Dear Sandra,

You know how I’m always telling ya that you just shoulda been here? Well, I really mean it this time—YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE this weekend. It was more entertaining than cable TV (and as always, half the price)! I will try in vain to do this story justice; Buddy and my Aunt Myrtie both survived, so that in itself is no small feat! I, however, am seriously considering taking up drinking!

Where do I start? I think I told you that my great aunt from Memphis was coming to stay with us to celebrate her 85th birthday. Lord, she is a formidable woman (think: Bea Arthur as Maude and then make her a smidge more strapping). Aunt Myrtie is a hard, somber woman, enjoying neither humor nor kindness; I swear she makes Osama Bin Laden look warm and fuzzy. Why she wanted to make the trip to Atlanta to celebrate her birthday is beyond me—possibly the rest of her family escaped by way of the Witness Relocation program or something. (Note to self: remember that option for future reference.)

You think I am being too harsh? Perhaps. I do credit her with my FIRST baptism. Yes, Sandra, I said my first. When I was six years old, Aunt Myrtie came for her annual pilgrimage to Atlanta. Like clockwork, come Sunday morning, my granddaddy (her brother) invited her to go to church with us. Oh goody! Anyway, I ADORED church, but being young, I tended to get restless, sitting on the hard wooden pews for over an hour. I would crawl back and forth between my mama, my granddaddy and my brother and sister—sitting or lying on each one of them in turn for 15 minutes or so. Honestly, I just thought I was giving the whole family a chance to enjoy my company, so that no one would feel left out during the service. However, Aunt Myrtie wasn’t quite so enamored with me. During the altar call at the end of the sermon, as I headed toward my granddaddy at the end of the pew—climbing over my Mom for the umpteenth time—I heard my aunt whisper loudly, “If that girl moves one more time, I am going to take her out back behind this church and whip her myself.”

My first instinct was to turn and see who she was talking ’bout. My second instinct was to get away from her as far and as fast as possible. My second instinct prevailed. Without missing a beat, I sailed right past my granddaddy, walked straight out of that pew, and with head held high, marched my little six-year-old self down that aisle and asked the preacher if he would please save me!!! I was baptized a week later. I guess you could say Aunt Myrtie scared the hell out of me.

It’s forty-some-odd years later, and I am still a quivering pillar of Jello where this lady is concerned; when she called to set this birthday visit up with two days notice, I just froze and kept mumbling, “Of course, of course” over and over again. She informed me of her flight arrival time, her breakfast preferences, her need for scheduled naps, and most importantly—she was not to see any evidence of any animals ANYWHERE!!! She claims that she is allergic to pets, and that they make her utterly miserable (in that case, she is also allergic to human beings, small children, babies and all festive occasions)!

Now, Sandra, I love my little Scottish Terrier as if he’s my own baby. Heck, I can quick draw my picture-laden cell phone out as fast as any proud parent and force unsuspecting strangers to view photos of Buddy! He is such a sweet, if not always bright, little spirit. No one was going to banish him from his own home. While my aunt continued to issue demands over the phone, I decided to crate Buddy the weekend of her visit. How hard could that be? After all, he is 13 years old now and not as spry as he used to be. Hold that thought.

Immediately upon hanging up the phone, I began making the phone calls that would set this “Operation Birthday Fiasco” into motion. Aunt Myrtie wanted to go to Longhorn’s for her birthday, so I called ahead and made sure they could accommodate a party of 17 or so on Saturday night. No problem! Then I called all of MY family to try to cobble together this party of about 17 or so. Sandra, you will never know the favors I called in for this birthday gathering. Honey, Jimmy Hoffa negotiating with Teamsters had nothing on me that night. I cajoled, I threatened, I bribed and I cried. However, I did it—I guilted everyone into meeting at my house on Saturday afternoon around 5:00. Ah, sweet guilt—the Southern girl’s other white meat; we serve it fresh on a daily basis with a side order of emotional blackmail at Lisa’s International House of Manipulation (gratuities not expected but always appreciated).

Aunt Myrtie’s flight arrived Sturday morning, and I was positively determined to make the best of it—you know me—always the glass half -full kinda gal! The ride home was an absolute delight (yeah, I giggled as I typed that). Turns out that ALL of her grandchildren are ungrateful and lazy, Atlanta is filthy and crime-ridden, and what in the world was I thinking when I had my hair done? Oh yeah, were we having fun yet? I made a game of trying to decide which one of her eyes to look into while she harangued me (did I mention her lazy eye? No? Well, sometimes I gaze into her left eye and then later I follow the right eye to see where it leads me. I developed this little “eye game” when I was just a kid in a vain attempt to calm my nerves whenever she looked at me—with her left eye, no, her right eye, no, her left eye...well you get the picture).

