Peace, Love, and Sue

By Sam Mitchell

Peace, Love, and Sue was performed at Shenanigans Comedy Theater on Friday, November 17, 2023

This last summer I had the opportunity to take my family to Chicago. It was for a work event called ALA. Any librarians in the audience know what ALA is, but for everyone else ALA stands for the American Library Association, and this was their big show or as my 11-year-old Henry says, Halloween for Librarians. You get to walk around different booths while vendors and publishers fill up your tote bags with pens, journals, and new books.  

ALA is host to several speakers related to librarianship and this year was no different. Author Judy freakin’ Blume was the keynote speaker. The poet Amanda S. Gorman was a major draw, as were several other well-known writers and creators that we wanted to see. Unfortunately, there wouldb be time to see them all. 

Aside from this nerdy work convention, this was all our first visits to Chicago. I had down time away from work and we wanted to make the most of what we could do with the five days we’d be there. We knew we couldn’t do everything, so we had to do the thing I was really bad at and that was to MAKE A PLAN. So, I did, but in pencil as to keep things flexible.

Cubs Baseball, The Bean, Boat Tours, The Art Institute, The Field Museum. A friend mentioned that one of my favorite musicians, Elvis Costello, would be playing nearby while we were there. We had decided before we left that this would mostly be a trip about museums and native Chicago attractions as my wife and I both wanted Henry to experience as much of the Windy City as we could fit in, but… If I could convince Henry that seeing Elvis Costello was something he’d be interested in, perhaps we might all go.  

Henry, do you want to go see one of my favorite musicians?

I dunno.

He’s got lots of great songs. Allison, Pump It Up, Watching the Detectives, What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding. He even was kicked off of SNL for playing one of his songs.


He’s the guy whose album is hanging up in my office, the autographed one. People used to tease me that Elvis Costello was my real dad because we kinda look alike.

It was true. There was a time that I was teased by my friends that I shared a likeness to him simply because of my glasses and penchant for wearing non baseball style hats. They said he could be my biological father despite knowing my dad.

My skills of persuasion did not pass muster. What I consider enticing was not necessarily motivators to my 6th grader.

I was of course disappointed to not see one of my favorite singers, but I honestly couldn’t see dragging my 11-year-old to a show at The Horseshoe Casino and Lounge… until midnight. Chicago would be full of firsts, but not this one.

Luckily, I had seen Elvis Costello years earlier.  

In my twenties, my friend and I arrived early at The Tabernacle in Atlanta and waited for three and a half hours outside of Elvis’ tour bus in hopes of meeting him and getting our CDs signed. He finally made his way out of the tour bus. There he was in the flesh. Punk Rock Buddy Holly. He had his pork-pie hat, skinny tie, and oversized signature black prescription glasses like mine. His security came over to shoo us mortals away, but he let them know that it was cool and took the time to speak with us in earnest. What’s cooler is that he did sign our CDs, but he didn’t sign it, Elvis Costello, he signed it… Well, I couldn’t tell what he signed. When I got home, I did some internet sleuthing and learned that he had signed it, Declan MacManus. His REAL name was Declan McManus. The stage name, Costello, was his mother’s maiden name and the name Elvis, chosen as a challenge to the record companies to promote another artist named Elvis. YOU can have Presley, I’ll take McManus.

We finally make a list of what we’re going to see. The first night, we get our boat tour on The Chicago River.  We see the former Chicago Post Office filmed in the movie The Dark Knight, Henry’s favorite and we see the Michigan Avenue Tower from Adventures in Babysitting, my favorite.

Image from Adventures in Babbysitting

Our next stop was to the Field Museum of Natural History. The big draw at the Field Museum was the fossilized remains of the world’s most complete and largest T-Rex called Sue. I immediately hit the docent up with a series of questions like how can you tell the sex of a dinosaur? The docent then explains you can’t, to which I feel silly. Sue Hendrickson is the name of the fossil collector who found the remains, of course. 

The story she relates to us about Sue’s discovery of Sue went like this: In 1990, a group had discovered Edmontosaurus bones in western South Dakota. As they were about to leave, they realized their truck had a flat tire. Everyone in the group goes to work replacing the tire with the spare, all except Sue Hendrickson who decides to explore the nearby cliffs that they had not checked. She then sees a small piece of dinosaur sticking out and BAM, the rest is history.

After we gawk at Sue for a few moments, we thank the docent for her paleontology lesson. At this point Chicago was living up to its reputation and everything after our plan to see The Art Institute would be gravy.

We leave the Field Museum and rush to the Art Institute with only two hours left before it closes. I am stoked, but Henry is ready to leave shortly after we arrive. I don’t know if he’s just bored (which I can’t imagine) or tired from walking everywhere. It’s one of those moments where you feel your age, you feel that you are the parent, and you feel like maybe you should cut your losses and leave. I cave and we begin to leave after only being there an hour. As we near the exit towards the direction of our hotel I spin around and slightly scream WAIT! We haven’t seen the Impressionism exhibit. We must see the Seurat from Ferris Beuller.

You know the painting if you’ve seen Ferris Beuller. Henry has seen Ferris Beuller. I even imagined that perhaps we’d recreate the scene in the movie as a family photo/Christmas card because y’know, no one has ever done that.

Image from Ferris Bueller's Day Off

As we’re racing up the steps to the Impressionism Gallery, I pass a man on my left who is leaving the same exhibit. He’s a little shorter than me, late sixties, pork-pie hat, and oversized black prescription glasses.

My head and body quickly jerk around with reflexes of a fan in his twenties to stop this man.

Excuse me. Are you Elvis Costello?

Why yes, I am, he replied.

I then proceed to tell him in no cool manner how important his music has been to me, and I usher Henry over to join me. 

Henry, this is the guy I was telling you about. The musician who has written so many amazing songs. 

Elvis then takes the time to address Henry telling him that it is a pleasure to meet him and how much he likes the name Henry as it’s the name of one of his sons.

Like before, those many years ago, Elvis Costello could have told me not to bother, to walk on or to eff off. And that would have been ok. He owes me, nor the public anything… but he didn’t.

After this random encounter, we see the Impressionists. We see Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte. I’m in front of some of the most famous pieces of Impressionism in the world and I can only float around the room in disbelief as I had just casually met Elvis Costello in a city of almost 3 million people. This time it was unplanned and by chance. Like explorer Sue Hendrickson, I had taken a last-minute detour and made a significant discovery of my own. It was a full circle moment.

And for the rest of my trip, I tell anyone that will listen that I ran into my biological father at the museum and then I show them this picture.

Three Generations

Just Press Play

By Sam Mitchell

Just Press Play was performed at The Princess Theater on Sunday, September 25, 2022

Tommy was the kind of vocalist that I just did not get. When he sang, he had perfect diction and annunciated each word as if were trying to reach the farthest audience member in the back row. This tactic worked in his favor considering he was my church’s new minister of music. Aside from popping each of his phonetic cues, he was also the doppelgänger of pro wrestler, Ric Flair, with his toothy grin and his flaxen hair. He knew this and would often imitate his signature “wooo” yell to the thrill of the youth group.

