“The Devil Wears Prada” meets Erma Bombeck in this humorous memoir that tells all the secrets of the Miller family. Not even the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
My husband and I raised five children, and one of the things that helped us face the challenges of a large family was having a sense of humor. Being able to laugh can pretty well diffuse any situation, although the humor might not always be apparent right away. Some things have to age somewhat before they take on comic proportions.
I used to write about the family nonsense in a weekly column for The Plano Star Courier, an upscale Dallas suburban newspaper, and I always thought some day I would combine the collection into a book.
Well, it’s “someday” now.
A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck features many of those columns that have been organized into chapter themes and enhanced with narrative transitions. While the focus is a humorous look at the nonsense that goes on in a large family, sprinkled throughout, sort of like medicine hidden in applesauce, are tidbits of wisdom about what makes families work. I always loved that Erma Bombeck did that in her wonderful books, and she is my idol and inspiration.
A Dead Tomato Plant And A Paycheck was a finalist in the Top Shelf Book Awards in 2019 for humor, and it has been nominated by Top Shelf for a 2020 award.
“The style is concise, readable and definitely funny. Wife, husband, five children, and numerous pets all have their day in this book. Chapters devolve around topics such as vacations, first day of school, sports, holidays, marriage, and how the author managed to hold a writing life together, and her husband his good humor, amid all the wonderful chaos generated by their children. These subjects flow seamlessly; the book never comes across as a disjointed collection of newspaper columns, but as an integrated whole.” Michael D. Smith author of The Martian Marauders
“The title caught my eye on Twitter and I had to get this. Very entertaining, with the kids, family even pets and dead tomato plants brilliantly combined. This read will have you smiling.” Amazon review.
CHAPTER ONE – IN THE BEGINNING
The Nonsense Starts Here
Maybe before I go any further, I should explain the title of this book. It comes from a piece I wrote one year for the Dallas newspaper just before Mother’s Day. After you read what I wrote so many years ago, I think you will be able to figure it out:
Sunday is Mother’s Day, and in this time of feminism and ERA it’s hard to decide what to write about. Do I mention all those heart-tugging gifts I’ve received over the years, like the dead tomato plant in a tin can and the wilted dandelions clutched tightly in a grubby little hand?
On the other hand, maybe it’s unfair to offer only one side of motherhood. Maybe I should say a word or two about all the daily frustrations that threaten to make me seek cover in the nearest rest home. The cleaning; the car pools; the laundry; the endless sibling infighting; more cleaning; and cooking and…
Who’s the joker who started the myth that housewives spend endless hours in front of the television eating chocolates? Not that it’s a bad idea. But let’s get real. The last time I watched daytime television I was sick with the flu and couldn’t have eaten a chocolate if Godiva herself brought me one.
While I’ve been trying to sort out all these things associated with motherhood, I keep wondering why there is so much unrest among women today, even those who have had a satisfying career outside the home before deciding to become full-time homemakers. Then I realized the unrest comes out of a loss of pride. Modern thinking has managed to strip us of any glimmer of the kind of pride our mothers could feel for their role.
It’s true that modern ideology still advocates free choice, but somehow the choice of full-time homemaker doesn’t garner the same respect and interest as choosing to be an astronaut. When was the last time an anecdote about your five-year-old drew a crowd at a cocktail party?
Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder women are in such turmoil. Society has force-fed us its version of the modern woman—exciting, sophisticated, fulfilled, and working outside the home. So, when a woman finds her fulfillment at home, she automatically starts questioning and comparing. That is especially true of the women who had a different career first.
As someone who has managed to straddle the fence for a number of years, I don’t feel qualified to advocate one over the other. I’ve managed to have the best of both worlds, and I must admit that my early success with writing came as a balm at a time when I felt like I was drowning in custodial duties for the family. But a painting class the year before had been just as therapeutic.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m a mother and homemaker first. And somewhere down the line when I may be sitting in a rocking chair looking back over my life, I think the dead tomato plant will mean more to me than my first paycheck as a writer.
I only wish the world at large measured my success with the same yardstick.
That pretty much sums up how I have felt about my role as a mother, and I still feel that way now that my children are grown—so are some of my grandchildren. YIKES!!
There is no doubt in my mind that we got through some of the challenges of raising a large family by using humor. It can pretty well diffuse any situation, although the humor wasn’t always apparent right away. For me, certain things had to age before they took on comic proportions.
For instance, spilling a pan of chicken broth on the floor didn’t make me laugh until I quit sliding past the sink as I took my first step into the kitchen.
It was difficult to laugh about one of my kids storing her unwanted sandwiches in the bench in our kitchen, especially when it was my neighbor who found them a few weeks later.
It took me a good two weeks to find anything amusing about the youngest two playing dress-up and taking all the clothes off the hangers in their closet.
I was sure I would never see the humor in our son losing one of his tennis shoes or the fifteen futile trips he made to the creek to look for it.
And to think, when I saw a shoe in the street, I used to wonder how someone could lose just one shoe.
I knew I could live to be at least ninety before I’d laugh about the fact that I couldn’t get my kids to go outside and play until I mentioned that it was time to clean house.
It took six months to see the humor in finding six spoons, three bowls, two dried up old sandwiches, and the contents of at least two boxes of cereal under the kitchen table after the kid who swept told me he was finished.
It was equally difficult to laugh at the broken window after one kid threw his cereal bowl at his brother, who ducked.
At least that’s the story I got.
I used to wonder if all the spilled milk, chairs covered with soggy cereal, buttered bread dropped on the floor face down, or the macaroni noodles that have squished through my toes as I walked across the kitchen floor, would even qualify as fond memories when I’m old and gray, let alone be funny.
Now that I am both old and gray, I’ve decided that all those family escapades are funny. And to tell the truth, they were pretty funny back then, too. In fact, I used to write about the family nonsense in a weekly column. It was along the lines of the infamous wit and wisdom of Erma Bombeck, my role model, and I always thought someday I would combine the collection in a book.
Well, it’s “someday” now.