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Before the Griswolds . . .

  • Posted on December 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm

were my dad and his buddy, Harold. These two men grew up during the Great Depression and served in World War II. It didn’t take much to entertain them. It just had to be shiny.

Our family’s tradition was to put up the Christmas tree on Dad’s birthday, which was fine except for one small problem. Have you ever tried to buy a live Christmas tree on December 20th? Dad would leave the house early to scour the few tree lots in our town. After examining several trees at each lot, and chatting about “men stuff” for what seemed hours, Dad would arrive home with his pride and joy – a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, years before Charles Schultz even thought about the little round-headed boy. He would then mount the prize tree in our ancient tree stand.

While he was gone my mom and I would clear a corner of the living room for the tree, all the while making bets on how bad the tree would be. The loser had to adjust the tree while the other one judged whether we had enough live branches showing to make it look full and beautiful once the decorations were added. One year we tried to find a three-sided corner in our tiny house. Failing that, I was sent to the dime store to buy an extra pack of tinsel. We had those giant lights that got hot enough to set the tree on fire, all set on flasher mode. We also had bubble lights and glass balls – and two cats. Dad liked to decorate the outside too. We didn’t have money for real decorations, so he usually designed something with the tree branches that wouldn’t fit in our little corner and a string of lights.

As far back as I could remember our city workers, which included my dad, would string three giant red bells across various locations across Main Street. They covered the support and electrical wires with greenery. It actually looked festive and, for our town, classy. One year when I was in high school and at the height of “my parents are dorks” phase, the city decided to buy all new decorations for Main Street.

Dad brought home one of the bells (about 3-4 feet tall). He then attached a wire frame that followed the shape of the bell to which he attached a string of those giant fire-inducing bulbs. The coupe de gras was then hung from the front peak of the roof and visible for, what seemed, many miles. Whenever anyone asked where I lived, my friends would say in unison, “The house with the giant red bell.” Did I mention we lived only two blocks from the high school?

Meanwhile, a few miles outside of town Dad’s buddy Harold lived on a farm, not too far off the main road. He loved lights too and each year bought some new gadget to light up his front yard. Then his uncle passed and willed all his lights to Harold. Oh boy! Harold was happy. A few years later Harold’s father passed and willed all his lights to guess who. Oh Wow! Only one problem, Harold did not have a design bone in his body. Santas were grouped with manger scenes and reindeer grazed among the carolers. Snowmen rode the ferris wheel. Oh, did I forget to mention the ferris wheel? The one with lights strung on every support bar and seat and ran continuously?

Harold, being as prosperous as my dad, found himself working 11 months to pay the December electric bill. This could not continue, so he contacted the largest newspaper in our county to do a story on his display. Harold prepared for the crowd. He created a driveway that wound through the display and back to the road. And, he added a donation jar to help pay the electric bill. The height of my dad’s holiday season was to drive out to Harold’s house, admire the lights, chat a little and return home with visions of lights dancing in his head.

The year I divorced my kids’ dad and was without a job, I found myself wishing for a small tree to cheer our tiny apartment. After paying bills and buying food I found a spare $7 in my wallet. Hoping for a tiny tree or some cut branches, I pulled into a tree lot and told my tale of woe to the man on duty. He said he had just the tree for me and the children. He walked to the back of the lot and brought out a gorgeous, full tree about 10 feet tall and tied it to the top of my decrepit station wagon. Once home I realized I couldn’t get the tree up our narrow stairway, so called Dad to the rescue. He and Mom came within a few minutes. While Dad and my son cut the tree to fit, the girls, Mom and I made paper ornaments.

By the time he was finished installing our giant tree, Dad once again had visions of evergreen glory. He asked what lot and which worker sold me this magnificent tree. He drove straight to the lot, spent more than $20 and bought – you guessed it – a Charlie Brown tree. Have you heard the phrase, “mad enough to spit nails?” That was my mother.