I was not “sold” on Tommy like the others. He was the most car salesman-like of all the church’s staff and as a rule I was always wary of the most popular kid in school. I’m sure that he would have been chosen Mr. Insert the Name of Your High School here when he was teenager. Being single, Tommy was not afraid to flirt with any of the small Baptist church’s female parishioners, not matter the age and no matter his or their relationship status. He quickly began dating the piano player, a single mother of two, much to the dismay of many a widowed or divorced attendee.

After evening church on Sundays, Tommy would often host the youth at his house to play cards, mostly teenage boys. Only at a Southern Baptist church would you hear about the sins of gambling and then hurry off to play poker at the minister’s home. And if not for my wanting to be with my friends, I would have never learned to play Spades or have met Lucy. Lucy was the youngest daughter of Tommy who was visiting for the summer, all the way from Dallas, TX.

For a seventeen-year-old, it was a perfect meet cute. I walked into the kitchen and saw her sitting with her older sister. Each of my friends scrambled to make good first impressions, but I hung back a moment gathering my composure. Admittedly, I was never this cool, but I walked over, held out my hand and said, “Hi Lucy, I’m Ricky”. That’s all it took. We were linked. Lucy was the answer to all my wants at the time. I was the odd ball surrounded by Alan Jackson fans when all that I wanted to do was listen to Bad Religion and They Might Be Giants and then there was Lucy, with her pink hair.

In 1995, her favorite movie was… Drew Barrymore. I mean Drew Barrymore was emblematic of the time, so any movie that had her in it was her favorite. She specifically loved the movie, Mad Love, which costarred Chris O’Donnell. The summary on the back of DVD box said something like “Matt wonders if his love can ‘cure’ Casey’s problems.” It could not. Lucy’s favorite book was Little Girl Lost by yes, Drew Barrymore. A more fitting title could not have been applied to Lucy, a person who was emotionally misshapen by her father’s leaving years earlier.

For three years, our summers were filled with each other’s company. At seventeen, Lucy was the most exciting person that I had ever met. She was nothing like the debutantes of “small town” Georgia and this difference clouded my clarity on our relationship for years. It was a bipolar roller coaster with highs and lows and highs and lows. There was never a real commitment between the two of us, but the potential always seemed magnificent based on our chemistry and our playlists.

Our quote/unquote romance went off and on between other relationships and between visits from Dallas. Summers always seemed to begin just as other relationships were in flux.

Between visits, I spent time at my neighbor’s house. My neighbor’s house wasn’t typical. It wasn’t a house with a pair of siblings across the street in suburban American. I was in rural farm country and the house across the pasture was a foster home with several sets of siblings. As the foster home was on the back lot of a cattle ranch, we all referred to it as The Ranch.

In those days, I was fascinated by this large, non-nuclear family when they moved in as I was an only child without real neighbors for much of my life. They were also my entree into the Southern Baptist church and lifestyle where Tommy, Lucy’s father, was the aforementioned minister of music.

So, for a spell, the social pattern in my life was summers with Lucy and time outside of summers with Lucy was spent with The Ranch. So much of my time was spent with them, I jokingly became an honorary foster child, the Billy Preston to their Beatles. Like Lucy, the foster parents, Mark and Sally were from Texas. Mark was a bowlegged, squat fellow with short gray hair and barrel chest. If you think he looked the part of a Texan, you should have heard him speak. If you could imagine a person with every southern phrase at the ready in their verbal holster, you’d have Mark.

His counterpart, companion, better half, also had short hair, a great smile and was every bit the Texan that Mark was, but she could see through his BS and give it back to him when needed.

They really were a team and from the vantage of inexperience, they were the model family, albeit one who decided to foster way too many children. They had “a calling” as they saw it, to be the bastion in the lives of several young people who did not have steady home lives, to teach them what people today would call “conservative values”, a term that would have been foreign to me at the time. There were kids ranging from ages 12 to 17 and I was friends with all of the ones who were close to my age. There were games, and fights, and movies, and camping, and Shepherd’s Pie (which I had never had before), potato cannons, and a giant gray van that transported everyone far away on crowded trips. It was a culture shock for me, but in the best possible way.

Mark and Sally’s 25th wedding anniversary was quickly approaching and their biological daughter, was planning a surprise party for them at the church. As with all major life events for these Baptists, everything happened with, through and at the church. All their friends, colleagues, children and the church staff would be there to yell surprise.

After the initial jolt of being surprised, the couple of the hour was seated like queen and king in metal folding chairs in fMarkt of a table with their gifts as Tommy pushed his way through the church crowd to sing acapella style to Mark and Sally. In its entirety, with all his forced fluency, Tommy belted Can’t Take My Eyes Off You as popularized to them by Andy Williams. It didn’t get any more “white bread” than this.

You're just too good to be true
Can't take my eyes off of you
You'd be like Heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last, love has arrived
And I thank God I'm alive
You're just too good to be true
Can't take my eyes off of you

Holding Mark’s hand, Sally began to weep. Then she removed her hand from Mark’s to fully cover her face with both hands as she cried. All the while, Tommy smiled; eyes ablaze as he took a knee to serenade her alone. Tommy took her hand, the one Mark had just held, and sang the rest of the song.

My first question was, can Mark not sing? Even if he sang badly, these very personal lyrics wouldn’t be channeled through the voice of a single alpha male gazing into the eyes of his wife. Did Mark perhaps request that Tommy sing this to them/her as it was “their song”? Was it even their song? One thing that I could say that was refreshing about Mark was that he wore his emotions on the outside and by his reaction he looked unperturbed which led me to believe that things were on the up and up, and I was making something out of nothing as this was a very “huggy” church. But none of this really mattered. The next day Lucy arrived for the summer.

So, color me surprised when the first thing that Lucy wanted to do was visit The Ranch. I didn’t understand why this was the first thing item on her vacation itinerary, but it didn’t matter. I was excited to introduce Lucy to my dear friends from across the way and to have her experience a little of what I did day to day when it wasn’t Summer.

We arrived. She put on a less troubled face than she wore in the car and as soon as she walked in, she began searching for something or someone that wasn’t there. Specifically, she was on a mission to meet the matriarch, the foster mother, Sally, who happened to be the only person not there that afternoon.

Sally’s absence threw her, and she was ready to leave after only a few minutes. On the way back, she confided in me that she had a secret. She then instructed me to drive to her father’s house. It was Wednesday afternoon, which meant Tommy was already at the church getting ready for that evening’s service. Lucy walked me back to her father’s bedroom, over to his nightstand and pointed to his answering machine.

To say it was strange to be in his bedroom was and understatement. This was a home that I had been in many times in the evening to play games with my friends from church. And now here I was in his bedroom, in the daytime, a place that would have no doubt been off limits, and I was in this bedroom with his daughter.

“Push Play”, she said. I did as I was told. My curiosity could not be helped.

“Tommy, oh, Tommy. It’s me. I… I… I miss you. It’s so strange to see you every week and still miss you. I know what we’re doing is wMarkg, but I… I can’t help myself.”

“Who was that” I said in my most exasperated manner, not believing that someone would purposefully leave a message like that on a recording device to be found. For anyone this might be salacious, but to hear it on an answering machine belonging to a minister it sounded scandalous. Especially when there was so much preaching about premarital sex and sex outside of marriage and sex. At least they were wise enough not to leave their name.

“Seriously, Lucy. Who was that?”

“You know who it was, Sam. It was that mom at The Ranch.”

Immediately, I realized how I too had been naive about the anniversary charade the night before. Holy Shit! Sally was the caller. Another person who had fallen prey to Tommy’s charismatic persona.

I now knew that Lucy had gone to The Ranch to size Sally up. To glimpse the family that was broken due to her father’s selfishness. Lucy’s reaction to finding out that her dad was having an affair, was to find her out. It was apparent that Tommy had a pattern of behavior, and it was important for Lucy to see what Sally might have in common with the woman that Tommy had cheated on when married to her mom.

I never said a word. Lucy might have. The piano player might have. Slowly rumors began to trickle. Mark and Sally gave up their position at The Ranch and moved back to Texas. They separated for a time, but eventually reconciled. Tommy was eventually “prayed out” of the church, but quickly moved on, was forgiven and took up at another church. You can’t keep a good evangelical/car salesman/pro wrestler look-alike down, as they say.

By the end of that summer, I finally professed to Lucy that I loved her, but she did not love me or was not at a point in her life to receive that love. I’m not sure. I felt relieved for having said it and like Chris O’Donnell’s character, I knew my love couldn’t cure our problems. The next summer, I had moved on, but still sometimes wondered if we ever might get the timing right. When I saw her next, she confided to me that she had recently slept with one of my friends. She said she remembered him from when they were both five years old and that she did it because it made for a great story and how cool was that. It was enough to keep me from wondering any more.

Three years later in college, I received my own voicemail. I drudged my way to my bed, ready to collapse after my comparative lit exam, the last exam before Spring Break. My machine was blinking. I pressed play.

“Hi Sam, it’s me,” she said. “I miss you”

“I’m getting married tomorrow… and I just wanted you to know…

I just wanted you to know that even now I thought it was going to be you and me.”

She never said her name and I never called her back.






You Relics

By Sam Mitchell

Take down your signs form the previous war,
the statues of men, whom you adore.
Your flag is waving through the mud,
but you claim it’s honor, you claim it’s blood.

The generals are dead, the battles’ lost,
but still, it’s others who pay your cost
as we mend the decay in our public space.
You splinter to pieces - you master race.

Take down your signs from the wars before
your clouded cause - your reasons for.
It’s an albatross around your neck
to carry the burden of being oppressed.

But we all see the red you hide
you relics of the countryside.

Things Are Getting Interesting

By Sam Mitchell

It is important to understand and acknowledge our own idiosyncrasies. I mention this to illustrate that your environment shapes you in ways you that you may be unaware of.

As an only child, I had time. Time to fill my afternoons with lots of imaginative play. And through this play, I became my own storyteller. My adventures were directed by, written by, and acted by me. I was a seven-year-old Orson Welles, except Rosebud, was well played with Transformer. Along with the creative credits, I was also a mimic, so sound effects were a specialty, and were helpful when keeping myself entertained.

Post college, I was spending a Spring Saturday with one of my closest friends, Stephen. Where I was creative with the stories and visual medium, Stephen was athletic and was a steadfast musician. Teaching music became his career, but baseball was his Zen. We crossed Flowers Road to the field where hobbyists flew RC planes, as we prepared to play catch.

We started throwing the ball and took steps further away from each other until we could no longer carry on an easy conversation and became fixated on the motor mechanics of catch and release. It was a meditation of motion. Ten minutes in Stephen yelled out across the field.

  • Do you know you do that?
  • Do what?
  • You’re making sound effects with your mouth every time you throw the ball.

I had no idea. My habits as an isolated youth had tapped me on the shoulder and said, hey, I bet no one knows you do this.

Friday night, my fried Jeff comes over like most Friday’s after work to visit with Regina and me. He left once Atlanta to chase a girl and I came back to Atlanta six months later because I missed a girl, Regina. Now we are all in the same place again, form Voltron, etc. It was great. Friday nights happened with ease. It was only a question of which food joint we’d eat at and which activity we’d pursue. So, will it be La Fonda and Hot Rod or Rusan’s and then Tower Records. We settle with Chinese take-out and watching As Good As It Gets. Jack Nicholson taps the floor on each side of his bedroom shoes several times before slipping them on.

  • I used to do what Nicholson just did. I’d tap my shoes on either side of the floor before putting on my shoes.
  • Really?
  • Yeah, I totally used to be OCD. I mean, I still am, but I don’t think anyone’s actually going to die now if I don’t flip the light switch a certain number of times.

Jeff’s look told me that he was not aware of my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and now suddenly he was. I realized in that instance that I should probably have given more context when dropping personal revelations concerning my mental well-being.

Now that Stephen had a secure job as a full-time band instructor, he bought a new car. He desperately needed an upgrade from the damp Chevy Lumina he had always driven. He picked Jeff and me up and we drove around downtown Atlanta before going to dinner. Stephen was driving and Jeff was naturally given shotgun as he was four inches taller than me. I sort of straddled the middle area in the back and leaned forward so that I could still be a part of the conversation, but Atlanta was and still is a very crowded and busy place and there is very little breathing room or negative space is the visual landscape. Advertisements bombard you at every view. And as Jeff and Stephen were talking sports, I felt fine letting them continue while I got lost looking around. What caught my eye in that moment was a billboard for Rémy Martin. Rémy Martin is a variety of brandy and their billboard left little to the imagination. No one was scantily clad, but the ad implied with little leeway that the man in the middle was about to have sex later with both of the women in the ad at the same time. As Rémy Martin is French we’ll use the appropriate term, a ménage a trois. By no means am I a prude, but in the early 2000s, my rural mind was still a bit bowled over by what was being insinuated on a giant billboard in the middle of the day for all to see. Country mouse meets city mouse advertising. The ad even stated in all caps, THINGS ARE GETTING INTERESTING. Indeed, they were. To point out the boldness of what I was seeing I reached out my hands and put one hand on each of my friends’ shoulders. My left hand on Stephen’s right shoulder. Stephen, the friend who sat a seat between us during Good Will Hunting because it was an empty theater and how would that look. And my right hand on Jeff’s left shoulder. Jeff, who we all teased was a “real man” because he was the physical embodiment of Mr. Clean with his broad stature and shaved head. Remember, my two friends were talking sports and I was having this billboard conversation in my head. I touch them both at the same time to pause their conversation, motion upwards with my head to see a billboard that is already out of view and in an eerie, falsetto voice I say, THREEWAY.

To reiterate my point, try to understand and acknowledge your own idiosyncrasies. Leave the sound effects for playing with your transformers, and when you’re explaining your mental illness, give a little context and by all means, before you deliver your punchline, tell the joke.

Hail, Caesar!

By Sam Mitchell

It’s March 14th. The next day would be a turning point in Roman history. 60 some compatriots in the senate meet to hone their plans that would seal the fate of Julius Caesar and to fulfill the prophecy of the soothsayer. Brutus is the last of the familiar mob to plunge his dagger into the body of his once closest companion. Beware the Ides of March, Caesar was warned. Beware. No good will come. Your heart will stop.

Like Julius Caesar, I’m not a believer in the words of mediums, mystics, or modern con men and women like John Edward or Sylvia Brown, but even Great Caesar’s Ghost would have to have taken notice in the coincidence of his death’s timing and the preternatural warning that was given to him. He joked about it, as would I if given a warning from a psychic.

I’ve heard that time is a flat circle and all, but from my perspective it’s a straight line. It’s only looking back that we might be allowed to believe in something like destiny. Many forget time’s linear nature and our propensity for noticing patterns. I’m a natural skeptic, save the year that I was engaged to a religious zealot and believed that I might one day become a preacher, but thankfully the relationship did not last. All of the beliefs that I thought I had and all of the signs that I thought I saw were simply how I framed my personal narrative.

Growing up in my house, it’s surprising that I am a skeptic. As a kid my father was a straight-laced Methodist, but in my mid-twenties he changed his religious spots and became a hard-right evangelical who now attends a doomsday church were the end of the world is preached from the pulpit.

My mother was never religious, but she had always been a bit daring when it came to being-open. When I was younger her openness sometimes frightened me. She was prone to trying things like automatic handwriting, dabbling in palm reading and practicing numerology. I laughed, and probably rolled my eyes when Mom brought home her first Himalayan salt lamp and extolled its health benefits for purifying the air.

Personal coincidences, not fate, have appeared in my life as well, at least in retrospect. After completing college with a degree in design, I had almost given up on finding a job within my designated field. But being from a small town had its privileges. I knew everyone and had a reputation as an artist and now I was an artist with a degree. And even though it was not a teaching degree, I had been offered a job at my high school to teach art. As I was walking in to sign the provisional contract, I received a call from a company in Atlanta who said that they would love to hire me. I left the superintendent’s office, embarrassed that I had to turn the teaching job down in person, but relieved that I would now be entering my career instead of falling back into an environment that would one day suffocate me (not teaching, the town).

I remember meeting Regina, my wonderful wife and closest companion, on my first day of work. When I introduced myself on that first day, she looked at me with daggers in her eyes insisting that we had met during the group interview a week and a half before. Unfortunately, she was correct.

I was not initially interested in Regina, not because she wasn’t beautiful, but mainly because she wasn’t interested in me. When my mom finally saw a picture of her, she immediately inquired, “Why aren't you dating her?”

The reasons that I gave were (1) I worked with her and (2) having heard she attended church regularly I deemed that she was too religious for my taste considering my last relationship. Six months later, the two reasons faded to the background and we were sneaking looks, notes, and kisses at work and our secretive office romance was really only a secret to us.

In 2007, after a 6 ½ year courtship, we were married. Thankfully, I took the call and did not become a teacher.

My grandfather, Mom’s dad, was sick. By the beginning of 2006, Mom knew he was dying. Being a teacher of literature, she was and has always been good at ciphering the meaning and symbols in her dreams in a literary fashion. That January, she had a peculiar dream that she then related to me.

At a restaurant, my mom, dad, and I sat around a table. The server brought a white frosted birthday cake and said specifically that today was March 3rd and that we were all here to celebrate a birthday. Now, in the dream Mom became increasingly annoyed because she knew that her father was dying.

In her waking life, she was convinced that her father would die in February. His grandfather had died in February. His step-father had died in February and even his father had died in February. When February passed, she was a bit relieved, a bit surprised, and obviously mistaken. Three days later she received a call from wintery Jonesport, Maine, informing her that her father, my Pop, had passed away. It was March 3rd. Then she knew that the celebration in her dream was not really a birthday, but a ceremony marking the exact date of his death, or so we thought.

Years later, my son was anticipated by his doctors to be born in February. It happened to be a Leap Year, and Regina and I were both hoping for the lottery of birth dates, but February 29th passed us. Early on March 2nd Regina went into labor. I called mom telling her and my dad not to come up until after Henry had been born. And like any self-respecting grandparents to be, they did not listen. We all expected that Henry would arrive that evening, but Regina’s labor lasted through a Friend’s marathon, a severe thunderstorm and 2 hospital shifts. Mom and Dad waited for nearly fourteen hours in the waiting room and finally through the use of what would be equivalent to industrial baby pliers, Henry Elliott Mitchell took his first tiny gasp of air at 11:01 on March 3rd. Six years later my Mom’s dream about a birthday on March 3rd  finally made perfect sense and Henry would be tied in numbers to a man whom I loved and admired.

March 14th, 2001 began as a typical Wednesday evening, but it would be a turning point in my life. Before we were married and even before we were the secretive couple at work, Regina and I were merely two reluctant friends. We had been working together now for about 6 months and despite our rough start we had become close. We shared tastes in music, in the arts and both loved B-Horror movies like The Evil Dead films. And there were many a night where we would get drunk on cheap table wine and watch VHS copies of movies that we had recorded off of television. We had just finished watching “So, I Married and Axe Murderer”, when we realized that our long evening had once again turned into the next morning. And like our first meeting, I’m certain that I still annoyed her, but was confident that our feelings were mutual otherwise. With our guards down from too much wine, I encouraged her to reveal to me what was obvious, but was too scared to express myself. Like a dagger, Regina’s words plunged straight to the center of my being. “You know we’re dating, right?”, she said. But I knew she meant “I love you”. I looked up at the “Nat Geo” bird clock on the wall and for the sake of prosperity I noted the time. Working side by side with her would be different and that would be ok and that if we had a future together (and we did) this would be the moment it began. It was 1:02 AM, March 15th. Beware the Ides of March, I thought. Your heart will stop, but in reality, it only beat more strongly.

Misconceptions and the High Waisted Mermaid

By Sam Mitchell

This story aired Monday morning, November 22, 2021 on the Sundial Writers Corner on 89.3, WLRH


In the autumn of her life, Louise Bevel had short, dark gray, curly hair, sported high waisted slacks and rarely wore a smile. Even though she was of average size, she gave the appearance of someone much larger and more broad-shouldered. She was no nonsense country, whereas her best friend, Margaret, was petite and a bit refined. You see Margaret was my grandmother. She had been a teacher, been married to a lawyer and played piano for her church, but Louise was the epitome of rough. She wasn’t prone to much dialogue and when she did speak, her collective amount of words didn’t add to much. She would most often grumble an “hmm, mmm” in response to someone else. This was the picture of Louise that most people knew.

Even in her eulogy, the minister couldn’t paint the softest of images, he said that anyone who knew her would say she was gruff. But despite her gruffness, Louise could be tender, but only as tender as Louise could be. On occasion, she would baby sit me when my grandmother could not. One time I remember looking up at her and saying “Ouise, I love ooo, do ooo love me?”

And instead responding like most people by saying, “Of course Sam, I love you”, she looked down, and in her brusque fashion said, “Sam, everyone loves ooo.”

Coincidentally, my grandmother and Louise both had lost their husbands in their thirties. My grandfather, Roy, was killed when a train ran into his truck as he was coming back from his family’s dairy farm and Louise’s husband had had a heart attack. Neither remarried. When my grandmother was asked why she never married again, she would always say that she could never replace the best. When Louise was asked the same question, I imagine her response might have been, “What Margaret said”.

Instead of remarrying, they chose to remain single and used each other for companionship. This included vacations, dinners, and of course, trips to the movies.

Before Rotten Tomatoes, I would get short summations from them about what movie they had seen the night before at our small one screener, The Ritz. Reviews were always mixed, but one movie that they both agreed they liked was, Ron Howard’s 1984 comedy, Splash.

For those of you too young to remember, Splash was the story of Allen Bauer, played by Tom Hanks, a produce business owner in New York and how he finds his soulmate, but she just happens to be a real-life mermaid. The movie begins with a sepia toned flashback where an eight-year old Hanks instinctively jumps off a small sight-seeing boat off the coast of Cape Cod even though he cannot swim. He sees a blonde girl of the same age in the ocean and realizes that with her he can now breathe underwater. Hanks is quickly pulled back to the surface, and as an adult he believes his experience with the young mermaid to be a hallucination.

When Splash came to home-video I was about seven. If you believe my embarrassing misconception about the movie was that I thought mermaids were real, then you’d be dead wrong. But I was in awe of how innovative and lucky the filmmakers were to have started filming the movie twenty years prior to capture the flashback scene between Hanks and Darryl Hannah when they were only kids. It never even occurred to me that the director had hired two different actors to play the same character.

My greater misconception was that Grandma and Louise were just two old women whose lives were compartmentalized to enjoying movies, cruises and food, but companionship is nothing without a little adventure. Evident of their deep friendship was the fact that Louise would ride around with my grandmother forcing their way into other people’s business. Perhaps inspired by Grandma’s love for Harlequin Romances mixed with and unhealthy amount of soaps and Divorce Court, they both became sleuths. An outsider would have called them busybodies, but since it’s my own grandma, I’ll say that she and Louise were amateur extra marital detectives. On a whim, Grandma and Louise would chariot around a rumored victim in an affair and stalk the two-timing husband and try to catch him in the act. Sometimes this would take weeks. Many times, they would give the aggrieved wife the evidence and/or the courage that she needed to move on with her life.

I can imagine, my grandma, binoculars around her neck, behind the steering wheel, moving through rural Georgia. Louise is in the passenger seat, lit cigarette in her mouth, taking notes and occasionally grumbling, “What a bastard,” while a bewildered wife looks on wildly from the backseat of Grandma’s green Chevy Nova, wondering what in the ever-living hell had she gotten herself into.

When she turned 80, my grandmother was admitted to Providence Care Nursing home. After a year at her new residence something peculiar happened. My dad went by for his daily visit with her and what he found was not the cheerful mother that he usually saw; the one who was either reading her Harlequins or watching the Braves game. Grandma was slumped over in her bed, sobbing into her pillow.

“Mama, what is it? What’s wrong?”, he said.

“Oh, Louise!”, Grandma said. “Louise is dead!”

My father assured her that Louise was very much alive.

Maybe it was a premonition by someone who was so connected to another person, but the next day Louise did indeed die. My grandmother was heartbroken.

Two years later, my grandmother died from her own heart failure.

Soulmate doesn’t always mean the person that you’ve fallen in love with. Sometimes a soul mate is the person who you’ve grown with the most. Soulmates can be forged by experience. And I truly believe that Grandma and Louise were partners in crime, partners in life, and were most assuredly soulmates.

For my grandmother, if heaven exists, I imagine it in sepia tones and instead of pearly gates, I see her being ferried to heaven in a small tour boat. She has been transformed to a young girl of eight. She looks out in the water and sees another young girl with short dark curls, swimming freely in the water, a high waisted mermaid. It’s Louise. Grandma jumps in, they swim toward each other, they clasp one another’s hands and my grandmother can breathe once again.

6 Degrees to JC

By Sam Mitchell

The following piece was performed at The Southern Fried Film Festival (The Orion Amphitheater) on June 9, 2022.

Should I hand over my baby to the President? This is a question that I actually once asked myself. Some questions are easy to answer, ala final Jeopardy questions concerning Netflix’s Derry Girls. In retrospect, my “Should I hand my baby over to the president?” was more philosophical in nature, more akin to Tolstoy’s Three Questions.

In Tolstoy’s parable, a king believed that if he had the answers to three specific questions, he would be successful in all that he did.

He journeys to find the wisest to answer his questions, and in his quest he aides a hermit who is revealed to be the unlikely vessel of this knowledge. I imagine the king’s surprise to finding out that the hermit would be his mentor was much like Luke Skywalker meeting Yoda for the first time. Why does he speak backwards or why is he green?

The king’s three questions were these:

  • Who are the most important people?
  • What is the most important thing to be doing?
  • When is the most important time?

The hermit lays out his truths and the king leaves better for the wisdom he was given. But the query, “Should I hand my baby over to the president?” was not one for a hermit, or even a Jedi.

When my son, Henry, was one, Jimmy Carter was 89. When Jimmy, as I’ll call him for now on, wasn’t leading efforts to eradicate endemics like Guinea-worm disease, or building homes with Habitat for Humanity, he could be seen teaching Sunday school at Marantha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia and by simply signing up on the church’s website, anyone could reserve their seat to hear him speak.

On a Sunday in June, we headed out for our semi-local pilgrimage. In tow were Regina, my wife, Henry, my mom, and our family friend, Linda.

We were all very excited to meet this compassionate luminary. He was from our state. We had read his books. He had the most robust philanthropic post presidency in U.S. history.

Linda even had a personal connection. Linda’s daughter was gay. And when the news came out in the early 90s that she was, the so-called friends at her church ostracized her and gossiped behind her back. It was heartbreaking for her to lose her friends, but even more so to see how her daughter was treated for being herself. Linda left the church, but never left her personal faith.

Years later, her daughter suddenly died from an aneurysm. In seeking answers, Linda wrote Jimmy. And instead of getting a form letter back from the office of a former President, Linda received a heartfelt, handwritten letter from him. It became a prized possession. She even kept it folded inside her family bible.

In contrast to Linda’s earnest sojourn, I was excited to meet the president because of a different reason. I had always loved the idea that all people in the world were connected to each other on an average of six, or fewer, social connections. And by virtue of a individual’s fame, the fewer connections it took. The idea had even been turned into a party game that I bet everyone here as heard of; Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’s where you connect any actor to Kevin Bacon via shared movies. Here’s an example. 22 years agon, I was an extra in a little movie, called Road Trip. So, me to Fred Ward in Road Trip. Fred Ward to Kevin Bacon in Tremors; two steps. I admit this may not have been the right motivation for someone seeking to hear a sage. My wife even suggested it might have been… shallow, BUT it would be thrilling to say that my son, Henry, and I would now both be only a few degrees from almost every modern leader, celebrity, artist, and athlete in the entire world.

After a thorough pat down by the Secret Service, we found our seats on pew near the middle of the small sanctuary. The church’s young preacher walked out and gave the attendees a few housekeeping rules for decorum-sake and then Jimmy entered through the front and began his lesson, part spiritual observation, part history class.

After the sermon, everyone who was visiting was given the chance to have their photo taken with Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn. The rules were very clear, we were not to shake hands or touch them, we were not to hog their time, and we were not to reenter the line if we left.

Linda was ahead of us and after several people had their photos taken, it was her turn. She had the rare, beautiful opportunity to thank someone for their kind words.

My connection to the world based on Six Degrees of Separation was coming upon us, when Henry took it upon himself to soil the last diaper that we had on us. We had already used our spare during the service and didn’t bring our diaper bag with us as to streamline our entrance into the church. I quickly sized up our distance to the front to see if I had time to run back to the car to change him and then I remembered the third rule and the seriousness of this rule being enforced considering the presence of the Secret Service. THOUGH SHALL NOT REENTER THE LINE!

Linda was finishing her conversation when the usher called, NEXT!

We walked up to Carters, said hello, and then it happened. Jimmy reached out for Henry to hold him for the photo.

I paused for a moment, unsure of what to do. SHOULD I hand over a very saggy and heavy Henry to a seemingly frail 89-year-old, former President of the United States? The Secret Service had checked for explosives, but not this kind. I was afraid there would be leak, but what is a dad to do when a former president offers to hold your son for a photo, making the connection of Six Degrees that much more solid. I gently passed Henry to Jimmy. Luckily, no leaks.

And yes, I guess you could say that I was successful in introducing my young one to a President for the sake of a connected experience, one that he will obviously be incapable of remembering save this story, and a photo for evidence.

And as I looked to my left and to my right, seconds before the photo was taken, to see the people that I was with and the familiar peanut farmer holding my son, my intentions of forcing a superficial socially connected bridge had crumbled away to live in this very surreal, but enjoyable moment.

Tolstoy might be pleased to hear that his example of mindfulness and the answers to his parable’s questions were unintentionally being acted out that day, even hours before meeting the President.

  • The most important people are the ones you are with.
  • The most important thing to be doing is to do good for and by those people.
  • The most important time is now.

I received a call from Linda’s husband a few weeks ago informing me that Linda had passed away. It wasn’t a surprise as we all new she had been ill. I immediately thought of our trip to meet Jimmy that June morning and how much that experience meant to her. 

I’m not religious, although I do believe in the virtues of communion, kindness, and attentiveness. Yoda said, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” and I’m fairly certain that Tolstoy, Jimmy, and Linda would agree.

Foot Binding

By Sam Mitchell


This story aired Monday morning, June 5, 2023 on the Sundial Writers Corner on 89.3, WLRH

My only first-hand experience with childbirth before my son was born had been in my garage. I sat with my dad’s dog, whose name I don’t remember because there had been so many. She was in labor with her first litter and as I stroked her head to keep her calm, I kept repeating what any caring and sensitive child of 11 would say to a dog giving birth in the family garage, “Good girl, c’mon girl, you can do it girl”.

So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that through instinct and muscle memory that when I repeated these lines during my wife’s labor, “Good girl, c’mon girl, you can do it girl”, my left hand rightfully received a crushing squeeze, and I was given the worst side eye of my life.

No one warned me that I shouldn’t try to calm and comfort my wife as I would one of my dad’s many Blueticks. 

But any uncomfortable missteps were soon forgiven as we witnessed the best of humanity in the form of a baby with a mop of brown hair, blinking eyes, ten fingers and ten perfect toes on two long feet like my own.

There had been expectations with childbirth, like I expected to be prepared to support my wife having taken several birthing classes. My wife expected that I wouldn’t speak to her like a dog. We all have expectations or at least things that we have grown used to. The sun rises and sets. Santa Claus is real. Your parents are your own. 

* * *

My mom was always home from school in the summers as she was a teacher. She and I were the two in the family of three that were most alike. We could have easily passed as siblings when viewing our first-grade school pictures and we have always communicated in a similar fashion. Mom would take me everywhere, from places that I wanted to visit (the library), places I did not want to visit (the fabric store) and to my grandparent’s house up the road within walking distance. We would talk the entire summer on these rides and walks, much how I now talk with my own son. Our conversations about books, art, and movies were paused when my dad came home from work. He didn’t keep up with those things and fittingly, he wanted us to hear about his day at the textile mill.

In the summer after second grade, Mom began laying out the clues to help me deduce that there was no Santa. As a teacher, she had seen the torment that came from being the child who held on to myths too long. In the midst of drawing and talking that summer, I looked up and bluntly asked if there really was a Santa. Mom gently replied, “No, your father and I are your Santa.”

I was proud that I had put the clues together correctly, but still a bit exasperated that the make-believe had ended, I said “Great! I guess you’re going to tell me there’s no Easter Bunny either.”

Mom smiled and playfully asked if I still believed in the Tooth Fairy, to which I replied with a wicked side eye of my own.

 * * *

In elementary school, did you ever see your teacher at the grocery store? This used to freak me out. I imagined that the teachers lived in their so-called lounge in the school and this is where they powered down until the next school day. And even though my mom was a teacher, It was hard to imagine that any of my teachers had a life outside of the school. Just like it was hard for me to imagine my parents having a life before I was born. 

Unbeknownst to me, Mom had been married before. And every once in a while her brother would make digs about her ex-husband in front of me. These digs were never clear or overt, so I hadn’t put two and two together yet. Mom decided to get in front of a potentially upsetting discovery by dropping clues again in conversations, so that I could unearth and digest this new news more easily. It was about a man. As Santa was real and then he wasn’t, this new man was non-existent and then he was real.

I don’t quite remember the details or the exact evidence she presented, but I put things together quickly enough and asked her the question that I was led to.

“Mom, were you married before?”

She gently replied yes.

I dared not ask any further questions in fear of what other truths might be waiting to wrestle me away from my comfortable world. My concrete foundation was beginning to crumble and in that moment a seed of doubt had been planted.

I walked with my heart in my head to our backyard kennel, thinking this could explain things I had always felt deep down. I love my dad, but even at a young age, I recognized that I was disconnected from him. Later I would learn that this disconnectedness came from his own childhood trauma, but in that moment, I was convinced that biologically, I wasn’t his. I was perhaps the product of Mom’s first marriage. I saw Dad holding one of his many puppies from the kennel and I nearly cried thinking that my father wasn’t mine, but I never spoke my fear to him.

* * *

As an adult the disconnectedness I felt with my dad had turned more adversarial. We butted heads on so many things, from the big subjects to the mundane. We’d make up, but it was exhausting.

The day before my 30th birthday my dad had accident on a trail ride. He was thrown from his horse, and he landed on his leg, crushing everything below his left knee. The leg was nearly lost, but through science, alchemy, and time, he kept his limb. His recovery was slow and as my mom was still working, I moved home to help physically care for him and his many dogs.

I entered our living room one evening and noticed him reclined on the couch, his unadorned feet hanging over the armrest.

“Dad, do you need me to cut your nails?” It would have been nearly impossible for him to do considering his injury.

“No, I got it,” he said.

I had first noticed his neglected toenails, but then I could see his long, slender, pale white feet, toes that could hold a pencil. The round bundle of muscle below the ankle almost appeared blue because of their closeness to the surface. If my feet had a mirror, then these would be their reflection.

Dad had my feet or rather I had his and my son had mine.

And this is when any question or any lingering insecurities about my parentage as a child fled my mind. My father and I are dissimilar is many ways. I have not followed in his footsteps with how I view the world and yes, we still butt heads, but when I look at my own feet, it is a literal reminder that we are bound together.


By Sam Mitchell

Like many, I had trouble fitting in growing up. Half my family were Yankees, which can still be an issue in deep areas of the South. I was an only child, and the only grandchild on both sides of the family. I had an offbeat sense of humor that was bred from interacting solely with this older generation and from watching Monty Python movies.  Neighbors were few and far between as my dad would not live in town. We were “social distancing” even back in the 80s. In retrospect I appreciate my geekiness, but “geek” was not a badge of honor during the Reagan years.

Solace from the early pangs of awkwardness came in the form of elementary school Halloween. The social hierarchy of those who were already deemed “cool” shifted slightly at the end of October because a great costume could afford you a bit of credit and respect from your pop culture loving peers. That’s why in first grade I dressed as Yoda. Second grade, Dracula. But in third grade things took a turn for the unexpected and any real connections with my classmates hit another obstacle.

Mom wasn’t a fan of the store-bought costumes from the previous years because they weren’t original. The vacuform masks usually came paired with a plastic smock with whatever character’s body printed on it. Nothing said strength and intimidation like an eight-year old with He-Man’s chiseled six pack. I loved them, but as I had no money or a ride to K-Mart, what is an eight-year old to do, but concede to his mother’s wishes?

She decided to dress me with props around the house which included a black and white striped shirt, my great grandmother’s white gloves, a black beret and she covered my face with last year’s white Dracula make-up.

“What am I again?”, I asked.

“A mime”, she said.

I spent the rest of the day explaining to my classmates that a mime was a performer who didn’t speak, an irony for me since I’ve come to depend on the spoken word.  On the playground one heckler replied, “I think I hate mimes” and punched me straight in the gut.

Needless to say, making friends after this Halloween misstep was a bit difficult. Perhaps it was fortuitous that I changed schools when my mom began teaching at a private school where I could get a discounted tuition.

By the time I reentered public school in 9th grade, I was given another fresh start. I was attending school again in my hometown, and out of self-preservation I decided to keep my head down to fit in. By the end of 10th grade I had made friends with Matt. Matt was smart, lanky and had hair like a bright red Brillo pad. He shared my sense of offbeat humor, and his favorite movie was Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I finally felt as if I had made that friend, the person who I would recount stories with as old men on the porch while drinking our nutritional milkshakes. This friendship was built to last.

I remember seeing Matt one Halloween evening. He stood in front of me at attention with his hands by his sides. He was wearing a yellow sweatshirt, matching sweatpants, a helmet made of a colander with a pink pillow glued to it. His socks were tan, and his shoes were patent leather. The last accessory was the #2 he had spray painted on his chest using a stencil.

And in his thickest drawl Matt asked, “What am I supposed to be?”

“A pencil!”

“Man, you were the only person all day who got it. Do you know what it’s like when no one gets your costume?

“Yes,” I said. “Do you know what a mime is?”

In high school, Matt and a small group of other friends would hang out on the weekend. And what was special was the fact that we never got into real trouble. We were contended with hanging out, watching SNL, playing board games and generally goofing off. Our parents were relieved that we weren’t the kids who were drinking or doing drugs. And because we were all veritable wall flowers when it came to girls, there were no high school pregnancy scares.

Even after one particularly horrible first date experience during senior year, the first person I visited after was Matt.

“How’d it go?”

“Pretty good until the end. You know me.”

“Oh, no.”

“Yeah. I think I scared her off. You know at my house, the thing I traditionally say to my parents before they go to bed?”

“Good night. I love you?’”

“Yeah, well I said it to Chandra. She was getting out of the car when muscle memory kicked in and I said ‘Chandra, goodnight. I love you,’ and then I immediately tried to recover and said, ‘Oh No! I don’t love you. I mean maybe one day I could love you!’ I don’t think there will be a second date.’”

After our twenties, the personas that Matt and I were presenting outwardly began to look different than that of the inseparable Matt and Sam that our mutual friends knew so well.

A few years ago, after leaving a protest in Huntsville which campaigned to remove a Confederate statue from the courthouse, I was feeling frustrated and motivated. I decided to plead via email with Matt to advocate for the removal of similar symbols in the public spaces where he lived. Going in, I knew there would be some pushback. I was keenly aware of the attitudes of our small town, but I was sure that I had enough exuberance and conviction to rub off on him and I honestly felt that it was such a small ask. To my surprise, the virtual back and forth went on for several days. But in the exchange, something miraculous happened. For so long I had been the one wearing a certain type of mask. I had grown used to hiding aspects of myself that I knew separated me from the people in my hometown simply to fit in, even from Matt, but I was now fully comfortable in my beliefs. I ended the thread with a didactic “high road” quote which was meant to put a pin in things, but unknowingly became the nail in the coffin. The vitriolic response from Matt was the equivalent of a gut punch to a mime. I suspect we both knew that this would be our friendship’s resignation, but it was one that had to happen. Whereas my disguise had slowly faded away as a result of having moved so often, this was the first time that I had to remove someone else’s to see them clearly.

The loss of our friendship happened more slowly than this one event. And a loss is sad even if we’re not speaking of physical death. You’ve heard it before; we just outgrew one another.

I certainly don’t write off our past because of how our friendship ended. It was too formative, too good at times.

One Halloween, probably the one after the horrible date with Chandra was one of our best. We were way past the age of trick-or-treating, but we still wanted to have some fun.

We rummaged through his dad’s gardening equipment in the garage and drawers in the house, put on matching coveralls, ski masks, sunglasses, and gloves. We sat as still as we could on the front lawn with a bowl of candy between us and a hand-made sign that read, “FREE CANDY, IF YOU DARE.”

A hand would go in the bowl and then we’d grab it.

We never had so much fun making kids cry. After about three hours we had had our fill and the joke had worn thin. Kids who had been really scared would run back and warn the approaching “Trick-or-Treaters” about the gangly scarecrows.

While lifting his ski mask, Matt asked, “Ready to call it a night?”

To which I replied, “Sure am.”

I’m not the kind of person who would want to rewrite the past or change it. It would change who we are now and the important lessons we’ve learned.

Knowing that circumstances would separate us in the end, I might not have been so quick to end that evening, an evening before our future selves had been revealed.

That same Halloween, after scaring several kids, Matt starts to lift his mask. 

“Ready to call it a night?” Matt asked.

To which I would reply,

“No man. I’m having a good time right now. Let’s leave our masks on a little longer.”

Everyone Loves a Ventriloquist

By Sam Mitchell

Imagine, a poorly disguised King Saul seeks anonymous consult with the Witches of Endor about an upcoming battle. The last necromancer and magician had “mysteriously” disappeared from the kingdom when their powers fell short. You see, soothsaying does not work on demand. Recognizing Saul through his make-up, one of the witches improvises by grabbing the closest inanimate object (which happened to be the wine flask) and begins making it speak. The battle weary and superstitious Saul believes it to be the work of sorcery and evil spirits, but we all know it to be the wiggling of the bottle and the throwing of one’s voice. This was the birth of VENTRILOQUISM. 

Vengeful for being put on the spot, she then goes on to tell Saul (through the talking wine flask) that his armies will fall and that he and his sons will be cast into the abode of the dead. And guess what, she was right. Next battle, Saul’s armies are defeated and as a direct result he kills himself. King Saul – 0 – Witches of Endor – 1. This story only quickens the gut feeling that I had many Christmas’s ago. Ventriloquism will betray you.

It was November 1985. I was sitting on the floor of my grandparent’s living room. While my parents talked politics with Granny and Pop, I perused the middle section of the holy tome that was known as the Sears Catalog Wish Book.

I scanned each page carefully even though I had no idea what I was looking for. I thought that I was growing too old for the menagerie of stuffed animals that I called close friends. I had yet to bridge my adolescence with wish list items that may have been more age appropriate for a child in the Deep South such as a camouflage tent, duck boots or even a .22 rifle. At most I was a budding 7-year-old artist in a 9-year old’s body.

Somewhere between Cabbage Patch Dolls and Gobots, something caught my eye. The callout was huge. “Can you say, “It’s Howdy Doody time’ without moving your lips?”


This may have been the thing that I was looking for, so I kept reading.

“Everyone Loves a Ventriloquist! Pick your favorite character and become the life of the party. Instruction booklet included.”

Later I would question my desire for this awkward toy. Through the muffled bedroom door, I could hear my father’s many interesting questions for my Mom about my Christmas list. I could also hear my Mom’s verbal melee in defense of me expressing myself creatively. Aware of their different parenting styles, my 9 year old self would have known to direct these questions to the more responsible party, SEARS.

ME: Dear SEARS, why are you selling Charlie McCarthy dolls to the children of the 80s?

SEARS: Market research shows us that kids genuinely love the same Vaudeville characters as their grandparents.  

Image of Sears Catalog Wish Book

Christmas morning, 6 AM. I run down the stairs, wake my parents and make quick work of the wrapping paper that’s keeping me from my gifts. I finally made it to the long, rectangular box that held my new, more mature pal. I opened the box more slowly than the others to savor this important moment. With the front flap pulled down, I saw it. It was a vinyl headed, dead-eyed doll, laid neatly in its own cardboard coffin. In an instant, I felt that I had betrayed my worn and familiar stuffed friends who sat waiting loyally for me on my bedspread. I gingerly closed the flap and placed the heavy box back on the floor behind me. Although a smile was placed on my face, my true feelings were still handsomely gift wrapped in paper and sealed with scotch tape.

After thanking them, my parents went back to bed and I went to my room to play with my new gifts. As I sat on my bedroom rug, I fanned out each present from left to right in order of appreciation. The dummy had not even made it to the sprawl. Curiosity finally bested me and I unboxed toy. If the blank stare from the painted eyes hadn’t clued me in to why I felt so queasy, then the blonde hair should have. All of the family that was coming over later that day for our traditional lasagna lunch had dark hair or at one time in the past had dark hair. This Devil Doll with a head of yellow was some sort of Rolf type from the Sound of Music. He may have been in love with Liesl, but he was fated to RAT OUT the entire Von Trapp family. One good thing about stuffed animals is that their fur color had never been a point of derision.

I had always carefully named each of my stuffed animals. Kinderly, Cubbie, and Big Eyed Dog had all quickly become part of an adoptive network. We may have not been related, but by God we were family. I dared not name this new character, for I knew he would not be staying.

Although, this oversized, hinged-mouth abomination made me feel physically ill, I knew that soon my family would be here and they would want a performance. I had to practice. I pulled the figure to me, slid my arm inside the cadaver and then began speaking through clenched teeth.

Family arrived. Lasagna was eaten. Manischewitz put way. I reluctantly brought out the dummy for my visiting relatives, tried on a voice and then realized, in front of a live audience that this gift mirrored my uneasiness of outgrowing my childhood things. 

After lunch, I snuck the dummy into an opaque garbage bag with the ripped wrapping paper, ribbons and other boxes. Even though my dad didn’t see me do this, I’m sure that if he had, he would have been politely silent.

I spent at least one more year playing with my stuffed animals before they made their short journey into our attic.

Perhaps most children who are given ventriloquists dummies are destined to sneak them into the garbage when their parents aren’t looking. Maybe Sears was obligated to sell these antiquated toys due to an ancient contract between their corporate shareholders and the Witches of Endor. 

But nevertheless, when you are home next holiday, after your presents have been opened, your wine drunk and your lasagna eaten; if it is an option, make your way into your attic, find your old stuffed animals, look at them directly in their cute button eyes and thank them for standing beside you on your path to growing up.