I’m a Little Teapot

By Lisa Scottoline

Once again, I learned something from Daughter Francesca.

I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be the other way around.

Either she’s a really smart kid or I’m a really dumb mother.

We begin last month, when Francesca had a cold and comes home with a neti pot.

If you’ve never seen a neti pot, it looks like the small pot they serve tea in in restaurants, which is cute.

Except a neti pot is not cute.

This is where it gets disgusting.

If you’re eating, move on.

But if you want to change your life, keep reading.

When Francesca came home, I asked her to show me how to use a neti pot.

So she fills the neti pot with distilled water, puts in a little packet of God knows what, and screws the cap on. Then she inserts the spout of the neti pot into her right nostril, tilts her head to the left over the sink, and pours water up her nose.

You know what comes out her left nostril?

Water and snot.

I almost threw up. It gave me nightmares.

Until I got a cold.

And I bought a neti pot.

And it changed my life.

My sinuses felt clean for the first time ever.

And my cold went away.

Meanwhile I didn’t even know I had sinuses beside my nose.

But my neti pot did.

I get more oxygen now than ever before.

I breathe like a champ.

My sinuses sparkle.

So I’m addicted to my neti pot. I use it every night, whether I need to or not. I can’t even wait until bedtime to clean my sinuses.

It’s sex for middle-aged women.

Meanwhile I barely shower.

I can’t be bothered.

And my hair never gets greasy like it did when I was young and normal.

It’s straw now.

At this point, I’m pretty sure it repels water.

Anyway to return to point, it’s easy to use a neti pot, once you practice.

All you do is stick it up one nostril and start pouring.

At first you’ll feel like you’re waterboarding yourself.

Don’t worry.

You are.

I forgot to mention, you have to keep your mouth open and breathe.

I forget that sometimes at night.

Basically I drown myself before bed.

If you forget the directions, remember the song:

“I’m a little teapot, short and stout.

Here is my handle, here is my spout.

Now stick it up your nose.”

Okay, that’s not the song.

I remember on the show Welcome Back, Kotter, when Vinnie Barbarino used to say “up your nose with a rubber hose.”

My mother always thought that was hysterical.

But that’s exactly what using a neti pot feels like.

It’s like a douche for your nostrils.

Meanwhile, does anyone even douche anymore?

I found a website for womenshealth.gov, which said that about a fifth of women between fifteen and forty-four still douche.

Why?

Why did anybody ever douche?

Way back when, Mother Mary did. She told me that women were supposed to so they were clean down there.

Where?

The sinus of the south.

Are you throwing up yet?

I remember there were commercials for douche on TV, telling you in sneaky ways that your vagina was stinky.

But I’m pretty sure it smelled like a vagina.

I checked online, and all the websites I found recommend unanimously that women should not douche.

Your vagina is self-cleaning. Like your oven.

But not like your sinuses.

It reminded me of another memory of my mother, and I have so many I think of them as mommaries.

Mother Mary was in a hospital gown being wheeled into surgery, and when the orderly moved the sheet aside, there was spotting underneath. The orderly hastily covered it up, embarrassed for her.

Mother Mary shrugged. “Don’t worry, it’s rust.”

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2024

Peach Forever

By Lisa Scottoline

There’s something worse than losing a dog.

Losing two dogs.

Which just happened in my family.

But this column isn’t about death, it’s about life.

By way of background, Daughter Francesca lost her wonderful Pip during the holidays. He succumbed to cancer at the age of fifteen, and we were able to be with him at the end, which was blessedly peaceful. And then, unexpectedly, my dog Peach fell ill last week when her kidneys failed, and we were able to be with her at the end of her fourteen years, which was also peaceful.

It was the worst instant replay ever.

But losing both Pip and Peach got me thinking that the sadness over their passing is part-and-parcel of the unique happiness they gave us, as the older generation in our dog family of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Pip, Peach, and the late Little Tony were the older generation, and Pip and Peach were even half-brother and half-sister, having the same father. I still have Peach’s two sons, Boone and Kit.

At two human beings and five dogs, we were outnumbered.

Leg-wise, that’s four to twenty.

Though my legs are hairier.

People say dogs are a member of their family, but in our case, the reverse was true – we were members of their family.

And it was a hoot to watch them relate like a human family.

Peach was the smallest, but she barked nonstop, keeping everyone in line. If she smoked, she could have passed for Mother Mary.

