MJ’S Musing: Cat in the Car

I like to drive, but I also don’t mind being a passenger–if I can have a window seat. Being short, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in the middle of the back seat. As a cranky old lady, I now reserve the right to a window seat.

I love to observe. Sometimes I see the craziest things. Recently, my besties and I were on the interstate, heading home from a wonderfully productive long writing weekend, when I saw a car with California plates.  But that’s not what caught my eye. The cat did. She was sprawled on the dashboard of the car in all  her gray and white glory. She seemed to be basking in the sun. She was not a small cat. I was surprised the driver could see around kitty kitty.

As is the way on the interstate, we passed the car, the car passed us, and so it went for miles. Sometimes the cat was on the lap of the passenger, who was reclined all the way back in his seat. Other times, the cat was draped around the driver’s neck like a fur stole. A couple of times, the cat used the rear window ledge as her napping spot.

Of course the California Cat Car occupants and I smiled and waved to each other as we tootled down the highway.

What struck me was how comfortable the cat seemed in the car. A dog, yes. But I’ve never met a cat who took a car ride calmly. Maybe there is something to a laid-back California lifestyle.

MJ’s Musings: The Watkins Man

If you’ve ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you may recall the heroine’s father believed Windex cured everything.

My father believes in this:

Cold season meant Watkins salve was rubbed on our chests instead of the ubiquitous Vicks Vapo-Rub. When I was injured in a snow mobile accident, Dad had me massage my swollen knee with the salve. Mom smears it on her face when she has sinus headaches. Dad uses it to cure boils, erase zits, and heavens only knows what else. It is the family cure-all.

When I was a child, there was a “Watkins Man” who came around with a suitcase full of products (another favorite was horse liniment). In our small town, the Watkins Man was actually a family. The Schuyler family. I remember them well. There was old Mrs. Schuyler with her frizzy gray hair, Harry Schuyler–I never knew if he was a husband or son–with his round wire-framed eyeglasses (this was in the era of horn rimmed spectacles, so I was fascinated by his “old-fashioned” look) and Norma, Mrs. Schuyler’s adult daughter, who walked with a limp.  Once a year or so, the Schuylers would pay us a visit and Dad would restock his salve.

I don’t remember what happened to the Schuylers. We attended the same church, but weren’t “friendly” with them, not like either of the town barbers, the bank president, or the owners of the hardware store.  All I know is that my father hoarded his last tin of Watkins salve.  He didn’t know what to do. The Watkins Man no longer made house calls.

Years later, I was wandering around the state fair when I discovered someone selling Watkins products. I immediately purchase two tins of menthol camphor ointment: one for Dad and one for me. I still have mine, and I periodically use it for all sorts of things. I am my father’s daughter.

By the time Dad was scraping-the -tin-with-a-fingernail low again, the world of on-line shopping had come into being. He complained he was almost out of salve, so I hopped onto the Internet and my favorite on-line retailer. Lo and behold, there’s my Dad’s panacea. The tin has been updated to a more retro look, but the contents remain the same. And Dad is happy because he has his salve delivered right to his door, just like the old days.

MJ’s Musing: A Halloween Memory

Halloween can be cold in my neighborhood. Some years there’s snow on the ground. The weather can play havoc with costume plans.

One year–I must have been six or seven–my mom made me wear a winter coat over my costume. How humiliating! The matter got worse when the nasty old lady three or four doors down answered her door and said, “Where’s your costume? That’s no costume.” As if she couldn’t see the snow swirling around us.

She had a point. I should have worn my costume over my winter coat.


MJ’s Musings: My Log

For many years, my parents heated their house with wood.  One of the many chores my siblings and I had to do involved stacking firewood.

I’ve always been one to notice details. One day, while stacking logs, I noticed several that appeared to have been etched. I asked my father if I could have one of them. He said yes. He explained that insects between the bark and the wood had made the marks. I didn’t care. I was fascinated by patterns.

I carried the log with me through many moves while I was in my twenties. Most people thought I was weird. Then I met TV Stevie, who asked me about the log. Turns out he had one, too. Something about it appealed to him.

We still have both logs, careful not to burn them in our own wood stove. Our logs predated “The Log Lady” on the TV series Twin Peaks. We never received cryptic messages from ours, but who knows? Maybe the etchings on mine reveal the secret of life.

MJ’s Musings: Talking to Your Family

When my children were young, we had a habit of dinner together every night. No TV, no radio. Each meal began with a toast, “Happy <<insert day of the week>>.” Then we went around the table and shared one good thing that happened to us that day. We ate we talked, we shared the low points as well as the high points of our days. Often times it was the only chance we had to reconnect as a family.

When X-Chromo (the youngest) invited a friend over for taco Tuesday, we didn’t alter our habit. Her friend was shocked that we conversed. And laughed. At her house, her parents listened to NPR during meals, and there was no talking allowed.

I was stunned. I understand not every parents’ workday mirrored ours. I knew other parents did other things with their children, running them to and from activities and such. But to not allow them to speak at a meal so they could listen to the radio outraged me.

We enjoyed discussing current events with our children. We would explain why famous people who had died were important. When drama club would select a play, we would discuss the realities behind the play. We tried to teach them history and why it is important to know.

I’m glad we did meal time our way, and I hope my children are, too.


Even now that we are empty nesters, TV Stevie and I still do “One Good Thing” when we manage to sit down together for dinner.