Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trash and Tickets

We drive our cars into the ground—quite literally in to the ground, sometimes, before the end, you can see the ground under your feet, through the floor. It’s our culture. It’s our way.

We had a green van that would only go backwards, so we used it to take the garbage out to the curb for a while. I can tell you that it takes some planning when your vehicle only goes backwards to get from here to there. We also used that van as a battery charger for an electric fence.

When stuff starts to fall off our vehicles, we pass the crap-cars down to our children. It’s our culture. It’s our way.

Maren, our youngest daughter, inherited my Grand-Am. It had a bumper sticker that said, “Proud Parent of an American Soldier,” a driver’s side mirror hanging by wires, and no window on the driver’s side, but it still went forward and backward. It was perfectly fine. The law enforcement officer that pulled Maren over for speeding agreed.

By the time the good officer got to the car, Maren was hysterical—booger crying, laughing, and possibly braying like a donkey.

He asked for her license and said, “Do you realize you were going forty-six miles per hour in a thirty-five zone.”

Maren began to yowl.

Shocked, he asked, “Why are you cying?”

Blubbering, she said, “Because (sounds of wailing) my . . . parents (yowling) are going . . . to . . . kill me (howling mixed with yowling.)” She handed him her license.

“Why is the side mirror in your front seat?”

“Because my brother ran into a mailbox, ripped it off . . . (wailing sniffles) and my dad tried to epoxy it back on but all he epoxied was his pants, and this car is a piece of junk . . .” She trailed off into a flurry of post nasal dripping.

The officer paused and said, “Well, it’s good enough to go forty-six in a thirty-five zone.” She started to laugh wildly with intermittent sobbing. 

Then he asked, “What’s that under your leg?”

“My . . . cell phone,” she hiccupped.

“Why is it under your leg?”

Her dignity gone, her life a shipwreck on the shoals of emotional despair, she did not have the presence of mind to lie.

She wailed, “So I can feel it vibrate when someone calls.”

He started to laugh at her and then he walked over to his partner, told him the sad tale of woe and travail, and they started to laugh at her, and then—still laughing—the officer walked back to Maren sitting in her puddle of misery and said, “Thanks for making me laugh. Slow down next time.”

She sailed away, the wind from the broken driver’s side window drying the tears on her chin and cheek.

We did not kill her. It’s not our culture. It’s not our way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

One Tree, Two Tree

Pine trees are the mini-van of the tree world. There’s a million of ‘em, and they all look alike. 

Pine trees in the Florida woods are the woods, except when the swamp takes over. The woods are where my husband (Sherwood—yes it’s his first name) and I practice stuff: horseback riding, orienteering, GPS coordinate finding, search and rescue searching, community volunteering, and other words that end in ‘ing.’

We ride through swamps and cypress and live oaks and scrub brush and pine trees, lots and many pine trees.

On a recent training day, my husband and I were given the task of finding five points on a compass course while riding horses and staying married. I know I was excited. 

Our first challenge was to calculate our horses’ “pace” for one hundred feet. That’s when you count the steps the horse takes in one hundred feet. 

What I learned.

It’s easy to lose count in one hundred feet. Sherwood gets a funny look on his face when he’s counting. Tracker, the horse I was riding, is a bully. When your horse tries to kick another horse in the face it’s hard to keep track of the steps they take. It was a beautiful day to be outside.

We were encouraged to find “points of reference” to keep us on track. A point of reference is a stump, lump, or clump of something that DOES NOT MOVE that can serve as a focal point while you’re trying to count and ride a bucking horse. 

Fairly early in the course, I asked my partner/husband/teammate, “What focal point are you using?”

And he said (I kid you not), “That pine tree.”

I looked at the scrubby forest of one trillion jumbled pine trees and asked, “Seriously?” There might have been a tone. I confess; team morale took a bit of a hit at that point.

What I learned.

Engineers sometimes struggle with their describing words. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. There are a lot of pine trees in Florida. There’s a learning curve to everything. Dr. Suess was right; some fish are red and some fish are blue, but not pine trees.

Linda (Lost and Found) Zern

***Feet should read yards, but it sure felt like feet.  

Monday, May 9, 2016


The smallest ones poop in their pants and try to stomp on the dog. They hate to get dressed. They pitch wild-eyed fits in public places. Often, they put rocks from the garden in their mouths and suck on them. They are immature, irresponsible, and self-centered.

When they feel like dancing, they dance. When they feel like yelling, they yell. When they want to eat, they want to eat now. Their names are Boone, Silas, Ever, Leidy, Hero, Scout, Griffin, Reagan, and Zachary.

The slightly older ones do all of the above, but they’re sneakier about it. They behave like spies ferreting out whacked out subversives, or they are subversives, ferreting out spies. We’ll see. They are Zoe, Emma, Conner, Kipling, and Sadie. 

When number one grandchild, Zoe, was newly created, she couldn’t make the g, r, n, or d, sounds; so she called me YaYa. One day, she toddled around a corner, threw her arms in the air, flashed a toothy smile like a sunburst, and yelled, “YaYa.” And that was that. It’s what Greek children call their grandmothers. I remember asking my daughter, “When did Zoe become Greek Orthodox?”

Zoe turned my husband into a person I no longer recognize. My husband, the father of our four children, raised them on the following retorts:

When the kids said, "Dad, we're thirsty."

He said, "Swallow your spit."

When the kids said, "Dad, buy us a toy."

He said, "Play with sticks."

When the kids said, "Dad, can we . . . . ?"

He said, "No."

Now we can't let him wander off at Disney World alone with Zoe or any of the other big-eyed babies, or they'll come back with enough stuffed animals to animate a feature film. They sit and eat Hershey Kisses until I worry about their blood sugar levels. He lets them play with machetes and debates whether he should take them away or not. 

I feel like shaking him and saying, "Just say no, man! Think of your legacy."

I don't say it of course, because I'm right there with him. I understand. There's time now and a little money. Time to stop doing everything and that other really important stuff and twirl around the living room to Shall We Dance from The King and I. There's time to sit in the grass and teach the grandchildren how to blow the seeds from a dandelion's face. There's money for the silly stuffed animals that don't do anything. And there's the wisdom to know that a few Hershey kisses won't kill anyone.

It makes me a little sad that when we were parents we had to be so official and on duty all the time. But then I think, no, it worked out. It's a good system. Mommies and Daddies are for the hard stuff. And Grandmas and Grandpas are for the hard candy. It's a great balance. I loved being a mommy, and I adore being the YaYa. 

A couple of the younger ones still can't blow the dandelion seeds off. They just spit on them. But when I show them how to gently blow the seeds and we watch them drift away on the breeze, they clap their hands and laugh, and I get to see the whole big world for the first time—again.

And for that, Heavenly Father, I am truly grateful.

Linda (The YaYa) Zern

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Day For Mothers and Storytellers Everywhere

There's nothing like being someone's mother to prepare you for the art and craft of storytelling. Thank kids and happy day for Mothers. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


My husband once saw Sissy Spacek in the airport and didn’t bother to tell me for three weeks. SISSY SPACEK! The actress who played Stephen King’s “Carey” in the year that I graduated from high school, SISSY ‘Flipping’ SPACEK, that’s who.

He didn’t tell me that he’d seen the famous Miss Spacek in the airport because it never occurred to me that I should ask him straight up, “Hey! Did you happen to see Sissy Spacek at the airport at any time in the last three weeks?”

My bad.

I’ve often accused my husband of talking to me like I’m charging him by the word, even when he’s not here to defend himself because he’s on the other side of the globe, traveling through airports for work.

His taciturn, engineer’s silence makes me jittery with paranoia. I can’t imagine all the people he might be seeing in airports that he’s not telling me about. Could be . . . absolutely . . . anyone.

I also can’t imagine all the day-to-day secrets he’s keeping from me because he’s met his daily word quota.

Like when I was pretty sure he’d taken my old and favorite vacuum and thrown it away but hadn’t told me.

We have two vacuums, one made by that charming European man and one made in China by people pretending to speak English. The Dyson (vacuum #1) is a five star wonder of better mousetrap building. The Craptastic vacuum (#2) shoots junk out the back of it onto my bare feet. The Dyson is old. The Craptastic vacuum might as well be old.

Monday, I wandered the house looking for vacuum #1—the good one. Couldn’t find it. I felt annoyance start to claw softly at the back of my skull.

After a second circuit of the house—still no vacuum. I began to fume and my conspiracy theory second personality began to mutter. “Who has my vacuum?”

I searched through closets and behind doors—nothing. “That husband . . . the one who never talks to me . . . threw it away. I feel it,” I said to no one at all. 

Around the house, I stomped. “I need my Dyson. Why would he throw my favorite vacuum away and NOT TELL ME.” No one answered. “I bet. I just bet, that my favorite vacuum died and he threw it away and never bothered to tell me the stinking bad news. I know it.” I put my head back and howled. Picking up speed I howled again and started to trot around the house like a zoo animal pacing its cage. 

“Sherwood, why don’t you talk to me?” I raked my clawed fingers through my hair, looking wildly for the vacuum.

And remembered.

The Dyson was in the barn. I’d left it there. The horse had taken a dump on the carpet my daughter uses to teach her little preschoolers ballet class. Ugh! Now I’d have to walk to the barn and drag the beast back to the house. 

The phone rang. It was my husband, calling from California. I said, “Did you see William Shattner or Diana Gabaldon or Heather Locklear or that chick from Deep Space Nine?”

He ignored my question. Weird. What's he hiding?

And isn’t it weird how vacuums are one of those strange items in the house that tend to blend into the scenery and become invisible in plain sight? But that’s a discussion for another day.

Linda (Suck Up) Zern


Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man. (Nabokov)

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