Every night starting at 7:00, she would stand at the window overlooking the backyard and bark until 11:00 at night. The window was in the family room, so it was impossible to watch TV.

Bottom line, there was too much family in the family room.

Most nights I would let her out in the front yard so she could bark at the backyard, and the only thing missing was a side yard so she could bark at the front and the backyards at the same time.

Like stereo agita.

All of this barking kept squirrels, birds, deer, and passing clouds in order.

In fact, I’m pretty sure the world is safe from atomic warfare because of Peach.

And don’t think my neighbors hate me, because they’re too far away to hear.

Even as she got older, she never stopped barking. She had heart issues severe enough for the vet to tell me not to walk her anymore, but she barked forever.

Meanwhile her barking never bothered me.

I have nothing against a woman speaking up.

And she bore two terrific puppies, then got to live with them all her life, a terrific mother from day one. All of her feistiness was reserved for anything or anyone who tried to mess with her puppies. We whelped them in my bedroom, and just once Uncle Little Tony stuck his head in to see what was going on.

Peach got busy.

Mother grizzlies have nothing on mother cavaliers.

And she barely slowed down as she got older, except that she got mitral valve disease, which caused her heart to enlarge.

She was a little dog with a big heart, literally.

She slept on the pillow next to me, and because her heart was too big, I could actually hear it beat at night, in the stillness of my bedroom.

And I could feel its vibration on my pillow.

It was a comforting sound that lulled me to sleep, like nature’s lullaby.

To love a dog, or any animal, is to fully realize what it is to be a human being.

And how connected we are to animals, and honestly to everything in the world.

I have a dog family, but I believe there is a much larger family we all belong to.

That family includes people of kinds, and dogs, and trees, and various bugs and even the sky and the stars.

It was my little dog with the big heart that brought me to that realization, every night from my pillow to the sky entire.

I will miss my little Peach.

But I will always have her with me.

And so will you.

Love each other.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2024

Column Classic: Rewarding, Or Why Free Is Dumber Than You Think

By Lisa Scottoline

Here’s what I’m telling you: beware “rewards points.”

What?

Yes, that’s right. I said it, and if you remember, it wasn’t always thus. I used to be a big fan of rewards points.

Let’s review.

I remember the day I found out that my credit card was accumulating rewards points, because I felt like I had won the lottery.

Okay, a really tiny lottery, but still, free is free, and I was excited. The way my credit card worked was that every time I used it, it accumulated points that enabled me to choose free stuff from a free catalog, full of freeness.

Wow!

I even wrote about how hard it was to pick stuff out of the free catalog, mainly because I was so dazzled by the free part that I thought I might faint.

I’m not cheap, but free has a unique power, no? I couldn’t go wrong if it didn’t cost me anything.

Or so I thought.

And since then, I’ve been all over the reward thing. I’ve even spread the word. Daughter Francesca is about to get a new credit card, and I’ve advised her to make sure she gets one with rewards.

Who doesn’t want to be rewarded?

Lately, me.

I came to this epiphany with my new spice rack. I saw it in the free catalog, and I forget how many points it cost, because it all came down to the same thing:

It’s FREE, dummy!

So, I bought/ordered/ willed it to exist in my house. And now, sitting atop my oven, is a too-cool-for-school spice rack from Dean & DeLuca. All of the spices are in glass test tubes with real corks, so they’re visible from the side and have nice colors. But the spices are things like lavender and Tellicherry peppercorns.

Huh?

I have no idea when lavender became a spice, but it does look pretty in its purple test tube. Too pretty to use, and anyway, what would I put lavender on?

Marigolds?

The rack also includes imported spices, like Greek oregano and French tarragon. Thank God. You wouldn’t want tarragon from anywhere else, would you? And I smelled the Greek oregano, which smells exactly like American oregano, which smells like a pizza parlor.

So maybe that, I’ll use.

Or eat out of the jar.

But I’ve never used any of the spices in the rack, and the test tubes don’t say when they expire, so the bottom line is, the French tarragon should have stayed in Paris. It was a waste, even though it cost nothing.

Paradoxical, no?

The spice rack taught me that even though something is free, I might not want it. I don’t need it. I’m not going to use it. If I had really wanted the spice rack, I would have bought it, and the fact that I didn’t means I shouldn’t have it in the house, at any price.