© by Sharon D. Dillon, December 9, 2013

I Did It Wrong

  • Posted on November 7, 2013 at 10:30 am

After my babies started coming two at a time, I decided it was time to do some serious family planning; but I was fertile during the dark ages when birth control pills and IUDs were still the latest and greatest technology. Depro Provera was not even a gleam in a woman’s eye.

After taking the pills for the maximum number of years that was considered safe, my doctor switched me to other methods. They all did their job but not all were, shall we say, fun and easy to use. I even tried the orange juice method. What is that you ask? I asked the doctor the same question. “Do I drink the OJ before or after?’” He looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Instead.”

Now after all those years of purchasing expensive contraception items, I learned there is a better and less expensive family planning method. I cheered, knowing my daughters and granddaughters won’t have to go through the trial and error methods I used.

Amazing discoveries happen daily. For instance, a few months ago a politician said that women cannot conceive from rape because stress will prevent conception. But the most amazing information comes from Saudi Arabia where a conservative cleric has made this proclamation about mechanical birth control. He said,

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards.”*

Just imagine, I could have avoided all that hassle and money by simply going for a daily drive. Back then gas prices varied from $.20 to $1.00 per gallon, much less expensive than contraceptive products. It would also have given me short serenity breaks as I cruised along country roads admiring the corn, wheat, and soy beans. With the windows down I could have heard the birds singing and felt the wind blowing through my long red tresses. My husband would have been delighted to come home to a calm, collected wife instead of one who was exhausted from chasing children all day.

What a wondrous discovery this cleric has made, and he’s not even a doctor or scientist. Some day we might celebrate Driving Prevents Babies Day. Future generations of women will no longer need to spend hours in the gynecologist’s waiting room, wondering what antiquated contraception she will be told to use this time. Instead, they can look forward to pleasant drives around the countryside, smelling the flowers, admiring the butterflies and going home to a houseful of children.

*News of the Weird, The Daily Press, October 17, 2013, Reuters news release
© by Sharon D. Dillon, November 7, 2013

Officially Old

  • Posted on August 27, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Life moves along at warp speed. We’re in first grade dreaming who can will write my research paper, then married with children, children leave home, college begins and gives career a new direction. Then comes semi-retirement and enjoying time with grand- and great-grandchildren. Hopefully, semi-retirement will dissolve into full retirement with hours of fun with the great-grands and maybe some traveling to see the United States’ natural wonders.

I look at varicose veins as leg art, no tattoos required. I see wrinkles as character lines created by life, most of them laugh lines. Even though my red hair is fading into the “other blonde,” I consider it a mark of maturity. Each of those OB (other blonde) hairs was earned through life experiences. They are a sign that I lived life as fully as I was able. And, perhaps the water on my brain has drained away.*

I walk a bit slower, but that gives me time to enjoy the beautiful flowers of summer. Getting up and down from the floor is now a major project, geared to make sure I remember each time I play on the floor with my great-grands. The flab under my arms is just the beginning of wings. Soon they will grow and I can fly wherever I wish to go.

At least that was the way I viewed my life until I was approached by a small child two days ago.

All of this is just a lead-in to the words that could have seared my soul, but instead gave me a good laugh at the different ways small children and older adults perceive life.

I was working in the Magic Shop at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, greeting customers, chatting about this and that and ringing up their purchases. All was well in my world. Then a little girl about six or seven years old approached me and asked, “Are you old?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Because you look old.”

Now it’s official. I’ve been declared old, not just fluffy and mature.

*When I was in elementary and middle school the other students used to say, “Sharon’s hair is red because she has water on the brain and her hair fell in and rusted.”

© by Sharon Dillon, August 27, 2013

A mini con man

  • Posted on May 26, 2013 at 6:13 pm

How early do kids learn to con adults? I think he learns it in the crib. (I’m using boys as my example because that is what my great-grands are. Girls are equally conniving.)

If I cry, Mommy or Daddy will come and hold me. If Grandma is here, she’ll try to beat my parents to the crib. I love watching them all try to come through in the doorway at the same time. That’s so funny, but I keep crying until one of them picks me up.

