The Suitcase Lady


April 6, 2021, 9:03 pm

Note: I wrote this blog last year, just before Covid hit. All road trips were ended, and I put  the blog in my saved pile. A few weeks ago, with vaccinations and hope on the rise, I retrieved it. And then, last week, this sad news appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

“Larry McMurtry, a prolific novelist and screenwriter who demythologized the American West with his unromantic depictions of life on the 19th-century frontier and contemporary small-town Texas, died at his home in Archer City, Texas. He was 84.”

Ironically, I recently read a book about road travel while flying in an airplane. The book was a serendipitous purchase found on my library’s sale shelves.

Entitled Roads by Larry McMurtry, the book was calling to me. Mr. McMurtry is one of my favorite authors and Driving America’s Great Highways (the book’s subtitle) is one of my favorite things to do. I quickly parted with the fifty-cent purchase price.

Lonesome Dove, Terms Of Endearment and The Last Picture Show are among McMurtry’s many highly acclaimed novels. Book lovers also know him as an avid collector of rare books. At one time, he ran four bookstores in his tiny hometown, Archer, Texas. His travel books number 3,000, and he has read every one.

He explains his rationale for Roads as follows,” I merely want to roll along the great roads, the major migration routes that carry Americans quickly east-west or north-south. What I really want to do is look.”

His method for doing this consisted of flying to a distant city once a month for ten consecutive months, immediately renting a car and driving home, mainly on interstate highways and logging between 800 or 900 miles a day. For example, San Diego to Tucson to Archer City on the 8, the 10 and the 20. Many people would consider this insanity, but for some of us nomads, happiness is a clear sky and an open road.

I’ve driven many of his drives or major portions of them myself. Some are so familiar to me that I have the routes memorized. But what fun it was to see these trips through someone else’s eyes and mind. McMurtry reveals the history of the land he traverses as well as the literary giants who were formed by the varying American landscapes. The book is a vicarious road trip with an extremely erudite driver.

These words he uses to describe his massive travels are, to me, absolutely perfect.

“Being alone in a car is to be protected for a time from the pressures of day-to-day life; it’s like being in one’s own time machine, in which the mind can rove ahead to the future or scan the past. When I’m getting ready to start a novel, I’ve always found that driving across the country for a few hundred miles is a good way to get ready. I may not be forming scenes or thinking about characters – indeed, may not be thinking of much of anything on these drives. But I’m getting ready, all the same.”

I so agree. The open road is a great muse.

Photo: Mary Tooley

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March 30, 2021, 8:54 pm

Easter is almost upon us, and rabbits are on our minds. What better time to talk about a recent scientific discovery, a rabbit-like creature that glows in the dark. For real.

Getting a glow on in the animal world is not uncommon. Fish and other sea creatures in the dark zones of the ocean do it all the time. And summer night skies are lighted up by fireflies flashing signals to their potential mates. But mammals have never been known to be flashy…until now.

Jonathan Martin is a biology professor at Northland College on the shores of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wisconsin. One night he was flashing a U.V. light around while taking a nighttime hike. Much to his surprise, a flying squirrel glowed bright pink.

This serendipitous discovery led him to start shining his U.V. light on other mammal species to see if they would fluoresce as well. He soon discovered that opossums got a glow on, too.

A trip to the Field Museum in Chicago to check out their preserved specimens followed. One of Dr. Martin’s associates, Professor Paula Spaeth Anich, describes the outcome. “We pulled the monotreme (egg-laying mammals) drawer, and we shined our ultraviolet light on the platypuses. And they were incredibly, vividly fluorescent green and blue.”

More drawers were opened including one that contained preserved springhares, a rabbit-like African rodent. Their fur glowed a bright pink-orange color. Wanting to know if living springhares also glowed, the team contacted zoos that had them in residence. Black lights were shined, and the springhares put on a light show.

Now the next big question is why do these nocturnal mammals shine? Theories abound, but the answer remains elusive. What is known is this…nature never fails to astonish.

Photo: Orlando Sentinel

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March 24, 2021, 12:27 am

When I checked my calendar to see which date Easter fell on this year, I did a double take. “Not fair,” was my first thought. Easter is on April 4th which is also the date of our wedding anniversary (number 57). I felt like the kid whose birthday is on December 25th.

I immediately found my husband to give him the news. “Perhaps we will have to get up very early on April 4th so we can have breakfast and fit in two dinners,” I said. “Otherwise, we will be cheated out of one of our celebratory meals.” We both laughed, as we are not early risers or fans of overindulgence. We vividly remember those Christmas holidays when we were newly married and had to eat two holiday meals in a day, one at his parents and one at mine.

We immediately started considering our options. Since Easter is not a fixed date but one of those moon-oriented holidays, maybe we could just choose another Sunday for the Easter dinner. There’s nothing sacred about April 4th and Easter.

Another thought was to celebrate our anniversary on Saturday night, April 3rd, which would be our anniversary eve. This idea seemed like the best solution as we are both romantics and romantics know that Saturday night is date night.

With the dilemma resolved, we turned our thoughts to the important matter of what would be on the menus. Good food and the time to enjoy it are two of the critical components of any holiday.

Pasta Primavera, Spaghetti Florentine, Cheese Fondue and Julia Child’s Spinach Turnover are the top contenders for the entrees. Dessert for Easter is a given: every year we  make cut out bunny cookies from Scotch shortbread dough.  The anniversary dessert is still under discussion, but the wine is a certainty. Proseco is always our pick when we need celebratory bubbles.

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March 16, 2021, 2:08 pm

Epitome is a lovely word, and I saw an epitome in action the other day. I walked into our upstairs bathroom (14 inches at its narrowest point) and almost stepped on Guy, our sweet, gray cat. He was sprawled on his side with his paws gently resting on the baseboard of the vanity. Between his paws was the baseboard heating duct which was delivering a steady stream of toasty warm air. Guy had discovered the epitome of cat comfort, his own source of tummy-warming decadence.

We can thank the Greeks for the word epitome, although its meaning has changed down through the centuries. The original word, “epitemnein”, means to cut short or abridge. British dictionaries define the current meaning of the word as “the typical or highest example of a stated quality” while American dictionaries say “the best possible example of something”. An epitome is what happens when the mundane is cut out.

It’s enjoyable to fantasize about the epitomes that could be enjoyed if a windfall came into one’s life. Here are a few of mine.

  • The epitome of luxury… staying in five star hotels where everything gleams and the beds would please even that princess that had the pea problem.
  • The epitome of house features… a garage with a ceramic tile floor and a built-in car wash.
  • The epitome of fashion… the designer clothes from the 1950s.

Enjoy your epitomes, whatever they may be.

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March 9, 2021, 2:07 pm

I woke up the other morning and looked out the front windows to discover it had been a busy night in our yard. Multiple deer hoof prints in the snow came up the path to our front porch, and a rabbit had visited us as well. Other animal tracks crisscrossed our yard. While we were sleeping, our homestead was hopping. One of our main goals in moving to the country was the desire to coexist with nature. Our wish is most definitely being fulfilled. 

Sharing our space with our fellow creatures was not as easy at our city home of thirty years. The possum who took up residence under our deck and the raccoons who wandered up from the nearby creek at night were not welcomed by our neighbors. We were told that the bird who built a nest over our back door was “too messy” and the crows were “too noisy”. To fit into this neighborhood, every blade of grass had to be mowed down with precision and all wildlife had to be banished.

Among the biggest delights at our country home are the animal visitors, both diurnal and nocturnal. I often wonder how many living things are calling our land home in one day. The answer is probably millions. The spiders alone constitute a nation, and in a few months the gnat towers will be swirling above our meadow. These swarms of mating insects look exactly like black tornadoes. Coexistence with these creatures means turning off all unnecessary lights in the house when their sex orgies are ongoing.

I must confess that we put out the welcome mat to our animal friends by running the Tooley Café in our side yard. By purchasing trunkfuls of seeds, corn, suet and nuts, we provide dependable feasts all year round. They, in return, give us endless entertainment which is far better than any wildlife videos.

In almost 25 years of living in the country, only one visitor was unwelcome. The mink was a true terror. It raced through the neighborhood attacking everything in sight and even chasing chipmunks through drainpipes. We were not unhappy when, of its own accord, it decided to leave the vicinity.

But on most days, we can live by the maxim on this lovely piece of art from the Trick Dog Gallery:

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