of the studio, yards behind the other girls. Suddenly, I am overcome with emotion. Then, I need to pee. The former happens to me on very rare occasions while the latter is becoming more frequent. I try to hold both feelings in but something between hysterical laughter and hysterical tears wells up inside my throat while the other end is welling with something else altogether. My eyes redden and my face contorts unattractively. Mary looks at me as if she is afraid I am having a stroke. For a minute, I actually hope that I am having a stroke and I hope that Mary feels guilty for smirking at me just before I die.
I am not spared a quick death.
I make it home and tell my husband of my latest fiasco. We’ve been married a long time and he is no longer surprised at anything I do. Then, out of nowhere, the emotions I had swallowed in the dance studio begin to rise again. I grand plie into a full- fledged hissy- fit with real tears and a very ugly cry. Hubby looks concerned. Bless his heart, he really does.
“Oh my God,” he exclaims. “This sounds exactly like an episode of I Love Lucy.” Perry has seen every episode of I Love Lucy at least forty times, no lie. I have not seen them and I have no idea what he is talking about. “There was an episode where Lucy wanted to be a dancer,” Perry continues. “At the auditions, she rearranges all her clothes to look like the other dancers by pulling the neckline down over her shoulders and her pants legs up. Then, she tries to copy the moves of the other dancers…” His voice trails off and we both fall into a wave of hysterics. “Yes, that’s it, exactly!” I say. How had I failed to cast myself as Irene Cara when I was really Lucille Ball?
In hindsight, I would still love to be a ballerina but I’ve decided that I should literally move on. Maybe I will try salsa? Or square dancing? Both Lucille Ball and I are simply too loud and colorful to be good ballerinas, even if we could manage to master gallop- squat- hop- slide while simultaneously showing the car behind Door Number 3!

The Life, Love and Folly of a 90 Year Old Man

IMG_1435 “Susan, are you writing this down? It’s going to be a bestseller,” he says emphatically. “I’ve got the name all picked out. It’s called The Life, Love and Folly of a 90 Year Old Man.” He pauses to observe my reaction. Edmund Koury, Chairman of the Board of Koury Corporation and Edmund Koury, my good friend announced this to me several years ago around the time of his ninetieth birthday. He has decided I need to write his life’s story and by the looks of things, I’d better get on it. He smiles a mischievous smile and chuckles, obviously amused with himself.

If it were not for a birthday cake indicating otherwise, you’d swear he was younger than he was by a decade or more.

In wintertime, he dresses in layers. The blood thinner he takes tends to make him feel cold all the time and gives him the appearance of having perennially bruised hands. Mr. Edmund often wears brown corduroys and a sweater vest over a blue shirt. He is colorblind and blue is one of the few colors he can easily discern. His hair is thick and white and his eyebrows often unruly, but on this day both have been trimmed by Gilbert Hutchins of Hutchins Barber Shop on Clifton Road. At Mr. Edmund’s recommendation and penchant for value, Mr. Hutchins now cuts my husband and son’s hair as well. “Now, Gilbert charges 9 dollars but tip him 3 bucks and no more,” he told my husband firmly. So that is what they do.

Mr. Edmund has the olive complexion of his Lebanese and Syrian forbearers combined with some French on his maternal side. While he bears an air of distinction, in his younger days he looked like a movie star. Today, deep lines crinkle out from his brown eyes like sunshine but they darken with remembrance. “We’ll get to the “love” part later, “ he says and begins dictating. I scramble to find an envelope or something to write on because you could never tell when he would start telling a story. “Now here’s the “life” part…It was my mother’s prayers that brought me back from the war…”

I never wrote that book about him but every year he’d add another number to its name. The Life, Love and Folly of a 90 Year Old Man became “a 91 Year Old Man”, then “a 92 Year Old Man” and so forth.