Then the little darling turns two. He soon learns to sit on the potty chair without filling said chair until Mom, Dad or Grandma gets tired of reading stories. Then exactly one minute after the Pull-up is up, the tot fills it. The adult will get frustrated and turn red in the face, but won’t yell because the little angel tried. Then he gets more attention while getting his pull-up changed.

As he starts pre-school he learns even more skills from their classmates, such as, “I really, really, really want it,” while making this sad, little face. So the adult, especially Great-grandmas, give in and the little sweetie has a new toy. As he progresses through pre-school and kindergarten he learns to just stand and look at the toy with wide eyes while saying, “I don’t need a new toy. I just want to look at them.” Try to say no to that.

Then just as kindergarten is ending and the little sweetie can read simple words, he asks Great-grandma to take him to “the library that sells toys,” i.e., Barnes and Noble. He runs straight to the toy department carefully not noticing a single book, even those on special display. Finally Great-grandma steers him to the train play table with several of the “Thomas the Tank Engine” family just sitting there waiting to be joined together and driven around the tracks, over bridges and even into the round house.

After playing quietly and sharing the trains with other little boys for about an hour, the child notices, like he had just seen them, the train cars hanging from the display. He points out several new double car sets. Great-grandma explains that they cost too much. The boy continues to scan the display naming the train cars that he already had. Then he came to one named Patrick. “This one is Patrick. I don’t have him.”

“Maybe you’ll get one for Christmas.”

“But Patrick is my little brother and I love him.”

No need to describe how this story ended.

© by Sharon D. Dillon, May 26, 2013

The cooking lesson

  • Posted on June 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

Well, I did it. Jody Worsham ( no longer holds the title of World’s Worst Cook. She earned that title when she cooked a chicken with wine recipe that Wanda Argersinger ( taught her. Somehow the chicken turned purple. My dish was edible but I killed the pan.

This is what happened. I bought a brand new, shiny stainless steel skillet from the Calphelon store at Williamsburg Premium Outlets. (I know TMI, but I’m trying to make as many connections as I can.) I carefully read the instructions: wash first, moderate heat and wash again after pan cools. Okay, got it.

I sautéed some green beans and they were delicious. Upon washing the pan
I noticed a huge light brown scorch on the bottom. Apparently, there had been some grease on the burner. After scrubbing for two hours the bottom was finally clean, but my arm felt like I’d tried out for the Milwaukee Brewers or (insert your favorite team here).

The next day I made hash browns and eggs. This time I had a small light-brown scorch spot inside the skillet. Trying to avoid an additional two hours of scrubbing I turned to the time-tested method of cleaning burnt pots and pans. “If it gets cooked on, it can be cooked off.”

I filled the skillet with water, added a small squirt of Dawn and put it on medium-high heat. While waiting for the skillet to clean itself, I sat down to read The Daily Press, our local newspaper, and promptly fell asleep.

Sometime later the Fire Safety Angel awakened me. I ran to the kitchen in time to see a crusty skillet, just beginning to smoke. I quickly turned off the heat and moved the skillet. When it cooled I drew a sink full of hot sudsy water and let it soak a while.

Upon returning to this depressing project I found that the light-brown scorch had turned into a big black burn, which I scrubbed as long as my pathetic muscle development held up. Now the skillet had black splotches all over the bottom and a few brown ones on the sides.

The good news is that I didn’t kill the skillet. It still does a good job of cooking food – if I watch it carefully. It just looks really ugly.

How I could have nearly killed my new skillet was a mystery until I thought back to my childhood. When I was in elementary school my parents purchased a beautiful set of copper-bottom stainless steel cookware. My mom was still using that cookware when she passed at age 82. But – – I don’t recall ever seeing a stainless-steel skillet. One or more must have come with the set. What happened to them?

I’ve developed a theory that Mom killed her stainless skillets and disposed of them while I was at school. That’s the only scenario that makes sense. It means that my incident was not an isolated one.

Killing skillets is genetic!

