Simple Life

Simple Life

When Losing is Winning

Seeing the world through missing glasses

By Jim Dodson

“Oh I have been to Ludlow Fair. And left my necktie God knows where.” – A.E. Houseman

The other day, I lost my latest pair of expensive eyeglasses. Sadly, I seem to lose my spectacles on a regular basis. My wife, Wendy, jokes that she keeps a running account with Warby Parker.

Just for fun, I made a rough count of eyeglasses I’ve lost over the past 23 years of our marriage. I gave up the count after six, which happens to be this year’s total alone. At least one of those pricey pairs of specs was never found. It vanished into the magical Land of Lost Things without a trace. Of the remaining missing five, Wendy found two pairs in the pockets of old work shirts and a third in a sports coat I haven’t worn since Christmas. The fourth pair turned up in a rose bush where I was doing some early spring pruning. The fifth and final missing pair — my hip, whiskey-hued tortoiseshell sunglasses — finally revealed themselves in my golf bag, where I left them two weeks ago.

Dame Wendy’s theory to explain my penchant for losing my glasses is that I have so much on my mind — i.e. deadlines, books to read, garden stuff, my aging golf swing, the general state of the world, etc. In short, there’s little room remaining to remember where I leave things that I don’t particularly deem essential.

My explanation for this perpetual problem comes from my being nearsighted and only needing glasses to see objects in the distance, including, but not limited to, golf balls, birds at the feeder in the yard, street numbers, the fine print on billboards, UFOs and interesting cloud formations. When I’m reading, writing or examining something up close, I typically remove them and — apparently — forget where I put them down. Out of sight, out of mind.

All of this invariably has me pondering lost things in this world, including people.

We Americans are obsessed with winning and losing. The worlds of politics and sports are the most obvious examples. One presidential candidate calls people “losers” and insists that America will cease to exist if he isn’t re-elected Commander in Chief next November; while the other declares that democracy is doomed if his opponent somehow wins. Meanwhile, billions of dollars from wealthy team supporters flood our college sports, where winning is the only name of the game.

Up on Wall Street, meanwhile, where predicting winners and losers is the holy writ of American commerce, we watch the record Dow rise as if we’re running with the bulls, staying one step ahead with the nettlesome awareness that what goes up inevitably comes down. As the gap between the haves and have-nots ever widens, we associate wealth with winning and poverty as a stubborn inconvenient truth. Jesus, after all, said the poor will always be with us. He also asked what profit it is for a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?

Sometimes being lost or losing is the best thing that can happen to you.

Last year, I lost 40 pounds and have never felt physically better. I’ve even managed to give up (mostly) my gifted baker wife’s unearthly delicious cookies, pies and cakes, though I draw the line at giving up her lemon-ginger scones and a daily large chai tea latte.

More than once I have been lost on America’s country back roads in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, only to discover wonderful people, places and things I would never would have encountered otherwise. One of the sad truths of our GPS-equipped smart phones is that we can never truly be lost anywhere in the world these days unless the juice runs out.

Losing one’s fear of those who don’t share our opinions, tastes, gender, lifestyle, religion, race or brand of politics can be a courageous and very healthy thing, quite possibly the first step toward regaining the kind of social civility that could heal this divided country and bring us all a step closer together as Americans.

Many years ago, due to my  work and strengthening faith, I even lost my fear of dying by choosing to believe that each day is actually a reason to feel grateful for being alive — even on so-called “bad” days when nothing seems to go right.

Losing a loved one to disease or tragedy, on the other hand, exists in a category all its own, though the passage of time and memories can often be an unexpected path to healing and awakening. I lost both of my parents more than two decades ago, yet today I seem to hear their wonderful voices and wise words clearer than ever.

My mom was the one who stressed the importance of losing one’s fear and judgment of others in a multi-hued world where everyone is different, a value system I saw her live every day of her life. It’s something I aspire to but admittedly still struggle with at times. Forever a work in progress, I suppose.

My dad was a fine baseball player in his youth and, later in life, became a terrific golfer. Following in his wake, I was something of a hotheaded kid who hated to lose at either of those games. It was he, however, who pointed out that my boyhood sports hero, the great amateur golfer Bobby Jones, said he never learned anything from winning a golf tournament.

In truth, it took me many years — and no shortage of lost games and golf matches — to appreciate my old man’s belief that being a good loser is, in fact, the road to someday being a gracious winner. When I was about 10 years old, he placed a framed copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” on my bedroom wall. I can still recite my favorite passages by memory.

And I don’t even need glasses to see the timeless vision of these words.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Poorman’s Guide to Domestic Bliss

Even unconditional love has its conditions

By Jim Dodson

Wives, does your husband suffer from RRBS, also known as Recurring Refrigerator Blindness Syndrome?

The symptoms are relatively easy to diagnose. Your husband is making himself the first locally-grown tomato sandwich of the season and opens the refrigerator in search of Duke’s Mayonnaise. He scans the refrigerator shelves for three full minutes, increasingly agitated as he shifts jars of pickles, and containers of mystery meat and cottage cheese hither and yon.

Finally, after shifting the contents of the entire refrigerator around and even checking the vegetable and meat bins for the missing mayonnaise, he straightens up and loudly declares one of two things:

“This is ridiculous! I know we have mayonnaise! I saw it in here yesterday!”

Or, alternatively, with a wail of wounded resignation, “Honey, where’s the G#%@* mayonnaise? You said you just bought a brand-new jar this week. Someone must have taken it!”

Commonly, what happens next is the victim’s wife calmly appears, opens the refrigerator, and, within seconds, presents the aggrieved spouse with a fresh new jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise. Turns out, the mayonnaise was partially hidden behind a carton of orange juice last used by said victim, apparently in plain view only to the average female person.

If you live in my house, this happens on an almost daily basis.

Yes, I suffer from Recurring Refrigerator Blindness Syndrome.

But I am not alone.

There are untold millions of us out here who suffer instantaneous blindness whenever we open the refrigerator in search of condiments, cold pizza, leftover mac-and-cheese or the last piece of chocolate meringue pie.

Moreover, according to the National Association of Endangered Domestic Tranquility, refrigerator blindness isn’t the only condition that strikes the average married American male, placing undue stress on relations with wives, visiting mothers-in-laws and elderly aunts.

Tranquility experts cite a commonly related condition known as DAS or Dishwasher Avoidance Syndrome that afflicts an estimated 87 percent of men married an average of 10 years or more. DAS is defined as a chronic inability to correctly load and unload (much less operate) a German-built dishwasher without proper supervision by someone familiar with the machine’s standard operating procedures, typically a married person of the female persuasion.

Sufferers generally avoid this normal everyday household task by poorly hand-washing dirty dishes and used glassware whenever the domestic partner is out of the house, not only resulting in suspiciously spotted dishware, but unnecessary use of precious water. A related inability to operate the average clothes washing machine and reach into a clogged garbage disposal have also been documented in some cases.

In addition, studies conducted on the average suburban American male reveal at least two other common stress-inducing habits that take place outside of the home.

The first is LGLP or Lost Grocery List Phenomenon, generally affecting mature to elderly husbands who volunteer to go to the store for their wives with a list of a dozen essential items and return hours later with chips, salsa, three or more frozen pizzas, a six-pack of craft beer, the wrong dishwasher liquid, a set of half-price blinking Christmas lights, four Tahitian patio sconces, a tub of rainbow sherbet, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Guide to Home Auto Repair (sixth edition) and only four of the 12 items on the original list, which was somehow lost in transit to the store. An unsupervised return to the store is sometimes undertaken with a revised shopping list safety pinned to the sufferer’s sweater.

Finally, there is the all-too-common domestic problem of UHIC, better known as Unfinished Home Improvement Complex, an affliction in which various do-it-yourself home projects have been sitting idle, unfinished or simply forgotten since the first Obama administration. This includes, but is not limited to, half-tiled bathroom walls; toilets that don’t properly flush; mountains of pricey hardwood mulch left in the backyard so long they’re sprouting young trees; doors that never quite close; suspicious sounds beneath the house; the broken doorbells; half-installed home security systems; and driveway sinkholes.

Curiously, in the interest of saving time and money, the typical victim of UHIC routinely stalks the aisles of Lowe’s or Home Depot, dreaming up ambitious new home improvement projects that will make home life easier but don’t stand a chance of ever being completed.

Yes, wives, you know these conditions all too well.

Sadly, there’s no known cure for any of these domestic maladies just yet. But there is hope in the form of a newly created self-help grassroots organization called Building Better Husbands, designed to afford hard-working wives like you the opportunity to network and share creative ideas on how to make their homes happier places and spouses more thoughtful and responsive. Look for chapters forming in your neighborhood soon. BYOB (or two).

A final word to my fellow sufferers.

This Mother’s Day, fellas, let’s give the little lady of the house a break by picking up the slack on normal domestic duties, finishing those pesky home projects, even reading the appliance operating instructions and learning to go to the grocery store only once without a list pinned to your golf shirt.

Meantime, it’s probably best to avoid calling your wife “the little lady” or, for that matter, never ever asking me to put my hand in a clogged garbage disposal. 

Some old habits die hard, I guess.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

The Ever-Changing Garden

May the work never be done

By Jim Dodson

The spring gardening season officially got underway this year with the necessary removal of a 70-year-old red oak tree that threatened to fall on my garage office. Being a confirmed tree hugger and septuagenarian myself, I felt for the old boy having to come down. But I’d probably have felt worse — perhaps permanently — had the old fella decided to fall on my office with me in it.

Such is the fate of an ever-changing garden, which is a redundant phrase since every garden everywhere is ever changing, if only by a matter of degrees. Any gardener worth his mulch will tell you that the work is never finished. There’s always some new problem to contend with or a fresh inspiration incubated over dark winter days to finally put into motion. We are, as a result, forever incomplete gardeners, revising and learning as we go.

In my case, this year has been all of the above — new problems, fresh inspiration and learning as I go. As the result of the day-long operation to remove “Big Red,” as I called the elderly oak, half a dozen young plants just awakening from their winter nap had to be dug up and set aside so the crane removing the tree could navigate a path across my backyard garden, churning the ground up as it went.

I took this as a sign from on high that it was time to make several big changes in paradise. The first move came on the east side of our house where a trio of formerly well-behaved crape myrtle bushes were suddenly running amok and threatening to blot out the sun. The task of digging them out of the cold January ground proved the wisdom of Robert Frost’s elegant aphorism that the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected — i.e. that some tasks that were easy in the morning of youth prove to be monstrously difficult in the afternoon of age.

Still, I’m nothing if not a committed bugger when it comes to getting my way in a garden. After several hours of intense work with pick and shovel, all under the watchful eye of Boo Radley, the cat who suns himself in that particular part of the estate on winter days, the monstrous shrubs finally came out and I went in for a much-needed lunch break, muddy but triumphant.

“My goodness,” said my wife, stirring soup. “Who won the fight?”

You see, back in the “morning” of my gardening years — that’s five different gardens ago, by my count — Dame Wendy always found it highly amusing that I treated garden work like a full-contact sport, where blood of some sort was inevitably shed. In those days, I was so into clearing trees and rebuilding the ancient stone walls of a vanished 19th century homestead that once existed where our new post-and-beam house stood, I rarely noticed cuts, bruises or even gashes that needed a stitch or two. In those faraway days, all I needed was a long hot soak in our 6-foot Portuguese clawfoot tub, plus a couple cold Sam Adams beers to put things right.

These days, in the metaphorical “afternoon” of life, the cuts and bruises are fewer and the cure for sore muscles comes via a hot shower, a change of clothes and a nice afternoon nap with the dogs  — though I have been known to wander outside just before the dinner guests arrive and get myself dirty all over again.

I think my sweet gardening obsession comes from a long and winding line of family farmers and gardeners, abetted by a childhood spent in several small towns of the South where I stayed outside from dawn till dusk, building forts in the woods, climbing trees, damming creeks and digging earthworks under the porch for my toy armies. More than once, I had to be hauled out from under the porch for church with my “good” Sunday pants streaked with red clay.

My mother, poor woman, nicknamed me “Nature Boy” and “Angel with a Filthy Face.” Worse than death was having her spit on a handkerchief to wipe a smudge of soil off my cheek as we entered the sanctuary.

Despite the damage from removing Big Red and heavy winter kill in both my side and backyard gardens this spring, I’m always nicely surprised by the resiliency of my suburban patch.  One day, I’m looking at a bare perennial bed and the next, dozens of green shoots are coming up. The daffodils never fail to rise nor the cherry trees bud. The hosta plants miraculously return. The dogwoods burst into bloom and the azaleas erupt in technicolor glory.

This annual choreography of springtime is a nice reminder that we human beings do the very same thing. Nobody escapes hard winters, actual or metaphorical. The weather of life beats everyone down at some point or another. But slowly and surely, we re-emerge as the days lengthen and the sun grows warmer. Soon the sheer abundance of blossom and green makes a body forget the cold months of unseen struggle to get here.

Though I am an unapologetic fan of winter — my best season for writing, thinking and planning new adventures in the garden — the happiest time for this incomplete gardener comes when I see what managed to survive the winter and has come back with new vigor and surging optimism. Such sights make my old fingers itch to get gloriously dirty.

This spring, there will probably be a new garden shed surrounded by ferns where Big Red once stood, and old Boo Radley will have a new perennial garden full of flowers in which to sun himself on cool summer mornings. I may even finally finish the cobblestone pathway I started last year.

The job in a garden, you see, is never done. And that’s just the way I like it.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Coffee with God

Faith beneath the stars

By Jim Dodson

Every day between 3:30 and 4 a.m., I take a cup of coffee outside to an old wooden chair beneath the sky where I sit, look, listen, think and pray.

If you’ll pardon the expression, it’s something I’ve done religiously for at least two decades, regardless of season and weather, bitter cold or bright summer night. Fog, rain, snow or sleet — almost nothing keeps me from my early morning rendezvous with the universe.

I call it coffee with God.

Between you and me, it’s probably the only time in my day when I can be assured, with the faith of a mustard seed, that I and the world around me are reasonably OK.

Between God and me, you see, it’s something very personal.

After sipping coffee and eyeballing the night sky for a bit (I’ve seen several shooting stars over the years, probably a few UFOs, too), I listen to an app on my smart phone called “Pray As You Go,” a daily scriptural meditation produced by the Jesuits in Britain.

That puts me in the mood to chat with God about whatever is on my heart or mind.

Sometimes it’s worries about the state of the world, which always seems to be coming apart at the seams and can clearly use as many healing prayers as it can get. The news out of Israel this year has been like watching the Old Testament come to life. It’s eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth until everyone is blind and toothless, as Mahatma Gandhi supposedly said. Dear God, I ask, will we ever learn to give peace a chance?

Sometimes it’s thoughts and worries about our far-flung children that occupy my coffee time with God. One of them is always up to something that tends to keep the old man up at night. The good news is, they’re all smart kids with very good hearts. I have faith they’ll figure it out in time. They may even learn that praying is good for the soul and usually works wonders. Some atheists even pray — just in case.

Most of my morning prayers, however, are focused on simple gratitude.

I give thanks for my amazing wife, our good-hearted kids and the possibly undeserved good fortune I’ve enjoyed in this life. I often give thanks for other things great and small, including, but not limited to, unexpected blessings, birds at the feeder, good Samaritans, golf buddies, wise book editors, phone calls from old friends, rain for my garden, our crazy young dogs, our cranky old cat, afternoon naps and people who say thank you.

Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German mystic and priest, said that if your only prayer is “thank you,” that will be enough.

I rarely ask God for stuff, except maybe a little help finishing a book or finding patience with idiots who run red lights or drive too fast through the neighborhood. The world is moving much too fast. The truth is, I probably need to slow down, too.

Critics of faith like to say there’s no such thing as a personal relationship with God.

They argue that we human beings are simply a collection of random molecules floating aimlessly through a cold and empty universe. I’ve lived long enough to know that’s simply not the case. I can’t, frankly, think of anything more personal than a relationship with a divine source whose name is different in every language but the same in loving spirit.

This probably explains why I’ve naturally felt God’s presence since I was a little kid growing up across the rural South. In the absence of playmates, I spent most of my time alone outside immersed in nature, looking at birds and bugs, taking hikes through the woods, building forts, watching clouds pass overhead, listening to the love songs of the bullfrogs and the crickets, reading adventure stories on hot summer days beneath shady trees. I never felt alone for an instant. In fact, I felt accompanied by a large and loving presence that clearly cared for me and probably kept a sharp eye on whatever funny business I was up to.

Maybe this is why Jesus was so keen to have little children come near him. As we age, we lose that sense of natural wonder.

It also may explain why, as an adult, I’ve never been terribly keen on public praying, even the lovely prayers and familiar creeds we recite at church every week. They’re written by other well-meaning people and meant, I suppose, to help us catch God’s ear.

Between us, I don’t think God has a hearing problem.

Besides, as Jesus advises in Matthew 6, when you pray, go into a dark closet, shut the door and pray in secret, for God sees you and knows your heart and will openly reward you.

With coffee in hand, I like to think of my early mornings outside beneath the stars — which are always there, even if you can’t see them (kind of like God) — as my own great, big private prayer closet. No need to even shut the door. The world at that hour is normally so dark and quiet that I can whisper to God about anything on my mind. And the strangely wonderful thing is, God whispers back.

One of the worst things that’s happened to faith and prayer across the ages is the unholy marriage of religion and politics. Both are manmade institutions that thrive on telling people what is the correct thing to believe, and what isn’t. Often, when the two get together, all hell can break loose for anyone who dares to believe differently. Near as I can tell from many years of whispering to and being whispered to by some large and loving divine source, God is probably not a member of any particular denomination, sect, tribe, religion, political party or NFL booster club.

I happen to be a follower of Jesus, but find deep inspiration and comfort from the prayers of every faith tradition, a reminder that we’re all just ordinary folks down here on an ailing planet trying to help each other find the way home.

One of my favorite books is called Heaven on Earth: Timeless Prayers of Wisdom and Love by Stephanie Dowrick. I found it a decade ago in a London bookshop and have probably purchased half a dozen copies since to give friends who regularly pray — or ought to.

It’s a marvelous collection of prayers from every spiritual tradition.

One of my favorite prayers comes from the ancient Bhagavad Gita: “Whichever God you worship, I will answer your prayer. Whatever path you take, I will welcome you.”

Funny how similar that sounds to Isaiah 41: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. From wherever you come, I will lead you home.”

Easter arrives on the last day of March this year, a month named by the Romans for the God of War. Easter’s message is one of rebirth and forgiveness.

I pray it’s time we forget war and find peace at last.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Winter Dad, Summer Son

How’s the weather? Depends on who you ask

By Jim Dodson

My son, Jack, phoned the other afternoon as I was enjoying an ounce of something superbly aged and watching from my favorite wooden chair under the trees as winter birds fed. It was a clear but cold afternoon, the kind I like. This day was also special in another way as well.

“Hey, Dad,” he said. “How’s it going?”

“Pretty well,” I said. “I finished the book today.”

“Congratulations,” he said. “I know that’s a big relief. Can’t wait to read it.”

“At this point you might be the only one,” I joked, pointing out that my editor at Simon & Schuster has probably given up on the book and forgotten my name.

“Oh no,” he said. “It’ll be just fine. You always say that.”

He was right about this. I’m naturally superstitious about completing books. They’re a little like children you spend years rearing, hoping you got things right, only to send them off into the wide world with gratitude and not a little worry. This was my 18th literary child, one I’d grown unusually close to over the years. Now this special child was about to leave me.

The book, a true labor of love, is about a pilgrimage I took along the Great Wagon Road, which my Scottish, German and English ancestors took to North Carolina. Foolishly, I thought I’d travel the historic Colonial road from Philadelphia to Georgia in roughly three weeks and take a couple more years to write about the interesting people I met along with whatever I learned about America, or myself.

In fact, it took nearly six years to complete the project, counting the two years off the road due to COVID. Even so, I was pleased to have finished the book, though — as is almost always the case — I felt a bit sad that the experience was over. Its fate was almost out of my hands.

So, I switched to our usual topic — the weather.

“How’s the weather there?” I asked.

“Great. Hot and sunny. Just the way I like it. How about there?”

“Cold and clear. Maybe some snow on the weekend. Just the way I like it.”

Jack laughed. “I always forget that. How much you love winter.”

My only son is a journalist and documentary filmmaker living in Lima, Peru, where, as you read this, it’s late summer. Before that, he spent nearly four years living and working in Israel, enjoying the heat and people of that ancient, violently contested land. Fortunately, he left a short time before the latest unspeakably horrible war between Israel and the Hamas terrorists erupted, an event straight from the pages of the Old Testament.

I knew he was worried about friends back in Israel and Gaza and wished he was back there helping to cover the war, where more than a dozen journalists have been killed. His mother, old man and big sister, however, were grateful that he wasn’t one of them.

In a world that forever seems to be coming apart at the seams, for the moment at least, I was glad that he was in sunny and warm Peru, a place I almost cannot imagine, but must be quite beautiful. Jack is fluent in Spanish and Arabic, a true traveler of the world.

Though I speak only English and enough French to get me in trouble whenever I visit France, he and I have many things in common — with one notable exception.

Jack was born on a warm August morning in Maine. He thrives in the heat and is an authentic son of summer, a northern New Englander who digs tropical heat and desert landscapes.

I was born on a cold, snowy morning in Washington, D.C., where my dad worked for the newspaper, a true-blue son of winter who thrives in early evening darkness, bone-chilling winds and lots of snow, a Southerner who could happily reside in Lapland, wherever that is. (I just googled it. Lapland is in Northern Finland. One of its largest towns is Santa Claus Village. Count me in!)

How upside down is that?

On the other hand, perhaps we’re simply fated to be this way. The ancient Greeks claimed unborn souls choose the time and place of their birth. Jack clearly picked the hottest part of summer to make his appearance, like his mama, a mid-July baby.

My mom was born in late January, traditionally the coldest part of winter. My birthday in February follows hers by just five days. She loved winter almost as much as I do. Jack’s big sister, Maggie, was born during a January blizzard. The morning we  brought her home from the hospital, I had to slide down a steep, snowy hill with her in my arms in order to reach our cozy cottage on the coast, as the unplowed roads were all impassable due to the heavy snow. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. Though she resides in Los Angeles today, I think she loves good, snowy winters almost as much as her old man.

Not surprisingly, we winter people are a relatively tiny tribe. A recent study of people in Britain determined that only 7 percent of its citizens claimed to be “winter people.” Then again, summer in Britain can sometimes feel like an endlessly cold and soggy winter day, one reason you find so many sun-burned Brits residing on the Costa de Sol and the Mediterranean at large.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist and author Seth Gillihan studies the effect of weather on people’s moods. In his book, A Mindful Year, he notes that there is a positive link between someone’s birth and preferred season. “People who are born in the winter, their internal clock seems to be set to the length of days in the winter,” he told Metro.co.uk.

The internal clock of so-called winter people, he adds, “is not as affected as someone who’s born in the summer, whose circadian rhythm (the body’s 24-hour ‘internal clock’) is expecting a longer light period.” Among other things, he aims to debunk popular misconceptions about the so-called “winter blues,” pointing out that seasonal affective disorder — SAD for short — affects only a small percentage of the populations, less than 3 percent in the UK.

The idea that people who live in warm, sunny places are naturally happier than folks who reside in cold climates is challenged, he adds, by data that indicates Europe’s northernmost countries with the longest winters — Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden — rank among the continent’s seven happiest countries.

In a few weeks, North Carolina winter will begin to slip away. The welcome winter snows of my childhood here seem fewer than ever. The good news is that, by February’s end, my garden will be springing back to life, heralding my second-favorite time of year.

Winter will be coming on in Peru. I’m hoping my summer-loving son will decide to come home to share its glorious return with me.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

A Welcome Loss

Sometimes less really is more

By Jim Dodson

At the end of 2022, I decided I was going to give myself either a new left knee or lose 30 pounds before the end of 2023.

Well, miraculously, I managed to do both. I actually dropped 50 pounds and discovered that my formerly dodgy knee works just fine, almost good as new. No replacement needed.

In the most well-fed nation on Earth, losing weight seems to be our truest national pastime. But for me, the first 25 pounds came off quickly. 

There’s no big secret to how I managed to accomplish the feat: I did it the old-fashioned way. I simply ate less of everything I thought I couldn’t live without — ice cream, real ale, double cheeseburgers, crusty French bread, pizza, jelly beans, diet soda and my talented baker-wife’s insanely delicious pies, cakes and cookies. (To my surprise, once I cut back, my craving for them diminished.) I also walked more and drank enough water each day to fill a small bathtub.

Then, in early summer, my family doctor suggested I go on a new wonder drug intended for borderline and Type 2 diabetics, a disease I inherited a few years back from my dad and sweet Southern grandma. 

The new drug is a weekly injection you take via an EpiPen-like device by poking yourself in the thigh or abdomen. By helping your pancreas produce more insulin, it lowers your blood sugar.

This drug, however, has some side effects that experts have been exploring. One report suggests that it may have positive outcomes for treating alcoholism and depression. But what has really caught the public’s attention is that it can cause significant weight loss. While visiting my daughter in Los Angeles recently, I learned that it’s in such high demand for this side effect that it’s being bought up by the caseload. Health authorities have expressed concern that this practice could result in people who really need it not being able to get it. 

I can attest to that. To date, I’ve lost another 25 pounds on it, principally because it reduces your appetite for anything, which means you eat less and enjoy what you do eat more — or at least I do. 

Could it be a new wonder drug?

At a time when the FDA and makers of modern drugs and vaccines are often under attack, it’s worth remembering that sometimes, these wonder drugs do, actually, exist. And we’ve seen them before.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the scourge of polio know how it terrorized domestic American life.  When I was a kid, it was the most feared disease in America.

To this day, I still think about a sweet girl named Laurie Jones who sat behind me in Miss Brown’s fifth grade class. She wore a crisp Girl Scout uniform every Wednesday for her after-school scout meetings. Laurie’s thin legs needed braces as a result of battling polio since the third grade, but she had the sunniest personality of any kid I knew. I sometimes walked with Laurie to her school bus to help her get safely onboard. She told me she planned to become a nurse someday. 

One day, Laurie Jones didn’t come to school. Miss Brown tearfully informed us that she had passed away. The entire classroom sat in stunned silence.

A short time later, the entire school lined up in the auditorium to take a sugar cube dosed with the latest Salk vaccine. It was the week before school let out for Christmas. They played music and gave us cupcakes and little hand-clickers — perhaps the original fidgets — labeled “K-O Polio.” Funnily enough, my dad was on the advertising team that came up with the plan to promote the new vaccine in public schools across North Carolina. Those hand-clickers drove parents and teachers across the state nuts for months. 

But, according to the CDC, just since 1988, more than 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented with the vaccine.

So maybe that’s why I’m so ready to believe in this new wonder drug. Thanks to modern science and my own desire to have less of me to love, I’m off blood pressure medicine and my sugar count is perfectly normal. I haven’t physically felt this good since I was driving my own mother nuts with the K-O Polio clickers. 

I really have only one silly problem now: none of my old clothes fit. Losing four pant sizes makes me look like Charlie Chaplin minus the top hat and cane.

Until several pairs of new jeans and khaki trousers arrive, I shall uncomplainingly do as T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock did as he walked through the evening dusk of a town filled with memories: I grow old . . . I grow old . . . I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

At unexpected moments, I still think about sweet Laurie Jones, who lost her life before the Wonder Drug saved her, wishing I could have said goodbye.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Let It Snow

Remembrance of a small Christmas miracle

By Jim Dodson

It’s December and, without fail, I’m thinking about snow.

Thanks to Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin’s Oscar-winning song from the 1942 musical film Holiday Inn, the idea of a “White Christmas” is deeply ingrained in the psyche of anyone who loves the holidays.

I’m no different. I dig everything about Christmas from the ancient story of a savior’s birth to the faux snow of sappy Hallmark holiday movies.

But my love affair with the white stuff goes much deeper than that.

My first taste of snow came in South Carolina in 1959, where my dad worked for a year at a small-town newspaper after he’d lost his own weekly newspaper in Mississippi. Shortly before Christmas, a freak snowstorm shut down the entire town for a couple days. 

My mother, who grew up in the Allegheny Mountains of western Maryland, where it snowed heavily every winter, allowed my brother and me to take a large antique serving tray to the nearby golf course, where we would slide down the hill, along with every kid in town. All through town, snowballs flew through the air and snow angels spread their wings. The snow barely lasted a day, but it was nothing short of magical to this wide-eyed kid of 6.

Better yet, we spent that New Year (and many thereafter) in snowy Cumberland, among my mother’s people, a wintry clan of  big, blond, German aunts and uncles who seemed to celebrate the snowy season with roaring fires and lively gatherings. I remember going outside during a rowdy family New Year’s Eve party just to stand in the knee-deep snow outside my Aunt Fanny’s house, marveling at the beauty and still silence of the falling snow.

Not long after we moved to Greensboro in January 1960, it snowed there, too. My dad took me to Western Auto and bought me a Flexible Flyer sled. Our hilly neighborhood street got blocked off and briefly turned into a miniature Olympic bobsled run.

In those days, long before global warming was a concern, it seemed to snow at least two or three times every winter across North Carolina’s Piedmont. This fact was confirmed at my recent 50th high school reunion, where the shared memory of several deep snows during the 1960s and ’70s seemed to be a popular topic of discussion. “I remember how exciting it was to go to bed when a snowstorm was predicted,” remembered my friend, Cindy. “Waking up to find it had snowed and school was cancelled was like Christmas morning all over again.”

It was during those years that I made a silent vow to someday live in snow country. This idea was probably put into my head by my English teacher, Miss Elizabeth Smith, who gave me the Collected Poems of Robert Frost for winning the city’s O.Henry Award for short-story writing. The poet’s very name said winter and whispered to me like a siren call from Homer. Whose woods these are I think I know / His house is in the village though / He will not see me stopping here / To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Someday, I told myself, that fellow will be me.

After six years in Atlanta covering crime, politics and social mayhem for the oldest Sunday magazine in the nation, I turned down a job as a reporter in Washington, D.C., that for years I yearned for and took a job as the first senior writer for Yankee Magazine, moving to a bend of the Green River outside of Brattleboro, Vermont. The snow was already falling when I got there in late November 1983, taking possession of a tidy two-room cabin heated only by a wood stove. I promptly got myself a retriever pup from the Windham County Humane Society and spent a glorious winter reading every poem, philosopher and piece of literature I could lay hands on. Walking with my dog in the blue dusk of an arctic evening, I came to love the brilliance of the winter stars and finally got to see the Northern lights.

It was the most solitary and wonderful winter of my life.

No surprise, I suppose, that my first wife and I eventually built a post-and-beam house on a forested hilltop near the coast of Maine, where we raised our babies to be outdoor adventurers, especially in winter when the deep snows came. My daughter, Maggie, was born at dawn after an overnight blizzard. I remember driving home to feed the dogs at our cottage on Bailey Island as the sun came out, illuminating a world made pure and peaceful by blankets of snow. I’d never been happier.

On particularly clear and frigid nights, I would put on my red wool Elmer Fudd jacket and tote a large bag of sorghum pellets though the knee-deep snow to the edge of the forest, where a family of whitetail deer and other forest creatures could often be seen feeding in the moonlight. That became the source of many bedtime stories I made up for my young adventurers. They still mention those silly winter tales to this day.

One year, however, there was no snow on the ground right up to Christmas Eve. Our Episcopal church decided to hold its evening service in the Settlemeyer family’s barn. Maggie and her brother Jack played a sheep and a cow, respectively, in the annual Christmas Pageant and I was asked to bring along my guitar and play “Silent Night” to conclude the service.

A large crowd in parkas and snowsuits turned out to fill the barn, shivering among the sheep pens as the ancient story of a savior’s birth was retold. At one point Maggie asked with a whisper if I thought it might snow that night. I assured her it probably would because Santa needed snow for his sleigh.

The candles were lit and I played the beloved Christmas hymn, first performed in Austria on Christmas Eve 1818, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Since that time, the hymn has been translated into 300 languages.

That night, as we all huddled together with the barn door firmly shut against a sharp northern wind, a Christmas miracle of sorts took place outside.

When the doors were opened and we all filed out, pausing to exchange hugs and wish each other “Merry Christmas,” someone suddenly cried with a voice of pure childlike wonder: “Oh, look . . . it’s snowing!”

Indeed it was — big, dreamy flakes floating down as if on cue from either Bing Crosby or Heaven itself, like an answered prayer.

Whichever it was, by the time we reached our wooded hilltop, the world was pure white and the night was very silent indeed. We woke to two feet of fresh snow the next morning.

No Christmas since has come without remembering that magical Christmas Eve.

And that’s why I still hold out hope for snow every December.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

A Cure for the Summer Blues

And a homecoming for a flat-coated retriever

By Jim Dodson

As I write this, I’ve just returned from East Hampton, New York, where I sat on the porch of a beautiful old house that belongs to my friends, Rees Jones, the famous golf architect, and his wife, Susan. The sun had just come up and the first birds were chirping. Susan’s gardens were lush from recent rains. It was the day after Labor Day and the summer crowds were finally winding their way home.

I’d be lying if I said I was sad to see this particular summer go. It was a real doozy back home in Carolina, the hottest and driest summer I can recall, which explains why I spent many days watering my wilted gardens, which seemed prepared to give up the ghost.

But I’m already in a November state of mind.

November, you see, is one of my two favorite months, when I pause to take inventory of the year, count my blessings and thank the Lord for unexpected gifts.

This year I’m starting early with a dog named Blue. He was the one great thing about summer’s end — besides summer’s end.

Up till the moment my wife, Wendy, found him, I was feeling intense lingering grief over the loss of my beloved dog Mulligan at the end of August last year.

Mully, as I called her, was 17 and had been my faithful traveling pal since the October day in 2005 when I found her running wild and free on the shoulder of a busy highway near the South Carolina line, a filthy, joyful, black pup that raced into my arms as if she knew I was there to save her — though I’m convinced it was the other way around. Whichever it was, we found each other and shared an uncommonly powerful bond to the very end.

One of the saddest moments of my life was watching her soulful brown eyes close for the last time as she lay at my feet in the garden she helped me build. Or it felt like it at the time.

Grief is such untidy business. It squeezes your heart at unexpected moments. Every time I saw a dog that looked like Mully — a flat-coated retriever and border collie mix — I found myself almost aching with returning sadness.

Even our aging and sweet old pit bull, Gracie, whom I call Piggie for the way she snorts when eating and sleeping, seemed to keenly feel Mully’s absence, despite the fact that pits are not known for displaying much emotion. 

One day last fall, I happened to open an app to Red Dog Rescue and there was a black-and-white female puppy looking for a forever home. I was sure Mully was sending her to us. So, on a lark, I filled out the paperwork and supplied proper references. A week or so later, we drove to a farm down in Asheboro to pick her up.

We named her Winnie — either after Winnie-the-Pooh or my late friend Winnie Palmer, Arnold’s wonderful wife — I’m still not sure which.

It wasn’t long before I started calling her Wild Winnie. She is an exceptionally smart and insanely joyful mix of Labrador retriever, English springer spaniel plus something her DNA results termed as “Super Mutt.” She is every bit that and more.

In truth, however, I wasn’t sure life in an old suburban city neighborhood would be sufficient for our beautiful Super Mutt’s needs.

But I was wrong. Winnie quickly attached herself to Gracie the Bull and my wife, Wendy, who took her to training classes and soon had her performing an impressive repertoire of obedient commands. Wendy also began taking Winnie to Country Park’s BarkPark, where she fell in with a band of rough-and-tumble regulars named Roger, Jack and Ellie, who run, wrestle and chase each other until they drop from exhaustion.

Winnie, in short, has been a joy. Without fail, she jumps into my lap every morning to give me a soppy lick of gratitude for finding her.

But she’s clearly one of the girls. Wendy is her sun and moon. I’m just Wild Winnie’s fun playmate.

I was OK with that until the end of August, when the first anniversary of losing Mully approached.

My intuitive wife seemed to divine that my normal “summer blues” were worse than ever this year. One afternoon as we shared a cool drink beneath the shade trees, she handed me her iPhone and said, smiling, “So what do you think?”

It was a photo of a beautiful black flat-coated retriever that looked exactly like Mully.

“He’s over in Tennessee, a rescued young male who belonged to a lady who had to give him up. They say he’s sweet as can be, loves other dogs and even cats. They’re taking a load of rescued dogs to New England and will be passing through western Virginia this Friday evening. If you’re interested. I’ve already cleared our references.”

For several seconds I said nothing, just stared at the photo.

“You need your dog,” my wise wife quietly said.

So we drove to western Virginia and picked him up. On the two-hour drive home, he climbed up front placed his head in my lap and fell asleep.

We named him Blue, my forever cure for the summer blues. After a bath, he was so black he was blue. My daughter, Maggie, suggested the name.

Blue follows me everywhere, lies at my feet and already answers to his name. Piggie and Winnie adore him. Ditto Boo Radley, the cat.

On the evening I arrived home from New York, Blue was the first one to greet me at the door, hopping up to give me a lick on the chin.

It was good to be home.

For both of us.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Farewell to Golf

But With Apologies to Sam Snead, Not Just Yet

By Jim Dodson

It began with a few simple questions on a beautiful October evening last year as my best friend — and oldest golf rival — and I were walking up the ninth fairway of the club where we grew up playing and still belong. As usual of late, Patrick Robert McDaid and I were all square in our friendly nine-hole match.

As we approached our tee shots in the fairway, he suddenly said: “Can you believe we both turn 70 next year?”

I laughed. “If I forget, my aching left knee reminds me every morning.”

Pat also laughed. “Isn’t that the truth.”

I could tell, however, that something else was on his mind, the benefit of more than 58 years of close friendship. We began playing golf with — and against — each other the year we turned 12.

“Do you think we’ll take one of those trips again?” he asked.

We both knew what he meant.

Over the 40 years I worked as a columnist and contributing editor for several major golf publications, my oldest pal and I had roamed the Holy Land of Golf, as we call it — Scotland, England and Ireland — more than half-a-dozen times in each other’s company, often on the spur of the moment with few, if any, arrangements made in advance, armed only with our golf clubs and hall passes from our wives.

Before I could reply, he chuckled and added, “Remember that time in Scotland when you locked the keys in our rental car and we had to stay another night at that guest house near Southerness?”

“How could I forget it? You’ve never let me live it down.”

“The owners invited their crazy neighbors over just to hear your golf stories.”

“Actually, it was your crazy fly-fishing stories they wanted to hear. You were more fun than a drunken bagpiper.”

“Good whisky helped.”

We hit our approach shots onto the green. I lagged my 20-footer to the edge of the cup and tapped in. As he stood over his 10-footer for birdie, he reflected, “I loved those trips. All those great old courses and golf on the fly.”

As I watched, he rolled his birdie putt dead into the cup, sealing my fate with a 1-up victory. It was an annoying trend of late. His short game had gotten markedly better from years of regular practice, while mine had declined from benign neglect. I sometimes joked that moving to Pinehurst — the Home of American Golf, as it’s rightly known —  was the worst thing I could have done to an aging golf game because I had no regular buddies to play with. I arrived there in 2005 a 2.5 index player and left a decade later a limping 10.5. All work and little play had left Jimmy one step closer to dufferdom.   

“I’m thinking we should do it one last time before the boneyard summons,” Pat declared.

“You’re probably saying it because, for the first time in half-a-century, you’re regularly beating me.”

“That’s true,” he admitted as we walked off for me to buy the beer. “But it would be even sweeter to finally beat you in some of the classic courses you love best.”

Pat is a persuasive fellow, probably the reason he’s such a successful industrial go-to guy for one of the nation’s leading home improvement chains. To begin with, he’s blessed to the marrow with “the craic,” a delightful Irish slang word derived from Old English that denotes a natural ability to charm and engage almost anyone in friendly conversation. I’d witnessed my old friend work his Celtic magic too many times to deny its validity. Some years back while chasing the ball around Ireland, a mutual friend with a wicked sense of humor bestowed Pat the perfect nickname of “The Irish Antichrist,” owing to his supernatural ability to disarm and coerce a smile from almost everyone we met. More than once, I must concede, we drank for free for the evening.   

Over his latest victory beer, I told Pat something Sam Snead said to me almost 30 years ago as we were playing the Greenbrier’s famous Old White course on a similar autumn afternoon. I was there to write about him for my “Departures” golf column. Sam liked me, in part because I was good friends with his best friend, Bill Campbell, the legendary amateur. Snead was almost an honorary son of Greensboro where he won the Greater Greensboro Open a record eight times, including six times at Starmount Forest, where Pat and I were soon sitting at the bar with our beers.

“How old are you now, son?” Slammin Sam asked me that faraway afternoon.

“Just turned 40, Mr. Snead.”

“What a great age. That’s the prime of life — makin’ good money, got a wife and kids, probably playin’ your best golf ever. I wrote a book about that called Golf Begins at Forty. You should read it.”

I promised to lay hands on a copy — when I got old.

“But here’s the thing,” he went ahead. “Someday you’ll blink your eyes and be 70 or 80 years old. It’ll happen that fast, you’ll hardly believe it. You’ll suddenly be saying farewell to golf. That’s when you better grab hold of as many golf memories as you possibly can. That’s the beauty of golf. If you keep after it, you can play till your last breath. No other game on Earth let’s a fella do that.”

I watched him tee up his ball. “Just so you know,” he added over his shoulder, “I got plans to play at least to 100.”

And with that, 81-year-old Samuel Jackson Snead striped a splendid drive to the heart of the 17th fairway.

“So, who won the match?” demanded the Irish Antichrist.

“That’s not the point,” I said as we sat at the bar. “Sam was just sharing a little golf wisdom about enjoying the game as one ages.”

“Good for him. I guess this means we’re off to the Holy Land next year. By the way, I get at least four strokes a side.”

“No way. Three for 18,” I said firmly, pointing out the three-stroke difference in our official handicap indexes. This was nothing new. Over five plus decades, we’d argued about everything from the prettiest Bond girl to the absurdity of orange golf balls.

A good friend, it’s said, knows all your best stories, but a best friend has lived them with you.

Over 10 days near summer’s end, in the 58th year of our friendship, we played eight classic British golf courses during the heaviest rains in England’s recorded history. It was a slog, almost impossible at times as gale force winds blew our handicaps to pieces. Between us, we easily lost a dozen golf balls.

But we had the time of our lives.

Somehow, unforgettably, we ended up in a tie.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Squirrelly Business

A seedy family of rodents drives an old dude nuts

By Jim Dodson

Another summer is ending.

And once again, the squirrels have won.

Last year about this time, you see, I made a promise to myself — not to mention the many wild birds that regularly visit our four hanging feeders — to find a way to outfox the large crime family of gray squirrels that inhabits Old George, the handsome maple tree that anchors our front yard.

The problem began rather innocently six years ago when we moved back to the heavily forested neighborhood where I grew up and rescued George from death by English ivy. The old tree flourished and, one afternoon, I noticed a couple gray squirrels had taken up residence in a hollow nook halfway up the tree. They seemed to be a respectable couple, perhaps elderly pensioners looking for a nice place to tuck in for their quiet retirement years. Our property is also home to several towering oaks, so come autumn there would be a plentiful acorn supply.

I hung a couple bird feeders by wires from George’s upper branches. Soon the wild birds were all over them. What a peaceable kingdom it seemed.

The next spring, however, there were four squirrels residing on Old George. Clearly, they were no elderly pensioners, for within months, two baby squirrels appeared and I found a juvenile delinquent regularly helping himself to premium birdseed, scattering it on the ground below the feeder, having somehow slid down the 10-foot wire like a paid assassin from a Bond flick.

He soon returned with two bushy-tailed pals from across the street. Word was out. Party at the Dodson house, all-you-can eat birdseed buffet, pay no attention to the old dude waving his arms and shouting obscenities.

By the next year there were at least seven or eight tree squirrels residing on Old George, a budding Corleone family of furry rodents regularly raiding the feeders, costing me a bundle just to keep them filled up. I bought expensive “squirrel-free” feeders and fancy bird feeder poles equipped with “baffles” guaranteed to keep the gymnastic raiders on the ground. These sure-fire remedies, alas, only baffled me because they posed only a minor challenge to the squirrels. So I made a deal with the big fat squirrel that seemed to be the head of the family. Whatever they found on the ground at the feet of Old George was theirs to keep. Thanks to the jays, the sloppiest eaters in the bird kingdom, there was plenty of seed for them to gorge on. For a while, this protection racket seemed to work until one afternoon as I was filling up “their” feeder, I heard a pop and turned to find the big fat crime boss squirrel dead on the ground. He’d been pushed off a high limb where two younger squirrels were looking down with innocent beady-eyed stares. Just like in the movies, a younger more ambitious crime boss was in charge.

I considered giving up and moving to northern Scotland. Instead, I asked my neighbor, Miriam, a crack gardener and bird fancier, how she handled pesky squirrels. By “crack gardener,” I don’t mean to suggest that sweet elderly Miriam was growing crack cocaine, merely that if anyone could tell me how to stem the tide of ravenous tree squirrels it was Miriam. She’d lived in the neighborhood for 40 years. She is my turn-to garden and bird guru.

Miriam thought for a moment before coming out with a chilling laugh. “They’re impossible to stop.” She pointed to her Jack Russells. “That’s why I have Jake and Spencer. They do a pretty decent job on the squirrels and chipmunks.” She admitted that she always wondered whether squirrels are the smartest or dumbest of God’s creatures. “How can squirrels be so smart they can get into any kind of bird feeder — but always stop suicidally in the middle of the street whenever a car is coming?”

It was a good question I had no time to ponder.

Our other neighbors down the block, Miriam explained, had taken to humanely trapping their squirrels and releasing them in the countryside. “But I read somewhere that if you don’t take them more than 10 miles out of town, they’ll come straight back.”

That was all I needed — country cousins joining the feast.

Next, remembering my former neighbor, Max, I actually gave thought to arming myself with a Daisy BB gun. It’s right there in the second amendment, after all — the right to bear arms against unreasonable threats from hostile elements, both domestic and foreign. True, the Constitution doesn’t mention thieving gray tree squirrels per se, but one doesn’t have to be a strict constitutional originalist to interpret the broad meaning of those historic words.

Max was my neighbor down in Southern Pines, a fabulous gardener famous for his giant tomatoes, succulent sweet corn and luscious collards. To protect his bounty from the herds of deer that roam the Sandhills, Max essentially erected a Russian-style penal colony around his veggie garden, complete with electrical voltage and 24-hour monitoring system.

The first evening I dined with Max and his beautiful wife, Myrtis, as the salt and pepper came my way on the lazy Susan, I noticed a large jar of Taster’s Choice — circa 1976 — festooned with several sheets of notepaper attached by rubber bands. The sheets were covered with dozens of dates written in tiny, neat handwriting.

“What are these dates?” I asked. “The last time you tried really old instant coffee?”

Myrtis laughed. “Oh, no. Those are dates of Max’s squirrel kills. He shoots them.”

Max just smiled. “Haven’t had a squirrel problem in years. It’s either them or my vegetables.”

I was in the presence of evil genius, a terminator of problem squirrels.

Call me a tree-hugging man of peace — Rocky and Bullwinkle were my favorite childhood cartoon characters — but I decided to forgo the gun and simply rely on Miss Miriam’s way to put the fear into the furry crime family that inhabits Old George.

Nowadays I wait until I see them climbing up poles, dangling upside down to feed or diving insanely from tree limbs onto our feeders, whereupon I strategically release our 75-pound Staffordshire pit bull and fleet-footed border collie-spaniel puppy and watch the merry chase begin. There’s been more than one narrow escape and parts of furry tails have been brought back to master of the hounds.

True, it’s not a permanent solution to the problem. But for now, Gracie and Winnie enjoy the exercise and I am sending an unmistakable message to the squirrelly Corleones.

They’d best stay out of the middle of the road when this old dude is at the wheel.  OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.