Even free.

That was my life lesson.

Let me interject to say that the problem may be endemic to spices. Even before the test-tube spice rack, I’d been known to buy spices that I’d never use. Mainly because I want to be the kind of person who cooks with green curry, I’d buy the spice and throw it out when it became a solid block of greenness. I’d make this same mistake around the holidays, when I’d pick up fresh jars of allspice, ground cloves, and cinnamon, which is the kind of thing I imagine the Cake Boss tosses into his shopping cart. But I never use it, and I’m no Cake Boss.

Cake is the boss of me.

Come to think of it, the real problem may be that I’m a stinky cook, as I barely use any spices at all, and in this regard, I am my mother’s daughter.

Let’s blame Mother Mary. After all, she’s not here, and she doesn’t read the column.

Truth to tell, there was no spice rack in our house growing up, and we had only four spices: dried oregano, garlic salt, onion salt, and salt.

Mother Mary mainly cooked Italian, and salt.

We didn’t even have pepper because Mother Mary is enough pepper for anybody.

And to this day, when she visits me and makes meatballs or tomato sauce, we first make a trip to the grocery store to buy her salts, with their preservatives included the faker the better.

And you know what?

Her food tastes delicious.

And I feel rewarded.

Almost free.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2011

Column Classic: Mrs. Elvis

by Lisa Scottoline

I was just asked out on a date. 

By Elvis. 

For real, kind of. Or, rather, by an Elvis impersonator. 

He may have left the building, but he still has a laptop. 

He had evidently read somewhere that I’m a huge Elvis fan, which is true, and as he is in the Elvis business, he figured I’d be attracted, so he emailed me and asked me out. 

Uh, no. 

But thank you. Thank you very much. 

Not that I wasn’t tempted, but he didn’t give me all the facts, and I wasn’t about to ask. Though he did supply a head shot and he looked so handsome – dark hair, long muttonchops, shiny sunglasses – well, you know what he looks like. 

I never dated anybody on a stamp. 

But he didn’t specify which Elvis he was. If he was young Elvis The Pelvis, we could talk. I would make an exception from my no-younger-men rule and become a cougar. Though I’m guessing that this impersonator is pushing 60. 

It’s an interesting legal question, in a way. If the impersonator is 60, but the Elvis is 22, does that make me a cougar? 

Or just a kooky and fun kinda gal? 

If he was black-leather Comeback Elvis, I’m still listening. Elvis in black leather on his comeback is my idea of a harmonic convergence. The only way to improve that combination is if he was carrying a big piece of chocolate layer cake. 

Don’t be cruel. 

But if it was Karate-Chop Elvis, I’m less sure. Though come to think of it, maybe I could be talked into it. Elvis is Elvis, even chubby. And I like peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Maybe I shouldn’t have said no so quickly. 

I’m all shook up. 

Still, the very notion of the email opened up new vistas for me, love-wise. By which I mean, if I could start dating impersonators, which one would I date? All of a sudden, I wasn’t limited to romance with live men, or even real men. 

Wow! It boggles the mind. My odds of finding new love just skyrocketed. 

Maybe I was being too picky before, limiting my dating pool to the living. True, the dead can be a little dull, but God knows I’ve been there before. 

The only problem is, if I try to remember long-dead pop stars, I can’t think of a single one who does it for me. 

I love to listen to Frank Sinatra, but I’m not sure he’s my type. Also, Mother Mary would never forgive me. She knows they belong together. She longs to be Mrs. Ol’ Blue Eyes. 

I can’t remember any other long-dead pop stars, and the only other singer who really does it for me is Bob Dylan, but he’s not dead yet. Though I bet there are tons of people already impersonating him. 

Hmm. 

Gentlemen, send me an email. 

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. 

Hell, come to think of it, I can do a decent Dylan impersonation, so maybe I should start dating myself. 

Except I already am. 

I wouldn’t mind dating an impersonator of historical figures, however. I always had the hots for George Washington. 

Chicks dig power. 

I could be First Lady, even though I’d be First Dead Lady. I could overlook his wooden teeth, and we could share a blow dryer. 

Plus, I had a thing for Robin Hood. I love all that derring-do, with the arrows shooting and the horseback riding, and the helping the poor. 

And the codpiece. 

What a guy! I would date Robin Hood in a second. I got so excited, I called Daughter Francesca to tell her all about the Elvis email and that her new stepfather would be wearing green tights. 