© by Sharon D. Dillon, June 9, 2012

My farewell speech

  • Posted on May 29, 2012 at 10:16 am

My computer is still not posting photos to this site. I’m still working on a solution.

Sunday I said farewell to my coworkers, definitely a bittersweet experience. I’ve had four years of fun while assisting our guests at the World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park. I chose to leave because my energy is not as high as I’d like it to be. Before I share my farewell speech I’d like to tell you the great news.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg has a five-week old Clydesdale foal named Aiden. He’s already larger than a pony and a sweetheart. His arrival wasn’t announced until a few days ago because the equine handlers wanted to wait until he passed the danger period that took last year’s foal. For now barricades are keeping visitors at least 10 feet away from the new family.

About 15 minutes before my last shift ended my supervisor, Leslie, came by to wish me well and ask about my plans. I asked if he wanted a speech. He said, “Yes.” This is the message I left with my co-workers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I bid you a fond farewell as I recall my years of fun here in the toy shop. I wish to tell you that I’m leaving to spend more time with my family. I did not steal from the tills. I did not steal toys. I did not sleep with my supervisor. I did not sleep with student interns. I repeat. I am leaving because my family requires my presence at home.”

After Leslie stopped laughing, he said, “You are so funny.”

My response was, “I hope so. That’s why I went to EBWW, to get my funny back.”

I must add, “Honk if you’ve heard this speech before.”

© by Sharon D. Dillon, May 29, 2012

It’s all Barney’s fault

  • Posted on May 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm

After carefully reading and digesting two items in today’s Daily Press I have come to the inescapable conclusion that it is all Barney’s fault. What, you may ask, could that saccharine-sweet purple dinosaur do to upset me? That is besides being purple and saccharine-sweet? Read on and, I’m sure, you will blame Barney too.

Article #1 – spread across pages 1 and 4 talks about a local fish kill caused by warm, shallow water that is also oxygen-depleted. Authorities are unsure about the cause of this condition and who is responsible for disposing of the stinky, silver fish. This situation is serious. However it’s cause is obvious and easily repaired.

Article #2 on page 2 reports, “… Researchers have calculated that dinosaur flatulence could have put enough methane into the atmosphere to warm the planet during the hot Mesozoic era. Like gigantic prehistoric cows, sauropod dinosaurs roamed widely. … their plant digestion was aided by methane-producing microbes…. Methane [has]… as much as 25 times the climate warming potential as carbon dioxide….”

Anyone who has stood down-wind of a cow can understand this concept. We don’t know if Barney is a sauropod, but we can be certain is not a carnivore. The fact that he is disgustingly sweet and purple indicates that he dines exclusively on sugar beets and purple kool-aid, leading to mega-flatulence. Young dinosaurs don’t just pop up out of nowhere, so we can assume that he has relatives roaming around the woods.

In addition we know that Barney has extended relatives roaming the world. Godzilla, Swamp Thing and Creature from the Black Lagoon seem to be vegetarian. We’re not sure what Godzilla eats other than sky-scrapers. However, it’s obvious that Swamp Thing and Creature from the Black Lagoon dine on water plants and algae, which become “aromatic” in hot weather. Can you imagine the resultant odor once they’ve been digested by Barney and his relatives?

In conclusion, I assert that Barney and his family’s gaseous emissions are directly responsible for the lack of oxygen and warmer temperatures, especially since Swamp Thing and Creature from the Black Lagoon spend most of their time in water and Barney needs an occasional bath.

You’ve heard of bubbles in the bath water, haven’t you?
© by Sharon D. Dillon, May 9, 2012

My Spring Vacation – part 3

  • Posted on May 4, 2012 at 8:14 pm

After leaving the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop I drove six hours to West Virginia to see family. I was apprehensive because I had not been there since 1974. Would I be able to find the house where I would be staying? Would I also be able to spend polite and sane time with my children’s father –in his home?

The trip was long and winding but beautiful. I made a decision that since I had changed for the better over the past 38 years so had he. I am on good terms with Carrie, my sister-in-law and her family. I’d already met and liked Georgia, my successor. My adult children liked Emmy. So I figured the visit should go fairly smoothly. All I needed to do was stay away from Orville, the ex. You’ve figured out by now that our parting was not amicable.

When I arrived in Buckhannon I called everyone who was keeping tabs on my journey to let them know I had almost reached my destination. Cell phone reception is non-existent in the mountains. Then I proceeded to head toward my destination with warnings of an impending snow storm echoing through my brain.

Despite excellent directions, I missed my turn off the main road. When it dawned on me that I had driven too far I stopped to ask directions. This was nerve-wracking too. I had out-of-state plates and a sad, lost look on my face. The woman who answered the door took pity on me and told me to drive back to the red and while real estate office and turn right. It worked!

Now I was on the correct road to Carrie’s house. Her directions said to go around a sharp curve and up a hill. After going around at least 35 curves and up that many hills I was feeling nervous. I kept looking at the photo she had sent, all the time driving with my fingers crossed.
There it was, just like the picture. I was there. I headed down the steep, narrow driveway and was greeted warmly before I even climbed out of my car. After unpacking and enjoying a quiet supper, our niece Teresa and her one-year old grandson Caden, stopped by for a visit.

The next morning we all waded through about six inches of wet snow and piled into Carl’s car for the short drive to the next farm where I was once again greeted warmly.

We shared memories and pictures of Dan’s memorial services. Orville, Emmy and I drove down to the pond where they had scattered their portion of Dan’s ashes. Later Emmy and I walked across the snowy meadow to see the memorial tree and flowering shrubs they had planted.

They fed us delicious American and Philippine dishes for lunch and supper. I also met Emmy’s handsome husband David and father-in-law Paul, also called Pappy the Clown. I was happy to welcome these wonderful men to our family.

We were invited for breakfast on Tuesday. Georgia baked home-made bread. I must admit that I ate more than my share. Pappy had promised to make some balloon animals for the great-grandsons. I anticipated one or maybe two shaped balloons for each boy. Not so, I drove home with a big, green lawn bag full of balloons, not just animals but toys as well – and the lovely memory picture board they had made for their memorial service.

Wednesday morning I began the long drive back home to Tidewater Virginia, my ears ringing with invitations to visit again soon. Not knowing what roads were safe I stuck to the Interstate system. The trip took 11 hours. The route over the mountains takes about eight hours. I’ll try that way next time.

By now you’ve figured out that there was no confrontation. Orville was not the “bad guy” of my memories, nor my best pal. He is just Georgia’s husband. I now have another sister and daughter. What a gift!

© by Sharon D. Dillon, May 4, 2012

My spring vacation – Part 2

  • Posted on May 3, 2012 at 8:28 am

After leaving Patty’s house I drove about five hours to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop at the Dayton Marriott where all the funny people I knew and hoped to meet were gathering. A few I knew from their blog photos, some I recognized by name and the others – well they were a gift in another package.

When I walked through the door EB Heron’s masculine figure lured me to the proper table where Jody gave me my EB princess tiara and my EB’s Harem tee-shirts. I saw other familiar faces such as Wanda, Rose, Bonnie, Joanie, and Barb. For the next four days no one was a stranger.

Everyone was so friendly. Even the key note speakers and instructors treated us lowly “occasional” bloggers like we were just as famous as they. Each of them said that they started where we are and hit the big time, some sooner, some later.

I was impressed and encouraged by Ilene Beckerman who wrote her first book at 60. Her talk gave me hope that even though I’m now classified as “mature,” I still have a chance to be published. Seeing a few other gray heads there was also comforting.