All I can think is how he would have turned 94 in October…

The Koury family is synonymous with the development of Greensboro. I’ve been fortunate to be an employee of the company for nearly 20 years and a design consultant for much longer than that. Mr. Edmund’s father immigrated to Greensboro from Lebanon around the turn of the century along with various cousins and brothers. They initially came to escape Muslim persecution of the Koury family’s Christian sons. His father was a peddler who sold cloth and housewares to farmers and country folk in the area. Eventually, the business grew into a dress store in nearby Burlington which Edmund would later manage for his father when he became ill.

Edmund was popular at school, becoming class president, yet he mostly kept to himself preferring not to socialize much with his classmates. His family’s dark skin and middle eastern customs didn’t fit so well among a WASP North Carolina textile town. Later, he served his country by fighting in the infantry division of the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the war, appendicitis kept him from leaving Germany with the rest of his battalion. He stayed behind to work as a prison warden in a Mannheim POW camp where he met a German widow and unexpectedly fell in love. Less than a year later he waved goodbye to Hilde Kohl. She waved and blew kisses to him from a second floor balcony, accompanied by her young daughter Dagmar and mother who was severely crippled by arthritis. Back home, he finished college and partnered with his brother Joe in several successful businesses including a small textile company and Kirkman Koury, a residential construction company, which eventually  morphed into Koury Corporation, one of the most successful commercial real estate development companies in the state.

One basis for our unlikely friendship was that Mr. Edmund was a great storyteller. The story of Hilde was one of a few that was tinged with regret but mostly, he had a stoic acceptance of things that were not meant to be. He would often recount war stories which I listened to with fascination, especially since my own father had served in the same war as a marine in the South Pacific. Having lost my father decades prior, I would have given anything to ask him the questions I asked Mr. Edmund. One story he told occurred during a cold winter evening when he and his radio man became separated from the other troops. They had been scouting for places to set mortars. It was bitterly cold and dusk tinged the sky. They spotted a shed on the bleak horizon and headed off to take advantage of any shelter it might offer for the night. Upon arrival, they dropped their heavy packs and surveyed their surroundings. Peering out the back door, they saw three German soldiers approaching the shed wearily in the snow. Mr. Edmund and the other soldier drew their weapons and prepared to blast the door when it swung open. Instead, the German soldiers opened another door which led them to an adjoining side of the barn. Seemingly unaware of the American soldier’s presence just a few feet away, the Germans talked among each other before falling asleep. Mr. Edmund and his companion did not make a sound or sleep a wink that night, afraid they would be discovered. After they heard the Germans snoring, they quietly made their way back to their camp before sunrise. He always ended this story by saying it was his mother’s prayers that brought him back from the war. Years after his mother passed away, her rosary still hangs on the wall in his kitchen.

Mr. Edmund loved Dancing With the Stars. It was an ongoing joke that he only watched the show because of their nice shoes. He was fond of the latin dances, especially the dramatic Argentine Tango. His favorite dancer was Cheryl Burke while mine was Derek Hough. I looked forward to his analysis of the dancers’ performances each Tuesday morning after it had aired the previous Monday night. He loved big band music and remembered seeing Frank Sinatra in Raleigh during the early years. He said he couldn’t believe how the girls went so wild over such a little man. He thought Cole Porter was one of the best songwriters of all times and I would have to agree with him. I have always liked Night and Day but had never heard of Begin the Beguine. “What is this thing called love?” he’d sometimes ask rhetorically and answer himself with “It’s a mystery!” He loved spending Saturday nights in front of the television with Lawrence Welk and watching old movies on the Turner Classic channel.

We also shared a love for Middle Eastern foods. After he discovered how much I loved the food I’d eaten on a trip to Greece, he made it his mission to teach me about Lebanese delicacies such as kibbeh, meat pies, stuffed squash, homemade hummus and baba ganoush. He brought me a cookbook written by his cousin Marie. I’d try out the recipes over the weekend and bring them in for him to sample a bite sometimes on Monday mornings. He taught me to enjoy good olives and a fine Manchego cheese, along with fresh figs and nuts purchased from the Jerusalem Market located a few miles down High Point Road. If you stopped by his office in the morning, you couldn’t leave without a handful of almonds or walnuts which he procured by the bagful from Costco.

