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.

17 thoughts on “Those Little Gray Cells

  1. I love all your books. Beau has a special place because his were the first. Can’t wait for the next one. ?

  2. Please keep on writing! And all this time I thought you had a complex computer database with the pertinent information on each character. ?

  3. Our local paper has two fun columns each week. One is what the paper was reporting 100 years ago. Being a ‘dry’ town even before Prohibition, there was plenty of bootleging to report. The other column is the police log – not the serious stuff, but the crazy calls that come in. One recent item was not included – it deserved a separate article. Man arrested for breaking into an apartment and DEFROSING A TURKEY !

  4. So far knowledge keeps popping up but sometimes there is a pause first. I remember characters in books and plots, author names not so much especially if they are “new” authors. Oh well, that’s what my little green notebook is for.

  5. Love today’s blog. Obviously regarding you and Jeanne T….the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It appears you’ve raised a daughter as delightful as yourself. 🙂

  6. After loosing my husband one of my cousins commented on “Fine!” She said when asked How are you? Most will answer Fine. Here is her raised eyebrow definition.
    F-Freaked out, Frustrated
    I-Insecure
    N-Neurotic
    E-Emotional
    I usually hunk of of one of these when I answer, FINE.

  7. I’ve always loved Dave Berry. Now, not so much. More than anything, it’s disappointing that he didn’t just write what was requested. Creativity is a wonderful thing and I’m glad that the inscription is as originally requestion with no editing. It brings to mind a motto that I use more often than not and that is”
    If you don’t know, don’t necessarily let on.” There are times when blatant honesty is requisite but there also also times when you don’t need to let on. This gives me time to do some digging into my mind or, better yet, research a reliable source (Google).
    I”ll throw this in too – my Dad used to say; “Don’t tell everything you know”. Boy, is that ever a good thought to hold on to.

  8. Same goes for “okay”.
    It can be a comment in agreement. Or a open ended question.
    When some one in our family replies that they’re “fine”, it means not very good.

  9. I love your books. I haven’t seen too many mistakes on your books, but then again I have to play catch up on your wonderful novels.
    I love each and everyone so far.
    Keep on writing J.A. Love your books!

  10. At one author signing, I actually answered the question asked of the author. To be fair, I had just read the book, while for him, it was a year plus in the past. But he was surprised both that he didn’t know the answer and that I did. He also never remembered my name. LOL. We met at least three times, but you know what, that’s ok. Great book, really wonderful man. But it makes sense that you write the book, you edit it, and then you go on to something else, then life fills in behind and complicates everything. Thank you for continuing to write and share your life with us. I love it.

  11. Yes, I would say that your “little grey cells” are working JUST FINE (no eyebrows)! Long may they do so, as well!
    I found myself relating to the reference to abstinence from news reports. During the previous decade I was in the grip of an anxiety disorder for several years, and discovered that even reading a robbery account in the local newspaper was enough to escalate the anxiety to panic proportions. I therefore refrained from listening to newscasts or reading newspapers. I don’t have TV, so wasn’t exposed to the bad news from that source. I admit I was pretty uninformed about world events, but it was a survival strategy at a time when I needed such.

  12. Those little grey cells! It seems to me that my little grey cells are on vacation a lot more in my golden years. Example: Going down the 13 steps to the basement and then not remembering why I went down for, until later in the day and I don’t need it any more. My wife says its like my hearing and is just optional. The Horse reminds me of a time when my father was in the ARMY reserve and need a horse to ride in the 4th of July to carry the flag. He borrowed one from a friend. The friend said he should ride it a little before as it had not been had a saddle in a while. We had horses earlier on and Dad said no problem, he never had any problem. He saddled her up and got on. Apparently the horse didn’t care how much experience he had and wasn’t having any of it. The horse quickly turned it’s had and bit him on his thy. There was no blood but when the horse’s teeth slip from his leg it sounded like a rifle shot. Dad leaned up in the saddle and bit the horse in back in it’s ear. all went well after that. The next day the owner had her saddled when dad got there. The horse did not see the old man until he was in the saddle and it turned for another bite. When the horse saw who was in the saddle it’s ears when up and it’s head whipped forward. Never had that horse bite him again. I had forgotten that story until you reminded me.

  13. I listened to Sgt. Preston and his wonder dog, King, too. Also Captain Midnight and Jack Armstrong. One of the programs advertised Ovaltine which I begged my Mom to buy. No one really liked to drink it. You mixed the chocolate powder with milk. You had to send in a label or some proof of purchase to get the message for the code ring. The message was something about drinking more Ovaltine. I was really disappointed.

  14. We had the opportunity a number of years ago to see Dave Barry in Tacoma with my father-in-law. Dave commented on Hurricane Andrew and his two dogs. The larger was his ‘primary’ dog and the smaller was his ‘back-up’. The two dogs habitually stood at their back patio slider door, which lead to the large screen room which has their patio and pool. The dogs would wait at the slider door, Dave would open it up and they would follow their own ‘path’ over to the screen door that led out to the grass yard.

    Hurricane Andrew happened and most of the screen room went to the neighbor’s yards. The morning after the hurricane, one of the remaining sections of the screen room left had the screen door attached to it.

    There were the dogs waiting at the slider door, Dave let them out and the two dogs proceeded on their path across the patio to the screen door, where they waited for Dave to walk over and open it for them. Dave just said he was amazed that they could not stray from their routine and just walk around the screen door to the lawn.

    I miss Dave’s tales in the newspaper.

    Tacoma used to have a Tribune newspaper column that my father-in-law would send us that usually had things to guess, by a category, with 3 easy things, 3 mid level and 3 harder things to remember. That was before he passed away in 2012.

    My brain can’t remember the name of the column.

  15. Thank Goodness for good gray cells! Looking forward to the next Beaumont. Blessings for continued good gray cells!
    Liz

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