She laughed. “Mom, Robin Hood wasn’t real.” 

“Yes, he was. I saw the movie. In fact, two movies. One with Kevin Costner, and one with Errol Flynn.” 

“Who? 

“He was real.” 

“He wasn’t.” 

I considered this. It was possible she was right. She often is, and she sounded it. “But I bet people impersonate him.” 

“Maybe.” 

“So, I could date the Robin Hood impersonator. What difference does it make if the person they impersonate is real?” 

“You mean like a fake of a fake?” 

“Exactly. I could do worse.” 

“It’s a point,” she said, hanging up. 

© Lisa Scottoline 

Column Classic: Recipe for Disaster

By Lisa Scottoline

Turns out you’re never too old to call your mother about a recipe. 

And regret it. 

We begin when I decide to cook a nice meal for Daughter Francesca, because we’re about to start book tour, where we’ll eat MacDonald’s French fries for dinner and pretend that it’s a hardship. 

We eat French fries for dinner every book tour, and it’s worth writing an entire book for an excuse to eat French fries. 

But if I eat French fries without being on book tour, I start signing things. 

Occupational hazard. 

To stay on point, I decide to make eggplant parm, which I haven’t made in years. Mother Mary, as you can guess, is the Queen of Eggplant Parm, and she has the best recipe ever.  When was in my twenties, I used to call her about her recipes because I’d never made the dish.  But now, in my fifties, I have to call her because I can’t remember if I made the dish, or where my keys are, or what year it is. 

I actually forgot that, yesterday. 

At least I think it was yesterday. 

Back then, in my twenties, my big question was whether you had to preheat the oven. 

Mother Mary always said yes. 

So I did, but now I learned that the answer is no. 

Preheating the oven is as big a lie as the check is in the mail. 

Believe me.  Take risks.  Don’t preheat. 

Anyway, I couldn’t remember the order of business for breading the eggplant slices, whether it was egg, flour, and bread crumbs, or flour, egg, then bread crumbs.  I know it seems obvious, but when I breaded a slice in the logical order – egg, flour, bread crumbs – the eggplant’s surface cratered like bad skin. 

So I called Mother Mary for the recipe, but before I could ask her my question, she asked me hers:  “Did you preheat the oven?” 

I paused.  “No.” 

“You have to.” 

“I will,” I lie. 

“Don’t lie.  Do it now.” 

“Ma, I haven’t even made the eggplant yet.  If I preheat the oven from now, I’ll use up enough energy to bake Earth.  So tell me, what’s the order?” 

“Wait.  The oven has to be 350 degrees.  No more, no less.” 

“Got it.  Now, Ma−”

“Also you have to peel the skin off, did you do that?” 

“No.  I read that it has vitamins.”  Also I’m too lazy. 

“Wrong!  Peel it!” 

“Okay, I will,” I lie again.  “Now, Ma –”

“Did you leave the eggplant slices out overnight, to let the water leak out?” 

I fall silent, trying to decide whether to lie a third time. 

“You have to do it the night before.  You put salt on the slices, lay them flat between two plates, and put your iron on top of the plate, to weigh it down.” 

I’m still trying to decide how to respond.  I remember growing up, I used to wonder about the eggplant slices between two plates, sitting on the counter all night.  By the next morning, about half a teaspoon of eggplant water had dripped into the sink. 

Like it matters. 

So, of course I didn’t take anything out the night before.  I never make a recipe that requires taking anything out the night before.  I never think that far behind. 

Also, I don’t own an iron. 

Other than that, I followed her recipe exactly. 

Mother Mary asks, “Well, did you drain them last night?” 

“Yes,” I lie.  Third time’s a charm. 

“You didn’t, I can tell,” Mother Mary says firmly.  “Salt the slices, drain them, and make the parm tomorrow night.” 

“Ma, tomorrow night I’ll be at a book signing.”  By the way, I could remind her that the book in question, Meet Me At Emotional Baggage Claim, is almost entirely stories like this one, about her, but I’m sensing the irony might be lost. 

Mother Mary raises her voice, agitated.  “Then make the parm the next night.” 

“Ma, I have to make it tonight.  So what’s the order –”

“YOU CAN’T MAKE THE PARM IF YOU DIDN’T DRAIN THE EGGPLANT!” 

So, you know where this is going.  Shouting and fighting, ending in false promises, heavy guilt, and mediocre eggplant parm. 

In other words, dinner, Scottoline-style!

© Lisa Scottoline 

Column Classic: Mother Mary Flunks Time Magazine

By Lisa Scottoline

You may have read the article in Time magazine, entitled “The Five Things Your Kids Will Remember About You.”  It was predictably sweetness and light, but none of it reminded me of Mother Mary, who was anything but sweetness and light. She’s been gone almost two years now, and she was more olive oil and vinegar.

In fact, I considered the five things that Time set forth and compared them to Mother Mary, to see how she measured up, magazine-wise.

You can play along, with your mother.

Or if you’ve read the previous books in this series, you could probably fill in the same blanks with Mother Mary stories.

But no spoilers.

So don’t tell anyone about the time Mother Mary refused to use the discount Batman bedsheets because she didn’t want a life-size Batman laying on top of her.

Or the time she took to wearing a lab coat because it gave her an air of authority, plus pockets for her cell phone and back scratcher.

Or the time she grabbed her doctor’s butt to prove that she was ready for cardiac rehab.

Nobody would believe those stories, anyway.

So, to stay on point about the Time magazine article, the first thing that your children are alleged to remember about you is “the times you made them feel safe.”

Awww.

How sweet.

Except that with Mother Mary, what I remember are the times she made me feel unsafe.

Because those were truly memorable.

And my general safety was a given, if less dramatic.

For example, when Brother Frank and I were little, we used to fight, which drove my mother crazy. I remember, one day, she yelled at us to stop fighting and we ignored her, so that she took off her shoe and threw it at us.

She missed, but that didn’t stop her.

Because she had another foot with another shoe.

So she took that shoe off and threw it at us, but she missed with that one, too.

We stopped fighting.

You’re probably thinking that she missed us intentionally, and I’ll let you think that, but you didn’t know Mother Mary.  She loved us in a fiercely Italian-American sort of way, which meant that motherhood and minor personal injury weren’t mutually exclusive.

So lighten up, Time.

The second thing in the article was that your children will supposedly remember “the times you gave them your undivided attention,” and the magazine advised parents to “stop what you’re doing to have a tea party” with your kids.

Again, growing up, I had no doubt that I had my mother’s attention, but it was never undivided and she wasn’t into tea parties.

But she chain-smoked.

Does that count?

Mother Mary was a real mom, busy doing laundry, cooking dinner, and cleaning the house, and though she was always available, she wasn’t staring deeply into our blue eyes.  But every night, the Flying Scottolines would sit on the couch and watch TV, giving it our undivided attention.

We all loved TV, so by the property of association, we all loved each other.

Good enough for me.

The third thing was, your kids will remember “the way you interacted with your children’s spouse.”

This doesn’t apply to The Flying Scottolines, since the statement assumes that the parents interacted.

You can’t win them all.

My parents barely talked to each other, but at least they never fought and nobody was surprised when they divorced. But happily, they both loved us to the marrow, and my brother and I knew that.

What I learned from growing up in a house with an unhappy marriage is that divorce is better.

And so I’m divorced twice.

Which I think is the good news, considering the alternative.

If I can’t have a happy marriage, I’ll have a happy house.

The fourth factor was, you kids will remember “your words of affirmation and your words of criticism.”

I don’t know if Italian-American families have things that can be characterized as words of affirmation, except “I love you.”

And as a child, I heard that at least ten times a day.

But I also heard, “Don’t be so fresh.”

So I grew up thinking that I was lovable and fresh, which might be true.

The last thing in the article was that children would remember “family traditions,” like vacation spots and/or game nights.

The Scottolines weren’t the kind to have “game nights,” but every summer, we did go on vacation to the same brick rowhouse in Atlantic City, New Jersey. All day long, we played on the beach while my parents smoked, and at night we sat on the front porch while assorted relatives dropped by and the adults talked, drank beer, and smoked into the night. When the mosquitoes got too bad, we all trundled inside the house, where the adults played pinochle until my brother and I fell asleep on the couch, to the sound of their gossiping and laughter, breathing in the smoke from their Pall Malls and unfiltered Camels.

We had no oxygen, but a lot of love.

And it wasn’t Norman Rockwell.

But it was perfect.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a moment.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I love you.