I am not sure if he drank Scotch or Whiskey but I know he had a gentleman’s appreciation for a good drink, good-looking cars and good-looking women. I’m also not certain about the order of his preference. He continued driving his “Sunday Car” an ancient Riviera, I believe, that rolled over the roads like a tank along with his SUV (which he called an SOB) well into his 90’s. His driving skills were legendary among my co-workers and despite their warnings, he would occasionally insist I accompany him to some place or another. I always tried to meet him and even begged him to let me drive the car for him but there was no way he would allow a woman to do such a thing. He found my lack of confidence in his driving skills amusing and would often pretend while driving that he couldn’t make out stop lights and road signs ahead. The last time I saw him we joked about riding around together and he referred to me as “white- knuckled” which was true.

He looked forward to birthdays and special celebrations that he could use as an excuse to entertain and share the company of others. Up until last year, he would have me  gather together his nieces, an old friend or a favorite neighbor for the occasional grand luncheon at one of two of our tenant’s restaurants on the other side of town. Sometimes, he would tell me to invite my sister or a girlfriend and he would insist on sending everyone home with to-go boxes filled with enough food for dinner.

He was humble and kind and treated the greatest and least of people with the same consideration. He was especially sympathetic to other immigrant families and went out of his way to give them opportunities to get ahead. He knew his employees and their families by name and expressed special concern about their health and well-being. He believed inhaling salt water up your nose  was good for congestion and in the importance of physical exercise. He could walk circles around most everyone at the mall throughout his late 80’s. If he would see any of us walking to the Post Office or somewhere he’d grab our arm and make us walk laps a few with him.

Last fall, he suffered a major setback when he was in an automobile accident. No one else, thankfully was hurt. Under the careful watch of his brother’s family and dedicated caretakers, he managed to get through several difficult months of rehab and come back home. Last Tuesday, he passed away peacefully at this same home he had shared with his mother. He sensed her presence as he neared the end, asking his caretakers to check on his mother “in the next room.”

I recall that when I dropped in to visit him just after New Years, I asked him how he was doing and he nodded sadly, replying “I’m ready to cross the river.” He had said those same words to me with every setback he’d suffered over the last four or five years and as usual, I refused to placate him. “I’m sorry, Mr. Edmund, it’s just not your time…” I’d say before turning the conversation on a lighter note. “Besides, anyone can see you look too good to cross the river.”

This never failed to bring a smile to his face.

Mr. Edmund was a bright spot in my life and I believe I was the same for him. It has been one of the great joys and privileges of my life to call him my friend. So many people just seem to grow up and grow old but Mr. Edmund retained his youthful spirit and a passionate outlook on life. The Life, Love and Folly of a 93 Year Old Man… This says it all, really. I can attest that he lived a great “life”. He cared deeply for others and was “loved” and respected by both his Koury family and his other family- the employees that worked for him at his company.

“Folly” is not a word one hears used much anymore. It’s impossibly old-fashioned, a throwback to silent movies and vaudeville shows. It’s a word in keeping with an old man who refused to be defined by his age or his position in life. Whether it was folly or something more akin to wisdom, I cannot be certain. It is, however, something I hope to keep with me in my own travels towards the river. It is a reminder that while all of us must age, growing old is entirely optional.

Rest in peace my friend.

Merry Mags: 3 Days of Christmas Blogs


Mags Circa 1975 and 2015
Mags Circa 1975 and 2015

Four friends, forty years…

The gift of friendship has got to be one of the most life-affirming, sustaining and positive forces in anyone’s life. Forty years ago, these three girls and I were inseparable, the terror of Tyro Junior High School. After college, careers, children, illness, marriage and divorce, broken hearts, second chances, getting skinny and then getting fat again, we reconnected with each other about five years ago deeming ourselves “Steel Magnolias” as an ode to our Southerness and our ability to persevere through the ups and downs life.