Ah, sweet relief as we pulled into my driveway. I got her squared away in the guest room (which was too hot by the way—but you could have seen that one coming couldn’t ya?). Aunt Myrtie, worn out from the flight (and from complaining about said flight), decided to take her scheduled nap a little earlier than usual. Thank you, Lord. I got her settled into bed and tiptoed out, leaving her door cracked open just a smidge. I then quietly gave Buddy a drink of water, patting his sad little head before quickly re-crating him in my master bedroom closet. Poor boy! While my aunt napped, I went back downstairs to unload the car.

Sandra, Honey, the back of my SUV was packed tighter than the Joad family’s truck heading to California in the “Grapes of Wrath”; if I hadn’t known her return flight was scheduled for Monday morning, I would have sworn she was moving in. Shivers! I kept marching in and out the front door—over and over again dropping her suitcases, one after the other, onto the foyer floor. As I made my way out the front door for what I hoped would be the last load, I was almost knocked off my feet by a furry four-legged beast going a mile a minute down my foyer staircase! What in the world??? Frozen for half a second, I felt like one of the characters in the Lone Ranger asking, “Who was that masked man?” BUT I KNEW who this was—it was a crazed crate escapee— BUDDY!!! Out the front door, the little demon dog sped past me.

He made a beeline across the street to my neighbor’s front yard. Buddy stopped his mad dash only long enough to start pawing at the ground. I thought surely I could catch him then, but as I neared him, he took off again. At this point, I could see that he had a death grip on something in his mouth. What in the world was it? I didn’t have time to speculate, ’cause off he ran again. This went on for about 15 minutes—the more I chased, the more he seemed to enjoy this game of Cat and Mouse. Sandra, I kid you not; he actually looked over his shoulder at me in mid-run and smiled! I will not be mocked, devil dog!

Neighbors then joined me at this point in at attempt to help me capture the fugitive dog. I kept thinking to myself, “Just wait till I get you home”—’cause I certainly wasn’t going to strangle him in front of all these witnesses. As we inched up on him, circling from all sides, he dropped to the ground and started furiously digging—trying to hide his precious booty. Distracted for a second, he let his guard down and I leaped in for the kill—oops, I mean the capture. GOT HIM! I thanked everyone profusely for their help as I tightened my hold on the squirming ball of fur in my arms.

Before I turned to head back home, I looked down to where he was burying his treasure. What was so important that Buddy had moved with more speed and agility in the past few minutes than he had in the past 10 years combined? I bent down and shoveled at the dirt with my fingers. YOU. HAVE. GOT. TO. BE. KIDDING. ME!!!

As Katherine Turner so eloquently put it in “War of the Roses,” “What fresh hell is this?” I am aghast. Peeking through the dirt, some THING was smiling back up at me! TEETH? Yes, TEETH! Uppers, if I was not mistaken. Uppers covered in mud and dog slobber. Horrified, I used my thumb and index finger to scoop the teeth up; appalled, I carried them, along with the denture bandit, back home. Yuck, Yuck, Yuck! My mind was numb with yuckiness.

I couldn’t quite wrap my addled brain around what had just happened; a little detective work was in order. Doing my best Peter Falk as Columbo imitation, I headed up the stairs and observed that the guest room door was wide open and a tell-tale trail of water led me to the bed where Aunt Myrtie still slept. An overturned denture container and a mate-less lower denture mocked me from the side table—that’s all the evidence I needed to prove that the slobber ridden denture in my hand that Buddy had been virtually wearing for the past half hour was indeed Aunt Myrtie’s teeth. Swell.

What was I to do? I am scared to death of this woman on my best day! How was I to broach my aunt with Buddy’s doggy tale involving this little denture adventure? After mulling it over, I hit upon a sound plan. DON’T TELL HER A THING! Sandra, am I bad? Don’t answer that—it was a rhetorical question. Going with the Southern Theory of “what ya don’t know can’t hurt ya,” I took her dentures into my bathroom and examined them more closely; they weren’t broken or damaged as far as I could tell—just nasty. Let the disinfecting process begin. First, I did an initial rinse off of mud and doggie slobber; I then proceeded to pour an entire bottle of Listerine over the teeth. Still not certain that they were sufficiently doggie germ free, I pondered the contents of the cabinet under my sink. Uhhmmm. Comet? Well, it does clean and disinfect porcelain sinks, and dentures are made of porcelain, right? I sprinkled those babies till they were saturated in a green powder coating, then scrubbed them and rinsed them till they sparkled like Grandma’s finest china.

Sandra, when I saw my pitiful reflection in the bathroom mirror, haggard and sweaty, brushing my aunt’s teeth (so to speak), two thoughts occurred simultaneously. One, the next dog crate I buy will have a combination lock, an electric fence and a guard in a sniper tower watching over it. Let Buddy try to Houdini himself out of that cage! Secondly, this was the exact moment I started flirting with the idea of drinking— and drinking a lot! Not becoming a raging alcoholic, mind you, just drinking enough to qualify it as hobby—perhaps, like needlepoint. I decided to Google some sweet-sounding drink names—like Mississippi Mudslide—the second I was finished with my denture ministrations!

After I was positive that all traces of Buddy spit had been removed from Aunt Myrtie’s uppers, I refilled her little denture holder with water and replaced the dentures, ever so gingerly tip toeing into her room to return the container to her bedside table. Whew, now all I had to decide was where exactly to bury Buddy— oops, he wasn’t dead...yet. I decided to put off strangling him, since I needed to get ready for the events of the evening and maybe even brush my own teeth for Heaven’s sake.

Five o’clock finally arrived (it’s always five o’clock somewhere, right? Where is my drink?). My family did me proud by actually showing up. As I welcomed them with a smile solidly frozen into place, my insides churned with fear. Would Aunt Myrtie know something had happened to her teeth? Sure, I had placed them back exactly as they had been before her nap, but it just seems that a person should possess some kind of sixth sense alerting them to the fact that their teeth might have been in a dog’s mouth. Just sayin'...

An hour after everyone arrived, Aunt Myrtie descended the stairs like a Queen greeting her subjects—with indifference and a touch of disdain. She muttered a curt “We’re going to be late,” and sailed right past us as she headed out the door. It would appear that everything was completely back to normal and a crisis had been averted. Now to get this dinner over with.

First of all there was 17 of us, and although Longhorn’s was very gracious and accommodating, that still meant that we would need to take several cars to get to the restaurant. That’s right, we would be moving in a convoy! As you can imagine, we all fought over who got to ride with Aunt Myrtie—right.

Everyone piled into cars left and right, and finally our little Birthday Parade made its way into town to Longhorn’s. I really don’t remember much about the actual dinner—selective amnesia probably—but I believe it was pleasant enough. After the events of the day, I made a conscious effort to take a back seat and give the rest of my family the opportunity to ”enjoy” Aunt Myrtie’s company. As they say, “Misery loves company.” Honey, in our family, misery doesn’t just love company; heck no, we embrace Misery with open arms and ensconce it in our guest room!

During dinner, I do faintly recall Aunt Myrtie mentioning that her steak tasted like soap. Thinking fast, I piped in that my Salmon tasted a tad soapy as well. Sorry to throw you under the bus, Longhorn’s, but it was either you or me. As we finished our meal, Aunt Myrtie grew uncharacteristically sentimental and thanked us for helping her celebrate her birthday. She almost cracked a smile—and all I could think was that her teeth had never been so bright and shiny! Kudos to Comet and dinner is done!

On the drive back home, I could almost smell the finish line. Getting through the rest of this night was gonna be a piece of cake, I smiled to myself. Granted, this morning had started badly at the airport with my aunt’s crabbiness, and thanks to Buddy, the day had escalated into an exercise in supreme torture, but now it was coming to a close with birthday cake and ice cream; a rather sweet way to end a rather bittersweet day.

Since I was driving the first car in our return convoy from the restaurant, I quickly pulled into the driveway rushing into the house ahead of everyone to set out the cake and light the candles. I went back to the front door to let the other 15 file in while I handed out the birthday horns and balloons. Uh, yeah, you read that right—the other 15.

So, my dear Sandra, it was at that moment as I stood there in the foyer, when I did my mental accounting:
-Birthday cake and ice cream: $32.00
-Dinner for seventeen at Longhorn’s : $425.17
-Leaving your aunt alone in the lobby at Longhorn’s on her 85th birthday ’cause everyone of us thought she was riding with one of the other relatives in their car: PRICELESS!

And though, at that point, it was sheer bedlam in our house as to who was at fault and how it could be fixed, I stole a quick glimpse at Buddy in his armored crate in the corner. Through the bars, he winked and shot me a sly little grin.


Lisa Love, a talented and insightful writer with a skewed sense of humor, looks for, and often finds the absurd masquerading as the mundane.

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