Life With Smuffy: (Episode 2) “Smuffy Takes the Cure” (or, “Think You’re Invincible?…Don’t Bet on It!”)

It’s doubtful that anyone, upon entering into a lifelong commitment, realizes what they’re getting themselves into. Marriage certainly remains the number one eye opener of all time.

Lacking this foreknowledge, and madly in love, I married Smuffy and discovered that I’d entered a contest. No – more like a tournament.

I’d come from a large farm family where the girls outnumbered the boys 6 to 1.  We had our issues – that’s for sure – but I don’t remember an overly competitive spirit amongst the siblings. It may have been there, but I didn’t pick up on it.

That thing America thrives on – competition – sped right past me and I didn’t even care. I hated team sports and shrugged off people who announced that they were going to out-do me academically. My attitude was pretty much, “Knock yourself out, Honey!”

For Smuffy, raised in a household full of boys, life had been one grand rivalry after another as each tried to prove whatever it is they were trying to prove. See, I still haven’t figured it out! But, boys will be boys, I suppose.

Boys Will Be Boys www.midweststoryteller.com

I shrank from participating, but Smuffy thought all I needed was a little coaxing. And, with those puppy-dog brown eyes of his, he lured me into all sorts of silly wagers – each one a contest, championship, best two out of three, winner take all.

Though it seemed irrelevant to me which one of us could spit over a log or hit a tree branch with a rock with greater accuracy, Smuffy thrived on it. I preferred, as one of my favorite P. G. Wodehouse characters once put it, “to exist beautifully”, preferably with a good book, cup of hot chocolate and a cat in my lap. I love kitties. I adored Smuffy, and I had to admit that, though it wasn’t my cup of tea, Smuffy was cute when lost in one of his fits of boyish playfulness.

Uninterested in monetary wagers, Smuffy preferred to invent stunts for the losers to perform. He liked to drag others into the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Shortly after we married, Smuffy made a bet in a pitch game we were playing with another couple. Intoxicated with the smell of victory, Smuffy strutted his stuff, promising that he and his surprised partner would, should the girls rebound from their massive losses and win, remove their shoes and socks, roll their pants up past their knees and run all the way around the house in the snow.

The temperature – in the teens. The house – large. The snow – deep.

By this time, Smuffy’s over-confidence had made me a trifle peeved. Since the girls didn’t have to reciprocate if they lost, I gave him “the look”, which, by the way, he didn’t recognize, and said, “You’re on!”

After we won, I felt a little sorry for Smuffy’s partner. Recovering from a nasty virus of some sort, he looked as though he wanted to grab Smuffy by the neck and throttle his bright idea right out of him.

What Goes Around Comes Around www.midweststoryteller.com

I stood outside, monitoring their progress as they mushed around the house with a flashlight. Surely this would cure him!

Not a chance! No matter what the activity, Smuffy could think of a way to turn it into a contest. We couldn’t just play Monopoly. We played Killer Monopoly. I came to the point where I took amusement by letting other players sit rent free on my properties “just because they were my friends”. Then, I’d charge him full price for being “not nice”.

Smuffy did, at times, end up losing. He grew adept at slithering out of the consequences of his outrageous bets by careful wording. He always seemed to escape through some tiny loophole or technicality when I folded my arms and demanded payment.

Not caring whether I won or lost, I had relaxation on my side when Smuffy lured me into competition. It came in handy.

One day, he came home with a bow and arrows. He spent the whole weekend practicing with his new toy, perfecting his aim and technique. Sure enough, when I ventured outside, Smuffy wanted me to try it, betting, of course, that I couldn’t hit a rotten watermelon sitting at the far edge of our garden. He showed me how to hold the thing and draw back the bow. I nailed the watermelon with a satisfying foomph. Two more bets and two foomphs later, Smuffy dismissed me, saying he suffered from a tired arm. The following weekend, we acted out a similar scenario. The bow and arrows disappeared after that.

I began to think my sweetie needed help. An intervention! Surely there must be a cure!

Call 1-800-BETCURE www.midweststoryteller.com

One winter, a stray cat arrived. I admit to being a cat magnet. I love them and they love me. I think, like hobos, they must mark my house, labeling me as a soft touch. It takes all the fortitude at my disposal to avoid petting them and feeding them. I know what will happen if I do. I am firm. I am resolved – 99.9% of the time.

We called this cat Old Yeller. He was yellow. He was old, at least in experience. With a shaggy and unkempt coat, he moved his massive bulk along with fearsome purpose, as though he saw all and heard all with the one eye that hadn’t been scratched out and the one ear that hadn’t been bitten off. We never took pictures of Old Yeller. Why would you? He looked something like this –

Old Yeller Cat www.midweststoryteller.com

Smuffy preferred to chuck rocks at Old Yeller in hopes of running him off. I did my best to ignore him. Cat lover or not, he just didn’t fall into the category of “snuggly” as far as I was concerned. He looked like he’d seen a thing or two and had mangled both of them. He hung around through cold weather and into spring.

One weekend, as the weather warmed and Smuffy tackled his first outdoor project, Old Yeller joined him in the back yard. Positioning himself with an air of authority on the picnic table, he snarled and hissed at Smuffy each time he moved anywhere near him. One. Tough. Cat.

Later in the afternoon, I went out for a little sunshine. Smuffy greeted me, gesturing toward Old Yeller.

I know you’re always saying how much cats like you, but I’ll bet this is one cat that wouldn’t let you pet him. That’s about the meanest cat I’ve ever come across.”

Oh, I don’t know,” I shrugged with nonchalance. “He might not be so mean to someone he really liked.”

Smuffy’s eyebrows shot up. “You gotta be kidding me! You seriously think you can pet that cat?” He waved an arm toward Old Yeller, who took it as an act of war and responded with hair-raising yowls of feline profanity. “I’ll bet you can’t!”

I paused, basking in a wave of inspiration. Had Old Yeller come along as Smuffy’s intervention?

I maintained my casual attitude. “Oh, I don’t know…I’ll bet I could. Cats really do like me, you know. What’ll you bet me?”

Smuffy named off a couple of things and I wrinkled my nose at him, poo-pooing them as penny ante. If he wanted me to endanger myself by even approaching Old Yeller, he would have to come up with something better.

I watched as my willingness, combined with indifference, sparked Smuffy’s competitive fires. He wanted to win. He had to win.

That cat is wild! I don’t think anybody’s ever petted him. If you can pet that cat, I’ll…I’ll…”

You’ll what? Remember, kitties like me,” I smiled.

I had him hooked. I waited. And, yes, Smuffy went over the edge.

If you can walk up to that cat and get him to let you pet him, I will personally, right now, walk over to the edge of this yard, face the neighbors, pull my pants down around my ankles and sing, ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ for all to hear!”

Promise to sing nice and loud?”

Nice and loud.”

What about your underpants?”

Huh?”

It’s really not fair if you don’t pull down your underpants.”

Smuffy hesitated. On a scale of 1-10, Smuffy’s modesty quotient is somewhere around 42. He’d already wagered a good deal of his decency. Soon, I saw that my show of confidence had only stoked his own.

Okay. My underpants, too.”

No cheating? No technicalities?”

No cheating.”

If you forget the words to the song, I’ll help you along.”

Arms folded across his chest, Smuffy watched me approach Old Yeller, warning me all the way that I’d better be careful, lest I draw back a stub.

I chose the cooing method. Slowly advancing, I called Old Yeller every precious pet name that came to mind. After a gentle stroke on the back of his head, I gave his spine a tickle before massaging his jowls. He purred in approval.

Soon, Old Yeller decided he’d had enough for a first encounter and jumped off the picnic table.

I smiled at Smuffy. “Your turn.”

How did you do that?”

Like I’ve always told you – kitties like me.”

Smuffy pled for mercy, exhausting every excuse at his disposal before going to the south edge of the lawn and getting down to business. I remained firm. Strong. Determined. It felt good – this new sense of power.

I had only one regret. Smuffy happened to be wearing the longest-tailed shirt he owned. I thought it took the polish off the performance and I said so. Again, technicalities prevailed as he informed me that raising the shirt had, at no time, come into discussion when the bet went down.

My little technicality hadn’t come into discussion either. I saved it till after we’d gotten past “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Very nice,” I said, releasing my pent-up giggles. “From now on, I’m only going to agree to a bet if the stakes are high and I know I’m going to win. Remember, you could end up singing this same song on the front steps of the theater on Main Street – without the shirt!”

Waggling a cautionary finger at him, I turned and started for the house.

It was only a fluke,” he called after me. “I don’t know why that cat let you pet him, but I’ll bet you couldn’t do it again!”

Oh, it’s no fluke,” I called back, turning to savor the moment. “And I wouldn’t bet on it again if I were you. I’ve been feeding that cat hot dogs… for… the… last… three… days!

Random Acts of Kindness www.midweststoryteller.com

Now, I can’t keep track of Smuffy every minute, you know. He may get into an occasional competitive wager with someone else now and again, but somehow he’s lost the urge to drag me into it.

Smuffy has taken the cure! Whether or not he falls off the wagon remains to be seen. If it happens, I’ll put down my hot chocolate, shove in a bookmark and be there to chronicle the event.

Stay tuned…

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Life With Smuffy: (Episode 1) “The Smokin’-Hot Honeymoon” (or, Where There’s Smoke, There Isn’t Always a Fireman)

Throughout history, people have fallen in love and gotten married without much to live on other than their love for each other. With Smuffy and me, this was certainly the case. We’d saved and budgeted for the big day.

Marrying Smuffy

Midwest winters are unpredictable things. For our December wedding, the weather warmed to spring-like conditions, emboldening our invited guests. Even the elderly aunts and uncles, who would have normally found the winding country black-top roads intimidating, took a look at the forecast and said, “Why not?” They packed the tiny country church to its full capacity – a thing it hadn’t seen in years.

Country Church

Smuffy and I had done a pretty good job at keeping our little secret. Having spent every dime on the wedding and our first month’s rent and utilities, we couldn’t afford a honeymoon. I’d started a new job as well and needed to earn some vacation time. Besides, if you don’t have enough cash to get you out of the Midwest in winter, why bother? We postponed the trip until May. We’d sneak back to our new home late on our wedding night and spend our few precious days secluded from the rest of the world. Low key – that’s the word I’m looking for – we’d just keep it low key and not draw any attention to ourselves. The last thing newlyweds need is a flock of well-meaning people stopping by.

And stop by they would have, if they’d wanted to reach us, because Smuffy and I didn’t have a phone! Let your mind wander back, my friends, to the good ‘ole days before cell phones. Installing a phone seemed just another expense that might as well be postponed for a month or two until we got settled.

And then it hit. We woke up to our first full day of married life to find our honeymoon cottage, and the car we’d concealed by driving it up into the yard by the back door, buried in deep snow. I misspeak when I refer to our rented country place as a cottage. We closed off most of the cavernous house and lived in three rooms. It didn’t help much. My shampoo froze in the bottle.

And then it hit. Freezing rain on top of the snow hardened it into a crust, turning the outside world into a skating rink.

And then it hit. Another deep snow fell. Enveloped in a winter wonderland, we were trapped, but we didn’t care. Except, how were we ever going to get the car out of the back yard?

Brutally Beautiful Snowstorm

Content to spend the snowy days making my house a home, I fluttered around, admiring and rearranging all the things I’d gotten as shower gifts. My ivory chantilly lace wedding gown hung on a hook over a door in the bedroom, it’s chapel-length veil cascading down over it. I must have touched it every time I passed near enough to do so. So lovely! Soon, I’d take it to be sealed away for future generations, but for now it made me feel like a beautiful bride every time I looked at it.

We’d been told that the house had new insulation. I became convinced that if this were true, it must still be stored in the barn. Wind howled through the place day and night. Interior doors of the house moved freely in the breeze if not securely latched. We kept the wood stove going strong, along with the furnace, which sucked fuel from a big tank outside. Filling it would have cost as much as three or four months rent, so we only had the man put an inch or so in the bottom of it.

After a few days, the snowplows cleared the road past our house and Smuffy began trying to get the car out of the back yard. We envisioned our landlords, who shared our driveway, watching from their windows in dismay at the deep ruts Smuffy carved before accomplishing his goal.

Smuffy woke me on our fourth day as man and wife with the announcement that the world had thawed to the point where we might take an outing. I started putting myself together and he went off to do whatever two or three things guys must do before they settle down to wait on females. He reappeared a few moments later.

“Do you smell smoke?” he asked.

“No,” I answered as I riffled through the drawer for clothes. “I don’t smell anything.”

Smuffy disappeared. I slipped into my outfit and started accessorizing. He returned.

“Are you sure you don’t smell smoke? I smell smoke.”

“No, I don’t smell a thing.” I turned to face him. “Are you sure…” I froze in place. “You…You’re standing in it!”

“What?”

Light, streaming through the windows, reflected off every particle. Smuffy stood in the bedroom doorway, enveloped in the fog.

“It’s all around you. You’re surrounded by smoke!”

We turned in every direction, searching for the source. Smuffy ran off to check the damper on the stove. He made a tour of the house, coming back to report that there were no signs of smoke anywhere else.

Then, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye. The house’s old fireplaces had been sealed over years ago. Wallpaper, matching the rest of the room, now covered the areas that formerly housed cozy fires. The bedroom fireplace, however, seemed to be in a reminiscing mood. The center of the wallpapered panel darkened to a toasty brown before turning black and curling away. Though I didn’t actually hear the “Bonanza” theme as I pointed and stared, the resemblance was striking. Flames licked through the growing hole and I yelled for Smuffy.

Your House is on Fire

After a brief and panicky discussion on the proper course of action, Smuffy, still in his bedroom slippers, ordered me to stay put while he called the fire department. He sailed out the front door, down the icy steps and kept on sailing. Landing on his backside, he sank through the top layer of snow and scooted across the encrusted front lawn toward the driveway, leaving one slipper behind. The other, launched through the air, landed some distance away.

I watched from the window, feeling helpless. Then, having always thought how silly women seemed in movies when they stood by clutching their throats while disaster unfolded, I took action. I ran for the wedding gown, tossing it in the center of the bed along with my purse, my jewelry box and a few keepsakes. Running around the bed, I gathered the corners of the quilt up over my treasures. Smuffy’s mother’s handmade quilt would survive, along with my gown, if I had to grab all four corners and make a run for it.

Then, I waited. Smuffy arrived, breathless, to report that though the landlords weren’t home, they’d left the back door unlocked, providing access to the phone. The relief that he hadn’t had to break their window was somewhat offset by the fact that, not being able to find their phone book, he’d completely ransacked the place. He’d found it, though, and made the call. The rural volunteer fire department was on the way.

We decided to watch and wait until the fire truck came with plenty of water and high-pressure hoses. Tampering with the burning hole might feed the flames additional oxygen and reduce the house to ashes before help arrived.

Smuffy opened the windows and insisted that I get out of the smoky bedroom, promising to give me plenty of notice in case I had to escape with my valuables. I went into the living room and sat down, watching him pace in and out of the bedroom. He looked peeved.

“They certainly aren’t very professional,” he snapped.

“Why? What happened?”

“Well, for one thing, when I called, the guy just says, ‘Hello?’”

“You have to remember, it is a rural volunteer fire department. It’s probably just one of the volunteer’s turn to be on call.”

I reminded him of the time, in my own tiny hometown, when a fire call came in and all the volunteers rushed to the fire department only to discover that not one of them had remembered to bring the keys to the fire truck. That sort of thing is bound to cause delays.

It didn’t seem to offer Smuffy much comfort.

“So then I said, ‘I’m calling about a fire’, and he says, ‘You got a fire?’ – like no one’s ever called them up to report a fire before!”

“But they’re on the way, right?”

Smuffy added some arm waving to his pacing before stopping to give an unflattering imitation of the man on the other end of the phone.

“I told him where we were located and he says, ‘I know where that is.’ Then, there’s this big pause and the guy says, ‘You want some help?’” At this point, poor Smuffy’s eyes protruded in disbelief. “I said, ‘Yes, I want some help!” I’d like to know what in the world he thought I called him for! Anyway, he says they’re coming.”

After that, I sat, watching Smuffy pace from window to window, muttering under his breath. Time stretched into what seemed an eternity before he stopped, watching a vehicle approach.

A large, red pickup truck turned into our driveway and stopped in front of the house. A man in overalls and knee-high, rubber gumboots climbed out and ambled toward the front door. I stood by, watching and wondering if it might just be somebody looking for our landlords.

However, he did seem to be our guest, for when Smuffy opened the door, he drawled, “You got a fire?”

“Yes, right in here.” Smuffy, all business, led him into the bedroom and pointed out the problem.

The man seemed to think the scene before him required careful consideration. He lifted the bill of his farmer cap, scratched his forehead and wiggled the cap back into place.

“Yup,” he said, “you sure got a fire in there.”

Smuffy tried to contain himself. “Well, do you have a hose?”

“No. No,” he drawled. “I got a squirt bottle, though. I’ll go get it.”

He moseyed out the door to his truck.

Smuffy turned to me, his jaw muscles twitching. “I don’t believe this!”

I didn’t know what to believe. I positioned myself next to the bed and guarded my bundle.

The man returned, carrying a plastic gallon milk jug full of water, which he squeezed onto the fire. He refilled it from the kitchen sink and had another go at it. Satisfied with the results, he looked up at Smuffy.

“You got a barbecue grill?”

Smuffy looked stricken. “Huh? What!

“I thought if we had somethin’ like a barbecue grill and some kinda shovel, we could scoop up what’s left of the fire and take it outside. Then we can have a look up the chimney.”

It began to register on Smuffy’s face that he considered this a sound idea.

“I’ll go see what I can find.”

Smuffy had another go at lawn skating while I stood there in a grateful state of shock. I didn’t know what to say to this barnyard angel of mercy, so I didn’t say anything at all. I didn’t know what had happened to the fire truck. Perhaps it had hit a patch of ice and run off the road or perhaps Smuffy’s panicked directions had sent it to the wrong destination. I only knew that we had help and that was something. This kind man, appearing as if from nowhere, had come just when we needed him.

After pilfering the landlord’s barbecue grill and careening back home with it, Smuffy found a scoop of some sort and they went to work. With the fire carried outside, the fellas returned, each taking his turn looking up the chimney. They came to a mutual agreement that the burning portion of the flue having collapsed, everything seemed fine up above. Apparently, our entire house fire had just been carried outside and plopped into the snow. We left the smoky bedroom for the slightly more breathable living room.

I sank into the rocking chair, allowing my nerves, which had been tied into knots and sizzling on the ends, to unwind and cool down a bit. Smuffy’s nerves, however, appeared to be working themselves up into a series of knots that would make any Boy Scout proud.

The nice man walked to the door and turned to Smuffy.

“Yep. Yep. Looks like it’s all out now. ‘Course, I’d keep an eye on it for a day or two if I were you, just to be sure somethin’ doesn’t start up again in there. Maybe oughta let the wood stove go out and just use the furnace for a few days.”

Smuffy nodded. “Thanks for your help. I appreciate it. But, before you go, I just have one question…”

I gave Smuffy the once over. He seemed to have worked himself up into quite a state. His chin rose in what I considered to be a rather haughty manner. His chest heaved, making him look as if he were about to burst. I had heard someone described once as apoplectic. Though I’d never been an eye-witness to such a condition, Smuffy gave me the distinct impression that he qualified.

The man met his gaze, his eyes honest and expectant.

“What I want to know,” Smuffy barked, “is whether the fire department always sends someone out to check to see if there’s really a fire before they send the fire truck!”

The man stared. I stared. I may only have been married a few days, but I knew a thing or two about men. Well, anyway, I knew enough to stifle the sudden-gasp-followed-by-outburst-of-laughter that threatened to escape me. I felt a few of my ribs trying to dislocate themselves in my efforts to contain it. My new husband had his pride, after all, and a whole lot of testosterone and pent-up frustration to go along with it. I pinched my lips together and held my breath.

After hoisting up his jaw from whence it had dropped, the man blinked at Smuffy.

“Fire Department? I’m not from the Fire Department!”

I bit my lip.

Smuffy stared back at him, wild-eyed.

“Well then, who are you?”

Rural Fire Scouts

The story that followed left us no doubt that Smuffy had been on the receiving end of a miracle in spite of himself. In his frantic effort to get help, he’d called the number just above or below the phone book’s listing for the rural volunteer fire department. The man gave us his name, saying that he’d known exactly where to go, because our landlords had hired him a few months earlier to do some updates in the kitchen. We proceeded there and he proudly pointed out his handiwork to us before he left.

So much for our outing. We thought it best to stay close to home, fanning the smoke out of the windows and feeling the walls every five minutes – just to be sure.

Pinwheel Quilt Survives!

 

As the shock wore off, we began to count our blessings. We could have left before the smoke became noticeable. With the landlords gone as well, we’d likely have come home to a pile of cinders. He’d called the wrong number, but he’d called the right wrong number.  Help did come and we learned that there are some truly Good Samaritans left in this world. It rearranged our priorities, too. Whatever other necessities had topped our list, we rearranged them all now in favor of our new Number 1: Install a Phone!

Of course, I promised Smuffy I’d keep the whole thing a secret. He relaxed his demands after a while, realizing that the faux-fireman, who did have a phone, had probably told his side of the story to most of the county before sunset.

(Just a note to all the local fire departments out there.  Stick to the current system.  The fire-scouting program, while perhaps tempting due to budgeting concerns, seems flawed somehow.)

While passion and romance had been the only things we’d planned to ignite, we ended up with much more – and it was only the beginning of my Life with Smuffy.

There’s more, folks!  Oh, there’s MORE!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!