December 27, 2015 by Karin Fuller

in the beginning

graduation night









Today’s column is my last. It seems an appropriate time to say goodbye. The end of the year. The end of my daughter’s childhood, which was the subject of so many columns. Most moms record their children’s upbringing on film. Celeste’s was on newsprint.

Saying goodbye isn’t easy. I fell in love with the newspaper the moment I laid eyes on her presses when I was a third grader, taking a tour. It was the only place I ever wanted to work. In 1987 I was hired as a secretary for the newspaper’s publisher and general manager and felt so instantly at home there I figured I’d stay until my last breath. (And after I died, wanted to be cremated and have my ashes mixed with the ink so I could rub off on reader’s hands. The newspaper was in my blood so long I thought I’d try it the other way around for a change.)

Since my job at the paper was to type, not to write, it was something of a fluke I ended up as a columnist. For the first ten years, I told no one about my love for writing. It wasn’t until the Gazette received a press release about a writing contest I’d won that my secret was out. The Lifestyles Editor, Rosalie Earle (now retired), asked if the person named in the release was me. I admitted it was. At the time, I’d just returned to work from maternity leave. Earle asked if I’d be game for writing a few columns about life as a new working parent, alternating weeks with reporter Greg Stone, who had several young kids of his own. Stone later left to take a job for the state and I just kept plugging away. Expecting someone, sooner or later, to say, “That’s enough.”

It took a lot longer than I expected.

There were times over the last 18 years I’ve been writing this column when I felt burned out and thought about quitting. It was tough coming up with fresh-feeling topics week after week, and occasionally strange living life in the public eye, even a fairly small public eye like the Gazette-Mail’s Lifestyles section. (For example, I was on the exam table in stirrups once when a nurse said, “Aren’t you that lady from the paper?” Not the best moment to be recognized.)

Prior to becoming a columnist, I seldom felt I belonged. I was forever on the outside, looking in. After I started writing, I began to regularly get emails from readers saying, “we must be related” or “my kid was poured from the same mold as yours” or “that’s how it is at our house.” I wasn’t so strange after all, or perhaps just as strange as most everyone else. Whatever it was, it was nice to no longer feel all alone.

And then it went even further. I hope this doesn’t sound too melodramatic, but readers saved me.

A few years after Celeste was born, I announced I was pregnant again. To be safe, I’d waited until well into my second trimester to share the news since few losses occur midway through. Just a few weeks after I made the announcement, though, a blood clot in the umbilical cord caused the baby’s heart to stop beating. I wrote about what happened, believing it would prevent me from having to tell the same awful story over and over again. I thought it would give me a short cut to the solitude I craved, where I could curl into a ball and grieve.

It didn’t happen that way.

After the column appeared, kind readers called and emailed and sent cards and flowers. It seemed everywhere I went, I was hugged and forced to talk about what happened, which helped far more than privately curling into a ball ever could.

Two more miscarriages followed before I finally managed to carry another pregnancy to term. The paper even held a little contest to select a middle name for the baby girl we’d already agreed we’d be naming Camille. (Gabriella narrowly won out over Grace.)

c&cIt was at Camille’s routine four-month check-up that we learned she had acute spinal muscular atrophy. Just two months later, she was gone.

My entire world shifted then, this horrific downward slant with more and more bad stuff piling on. I can’t express how much the outpouring of caring from readers shored me up and made it possible for me to go on. That total strangers were grieving with me, encouraging me to talk about what happened, meant so much. People still mention Camille to me sometimes, which means she hasn’t been forgotten, hasn’t disappeared altogether. Maybe that’s a gift only grieving parents would understand, but it’s a gift I’m grateful to have.

I’m going to miss this weekly outlet of mine. It’s become a big part of my identity. It helped me feel connected to others, part of the community. I’ve changed so much over the 18 years I’ve been Smelling the Coffee. I’m nowhere near as shy as I was at the start. It you’d sat beside me in my pre-column days, I’d have most likely stayed silent. If you’d sat near me after, I’d quickly be mining you for story ideas. Every bit of small talk I exchanged, email I read, website I visited, restaurant conversation I overheard—it was all constantly examined for potential as column fodder.

