Those Little Gray Cells

Hercule Poirot often referred to his brain as his “little gray cells.” As long as mine continue to function properly, I should be able to continue writing. It’s important for me to be able to remember what characters did and said in earlier books because, if I get something wrong, you can bet some of my readers will blow up my email account letting me know that I’ve screwed up.

Readers often come to me asking questions about previous books, ones written seemingly eons ago: Where can I find out about Anne Corley? That’s easy, Beaumont # 1, Until Proven Guilty. In what book did Frigg make her first appearance? That would be Man Overboard.

Last Sunday, a fan from Illinois stumped me with two questions: When did Mel tell Jeremy that her stepdaughter, Kelly, might be suffering from post partum depression, and in which book did Joanna’s Animal Control officer, Jeannine Philips, end up in the hospital? It took two hours of diligent searching on my part to determine that the answer to question #1 was Justice Denied and the answer to question #2 was Dead Wrong. Whew! I had to cheat and find the answers using a word search on each of the titles, but find them I did.

This week someone wrote telling me how much she was enjoying my novella, A Last Goodbye. It’s a fictionalized version of how our first miniature dachshund, Bella, entered our lives and left a lasting impression, one that has resulted in my now having two longhaired miniature doxies lying on the hassock next to my knee as I write this. I wanted to send the reader the “real” version of Bella’s story, but before setting out to retell it, I said to myself, “Wait a minute. Didn’t I just do that?” And it turns out I did, in one of my blog entries dating from October 2020. So instead of chewing my cabbage twice, as it were, I copied the blog entry and sent that.

So yes, I think it’s important to be able to recall what I’ve written before even if, in some cases, I actually have to track it down.

Through most of my adult life, I was a three newspaper-a-day reader. I also watched the morning news and the evening news. Back then journalists seemed to realize that people needed a bit of good news to go along with all the bad. That memo has somehow gotten lost along the way, and the current barrage of all bad news all the time is the reason I’ve been on a news timeout for a number of months now. If I need a weather report, I look out the window. I’m in Seattle. It’s raining. What a surprise!

But back in the old days, there were a few fun things in newspapers in addition to the “funnies.” One enjoyable item I followed for a long time was a weekly column written by Dave Berry. He had an oddball way of looking at the world that consistently struck my funny bone. I believe he once referred to horses as “people chompers.” As a child Bill, my husband, was bitten by his cousins’ Shetland pony, so Dave Barry’s people chomper assessment certainly hit home with him.

I, on the other hand, grew up listening to the adventures of “Sgt. Preston and his Wonder Dog Yukon King” on the radio. For that reason, when we visited Expo in Vancouver in 1986, I insisted that we stop by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police exhibit, including visiting their stables. Bill and I walked up to a stall together where a horse was standing docilely inside. I was able to reach in and scratch the horse’s nose without suffering any ill consequences. When Bill tried the same thing, the horse hauled off and bit him on the arm hard enough to draw blood through his jacket! People chompers indeed!

Another bit of Dave Berry humor that hit home with me and stuck was his discussion of the word fine. He explained that it has two very different meanings. When a man says “fine” it means that things are a-okay. When a woman says “fine!”, especially if the word is delivered with a raised eyebrow, it’s time for any male in the near vicinity to go ducking for cover. It is one of those invaluable life skills that J.P. Beaumont has learned as a result of being married to Mel Soames.

So the word “fine” has become part of my daughter’s and my daily communication routine. If one of us says the word “fine,” the other will ask, “With or without eyebrows?”

At some point in the relatively recent past, Dave Barry was scheduled to appear at a Seattle area bookstore, Third Place Books. Due to scheduling conflicts, my daughter was unable to attend the appearance itself. Instead, she had to drive there after work on one day to purchase the book and explain how she wanted it inscribed and then go back the following day to pick it up. This may not sound like much of an effort on her part, but it involved two 27 mile one-way trips, first on first I-90 and then on I-405. It turns out that route comprises one of the worst rush-hour traffic patterns in the country.

The inscription she wanted Dave Barry to write was this: Fine with eyebrows. Dave Barry.

What he actually wrote was”. Fine with eyebrows—whatever that means! Dave Barry.

Which, if you’ll pardon my saying so, pretty much misses the point. My daughter and I both remembered what he had said years earlier. He had NO idea! So maybe his little gray cells are currently missing a connection or two.

Jeanne T. had wanted to give me the inscribed piece as a gift, but once she saw it, she was too heartsick to pass it along. Even so, she didn’t just toss it. Then, this past fall, she had a bit of inspiration. Like The Little Engine that Could, she figured out there really is more than one way over the mountain to Yon. She bought a small pre-made picture frame that was large enough to do the trick. She put matting around the outside of the page with the inscription on it and then used a piece of the same matting to cover the offending line, “whatever that means.” She wrapped the resulting piece up and gave it to me as a Christmas gift this past year. It is currently properly ensconced on my bedside table.

I figure that as long as I can remember what the inscription says now as well as what it used to say, my little gray cells are still functioning just fine, and I can probably keep right on writing.