Some days, I feel so, well old… but when we are together, it’s like the years simply melt away. I surprised them last night with this picture I found among some old family photos. After much analysis of our clothing and hairstyles, we believe this was taken around Christmas, 1975. If you look closely you can see Marilyn (who went by the nickname Ralph) seated, posing as Santa dressed in an impromptu Santa outfit: toilet paper beard, toboggan and Christmas bow hat. Vick’s the child on Santa’s lap while Tracy and I look on. Then just as now,  you can see I was the  daydreamer off in my own little world and Tracy, the beautiful blond continues to tower over everyone else’s head.

After several bottles of wine, crackers and cheese, pizza and two variety packs of pizza, we attempted to re-create the original photo. Trying to coerce the cooperation of the cell phone, the props and all parties involved was a bit like herding cats. Tracy sent me the photos and I’m like, “Are you serious, this is the best one? You’ve got to be kidding me…”

On sure, on the outside, we’ve gained the weight- equivalent of another middle-aged woman; everyone’s fatter and our boobs have migrated impossibly south. We’re using night serums on our face and waxing our chins. The irony is that if you asked any of us the most surprising thing about a friendship spanning more than forty years, is how little we have changed.

The four of us are as different as night and day. We’re teachers and CPA’s, hospital administrators and creative types, preppies and earth puppies, direct and evasive, sex kittens and hermits. There’s several tattoos in very strategic places among the group. Who and where, my lips are sealed. Today, we’re still there for each other in all the old ways, but more so. We laugh harder and cry more easily. We listen more carefully and we’re not afraid to ask the hard questions or disagree. We hug harder and hang on longer. They are my “go to girls” and I’ve no doubt they would love me through anything. They’d help me hide a body, break me out of jail or at least hide a key in my cheesecake.

Because if we’re together, you bet there will be dessert!

If you have friends like these, thank God for that gift. They will go with you through hell and back. If you don’t have, make a phone call or look up your old friends on Facebook. Time leaves it mark on all of us but good friends and laughter are truly the best antidote for aging.

Merry Christmas Mags!!!




No Room at the “Inn-terstate”: 5 Days of Christmas Blogs

street lamp 2  It was Christmas Eve and our little SUV made its journey home slicing a light in the darkness. This was just before the years of 24 hour Wal-Marts and fast-food restaurants. Possibly just before teenagers began staying up all night texting their friends. It was Christmas Eve and we were somewhere along a faceless highway, in the no man’s land between the small towns and communities of central North Carolina. There was no snow, no reindeer, no Santa Claus, no sign of sleigh or reindeer. It seemed all the world was sound asleep except for three travelers chatting merrily over the hum of Christmas Carols on the FM radio.

My husband Perry cannot see well to drive at night, or so he says, and he often uses this as a license to engage in much merriment and a liberal consumption of libations at Christmas parties and social events. I often find myself, therefore, as the Designated Driver, which isn’t usually a problem since my overconsumption tends to center upon the dessert table and not at the bar. I commuted to my job in the city for many years and I’m nearly as at home driving as I am sitting on my own sofa.

With me at the wheel, Aunt Carole riding shot gun and my husband in the back seat, our little Dodge Caliber purred across the hills and valleys of the NC countryside. We were headed home from a family Christmas Eve dinner at my sister’s.  All was well til Aunt Carole announced she had to go to the bathroom. The black of night engulfed us. We were far from home, miles from any towns; there were no rest stations and everything, if there was anything, was closed. Aunt Carole began to squirm in her seat as I scanned the horizon frantically for signs of life. “I don’t see anywhere to stop Aunt Carole,” I uttered helplessly and drove on for a few miles. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom NOW!” orderd Aunt Carole.

As we topped the next hill, I could see the faint glow of a street lamp, it’s phos-fluorescent glow creating a sort of halo in the moist night air. Aunt Carole began furiously removing her long winter coat and unfastening her britches as I pulled the car off the highway and into a small paved entrance just off the highway. The street lamp marked the entry to a parking lot of a small business with a very large gate. The gate was locked and we could travel no further.