And I’m still fresh.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Mother Mary Gets An Idea

By Lisa Scottoline

Certain smells bring back memories of Mother Mary.

Among these are Estée Lauder Youth Dew perfume, More 100’s cigarette smoke – and mozzarella.

Not exactly sentimental, but there you have it.

You can trust that all the memories of The Flying Scottolines will be relate to carbohydrates.

Let me explain.

The other day, I was walking through the food court in the mall and I caught a width of a distinctive aroma.

Bad pizza.

Specifically, frozen pizza.

By way of background, my mother was a terrific cook, especially of Italian food. She made us homemade spaghetti, ravioli, and gnocchi from scratch. As a child, I spent hours watching her.

And it took hours.

If you’ve ever watched anybody make homemade spaghetti, it’s a domestic miracle. A loaf of dough that somehow ends up being rolled out and then fed into a spaghetti maker, coming out like flour-y tinsel.

Same with ravioli, because she mixed the ricotta cheese and seasonings according to her own secret recipe that had a tangy cheesy salty taste I could never duplicate and wouldn’t even try.

And when she made gnocchi’s, she started with the dough, but rolled it out into long skinny tubes, cut it into little chunks, and then floured her fingers and pinched each chunk, making the special dimpling that marks the best gnocchis – made by hand, dimpled by fingertips.

The problem was pizza.

When we were growing up, I wanted to be like the other kids, who got pizza delivered or had somebody go pick up pizza and brought it home. We never did that, because Mother Mary felt that since it was Italian food, it would be heresy to buy it at a restaurant. But she had no interest in making homemade pizza, and who could blame her, so she would buy it frozen at the Acme.

Or as we say in South Philly, the Ac-a-me.

She bought a no-name brand in a plastic bag, with ten small pizzas stacked on each other, as appetizing as hockey pucks.

She cooked it at home.

For three hours.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but she overcooked the pizza every time, refusing to follow the directions. She wouldn’t even let me follow the directions. It was her kitchen, so she did the cooking, which meant that our pizza always sucked.

And let’s be real, back then, it was the dark ages of frozen pizza.

In fairness to Mother Mary, overcooking was the only chance that frozen pizza had of drying out, otherwise the crust stayed soggy and the tomato sauce distilled to hot ketchup.

So as I entered high school, I ended up at a friend’s house and they ordered pizza from a great neighborhood pizza place, Marrone’s.

I was hooked.

So one night, when Mother Mary wanted to make frozen pizza, I told her about the magic of store-bought pizza at Marrone’s, but she wasn’t having any. We fussed about it, but amazingly I persuaded her to give it a try.

Mother Mary was delightfully stubborn. You could move the Mummers up Broad Street easier.

So I went to Marrone’s, bought an actual take-out pizza, and brought it home.

Mother Mary opened the box, and we all waited in suspense while she slid out the first piece and cut the mozzarella strings with the gravity of a surgeon servering an umbilical cord. She took a bite, chewed, swallowed, and then said with a wink:

“I knew it would be better than frozen.”

From that day forward, we ordered from Marrone’s.

And I forgot all about that story until I walked through the mall the other day, and smelled the mozzarella.

I knew that somewhere, Mother Mary was winking.

Grief is funny that way, bringing back the good and the bad, the funny foods and the dumb fights.

And most of all, the love.

That never goes away.

And the best of it is homemade.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Banana Fanna Fo

by Lisa Scottoline

I just found out that Mother Mary has been living under an alias. 

You would think that I’d know my mother’s real name. After all, she’s 86, I’m 55, and it’s the kind of thing that’s generally well-established by now. But Mother Mary is full of mysteries.

Let me explain.

You may recall that I took her back to the airport after her last visit, and she almost wasn’t allowed to board the plane to Miami, because her ID card had expired. The airline let her fly only because she was carrying her social security card. Of course, you could have guessed that Mother Mary carries her social security card. She also carries her voter registration card and a photo of Tom Selleck that she claims came with her wallet, but I don’t believe her.

I suspect she just likes Tom Selleck.

Wallets haven’t come with photos since the days of Troy Donohue. Photos don’t even come with photos anymore. All the photos are in the cell phones, guaranteeing that the moments of our lives will last as long as a SIM card.