Since I’m basically a beginner even though I’ve written for newspapers and magazines, I stuck to the basic classes:

The Power of Erma – Nancy Berk
Hypnotic Recall Fills the Creative Well – Suzette Martinez Standring
The Six Million Dollar Humor Column: How to write bigger, funnier and faster – Tracy Beckerman
Be Funny, Make Money – Michele (Wojo) Wojciechowski
If You Blog It, They Will Come: How to Blog Your Own Field of Dreams – Nettie Reynolds
Finding the Authority to Write – Kyran Pittman

Each class and keynote speaker gave me knowledge, hope and motivation to keep trying and to push harder to get published. Even the amateur stand-up comics motivated me, that is when I wasn’t laughing too hard to think. If they can do it, so can I — maybe in 2014.

I must give three Huzzahs and a huge thank you to Suzette Martinez Standring. Since my son passed in December my body and soul had been torn into pieces. I was unable to gather myself enough to write. Even ordinary tasks seemed daunting. We were seated in rock hard, lecture hall seats made for skinny students. When Standring announced she was going to lead us in a meditation, I thought, “That will be useless. I’ll never get comfortable enough to meditate.”

After just a few minutes I was off in some other place. My guides showed me a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread. What kind of motivation is that? I don’t like grape jelly. I don’t like peanut butter and jelly together. And I seldom eat whole wheat bread. Soon we were all back in the room and other students began sharing their insights. I kept my mouth shut. Wouldn’t you?

For the next couple days I pondered this peculiar imagery. On Sunday morning I saw Standring in the lobby as we were all preparing to leave. I worked up the courage to ask for a moment of her time, then asked what she thought it meant. As all good teachers, she threw the question back to me. I told her that the message seemed to tell me I should try new ideas and experiences and new combinations of old ideas and experiences. Just because they didn’t work before, it doesn’t mean they won’t work now. She responded, “That’s exactly what that image means.”

However, the most powerful moment in Standring’s class came when she brought us back to the lecture hall. All my body and soul bits were once again back with me. I was whole again. I didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the workshop. I’m still grinning because I’m whole.

All too soon our time in Dayton was finished. After exchanging hugs, business cards and promised to meet again in 2014, I loaded my luggage and began the six-hour drive to West Virginia where My Spring Vacation – part 3 takes place.

© by Sharon D. Dillon, May 2, 2012

The Dirt Fairy

  • Posted on February 27, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Sometime in the past few days the dirt fairy visited my house. A dirt fairy is a little like Tinkerbell, but instead of visiting Neverland he or she visits good boys and girls when they are not home and fills their planter boxes full of nice rich soil.

What motivates a dirt fairy? This was a mystery to be resolved. But where to start?

The planter box itself was a surprise. When son Dan visited in early December I mentioned that I was considering taking up several bricks from my patio and using them to construct a planter box. The following day Dan purchased the necessary supplies, including stones for drainage, and constructed a lovely 5’ x 2’ x 2’ planter box. My job was to stain the wood to match my deck.

Returning to the fairy mystery, I called Pilot, to whom I had subtly hinted that a load of dirt/compost mix from the county composting site would be nice. Subtle, hah! I just came right out and asked, not once but four or five times. Each time we discussed logistics and came to the same non-conclusion. How does your schedule look next week? Can we do this without scratching the truck?

When asked if he brought the soil, Pilot laughed and said the dirt elves brought it. He continued, “Dan must have contacted the elves and told them to bring the dirt.”

That response made me certain that he made the delivery intending it to be a birthday surprise. I called him sneaky. At that point Pilot pronounced that, seriously, it was not him.

My next guess was that my daughters sneaked the dirt into the box while I wasn’t looking. I called Linda and left a bubbly, grateful message. She organizes the family’s activities by telephone, but didn’t return my call.

Just as I was preparing to telephone her twin, Sarah, my phone tang.
“It was us, Mom” Linda said. “We were planning to surprise you for your birthday. You usually walk around oblivious to what is happening around you; so we thought we could pull it off.”

They know this from experience. One time they changed my kitchen faucets and I didn’t notice until four days later – – after they told me what they had done.

This time I have the satisfaction of knowing that I found a “secret” before they told me where to look. Mom still has it going on upstairs, at least sometimes.

© by Sharon D. Dillon, February 12, 2012