Over the years, I also went from being embarrassed to tell anyone I liked to write to winning several national writing awards and teaching workshops on writing. Now, without a weekly deadline, I’m planning on focusing on my fiction and a few collections of columns I’ve been putting together.

I hope we can continue our conversations on Facebook (send a friend request to Karin Tauscher Fuller) or by email at

And please accept my most sincere thanks, from the bottom of my heart.

I’m going to miss you so much.

start to finish



December 21, 2015 by Karin Fuller

While scanning through channels, looking for something to watch while folding laundry and sorting socks, I ran across an old favorite, The Sixth Sense. It had already been playing a while and was at the scene where the little boy, Cole—the one who sees dead people—is stuck in a traffic jam with his mother. He decides he’s ready to open up to her and as he’s explaining his horrible “gift,” he says his deceased grandmother, his mom’s mom, has been coming to see him.

Says Cole: “She said you came to the place where they buried her. Asked her a question? She said the answer is ‘Every day.’ What did you ask?”

His mother starts to cry. When she finally gathers herself enough to speak, she tells him the question she’d asked at her mother’s gravesite was, “Do I make her proud?”

That scene stuck with me. Not because I see dead people. I don’t. The part that stuck with me was the business about wanting to make someone proud, about what a driving force that can be.

proud lifeThe subject was already in my thoughts because of an email conversation I’ve been part of with a small group of far-flung writer friends. One of us, Tina, had lost her father this year and her mother the previous winter.

“While Dad was alive,” Tina said in the email, “I thought there was always the possibility that one day, he’d tell me how proud I’d made him. It never happened.”

She said her parents had only noticed what she hadn’t achieved. That she wasn’t married. That she didn’t have kids. That she needed to lose 20 pounds, move to a better neighborhood, finish her degree.

“It was never enough,” Tina said. “I was never enough.”

Now that both her parents are gone, Tina isn’t sure how to keep pushing herself. Making them proud had been her most fervent desire, her ultimate goal. Now, she feels like she’s floundering. Says it’s as though she’s become untethered.

The group started talking about the importance of self-pride, which then fell off track for a bit, into a discussion of the different types of pride, like those who are proud of not liking anything popular or those who take pride in their ability to be offended, regardless of how miniscule the infraction might be.

But it was one well-worded sentence that yanked us back on topic.

“It’s risky to look to others for validation since their failure to acknowledge can snatch the wind from your sails,” wrote Jen, our group’s founder. “You have to figure out how to be your own wind.”

What followed was this sweet shoring up, with Tina being reminded of the obstacles she’s overcome and how she’s managed to dodge many of life’s little curveballs, and even hit home runs off a few. She was reminded of the reasons she’s loved and admired. Much of what was mentioned was minor enough Tina said she never thought anyone would’ve made note of them, much less find them admirable.

“My parents never did,” she said, circling back to the start.

“We didn’t put you back on your feet so you could go running right back to what knocked you down,” Jen told her. “What your parents didn’t do is on them. What you do from here on—that’s on you.”

As a parent, it’s hard to manage the right mixture of praising and pushing. You want your child to succeed, but for their own sake and of their own volition.

You want them to be their own wind.

And not need a child with a horrible “gift” to tell them you were proud of them every day.



December 17, 2015 by Karin Fuller

santa celesteI don’t recall the exact year it started, but my daughter was maybe 3 or 4 years old when, on Christmas Eve, I realized I hadn’t bought enough stuff to adequately fill her Christmas stocking. I rushed through the house, searching for something that would take up some room. There, on the bathroom counter, was a brand new can of shaving cream. Since Celeste was generally fascinated with the puffy foam, I figured having a full can to herself would be perfect.

The next morning, when she dumped out her stocking, she squealed.

“Look what Santa gave me!”

Out of everything she got that year, the “toy” she wanted to play with first was that shaving cream.

Which is how a can of shaving cream in her stocking became a tradition. (This year, I’m considering mixing things up a bit by spraying the stocking full of shaving cream and getting her to close her eyes before reaching in.)

This kind of silliness is my favorite part of the holidays, and I spoke with several from our area who have odd, yet cherished, family traditions of their own. For instance, my former coworker, Lu Ann Phillips, said her family has one cardboard box that manages to make an appearance each year.

“I don’t know how many layers of tape it has,” says Phillips, “but the tape is the only thing holding it together.”

The tradition for Robin Asbury and her aunt, Phillis Jean, started with a fruitcake. Every Christmas, they find new ways to trade it back and forth.

“It went into the freezer every year,” wrote Asbury of Pittsburgh. “Then I had the idea to turn it into a candleholder. I baked that sucker on low heat for hours, varnished it, drilled holes for three candles, and completed it with red tapers, pine and holly. I think that Christmas was the only time I saw my aunt at a loss for words.”

I heard about another family that’s kept the same fruitcake going back and forth for over 30 years. One time, the fruitcake was packaged, suspended inside Jell-O. Another time it was baked into a loaf of bread. Once, during Christmas dinner, the fruitcake was lowered on twine from the ceiling.

With Natalie Sypolt of Morgantown, it’s a giant, smelly candle that she and her uncle take turns re-gifting.

“Several years ago,” said Sypolt, “we started doing things to the candle. For example, one year I burned it a little; another year, he carved some words into the side of it. We also try to get creative with wrapping so you never know which gift it’s going to be.”

That kind of tradition would’ve been a bit tough to get started in Phyllis Wilson Moore’s family, since her father got in the practice of giving his gifts away right in front of the giver.

“It became such a hoot my brother started doing it,” said Moore of Clarksburg. “Dad would say he didn’t need whatever the gift was, and then the son and sons-in-law would then say they wanted it. Lots of wallet, ties, and handkerchiefs were up for grabs.”

She said the first couple of years, it wasn’t all that funny, but as time went by, it became something they cracked up over and embraced. She said they’d get more creative with his gifts, like a jar of pickled pigs’ feet, but he still couldn’t be tempted. He kept nothing.

One of my favorites involves a family that’s started a tradition of wrapping a loaded Nerf gun and putting it among the gifts under their tree.

“Whoever unwraps it immediately starts shooting at everyone else,” wrote Terry of Hagerstown. “The year we gave it to Mamaw was the best.”

The tradition started many years back with a little gun that shot foam disks. “We had a few years the gun was forgotten,” said Terry, “and then I guess it was found again and the whole thing came back with a vengeance. We have something of an arsenal of Nerf weapons now. I’m waiting for the year when we all open one at the same time. That’ll be interesting.”

And it’s something I’d like to be there to see.






November 29, 2015 by Karin Fuller

Not long after reports of the bloodshed in Paris began to appear in the news, a familiar quote from Mister Rogers surfaced in my newsfeed, just as it had helpersfollowing other times the world was grieving some significant loss. After bombings. School shootings. Acts of terrorism.

In the now familiar black and white photo, Mister Rogers is wearing his signature cardigan sweater, his expression gentle and wise.

“When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news,” says Rogers in the quote, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

The first few times I saw the quote, I assumed it was meant as a tool for parents, a means by which they could help distract their children, who might be upset over what they were seeing and hearing in the news.

“Here’s a way to make this into something of a game,” the quote seemed to suggest. A Where’s Waldo? kind of thing, except instead of looking for a guy in a red and white sweater, they’d be searching for helpers, who sometimes aren’t so easy to find.

And yet they’re always there. Rushing into burning buildings. Braving treacherous winds or raging flood waters or dodging bullets in an attempt to rescue some stranger.

With every fresh atrocity comes stories of those who raced in to help out, without thought for their own safety.

Find the helpers. Look for the helpers.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility,” Rogers once said. “It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Mister Rogers has long been one of my heroes. He was such a regular part of my childhood that I came to trust his simple wisdom. Since I was feeling nostalgic, I went online and did a quick search so I could listen again to his calming voice asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

As an old episode played in the background, I read about Rogers’ life. He was apparently the same gentle and unassuming person off-camera as on. He personally answered every piece of fan mail he ever received. And those trademark cardigan sweaters he wore on his show? They were all made by his mother.

Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, decided to go into children’s television after seeing a show where people were hitting each other in the face with pies. He found it so idiotic that he determined to put together a children’s show that was positive, substantive, and nurturing.

“The underlying message of the Neighborhood,” Rogers once said about his long-running PBS show, was that “if somebody cares about you, it’s possible that you’ll care about others. ‘You are special, and so is your neighbor’—that part is essential: that you’re not the only special person in the world. The person you happen to be with at the moment is loved, too.”

“The world is not always a kind place,” Rogers said. “That’s something all children learn, whether we want them to or not.”

And we need to help them find the helpers. Even make it a game, if need be, so the bad doesn’t overwhelm them.

Or overwhelm us.


November 22, 2015 by Karin Fuller

There are times when I happen across a story so touching that learning of it leaves me feeling wrenched. What I’m about to share hit me like that.

One of my friends, Aimee Figgatt, who serves as the Conservation Supervisor for the Capital Conservation District (and “farmerette” of Tyler Creek Farms), lost her nephew Tyler recently from an ATV accident. Just 19 years old, Tyler was her brother, Henry’s, only child. Though I’d never met Tyler, I had seen many pictures. He had a charming, bright smile. A mischievous gleam in his eye. Wooly beard. Kind eyes. The stories Aimee shared about Tyler made me feel as if I’d known him, and it hurt to watch she and her family try to manage their grief.

gc-cake-2Last Sunday evening, Aimee shared that she was baking a double layer German Chocolate cake for Sal Rossi, the owner of Quality Woods in Buffalo. And she shared why she was making the cake.

“In the hours following my nephew’s death, my brother had to make decisions no parent ever wants to make regarding arrangements,” wrote Aimee. She said Henry was in so much pain from hearing he’d lost his only child he could barely stop shaking his head, but it was while in that state that he made the most amazing decision. Tyler had recently become Henry’s apprentice in Carpenter’s Local 1207, and Henry said he wanted to build his son’s casket.

There could be no greater honor for a young man who planned on becoming a carpenter than for the carpenters in his family to build the place where he’d rest. Their Uncle Gene, a master carpenter, and cousin Chris, also with Local 1207, joined the effort. Relatives, Betty and Bill, donated rough cut walnut that they’d cut and stored decades earlier.

After getting the walnut back to their workshop, the men tried to run it through their planer, but their equipment couldn’t handle the wood. They had such limited time to build the casket that what might’ve normally been a fairly simple problem to solve was instead making their project seem impossible to complete.  Even a short delay would likely put them too far behind.

Determined to find a work-around, Henry called the owner of Quality Woods, where his sister had recently made a custom wood purchase, to see if they could help. Although the company doesn’t plane wood for others and said they’ve always turned down those who ask, they understood that this was different.

“Within two hours, our wood was planed, edged, sanded, and loaded back in our truck,” Aimee said. “And Sal would not accept a dime from us. All he would accept was a German Chocolate cake.”

As soon as the wood was delivered, the family went to work—and kept working, non-stop, for the next 49 hours. Their Aunt Janis even stitched the coffin’s liner, customizing it to showcase Tyler’s passion for fishing.

“All those hours, we all worked together, some cutting, others sanding, running to the hardware store, bringing food, drinks,” Aimee said. “Friends came to help. Gene never slept. I think he only stopped once or twice to grab a snack, and our cousins Elizabeth and James, too. Everyone worked until they were delirious.”

As the group stood in the same driveway that, over the years, had been used by generations of their family before them, Aimee said they wondered over how many times their grands, greats, and great-greats had the job of building caskets for their loved ones.

“No, we didn’t have to do what we did,” said Aimee, “but we wanted to. It was the most emotional, gut-wrenching and horrific—yet proud—moments I’ve ever seen from my family. We loved each other more than we’d ever realized, and shared enough tears to fill a river. I got hugs so tight I can close my eyes and still feel them.”

There are no pictures to share of the casket, as the family feels it’s too private, but Aimee swears it was the most beautiful she’d ever seen. I didn’t need to see it to agree. I’d never heard of a more moving and respectful and loving tribute to a lost loved one than this.

In this world of so many fresh and senseless sadnesses, it’s reassuring to know people like these still exist.




November 16, 2015 by Karin Fuller

I had a nice moment recently. A friend texted to say hi and as we were chatting, she remarked that everything in her life was going really well.

“The worst part of my whole week was when I bit into a cookie that I thought was chocolate chip, but it was actually raisin,” she said. “After the year I’ve had, I decided it was something to celebrate.”

Turns out I had similar celebrating to do. Just the day before, I’d put pickles on my plate at the salad bar, thinking they were dill. They were sweet. But I kind of like sweet. After months upon months upon years of bad luck, could that brief pickle debacle have been the low point of my week?

“You know what?” I texted my friend. “I just realized things are going good for me, too. I’m sort of ashamed I didn’t notice it sooner.”

I don’t mean to make myself sound ungrateful because mostly, I’m not. But sometimes, I get distracted by the constant catastrophe theme of my life that I fail to notice the odd little gifts life sometimes gives. I determined to start noticing my victories, no matter how small, and to celebrate them, Snoopy-dance style.

For instance, Victory #1 came after I went into a crowded yet quiet waiting room and sat down in a vinyl chair. As I sat, the chair made a long and obnoxious whoopee cushion-like sound, the kind you can never replicate when there are people around. Except this time, I stood and sat down again and the chair made the same sound just as obnoxiously.



Victory 2. I managed to grab the cat as he was hacking and successfully transfer him from carpet to linoleum without said movement causing him to immediately Heimlich that hairball onto the carpet.

Victory 3. I held open a door at a fast food restaurant for the woman behind me, enabling her to arrive at the counter before me. Historically, this would mean she would then place an order for her entire office and pay separately for each item, but this time, she ordered a single black coffee and paid with exact change. And I celebrated.

Victory 4. I wore new socks and no shoes all around my house for hours without once stepping in water.

Victory 5. Many businesses with double doors tend to leave one side locked at all times. I have a gift for finding the locked side first to the point where I feel a kinship with birds that fly into windows.  Last week, I went to a business with double entry doors and the side I shoved first was unlocked. I’m fairly certain this has never before happened in my life.

Victory 6. I drove on I-64 during rush hour on a sunny morning without traffic coming to a complete and total standstill for such a long time turtles would zoom past on the berm. That same evening, it happened again. In 30+ years of commuting, I suspect this was a first. I celebrated.

Victory 7. I scrubbed the kitchen floor and did not immediately spill orange juice.

Victory 8. I stopped to purchase some hard apple cider. The cashier said he’d need to see my I.D.  He did not preface this request with the deflating statement, “They make us ask everyone.”

Victory 9. I took a bite of what appeared to be a chocolate chip cookie. And it actually was a chocolate chip cookie. Not a raisin in sight.

And I danced.

snoopy dance




November 8, 2015 by Karin Fuller

blue lives matterIt’s difficult for someone like me to fathom, having spent all my working years safely behind a desk, protected from all but the occasional paper cut. My commute to and from the office providing my only real danger. It’s hard to grasp what it must be like to have a job where you put your life on the line every day to protect total strangers.

Who aren’t always grateful. Or respectful. Or compliant.

With Veterans Day approaching, I was in a “thank you for your service” line of thinking, except my thoughts kept getting sidetracked toward those who wear a different kind of uniform.

One that’s blue.

It got me wishing there was a day set aside where police officers were thanked for their service, instead of vilified as a whole for the few bad in the bunch. I’m not saying there aren’t any bad cops. There are. And there are bad lawyers, bad doctors, bad teachers, bad members of clergy. Every profession has its share of misfits. But not every profession requires its workers to put their life on the line pretty much every minute they’re on duty, and for such paltry pay.

In an average day, officers contend with suspects who lie and witnesses who keep changing their story. With drunks who insist they had only one beer. With people who misrepresent their identity or take so long answering questions it raises suspicions. Officers must be on the lookout for concealed weapons, drugs and other contraband. They must deal with addicts and the mentally ill. With abusive parents and sexual deviants. With children who are afraid of them and teenagers who are disrespectful and adults who are attempting to taunt a reaction they can capture on film.

Thanks to Hollywood, the public expects officers to have martial arts skills that would enable them to take down assailants a foot taller and 100 lbs. heavier, and be capable of shooting a gun out of the hand of the raging crazy that’s rushing toward them.

And expects them to somehow intuit we’re harmless, even if our demeanor and situation suggest far more strongly we’re anything but.

It’s hard to speak in absolutes, but it seems like most every adverse situation that’s been in the news of late involving the police could have had a completely different result if the person had simply complied with the officer’s request.

Case in point, the South Carolina teen who was slammed to the ground by a resource officer after refusing to hand over her phone. Granted it’s a convoluted case with points to be made on both sides, but simply put, the situation never would’ve happened if she’d complied. She went looking for trouble and found it, and the fame she’s gained from her obnoxious behavior is likely to trigger emulation from others wanting similar celebrity.

That kind of thing worries me, and I think it should worry all parents who give a damn. Instead of patting themselves on the back about how fiercely they’d react if an officer laid hands on their child, they need to be using this opportunity to teach about the importance of respecting the law and complying with an officer’s request.

I’m not sure what compels people to choose such dangerous work as law enforcement or why they’re willing to put themselves on the line daily to deal with violent, combative and unappreciative people, or why they’re willing to endure physical and verbal abuse in order to do it. But I’m grateful they do.

So to those wearing the blue—please accept my thanks for stepping up to the plate. Thank you for racing into situations most of us wouldn’t in a million lifetimes be brave enough to take on ourselves.

The only voices you hear shouldn’t be the ones criticizing how you’re doing your job, so please know there are still so many of us who appreciate what you do. Who remain in awe of your courage.

And who thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your service.




November 6, 2015 by Karin Fuller

While roaming the aisles at the Book Festival, I ran into an old friend. We hadn’t seen each other since shortly after her father’s funeral a couple years back. When our children were small, her family and ours had been nicely intertwined, before divorces and moves and differing work schedules took their toll.

I’d been especially fond of this friend’s mother and asked after her, as I hadn’t seen her since that same funeral. Her parents were one of those couples who fit so perfectly it was hard to imagine one without the other. Her dad had this loud and powerful personality, while her mom was quiet and modest, the eternally flawless hostess.

They’d been together since their early teens until he died suddenly, just weeks before their 55th wedding anniversary.

At the visitation and funeral, I heard comments like, “I can’t imagine she’ll last long without him,” or “it wouldn’t surprise me if she doesn’t go soon, too.” Their own children even said as much. He’d been her world. Without him, she would be like an untethered shadow.

Except that’s not how it played out.

“A couple weeks after Dad’s funeral,” said my friend, “Mom cut off her hair. She got this trendy, spiky style like Jamie Lee Curtis had in one of her movies. We barely recognized her.”

Turns out their dad loved long hair so their mom seldom cut hers in order to please him. But that wasn’t all. She switched to jeans over dresses. Traded their big Buick for a little Fiat. Got a dog and a cockatiel. Even changed political parties.

“It was like Mom never lived until Dad died,” she said. “Instead of losing both parents close together like we were thinking might happen, we were given this cool new version of the one we had left. Mom became a vibrant, curious, opinionated woman.”

She couldn’t grow while in his shadow. But out of it, she bloomed.

Thinking about my friend’s mom reminded me of a dog my parents once had. They already owned several other dogs when Shorty joined their herd. He was a quiet, well-behaved little guy who, for years, showed no interest whatsoever in toys, until the other dogs began to die off. When it was down to just Shorty and one other, it was as if that little dog was reborn. He was suddenly playful, would even toss toys in the air and chase them himself, even though by then, he was something of a senior himself.

All the other dogs had loved Shorty. They’d been an inseparable pack with none so much as growling over a shared bowl of chow. Yet Shorty couldn’t shine with them there.

Much like my friend’s mom.

It’s impossible to say how her dad might’ve reacted to those changes if they’d occurred while he was alive. Whatever she anticipated was enough for her to constrain herself.

And for Shorty to watch from the sidelines while the other dogs played.

I’m curious about the power we give others that cause us to inhibit ourselves. I was recently in a situation where I realized, for the gazillionth time, that I didn’t fit in. It bothered me for a while. More than I’d care to admit.

But after talking with my old friend, I realized how easily her mom might’ve missed out completely since we aren’t always given the time to recreate ourselves. We can’t all wait until our perceived naysayers and competition is gone.

Besides, do we really want to scrub off our color to the point where we’re indiscernible from everyone else? Since we generally don’t remember the ones who fit in, but those who stand out.



October 23, 2015 by Karin Fuller

I wasn’t one of those parents who got wildly costumed for Trick-or-Treat. I’d sometimes wear orange and black or a crocheted sweater that seemed web-like, paired with a furry tarantula pin, but that was generally the extent of my ensemble. It wasn’t that I didn’t like dressing up, but rather I knew over the course of the evening, I’d gradually end up wearing more of my daughter’s costume than she.

The mask was usually first to go, then the hat, then accessories. It was often the same with most of the parents in our group. We’d start off empty-handed and dressed rather dull, but soon be wielding discarded shields and swords and guitars, wearing witch hats paired with Smurf gloves and Powerpuff wigs, while our sugared up children shrieked up the street ahead of us.

It wasn’t until a few years back that I attended a few Halloween parties aimed at adults. I had no idea what to expect costume-wise, so was stunned by the expensive and elaborate outfits. Most of the women’s costumes seemed to include the word “sexy.” Sexy nurse. Sexy secretary. Sexy cowgirl. There was even a sexy Hazmat worker, complete with goggles and a mostly unzipped yellow jumpsuit.

My costume wasn’t sexy, though. It was merely confusing.

It began with a gothic-looking jacket that seemed the perfect foundation for a Victorian era vampire costume. I cobbled together random pieces on the cheap and was so tickled with how affordable the outfit was that I splurged on an $18 set of fangs that would adhere directly over my teeth, along with false eyelashes with teeny bats at the tips.

I was fully dressed when I attempted to put on the lashes, something I’d only once before worn in my life.

To say it went badly is an understatement. By the time I gave up, my eyes were thoroughly bloodshot and my upper lids, sans fake lashes, were now adhered halfway up to my brow line. I looked full on demented. Visualize a Victorian pug.

It wasn’t quite the look I was after.

pug eyesHoping to salvage the outfit, I then tried to glue on the fangs. If I’d been able to see, following the instructions might’ve gone better. They weren’t as simple as I’d hoped. No “squirt glue, press to tooth.” Instead, there was water to be boiled and powder to be mixed and timed and dried and layered and pressed. Fake fang and tooth needed to mingle and decide whether they wanted to spend time together.

They did not.

By the time I gave up, my canine teeth were layered with a gummy adhesive that wouldn’t come off, causing my upper lip to frequently catch on my teeth like a speedbump.

I looked even more like a Victorian pug.

Didier assured me my outfit looked fine without fangs, except when we got to the party, I couldn’t go anywhere without someone attempting to guess who I was.

“I’m a sleep-deprived vampire,” I said. “Post dental procedure.”

I was recently telling a friend about the evening and she shared how she’d once gone to a costume party dressed as Charlie Chaplin. She had the little black bowler hat, baggy pants and a black top coat, and she’d practiced her little waddley walk. It was dead-on Chaplin, right down to the little mustache.

“The little mustache was all people saw,” she said. “They’d spot me and clack their heels together, raise one arm above their head and salute. ‘Sieg heil!’”

We’ve been invited to another party this year. I considered revisiting my Victorian pug, but might just grab some random costume pieces and go as Trick-or-Treat Mom.



October 11, 2015 by Karin Fuller

jelloIf I’m feeling low, I have a few go-to TV shows I sometimes watch to cheer myself up. Among them are old episodes of The Office, mostly because of the pranks between Jim Halpert and Dwight Schrute. A swiped stapler left wobbling in a mound of yellow Jell-O. A workspace moved into the bathroom. A phone handset gradually weighted to become heavier and heavier, then the weights abruptly removed, causing the answerer to whap himself in the head when the phone rings.

Strange as it may sound, I’d like to be doing my time in an office like that. Work days are more interesting when broken up with a prank here or there.

Years back, I worked with a man named John who was constantly playing jokes on most everyone in our office. As I can be terribly gullible, I was his most frequent target. One time, John pinned a tail to my coat that was so light I didn’t notice it, flipping perkily along behind me, until I’d finished every one of my many errands and was getting back in my car. When I promptly sat on the tail.

I decided to return the favor by sneaking John’s charcoal-grey dress coat from our office closet and stitching the sleeves shut. Except moments after I’d hung the coat back in the closet, two things happened at once. John walked in wearing a different coat. And a customer who had been in our office retrieved his charcoal-grey coat from the closet.

I’d actually managed to prank myself. (Not to mention that poor man.)

Few are immune to workplace tricksters, however. Just recently, a friend from my writing group, Charlie Dennie of St. Albans, shared about a time when his dad worked at Union Carbide.

homburgThe workers in his dad’s area had a common locker room, where they’d change each morning to go out into the plant. One morning, the men were milling about, getting ready for work when one of their coworkers arrived wearing a snazzy new hat. I believe Charlie called it a “Homburg,” which is a little like a fedora. He said it was stylish and classic, something a businessman would wear more so than a plant worker.

Since the man wearing the hat wasn’t typically a slave to fashion, it drew the attention of his coworkers, who wanted to know more about it.

“I got it from Kelley’s Mens Shop,” he said.

He proudly brushed off his hat before storing it in his locker for the day and when the work day was over, Charlie said his dad recounted. And the men watched as he carefully brushed it off again before putting it on. The next day, same thing. He clearly cherished that hat. Walked a little cockier when he had it on.

So the chance for mischief was ripe.

When payday rolled around, the men decided to pitch in a few bucks each and they went to Kelley’s Men’s Shop and purchased the same hat, except in a larger size. They smuggled this new hat into their locker room and, after their coworker put his beloved hat in his locker to go out into the plant for the day, they quickly swapped his hat for the larger one.

When the man returned at the end of the day, he brushed off his hat as always and placed it on his head. And it dropped down over his eyes.

After looking momentarily confused, he sort of tilted it back a bit and headed for home. He continued to wear the larger hat every day, saying nothing about it to anyone about it. They said nothing to him.

When the next payday rolled around, the men again pooled their money and headed back to Kelley’s. This time, they purchased the same hat in the smallest size it was made and then they swapped out the hats. At the end of the workday, when their coworker placed his prized hat on his head, it just sort of perched there. Balanced on top of his noggin.

The men had planned on trading back to his original hat the next day, except their coworker wasn’t at work.

They called his house. His wife said he’d gone to the doctor, concerned because his head was shrinking and swelling.

With me, it was only a tail. Compared to him, I think I came out ahead.