To continue the story, Brother Frank took her to the DMV for a new ID card, but they wouldn’t renew her card because her last name, which is Scottoline, was different than the one on her birth certificate, which is Lopo. She had to go home and obtain her marriage and divorce certificates from when she married and divorced my father, and she also had to get the marriage and divorce certificates of the guy she married and divorced before my father, since she’s divorced twice, in the manner of all Scottoline women, who need a couple of tries to get something right and often never do.

So she obtained the necessary documents and they went back to the DMV, where they waited in line for three hours, during which Brother Frank tells me that Mother Mary morphed into Line Police. He didn’t need to elaborate; I’ve waited in plenty of lines with Mother Mary, and I know the drill. She watches everything and everybody in the line. 

She makes the average hawk look asleep at the switch.

Mother Mary makes sure that nobody is butting in, holding a place for someone else, or taking too long at the counter. All such infractions are met with eye-rolling, theatrical sighing, or a well-timed, “oh, come on!” And if the line shifts forward but the person in front of her doesn’t move instantly, she’ll lean over, wave him ahead, and say, “Go.”

Her finest moment arises when she spots the person who Just Has A Question.

You’ve seen this person.

They act agitated when they bypass the line and go straight to the counter, as if their question roiled their very soul. Most people ignore the person who Just Has A Question. Not Mother Mary. I’ve seen her stop the person who Just Has A Question and tell him he can take his question to the back of the line where it belongs.

And once, she said to him, “I just have a question, too. Why are you butting in line?”

But to stay on point, she finally gets to the DMV counter, and the clerk is about to issue her a new ID card when he notices something. Mother Mary’s birth certificate doesn’t read Mary Lopo, but Maria Lopo.

“So what?” Mother Mary asked him, and me, later, when she tells me the story.

“Your name isn’t Mary?” I’m dumbfounded. “All my life, you told me your name was Mary.”

“It is. Maria is Mary in Italian.”

“But this isn’t Italy, Mom. Mary and Maria are two different names. I thought your name was Mary, but it’s Maria. How did I not know this?”

“They’re not different names.”

“Yes, they are. That’s why the man couldn’t give you an ID card that says Mary.”

“So now I got an ID card that says Maria Scottoline, but it doesn’t match my bills, my credit cards, my social security card, or my deed.”

“Your name really isn’t Mary?” I ask, still flabbergasted. Twenty years ago, I named my first fictional character, Mary DiNunzio, after her. And for years, I’ve been calling her Mother Mary. But she isn’t Mother Mary. She’s Mother Maria.

She keeps talking away.

But I don’t listen. I don’t understand at all.

I’m the person who Just Has A Question.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Breezy

By Lisa Scottoline

The great thing about summer is that we all take the time to slow down, which is especially necessary in a world buzzing with laptops and phones. Today I am marveling at the most perfect low-tech invention of all time:

The fan.

How great is a fan? No bells, whistles, or BTUs. It’s plastic, and it cost only fifteen dollars. You can’t even buy gum for fifteen dollars. I am in love with my fan, even though I have bad childhood memories of same.

Let me back up.

Growing up, we had no air conditioning, and I remember going to my friends’ houses, where they did. My best friend Rachel had something mysterious and great called Central Air, and we loved it so much that we would leave her house only for the movies, where they had air-conditioning and a blue banner that advertised as much, in letters so cold that they formed icicles.

Don’t pretend you don’t remember that sign, because you do.

Anyway at home, we had window fans, which were the source of much discord. The big debate was whether to turn them out or in. To me, even at age twelve, this was a no-brainer. One side blows air at you, and one side doesn’t. So which side should face you, as you sweat your butt off?

Of course.

Stick the fan in the window, so that it blows air on you. My father, brother, and I were aligned on this opinion, but we did not prevail, as we lived with a meteorologist.

Mother Mary.

You may not have known she was a meteorologist, but she was, when it came to interior weather. By the way, she was also a doctor, when it came to swimming after eating. And an electrician, when it came to toasters near water. Mothers are women of invisible degrees, and she was no exception.

Mother Mary held that the fan should be in the window turned out, so that it did not blow on you. Her theory was that if it was turned out, it would suck all the hot air from the room and blow it outside, thus cooling the room. Sadly, the fan came with no instructions to settle the argument, and in the end, you know who prevailed, so we turned our window fans out and sweated in our living room.

Yes, it sucked.

Mother Mary also believed in cross-ventilation. In fact, if you ever meet her, don’t get her started on cross-ventilation. She can talk about cross-ventilation like some people talk about politics. According to her, you should throw open two windows opposite from each other, and the air from one window will be sucked in, whoosh magically across the room, and blow out the other window, thus cooling all the Scottolines sweating inside.

This sucked, too.

We waited and waited for a breeze to cross-ventilate us, yet it never happened. So we whined and whined for an conditioner, and one day, they relented, albeit with a compromise. We would use fans and cross-ventilation in the living room, and in the dining room, we installed a window air-conditioner, which supposedly had enough BTUs to cool the entire first floor.

It didn’t.

It cooled the dining room, but we never used the dining room except for Christmas, Easter, or another day when something really good happened to Jesus Christ.

And the TV was in the living room, so we were always in the living room, sweating amid the inside-out fans and nonexistent cross-ventilation, while the dining room remained frosty, if empty.

When I grew up, I got to be the mother, so my house has central air, window air conditioners, and fans.

Overcompensate, much?

But this summer has been so cool that I’m using only the fan. It sits in the window next to my bed and whirrs pleasantly all night, cooling dogs, cats, and one middle-aged woman.

And it blows inside, the way God and General Electric intended.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Bizarro Birthdays

By Lisa Scottoline

I just got off the phone with Mother Mary, who’s lost her mind. Or maybe it’s Scottoline birthday madness.

Let me explain.

She told me a story that happened to her that day, when she was going outside to do the laundry.

Yes, you read that right.

She lives in Miami with brother Frank and she goes outside to do the laundry because they keep their washer and dryer in the backyard.

This makes no sense to me, but she swears that it’s common in Florida to keep major appliances in the backyard, like shrubs with twenty-year warranties.

Still, it’s hard for me to believe. I suspect that my mother and brother are redneck Italians.

But never mind, that’s not the point of the story.

So Mother Mary is going outside to put in a load of laundry and she sees one of her neighbors, a nice young woman, walking her two-year-old son by the hand. My mother stops to say hello, and the little boy looks up at her with big blue eyes and says:

“I love you, Mary.”

So of course my mother melts, because she loves kids, and she even gets choked up telling me on the phone. The whole story is sounding really sweet until she gets to the next part, which is when she asks the mother of the toddler when is his birthday, and the woman answers:

November 23.

Okay, means nothing to you, but that’s brother Frank’s birthday.

And on the phone, my mother tells me: “I looked at that little boy, and I thought he was like Frank. Like he has your brother’s soul.”

I thought I heard her wrong. “Pardon?”

“When he said he loved me, I looked into his eyes and I could see his soul, and it was Frank’s soul.”

“You mean they’re alike?”

“No, I mean they’re the same.”

I tried to deal. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No. I’m telling you, he has the same exact blue eyes as Frank and he was born on the same day. He has Frank’s soul.”

“Ma, Frank still has his soul. He’s not dead yet.”

“I know that,” she said, irritably. “They share the same soul.”

“Ma, that’s crazy.”

“Sorry, but I know, I can tell. Remember the earthquake?”

This shuts me up, temporarily. It’s matter of public record that Mother Mary was the only person in Miami to feel an earthquake that took place in Tampa, and the South Florida newspapers even dubbed her Earthquake Mary. Ever since then, she thinks she’s Al Roker, but supernatural.

She said, “It’s the same soul. Absolutely.”

“Ma, just because they have the same birthday doesn’t mean they have the same soul.”

“Hmph. What do you know, about birthdays?”

She was referring to something I’ll never live down, which happened to me over twenty years ago, when daughter Francesca was three years old. I had taken her in a stroller into an optician’s shop in town, and a man walked through the door, pointed directly at Francesca, and said: “Her birthday is February 6.”

I was astounded. “How do you know?”

“I just do.”

I went home that day and called my mother. “Ma, some guy just guessed that Francesca’s birthday is February 6! Isn’t that amazing?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because her birthday is February 7.”

I blinked. “It is?”

“Yes, dummy.”

Look, I have no idea how it happened, but for the first three years of Francesca’s life, I celebrated her birthday on the wrong day.

Sue me.

Maybe it’s because I was in labor for 349,484 hours, so the exact day she was born seemed like a technicality. And since then, it was just she and I celebrating a day earlier, with nobody around to know better.

So now I can never say anything about birthdays, ever.

But at least I know where everybody’s soul should be.

And their washer-dryers, too.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline