Boundary Tips for the Apocalypse

Greetings, fellow Quarantinos.

Social distancing is my normal, so a few weeks ago when the State of Texas decreed that everyone had to stay the heck away from me, I felt like I had won the lottery.  I, along with the local canine population, was more than happy to stay home and watch Netflix.  The happiness of the neighborhood dogs out for perhaps their first walkies this year has overjoyed me (Stadler could care less) on our now twice-daily bike rides.  In fact, I read a story this week about a poor puppy who had to be taken to the vet because after two days of quarantine he sprained his tail from wagging it too much.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I can’t go to the grocery store because somehow, despite the restrictions, the stores are fuller than they’ve ever been.

Introverts notice stuff like this.

My usual shopping pattern was to get groceries once a week at 6 a.m. right when the store opened.  I miss doing stupid dances down the deserted aisles to 80’s pop songs blasting over the intercom.  “She-Bop” never sounded quite so boppy as it did at 6:03 a.m. in HEB.

As you all know, this method is no longer effective.  The lines start as soon as the store opens, and it seems like there’s never a good time to zip in and out.

This week, however, it had been fifteen days since I’d been to the store and my larder consisted of two cans of black beans, some frozen tortillas, and my hurricane rations stash of ramen noodles which has dwindled to four lonely packets on an otherwise empty shelf.

Luckily, I have plenty of loose tea and strange condiments.  How long can a person survive on peri-peri sauce?  I’m going to guess about five minutes.

Pushed to an obvious limit, I decided to try a grocery run on Sunday.  The timing was bad, but I steeled myself to the sticking point and ventured out.

It was a complete, unmitigated disaster.

I wound up a tearful wreck in a Wal-Mart parking lot watching bandana wrapped humans stand way too close together in a line defined on either side by shopping carts.  One way in, no way out – like a kill chute at a slaughterhouse.  I’d rather starve, although I am going to start wearing bandanas – not because I believe they’re particularly effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but because I also want to look like an 1880’s train robber in a “clever” disguise.

I headed home to my couch to rethink the problem.  I don’t want to get that close to people even when it’s not the plague apocalypse, so I came up with a series of potential solutions to help people who just can’t understand social distancing get the picture.

  1. Duct tape a chef’s knife to broom handle the tip of which is at exactly six feet. You swing it around yourself to create a circle of death.

Potential problems include: arrest, accidental self-stabbing during transportation of device, and that it’s really difficult to sustain a death circle while loading bags of frozen French fries into your cart. Death circles are a two-handed affair.

Possible alternate use: you could run the pole through the holes near the cart handle and go full-on medieval knight joust style, but this leaves your back undefended.  Also, a wheeled cart with basically a lance stuck through it rolling down a grocery aisle may cause heart attacks, fainting, or counterattacks with canned goods.  Wear a helmet.
2) Fill a Super Soaker with grape juice. Problems: you will get covered in grape juice because those things leak like sieves, but if you’re permanently sticky anyway, no problem. Bonus: doubles as The Communionator — a safe way for pastors and priests to deliver communion. Must be used in combination with a repurposed NERF Vortex Nitron Disc Blaster for concurrent distribution of the Jesus Pieces (wafers),

3) Construct a hedgehog suit using a leftover inflatable sumo costume. Simply tape sharp thorny things to the exterior of the outfit while it’s in the deflated position. Put on the still airless suit, drive to the store, get out of car, inflate suit causing the thorns stick out. Potential problems: none, obviously.

4) Banjos. Bring a banjo and play it aggressively any time anyone gets too close. Like really play it AT them, full eye contact the whole time. Works best if you have no idea how to play a banjo. Bagpipes are also effective, but you can play those correctly.

5) The zombie defense. Cover yourself in chum. The smell will keep most people at least six feet away so that you can shop in peace. If you can’t stand chum, Drakkar Noir works just as well, but you have to spray it constantly and you have to smell Drakkar Noir the entire time.  According to the blockbuster film, “Silence of the Lambs” a generous application of Vick’s Vapor rub directly in both nostrils should help, assuming you consider Vick’s Vaper Rub nicer than chum.  Most people don’t.

Caution: neither chum nor Drakkar Noir will work at WalMart.

6) Toilet paper toss: if you’ve been hoarding and have extra, bring it to the store and chuck rolls past interlopers yelling, “GO GET IT, BOY.” Bonus points if you can throw really far.  Maybe one of those things you use to launch tennis balls for the dog would work?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the raw materials to implement most of my own suggestions.  On Sunday, I managed to procure a gigantic bottle of white wine, two huge bags of potato chips, and a loaf of Mrs. Baird’s Gas Station White Bread (nutrition free since 1963) at the 7-11, so I’m set for the time being.  I’ll try the stores again later this week, but until then, it’s just me and the good old musical fruit.

Don’t worry about me.  I’ll just blame it on the dog.

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The Lizard King

Greetings, fellow Quarantinos.

I know that all anyone is talking about is the coronavirus or Netflix’s Tiger King documentary, and probably I’d be writing about one of the two except for the fact that a new guy called Barry-the-Lizard has taken up residence in my house.

Let your breath out, folks.  I did not get a low-level mob boyfriend.

Barry-the-lizard is literally a small lizard who I found hanging out in Stadler’s supposedly hermetically sealed dog food bin two weeks ago.  I tried to gently usher him outside using a dustpan and a lot of yelling, but he escaped behind my giant wooden desk.

I didn’t see him for awhile, but I knew he was around. Stadler-the-dog sneaks in about two lizards per year.  Normally, they hang out in my houseplants and grow fat and content on a steady diet of dog food and abundant fresh water.

In the past, I’ve existed in harmony with my inside wildlife.  They leave the loud, stomping giantess alone; I pretend they’re going outside to pee.

This system has been in place since I caught one of the little suckers a few years ago, accidentally pulled his detachable tail off in the process, and then found him two days later (stump and all) in the same houseplant I pulled him out of.  Even I know when to concede that willing ignorance is better than holding an accidentally amputated lizard tail.

Barry-the-freaking-lizard, however, is not cool with the house rules.

It started the other day when Barry decided to join in our state-mandated daily Netflix watching block.

There he was, sitting on my ugly, orange plain footstool, clearly watching tv.

Now, I know “Tiger King” is a heck of a show, but I didn’t think it would enrapture a lizard, although I suppose he might have something at stake philosophically.

Maybe he was just letting me know that “the deal” wasn’t quite to his liking while simultaneously expressing disdain regarding “getting a job” and “the man.”

He sat through an entire episode and then decided to go all Marco Polo on my house.  He crawled across the rug, hung out on the high edge of Stadler’s blue velvet dog bed, and then lit out for the territories running down the hallway towards my bedroom.

That’s when I decided I had to put a stop to it.

Once again, I don’t mind these degenerate lizards coming into my home, living the easy life and shirking their reptilian responsibilities.  I do, however, have a problem with geckos landing on my face in the middle of the night.

You might be thinking (as my mother would say regarding all things including nuclear waste ingestion, cliff diving and fried liver), “You won’t know until you TRY IT, Ab.”

To which I reply, “AHA! But I have TRIED IT!”

When I was living in a small town in Honduras called Omoa (because I was trying to write the great American novel but instead failed spectacularly and got a fantastic tan) I slept in a hammock.  One fateful evening a gecko fell off the ceiling directly onto my face, causing me to scream, “MONSTER” and do a spectacular three-twist flip onto the concrete floor.

I did not stick the landing.

I shoulder got pretty messed up, and the very next day I made friends with a lizard-eating tarantula. I called him Mano because he was bigger than my hand.

I was not about to start accepting nocturnal lizard visitations in the first world, so I started chasing the little guy with a whisk broom and a dustpan.

His first gambit was to climb the shower curtain and twist in and out, hiding in the folds. I tried to shake him out, but he clung like a Ralph Nader bumper sticker on the rear of a diesel Volvo.

We fought for what seemed like hours until Barry had finally had enough. He stared at me for a long second as I tried (obviously unsuccessfully) to sneak one had around his back to pinion him, flicked his tongue, and LAUNCHED HIMSELF AT MY FACE.

I squealed like a pig presented with grade a-slop, and started dancing around like the example of a stupid person in a “stop, drop and roll” instructional video.

Barry sidled down my body and retired into the no-man’s land behind the toilet, while I retreated in shame to the couch.

I posted this on Facebook: “Now (on top of everything) I have anxiety about the lizard who now owns my bathroom attacking me in the middle of the night when I’m on the toilet.  Do I….have to move.”

And everyone in the world jumped on me for “being afraid of a little lizard.”

“We are always happy when a little lizard takes up residence. They eat bugs,” opined the Rev.

“I don’t think the lizard is going to hurt you. You might just have to consider cohabitation,” wrote my friend Gariston (who deliberately co-habitates with reptiles).

My Aunt Kate helpfully asked, “Can you pee on him?”

The G.P. suggested a hammer.

Basically, unless I wanted lizard jelly or some weird golden shower action, my friends and family were useless as solution providers in this situation.

It was pretty obvious that they didn’t understand the crazed, dog-food-induced-roid-rage that makes Barry-the-Lizard the Rambo Reptile he is.

I haven’t come up with any real answers myself, if I’m being honest.  When I have to use the facilities (especially at night) I flick the lights on and off, stomp really loud, and yell “Barry, don’t you jump on me!”

I call this “Fee-fi-fo-fumming.”  I’m not entirely sure that it will work on this particular lizard.

This morning, my Dad (the G.P.) posted a consoling message on my Facebook page, “There’s one in my car. Larry.”

At least I’m not alone.


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Not a Square to Spare

My toilet paper empire has crumbled.

Normally, I keep enough t.p. on hand to build small forts for Stadler, but recent events have caused the supply to dwindle down to one modest shelf in the bathroom consisting of a mere eight rolls and an old emergency blow drier (you know, in case the other three shoot craps ((pun intended))).

I’ve doled out a few rolls here and there: toilet paper generosity being one of the three qualifications for emergency apocalyptic sainthood.  The other two are  not flipping anybody off in traffic and using your personal stash of Clorox wet wipes to clean off public doorknobs.

It’s not looking like a ton of haloes are going to be handed out this year in the Coastal Bend, but (at least in the race for potential sainthood) one out of three ain’t bad.

Each time I toss another empty carboard tube into the recycling bin, I feel like I should sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, offer a twenty-one gun salute, and say a few words about “heroic service,” “duty,” and “the irreplaceable.”

It could be that I’m getting a little bit of cabin fever.

I’m not quite to the Nero phase (fiddling as I watch the last of my stockpile burn), but I’m close enough that this morning I asked a security guard at Wal-Mart if he had any toilet paper intel.

He laughed nervously before answering (probably due to the fact that 7:30 a.m. me approached him like I was about to turn HIM into t.p. if I couldn’t find any). “They tell me,” he confided, conspirationally, “that the truck will get here between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and if you’re here you get some.  If you’re not, you don’t.”

“Wait, customers just take a whole semi-truck full of toilet paper?”

“It’s gone in like 10 minutes,” he whispered, checking his six as though expecting an ambush at any second. “My wife ordered some online from Sam’s Club,” he continued proudly.  “It took like two weeks to get here, but now we’ve got it.”

“Awesome,” I replied, genuinely happy for anybody who avoided the great Toilet Paper and Purell Drought of 2020.

I bought two bottles of isopropyl alcohol which I plan on mixing in a ratio of 2/3’s to 1/3 regular old  lotion.   Either I’ll be sanitized, or I’ll accidentally wind up making some kind of Alien-level concentrated acid and have to type with hooks for the rest of my life.

I’m not normally this paranoid about creating what my little brother and his best friend Jesse insisted upon referring to as “potions,” but I recently stumbled across an internet advisory that urged caution when mixing common household chemicals.


  • Bleach + Vinegar = Toxic Chlorine Gas

·         Ammonia + Bleach = Toxic Chloramine Vapors

·         Rubbing Alcohol + Bleach = Chloroform

·         Hydrogen Peroxide + Vinegar = Parecetic Acid

·         Acetaminophen + Alcohol = Irreversible Liver Damage

Personally, I’ve tried all of those combinations at least once. I will say, they get tough stains (like ex-boyfriends) out pretty effectively, but you also have to camp at your Mom’s for three days and get made fun of every Thanksgiving.

I don’t ever like to challenge the universe by saying things like, “It can’t possibly get any worse,” because it absolutely always can and will if you tempt fate. However, if things do get much worse, I’m envisioning a descent into Old West Justice where underpants banditos rob supply semis, their faces hidden by bandanas, plungers raised above there heads, screaming “DEATH BEFORE BIDET!”


Somewhere, there is the equivalent of a TP Fort Knox, and you can bet that someone is plotting right now to set themselves up as a toilet paper kingpin – pressing their double-breasted three piece suit in anticipation of all the social glory they will enjoy once they unleash news of their largess upon all us poor 8-roll losers.

Guaranteed, toilet paper kingpins will also not have a square to spare lest they deplete their empire or incur the wrath of the aforementioned underpants banditos.

It’s a wild, wild world, folks.

Stay safe. Stay home if you can. Wash your hands often. And, for the love of God, if you see a pack of plunger-wielding robbers attacking a semi-truck that says Proctor and Gamble on the side, take a picture and email it to bandits logo

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My Name is Mud

At least some of you veteran home improvers will not be surprised to read that my ceiling project is still ongoing, officially entering week five tomorrow. I’ve stopped using comforting phrases like, “We’re almost done now” because every hopeful utterance produces another week of unforeseen complications.

I can report that all the hated popcorn has finally been eradicated in the first three rooms. The G.P. and I are now in the “mudding” phase of the project. Basically, this means that we’re covering the ceiling in compound to level it out. Dad dreams that the finished project won’t look like a goth rock teenager who covered her acne with white foundation.

My fantasy is that we get this done by Thanksgiving.

I have, however, learned a lot about construction over the past month. For instance, it is possible to get blisters UNDER your callouses, which is unfair and makes you shout things like, “YOU HAD ONE JOB YOU STUPID CALLOUSES!”

I feel like I should pass on some of this knowledge, in case you gentle readers are considering embarking on home improvement projects of your own.

Here are some things to expect:

Learned Ambidexterity: even if you’ve been unable to effectively use your non-dominant hand in the past, after eight solid hours of scraping sheetrock, you will teach yourself how to function with that other body part because you’re unable to hold the tool anymore in your preferred grip. If you’re me, you will use the tool backward in that other hand and cuss until you have that “Oh, it goes the other way moment.” The scientific name for this phenomenon is holdustoolswrongus.

Twenty-Dollar-itis: everything costs at least twenty dollars. Need a tiny pan to mix mud in? Twenty bucks. Dinky plastic spatula? Twenty bucks. Drop cloths? Twenty bucks. You get where this is going. Even in the rare instances when the thing you need doesn’t cost that, you’ll find your happiness short-lived. Guaranteed you will need the tool on the shelf next to it even more than you needed the original thing, and it will cost $42.95.

Under-the-ladder-clamatosis: this one is a two-parter. The first universal truism about ladder work is that the higher you are on the ladder, the more likely someone will come and stand directly underneath it while trying to talk to you. Also proportional to ladder height is the frequency with which family, pets, strangers from down the block, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the occasional seagull will use it as a tunnel rather than just walking around. Often these interlopers will stop midway through to say something helpful like, “How’s it going up there?”

No. You cannot deliberately drop a hammer on their head for doing this. I checked.

The Up-Down-All-Aroundies: is simply the physical restriction that states that a human being cannot climb a ladder while also having all the tools she will need once she reaches the top of the ladder. Another manifestation of this law is that if anything drops off a ladder and you climb down to get it; another tool will fall while you’re trying to get back up.

Everything-but-the-drop-cloth:  one of the few things I learned during this project is to NEVER skimp on drop cloths. Save money in other ways. However, no matter how well you cover and tape, mud has a way of getting on everything that’s NOT the hygienic covering. The G.P. somehow managed to get some in my cable modem the other day. It’s like I’ve spent eighty bucks to hire a lazy Chuckie Cheese security guard – he’ll stop one or two big disasters, but little stuff sneaks by all the time.

Gender-biased-tool-designius: tools are designed for men’s bodies and their existing equipment. For example, I bought a scraper ($20) that you could screw onto a pole. This was a great idea, EXCEPT, when I unscrewed the handle from my kitchen broom, it would not screw into the scraper. The same thing happened with my mop and my dust mop. “Well, this is stupid,” I thought. “I guess they’re going to make me buy another stupid pole ($20).” Then I went out in the garage and checked the pole on my shop broom. Sure enough, it fit like a dream. In retrospect, the fact that the kitchen broom handle doesn’t fit the tool has probably saved a lot of men from being chased with a rolling pin. However, I sincerely doubt that the United Kitchen Broom Factory Association and the Ceiling Scrapers Manufacturing Guild had a convention wherein they reached this important safety decision.

The Bogies: I’m not going to describe this except to say that even with a respirator the bogies that you get from sanding sheetrock are uncomfortably epic. My nose looks like Mammoth Caverns every night when I finish. I’ve got both stalactites and stalagmites that could give them a run for their money. I’m thinking of offering tours.

The G.P. says that the only way to get through tasks like this is to pretend you’ll never be done. “I AM SISYPHUS” I shouted a week ago (in my best Spartacus impression), but even that thrill wore off after a few hours of shoveling gunk on to the ceiling and smoothing it out.

Remembering that I have three more rooms to do (one of which is the kitchen) took the wind out of my sails.

My body is in out and out rebellion – here’s a snippet of my internal dialogue.

Brain: We sure are leaving more tool marks in that mud than we did yesterday.

Body: You’re a tool mark.

Brain: Was that absolutely necessary?

Body: Shut up, tool mark.

I guess my name is going to be Mud ($20) for the foreseeable future.

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Just Scrapin’ Along

Everybody told me it was a terrible job.

It’s not that I ignored my parents, friends, and the entire internet – I certainly took what was said under advisement.  I just didn’t think there was any possibility that an inside-the-house-not-out-in-the-heat home remodeling job that didn’t even involve tile work could possibly be that bad.

I was wrong.

My charming little cracker box house was built in 1953. To describe it simply: it’s just a long rectangle with rooms broken out into smaller rectangles on the inside.  Upon consideration, it’s possible that every Lego house I ever built was essentially the same architecturally as the house I live in now. There are no complicated bay windows or strange porticos messing up the stolid shapes of my sturdy home. In fact, if my residence had to speak to its own design it would probably sound exactly like Dwight D. Eisenhower giving a speech on the frugality of form.

I’m sure that Old Yeller (the G.P. recently had the exterior of the house painted yield sign yellow) has gone through many evolutions of trends.  There’s some pretty suspicious light green and burgundy tile in the bathroom (ahem, 1990’s you’re welcome to come for your tile any time). However, someone had the sense to put in natural stone tile and laminate flooring which means I don’t have to deal with decades worth of hideous lime green shag carpeting (thank you 1970’s). There’s only one wall that looks like beadboard, but may actually be classy wood paneling.  It’s painted orange right now.

What I do have to deal with is approximately 1100 square feet of popcorn ceiling.  As though this isn’t bad enough, someone decided that they’d “just paint over it” rather than remove it. It’s a little stuck.

And by a little stuck, I mean that the simplest method of removing it is via sledgehammer.

I spent last Saturday spraying water to loosen the gunk and then scraping.  At about the nine-hour mark, I started to get really angry.  We had tested the gunk for asbestos (there was none), so whoever made the choice to blow a bunch of junk onto the ceiling had done so for purely aesthetic purposes.

“Probably,” I thought, angrily spritzing, “some idiots came home from seeing Poltergeist and instead of being afraid that the house was built on an Indigenous burial ground, instead decided that all that popcorn was a ‘real modern look.’”

In my head, the couple was from Minnesota complete with the heavy accents.  They were called Bob (pronounced Bawb) and Barb (pronounced Berb).

“Ya know, Berb,” said Bob. “Popcorn on the ceiling would really help the acoustics of my hi-fi.”

“Yer right, Bawb!” replied Barb. “Plus, it just looks so great, don’t cha know?”

I was pretty angry at Bob and Barb from Minnesota, even though they probably don’t exist.

Then, sometime down the road, someone said, “I’m not taking that stuff down.  Let’s just spray paint over it.”

All-in-all, it might have been better if the house got sucked into a sinkhole like at the end of Poltergeist.

I guess that’s probably what my pond is.

Here’s the thing: paint your walls whatever color you want.  It doesn’t really matter. Heck, paint them black. Wall color is easily and inexpensively changed.  However, if you’re going to make decisions based on trends, pick readily reversible ones.  Don’t do trendy tile or wall textures.  Seriously, I think Bob and Barb applied the leftover popcorn to my bathroom walls and then painted over it in an attempt to make a “Mediterranean Stucco Look.” I’m going to have to take it off with a grinder.

Even popcorn that has been painted on gets everywhere.  I had to hermetically seal up my living room.  It looked like I was Dexter about to commit a murder.  What I was about to do took much longer, was way messier, and was fairly unsatisfying.

I got a 9×12 area cleared after about 10 hours of solid scraping.

I did have quite a bit of time to think, though, and I had this realization: since my parents spent my childhood building, repairing and fixing up a variety of everything, cars, clothing, fences, gardens, houses; I’ve always had it in my brain that one controlled one’s own environment, if one was willing to work.

After all, paint is cheap.

However, people grow up in different ways.

If you grew up in an apartment that never changed, if your family didn’t work on their own cars, or grow their own food, or work with textiles, why would you even begin to think you could change oil or redo a ceiling.

And, as urbanization increases, skills that we used to consider basic to survival are phased out in favor of disposable goods.

It only makes sense to build things that will last for people who can maintain them.

Old Yeller has a lot of life left in her antique rafters and joists.  In fact, I’m sure that she’ll outlast me.

Especially since there is a 100% chance I’m going to fall off a ladder trying to scrape this BLEEPING BLEEP off of my ceilings.

Thanks, Bob and Barb.

I hope you have to peel up glued-on linoleum in the summertime.

992 square feet to go.

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Ghosts of Our Past

I grew up in a little town on the prairie (think Deadwood rather than Little House) called Hays, Kansas.

Almost in the geographic center of the state, Hays is a city bolstered by a local university, proximity to that great artery, I-70, and a notable Oktoberfest which features epic amounts of beer, bierocks, and an increase of around 300000% in the urine content of the creek that has the misfortune of running adjacent to the event.

It wasn’t the worst place to grow up. We had two hospitals and an old-fashioned, brick Main Street which high school students were known to drag on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Law enforcement often had a sense of humor. For instance, we didn’t even get into any trouble when we spray painted an entire herd of Charolais (they’re all-white cows) various shades of neon with temporary hair coloring we found on sale for ten-cents-a-can post-Halloween. The cop, after tracking us all down in school, (turns out temporary just means “will wash off at some point but not immediately”) just said, “Dammit, kids. I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell you not to go out and paint an entire herd of cows!”

Then he started laughing.

We made the front page of the paper for that one.

The Rev pretended not to be amused, but it was pretty difficult to keep a straight face when she had to drive past a herd of pink, blue, green and orange cows every day.

When I started looking into the city to research this article, one writer described Hays as “an idyllic American town nestled in the heart of the prairie.”

To this, I can only respond that it appears the aforementioned author has neither been to Hays nor seen any pictures. “To each their own,” quoth the milkmaid as she kissed the (neon blue) cow.

In my travels, most people who have been to (or, more likely, through) Hays have so often said, “Oh, Hays! My car broke down there once” that the city’s unofficial motto might as well be, “Hays: Your Car Probably Broke Down Here.” Or, alternately, “Hays, Kansas: Do You Need a Mechanic?”

Since, as teenagers, our choices for weekend activities were limited to a party somewhere or dragging Main Street (because honking at people you saw on the last lap two minutes ago never gets old), sometimes we’d get bored and go ghost hunting.

Hays is an old city, founded in around 1867 when the U.S. Army relocated a Fort there. The combination of a local water source (Big Creek, and yes, that’s the one from Oktoberfest) and the arrival of the railroad caused the population to spike to around 2,000 people in a matter of months.

This, predictably, caused a cholera outbreak.

Elizabeth Polly

Elizabeth Polly was the young wife of a hospital steward at the Fort. She worked tirelessly during the epidemic, treating soldiers and helping many through their final hours. In the evenings, she would walk away from the hospital tents to the top of a nearby hill (now called Sentinel Hill) where it is said that she would find some solace and salve for her weary spirit.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth contracted cholera as a result of working so closely with the sick and dying, and she succumbed to the disease in 1867.

Her one request was that she be buried on top of the hill that she so loved, but unfortunately, the found as they tried to dig the hole, that the ground was limestone bedrock. They instead buried Elizabeth wearing her blue dress and white bonnet at the foot of the hill, erecting four limestone posts as markers at the top.

The local legend goes that those markers were stolen soon after by four thieves, each of whom met a swift and messy end: one was run over by a train, two were killed in a gunfight, and the last died in a stagecoach accident.

People have witnessed Polly’s ghost walking near the hill (a woman in a blue dress) since her death.

To this day, people report a blue light bobbing at the top of Sentinel Hill, and the local paper runs reports of sightings.

We never saw anything, despite a copious amount of stumbling around in the dark. I can’t tell you how many chunks of rock I tripped over on that hill. It’s possible that all the yelling scared her away.

After all, I imagine even a ghost wouldn’t want to deal with a bevy of idiot teenagers.

Someone was probably honking their horn.

Today, Hays has a park named after Elizabeth Polly that features a sculpture by world-famous artist and local son, Pete Felten. 

It is, however, the lonely and desolate hill where the prairie grass waves like eddies in the ocean, that Elizabeth sometimes lights blue.

If your car ever breaks down, maybe you can go check it out. 

However, the Sternberg Museum has cheesy animatronic dinosaurs.

I think you know what to do.

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It’s Her Party … Assuming When Can Figure Out the Date

I don’t know when my mother’s birthday is.

There. I said it.

In my defense, I do know that it’s on an odd-numbered day (probably somewhere in the teens)in  September.

Every year my experience of the ninth month begins with a moment of intense panic.

“Oh crap! It’s September again! Mom’s birthday is coming up! But when? Arrrgh.”

My process of elimination gets stranger each year. This year, I advanced the argument that the Rev’s birthday couldn’t possibly be on September 11th because then we’d remember it.

“But,” my brain continued, “what if it is on the 11th and we DON’T remember it because of the other thing. AHHHHHHH!”

Every year, I turn to the internet for help.

The Rev doesn’t have her date of birth listed on Facebook. She is not a vain woman, so I’m pretty sure she left that field blank simply because she gets a lot of enjoyment out of watching the G.P., the Brovarian (my brother Josh who lives in Germany), and myself struggle to figure out the true date of her “special day.”

This year, the internet was not amused.

“Didn’t we just do this last year,” asked my friend Wooz, who remembered the thread but not the date.

“Yeah,” I replied ruefully. “We do it every year.  I can’t search my Facebook memories, though, and by the time it comes up, it will be too late.

“If only,” my pal Teri weighed in, “there was some invention or device that would make it easy for a person to save important dates, perhaps even to plan for them.”

“I kinda tend to go through cell phones,” I countered, having saved the date of my mother’s birth in several such devices which had met bitter and expensive ends.

“I was thinking of a calendar, Ab.”

Teri and the Rev both earned Phi Beta Kappa marks in sarcasm.

This year, however, the family weighed in.

The Brovarian’s wife, (my sister-in-law Kenia) messaged that she was sure it was either the 17th or the 19th.

My Aunt Kate (a former history teacher) sent a date that I’m pretty sure was either Lincoln’s birthday or the day Kennedy was shot saying, “Sorry, Ab. I don’t even remember my birthday anymore.”

My Aunt Karen said she thought it was the 19th, but then she and Aunt Kate hijacked the thread trying to figure out when everybody else’s birthday was.

Aunt Karen then said that we didn’t have to worry about her birthday because she “gave them up years ago.” This was good news since no one in the family had worried about it since around 1971.

As a pretend journalist, I regarded all this information as coming from unreliable sources and took a deeper dive into the “Rabbit Hole of Truth and Small Cakes Which You Should Not Eat Despite Instruction to the Contrary.”

I bravely asked Mom via text message.

I got nothing in return but silence so tense even the crickets shut up for a change.

Dad replied to my Facebook query with a very exact date which included the year. This seemed like it might be a more plausible solution.

However, one year, the G.P. and I forgot Mom’s birthday so thoroughly that we had to shop last-minute for gifts and a cake. She got some magazines and a Bic grill lighter from the gas station. Her birthday cake was a pizza.

One would think that would cause the Rev to have a more vested interest in us remembering her birthday, but when the Rev digs her heels in, they stay dug.

Panic was setting in. I decided that since the online consensus was the 19th, I’d just go with that.

Then, early one morning, Mom rang my doorbell. I let her in, and she sat down on my white couch.

“I need to tell you something,” she said, dramatically.

“What Mom?” I replied, as my anxiety painted mental pictures of the torture she was going to inflict upon me because I forgot when her birthday was…again.

“For my birthday this year, I want a three-quart Instantpot. Don’t get a six-quart one. I already have one of those. THREE QUARTS. They used to have them at HEB, but they’re sold out.”

“I GOT YOU!” I crowed in my head, thinking that if she wanted her gift, she’d be forced to tell me when her birthday was.

“So…what day is your birthday, Mom?”

“You don’t know?” she teased.

“Is it the 19th?”


If there is a magic phrase that instantly causes a human being to forget something, it’s “And don’t you forget it.” I remember right now, but I’m positive that at midnight on my Mother’s birthday, I’m going to come down with a soap-opera-level case of amnesia.

To Dad’s credit, he got it right.

To mine, I’m better about it than I was before.

Until about 2011, I was positive Mom’s birthday was in November.

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