“I’m so sorry Aunt Carole,” I uttered helplessly.

I may not have known what to do at that moment but that didn’t stop Aunt Carole. Nothing had stopped Aunt Carole, for that matter, for most of her eighty odd years of life and she refused to be undone by a bout of IBS, a locked gate and the lack of restroom facilities. She hopped out of the car, shot around to the front side of the passenger door and began to do her business.

I glanced in the rearview mirror at my husband. His face had assumed a familiar position: his mouth beneath the moustache was stretched wide and flat into an uncomfortable fake smile; one eyebrow arched nervously as his eyes darted around everywhere except the front passenger side where poor Aunt Carole was hanging on to the car door for dear life.

Lordy, I felt so bad for Aunt Carole! Of all my aunts, of all the older ladies I knew, Aunt Carole was so elegant and ladylike. That she be forced to such circumstances at the side of the road, no room at the inn-terstate seemed a great travesty. Jingle Bells was playing on the radio and I turned the volume up a bit so I didn’t have to hear anything outside that I didn’t want to hear.

“I think I’m done,” said Aunt Carole finally and I handed her a bunch of napkins from my glove compartment. “Oh no,” she  cried. “It’s all over my slacks! God God, it’s everywhere…”

Perry was squirming in the back seat, audibly, and his restlessness had turned into a twitch.

“Hold on, let me see if I have anything.” I stepped out and made my way to the back of the car, threw open the hatch and scanned the contents of the car. Often, I carry everything but the kitchen sink back there but I had cleaned it out to make room for hauling Christmas items. There were bags of Christmas gifts, left over Sweet potato Casserole and a tray of cookies. No gym clothes or plastic bags or cleaning rags. Aunt Carole had used our complete stash of napkins for the first round of unsuccessful cleaning and the only available item that could help was a tablecloth.

Aunt Carole peered at me helplessly over the top of the passenger door. “I’ve got to take these things off…” she said, matter of fact. “I’ve got to take them ALL off.”

I thought to offer her the tablecloth but I eyed the car’s interior selfishly. “Hold on….” said my husband in the back. I could see him squirming around and in a few seconds he handed me his jeans. I turned around to find him perched in the back seat looking rather sexy with his Christmas sweater, dark socks, loafers and skivvies. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Here you go Aunt Carole,” I said and handed her my husband’s pants. “Oh Perry!” she exclaimed. “Honey you don’t have to do this… oh I am so sorry babies.” Poor sweet Aunt Carole, dirty and half naked, getting dressed by street lamp in the middle of nowhere. Hubby in the backseat was subdued, his nervousness for Aunt Carole now surpassed by his own.

My aunt made her way back into the car. I smoothed the tablecloth over the front seat and she sat down gingerly. “Oh my! I am so sorry,” she continued to murmur. “Perry, you didn’t have to do that, honey, but I thank you so much. So very much my darlings…You’re just my angels!”

I pulled the car back onto the highway. We tried to ignore any new scents that permeated the night air, and I cracked the window for myself even as I turned up the heat for my naked husband in the back seat. After a few miles, we began to laugh and joke, even Aunt Carole. “Did I ever tell you about the time this happened to me in Winston Salem?” I asked. “I left my underwear beside a tree in someone’s yard in Sherwood Forest one evening!” Perry recounted his own incidents of not quite making it to the bathroom as well. It was decided that pretty much the whole family was full of shit and we laughed and joked our way across the rest of the county til we reached Aunt  Carole’s home.

“Don’t bother seeing me to the door.. Want me to get you a blanket or something?” she teased Perry.

“That’s ok,” he said. “We’re ’bout home…”

She peered back into the car, shook her head in amusement at my husband, still seated in the backseat and patted me lovingly on the hand before departing.

“Aunt Carole,’ my husband called from the darkness. “I just want you to know you got me out of my pants faster than any woman I’ve ever known!”

Aunt Carole snorted and we all began to laugh hysterically. My precious witty husband. How his quick thinking and humor had saved quite a humiliating evening for one of our favorite people in the world. It would be a secret shared by my husband and Aunt Carole for the rest of her life.

It’s our custom to give presents for those we love at Christmastime and while that’s okay, always remember the best gifts are spontaneously given from our hearts. You don’t always have to give the shirt off your back or the britches off your bottom but sometimes that’s just what is needed.

Merry Christmas and rest in peace my darling, Aunt Carole. You know who you are. Your secret is safe with me.





MIA: 7 Days of Christmas Blogs

viet letr 2 I’ve whispered Merry Christmas to you like a prayer and asked God to bless you and keep you safe wherever you may be. You appear to me often in my dreams like the Ghost of Christmas Past and the memories of so many years gone by still make me smile. But just like the movie, the “you” of the past and the “you” of the present are not the same. I have to wonder, does the person I loved all those years even exist anymore? You’ve lost your way right now and the thought of that makes me very sad.

I found a photo of us the other day. You are 15 and mama and daddy had just brought me home from the hospital. You are in the living room we never used except for company, sitting on our nicest sofa. You are holding me, your brand new baby sister, grinning from ear to ear. If you were hoping for a little brother instead of another sister, I couldn’t tell by the photo. I guess God gave you the next best thing in me, a little girl who played as hard as a boy. Did you have any inkling then that the little bundle you were holding would follow you around like a beagle pup in a few years, running around half naked and barefoot in the summer heat and hanging on to the back of that tractor while you plowed the fields? We sure had some good times then, didn’t we?

I have the letter you sent me shortly after you arrived in Vietnam in 1969. I was 7 years old and I thought it was the best thing ever that my brother had sent me my very own letter from half way around the world. You wrote it on government supplied stationary and used your best handwriting (which is usually lousy by the way) so I could read it myself and show it off. The paper is thin and I can read between the lines now to see what you didn’t say. You were scared and far from the home,  hanging on to the memories, hoping they’d lead you back home one day. You were a good brother to do that, and I want to thank you for remembering me and for reaching out when you were off in the middle of a war.

And then, do you remember when Perry and I got in a fight when our dog died? We woke up to find the dog dead. It was a clear cold Sunday morning just like today. Perry  wanted to have the dog cremated but I was upset, telling him people in my family didn’t do that, we bury our dead. I was mad as a hornet and I wrapped the dog in a towel and brought him with me down to your house. You were going to help me bury him til Perry called later and said he had changed his mind. I got home to find that he had dug a hole in that frozen earth and we buried old Petey in that cold damp earth.

These memories are just a few of the ones I hold, prized possessions that validate the light and the good in you. It nearly ripped my heart out to have to draw that line in the sand with you and say “enough” . As the little sister, it always seemed natural to let you call the shots but I can’t do that anymore. I’ve my own conscious to answer to. I love you so much but there’s nothing I can do to fix this. Your choices are your choices. Still, I’ve lived long enough and lost enough to know that life will simply find a way of going on in that way it does, rolling over those rough patches in life, smoothing them out with time if you give them light and air and don’t let wounds fester.

There is so much joy to be had during this season of love and family and I cannot allow my sadness to overcome my joy. I will bake cookies like I do every year. I’ll keep all the traditions, wrap presents, decorate, spend time with loved ones and friends. I will treasure time spent with your children and your grandchildren and will wish that you, the “old” you that is, could be there to share in that joy. My heart will jump when I see their eyes sparkle at the gifts beneath the tree and I’ll remember how you teased me for being that way too, since I was the baby in the family.

Christmas is a blessed reminder of how we’ll all be reunited again one day when there’s nothing left to forgive about each other.

One of the most painful things about growing up is that you learn some things are just too important to leave it at “agree to disagree”. You reach a place in life you have to take a stand, even when it causes pain. I wish you hadn’t burned so many bridges, but you’d probably say the same about me. Still I wonder, how it is that you came back from the war but over fifty years later you are MIA?


Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: