Who’s Drinking Coffee and Messing with My Hair?

Thanks to Susan Mark on Bindweed or Bluegrass for partially inspiring this post. Some people just can’t get going without their morning cup. My father, may he rest in peace, was one of them. Several years ago after my mother passed, he and I visited my brother and his family in Los Alamos, New Mexico. One morning, Dad was the first one up. After about fifteen minutes, he returned to the room we shared and said, “I can’t find the coffee. I’m going back to bed.”

My brother has taken after our father. Recently while he was visiting me for Dad’s celebration of life, he stumbled into my kitchen one morning butt naked and made a beeline for the coffee pot. My kitchen windows that overlook my driveway and the house next door aren’t shaded. My brother could have given my neighbors a show, but he didn’t care as long as he had his coffee.

My mother also needed coffee in the morning before she could do anything. After the obligatory cup or two and some dry cereal covered with milk which the cat lapped up after the cereal was gone, Mother showered, dressed, and spent a ridiculous amount of time on her make-up and hair. Even if she was just going to the grocery store, her appearance had to be flawless. She was obsessed with permanents and precision haircuts. Being visually impaired, I’ve never gone for fancy hairstyles because I couldn’t see well enough to keep them looking good.

Speaking of hair, I just had a piece published on another blog. I’ve mentioned Marilyn Smith here before. She wrote Chasing the Green Sun, a collection of poems and stories by herself and others for each month of the year. You can read my review of this book here.

Marilyn’s blog has more of the same and also includes recipes and book and music reviews. The piece of mine she posted here is, you could say,  a history of my hair. May you always have coffee at your fingertips if you need it, and may you always be happy with your hair. 


Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Freddie the Freeloader

Remember Red Skeleton, the comedian who introduced the clown, Freddie the Freeloader, on his television show in 1952? Born Richard Bernard Skelton on July 18th, 1913, in Vincennes, Indiana, he died on September 17th, 1997, at the age of eighty-four in Rancho Mirage, California. He worked in radio, television, and films in both live and recorded performances from 1937 to 1981. He also pursued a separate career as an artist. He won several Emmy awards, and in 1989, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. To learn more about  him, click here

I didn’t know any of this when I attended my monthly Range Writers meeting last Saturday. We did a group exercise where we each wrote something about Freddie the Freeloader. Everyone else in the group was familiar with Red Skeleton and Freddie the Freeloader, and most wrote about their memories. One woman said her grandfather wouldn’t let her watch the Red Skeleton show at first because he thought it was a horror flick. Being out of the loop and not having done any research, this is what I wrote, much to everyone else’s amusement. 

Freddie the Freeloader tried to get as much as he could without paying. In his mid seventies, too young for the Korean War and too old for the Vietnam War, he paid his debt to society by doing carpentry, plumbing, and other odd jobs for people and charging an arm and a leg. He somehow managed to get away without paying property or income taxes. Like the Federales in that song about Pancho and Lefty, the government could have prosecuted him but looked the other way instead. 

Freddie visited the local soup kitchen daily for lunch, although he wasn’t  homeless and could afford to eat in restaurants or prepare  his own meals. He also paid close attention to service notices in the local newspaper. When refreshments or lunch was served after a funeral, he was there. “I went to school with your daddy a long time ago,” he told some grieving daughter. “I remember the times in high school when we dragged Main Street. I drove my Model T Ford, and your daddy stuck his bare butt out the window.” 

How did he find out about the funerals? He got his newspapers for free. Every afternoon, he wandered into the local news stand downtown after the papers were delivered there. When no one was looking, he picked up a copy and walked out. 

Freddie occasionally went to a nice restaurant in the evening. He ordered an expensive dinner and after eating it told the waiter he couldn’t pay. The manager was obligated to call the police and have him arrested. Freddie spent a few days in jail which was no problem for him since it gave him three meals a day and a place to sleep. After a court appearance, the judge dismissed the charges out of the goodness of his heart. 

Freddie had no family in town. His wife died several years earlier, and his children and other relatives were scattered across the country and rarely called or visited him. Because he knew he wouldn’t be able to get free medical care, he rarely saw a doctor. Needless to say, he left this world peacefully one night after brushing his teeth and getting into bed. Despite his stinginess, many people came to his funeral. Someone said, “I remember driving my Model T Ford down Main Street while Freddie stuck  his bare butt out the window.” 


Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver


Thanks to Bruce Atchison for partially inspiring this. In his latest blog post, he describes his encounter with people he met through an electronics fan magazine. Have you ever met face to face with anyone with whom you were corresponding? I did, and I ended up married to him. If my husband Bill hadn’t passed last year, yesterday would have been our eighth wedding anniversary.

Bill and I met through Newsreel, an audio magazine that allows blind and visually impaired people across the country and overseas to share ideas, recipes, music, etc. and sell or trade merchandise. Bill e-mailed me in response to a question I posed on Newsreel. I responded, and that’s how it started.

This was in 2002. Bill was living in Fowler, Colorado, at the time, and I was living here in Sheridan, Wyoming. For the next two years, we corresponded by e-mail and occasionally by phone. He sent me several tapes of music he’d downloaded, and I e-mailed him chapters of We Shall Overcome, the novel I was working on at the time, and he offered feedback and suggestions. In the spring of 2004, I had an opportunity to meet Bill face to face.

My father and I planned to drive to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to visit my brother and his family. Since Fowler wasn’t too far out of our way, Dad agreed to make a side trip. Our meeting was pleasant. After visiting for about an hour, we promised to keep in touch and Bill invited me to come back and see him anytime.

After more correspondence, Bill and I met again at Christmas of that same year during another trip to New Mexico. This time, Dad and I took Bill out to breakfast. In January of 2005, I received a Braille letter, asking me to marry him. A couple of months later, he came to Sheridan and spent a week with me. To this day, I don’t know why, but I fell in love with and agreed to marry Bill Taylor.

To read more about how I met and married the man I loved for seven years, click here. This is part of my memoir in progress about how I met, married, and cared for Bill. The working title is My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for The Love of My Life.

The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver was one I wrote a few years after Bill suffered the strokes that paralyzed his left side. I must admit there were times when I wanted to say the things mentioned in the poem but managed to hold back feelings that would have done no good had they been expressed. Honey, wherever you are, please know that I still love you. Happy belated anniversary.

Things I’ll Never Tell You




I’ll never  tell you you’re stupid

when you forget something or don’t understand.

I’ll never tell you you’re lazy

when you sit at the kitchen table in your wheelchair

while I fix dinner, clean up.

I’ll never tell you you’re a baby

when I must do most things for you.

I’ll never tell you I don’t understand

why you can’t walk and do more for yourself

when I know the reason.

I’ll never tell you I hate you

or that I was a fool to marry you.

You can’t help being the way you are.

I’ll always love you–although the vow was never spoken,

I’ll be with you for better or worse.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Fistful of Fig Newtons

I don’t particularly care for this treat. I’m partial to Marie Calendar’s chocolate cream pies and Schwann’s microwave brownies and fudge ice cream sundae cups, and of course I’ll take a Dairy Queen hot fudge sundae any day. However, I just finished reading A Fistful of Fig Newtons by Jean Shepherd. 

You may remember this author as the creator of the tale on which the movie, A Christmas Story, was based. Not to be confused with the American country music singer who’s last name is spelled with an A instead of an E, Jean Shepherd was born on July 26th, 1921 in Chicago, Illinois. He died on October 16th, 1999 at the age of 78 in Sanibel Island, Florida. A writer of humor and satire, he served in the military from 1942-1944. He was also a radio and television personality, best known for A Christmas Story (1983) which he narrated and co-scripted and which is still broadcast each year on Turner Network Television during the holiday season. To learn more about him, click here.

A Fistful of Fig Newtons is more of the same, stories about Jean Shepherd’s imaginary life as Ralph, the kid who wanted and received a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. In the title story, he and his college dorm mates are sharing fig newtons and salami when one student produces a box of chocolate-flavored laxatives and proposes a contest in which each boy consumes as many of the tablets as he can before making a mad dash for the restroom. This is followed by other tales: Ralph’s first summer camp experience, his amazing mastery of high school freshman algebra, an ice cream war between a local vendor and a franchise, and how he lost a friend in the Army on a secured troop train going who knew where. The last story describes a disastrous New Year’s Eve date just after he was discharged from the Army.

For those of us who are visually impaired or otherwise prevented from reading print books, A Fistful of Fig Newtons is available on Bookshare. I’m sure it can also be found in print and eBook formats. I recommend this book, especially if you just suffered a loss and need some good laughs.



Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver