Writerly Advice

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.” — Mark Twain


A company’s “brand” is “the sum-total of their consumer’s experience with them. It’s how the consumer remembers them…the emotions they associate with the company, the images they think of when they hear the company’s name, that knee-jerk reaction when the company comes up in conversation.” (MojoLoco LLC)

And with that, I would like to say that I’d like to kick that blue-and-white striped AT&T ball to hell and back. I got branded by AT&T with a hot sizzling iron. The letters are still raw and bleeding on my rump. I won’t ever forget their company brand, and I’m sure they spent a lot of money to create it.

What you need to know, if you don’t already, is that when you sign up with AT&T for a 12-month term or a 24-month term or a 36-month term, that term automatically renews for another 12, 24, or 36 months every time it expires. In other words, your contract never ends. Even when you die. Unless you take action and sit down and write AT&T a letter 180 days beforehand and tell them you don’t want the contract to renew. The burden is on you. Of course.

What I didn’t know is that my husband was going to die. It happened suddenly.

We were probably the last business in the country to cling to our ISDN line, simply because we did not want to enter a contract with AT&T. We called on at least three occasions to add DSL and change our service plan, but backed away because we did not trust the salesperson to deliver. Hmmm. Prophetic. Then when we finally negotiated an agreement with Mr. Ruffin, we made sure to ask that it was a short-term contract (I initialed 24 months) and we could move the contract if we moved our business to another location.

“So this contract will be over in 24 months?”



Our business signed the 24-month contract 30 months ago. We did most of our negotiating up front. Unfortunately. Somehow the word “renewable” slipped into that contract. The salesman neglected to explain it, and in the course of business and busy-ness, all was overlooked. Boy golly, how stupid we were and how we were duped into thinking we had covered the bases and gotten what we’d asked for and wanted! What in the world ever made us think that could happen?

No problem. We’d been loyal AT&T customers for 19 years in that business and longer than that with home service. We weren’t planning to leave them. E-ver.

But it all came back to bite. My husband died.

When I called to cancel the phone lines, the representative said she didn’t see any contract on the account, and I agreed that it was signed well over two years ago. She also said if they did pull up one and charge a termination fee, she didn’t see any problem with them releasing me from that because of the death of the business owner involved. Extenuating circumstances, you know. Just call back, she said, if that happens. I’m sure there won’t be any problem.


We didn’t count on death. When death comes suddenly and takes away the person whose name is on the phone bill, the contract remains in place and must be honored by the dead person. When death comes suddenly and shuts down the business, the contract remains. The dead person must pay a hefty fee to cancel his phone service.

I got a bill for breach of contract in the amount of $360 from AT&T because my husband died and can no longer run his business or answer his phones. Total with taxes: $394.38. Yes, I must pay taxes on the penalty for death.

AT&T said they were sorry their customer died, but he still had to pay the penalty for canceling his service early. They couldn’t help it, couldn’t do a thing about it. A contract is a legal and binding document, after all, and even though he is dead and his company doesn’t exist, he has to pay that contract termination fee. AT&T said they have no provision for extenuating circumstances. It’s just too bad. Make payment arrangements, they said. They didn’t care.

I have had to make dozens of calls since my husband died to cancel this or that because it wasn’t needed any more. Big companies have been gracious and quick to deal with the situation and have resolved it with professionalism and compassion and have treated me like a human being, as well as a respected customer. Thank you: Chase (the best!), Bank of America, Globe Life, Verizon (over and above the call of duty!), State Farm, Auto Owners, Holiday Inn, Social Security Administration…and the list goes on and on.

AT&T is not on this list of companies trained to handle a death situation. They are cold and hard and unreasonable and they do not care about their customers. Nor do they care about their own brand and what their customers think about them.

If you have service with AT&T, write them in your will because you will be paying. Set aside a chunk of money to cover your contract after you die. After all, a contract is a contract. People die. Contracts don’t. And contracts are important. People aren’t.

I won’t be showing loyalty to any company any more, whether I’ve been with them 3 years or 30. It’s a dog eat dog world. And I certainly won’t forget the image that sickening blue-and-white ball conjures up in my mind.

UPDATE: [September] AT&T reconsidered and wiped out the contract termination fee. My balance is zero. There is a little heart in that circle after all. Thank you, AT&T.

Barney’s Car

Nancy and I went to Leiper’s Fork last Saturday and ate the world’s best hamburger at the city market on the edge of town. Then we ate homemade carrot cake at The Back Porch. After walking around browsing in shops, I tried to get inside the Mayberry patrol car sitting by Puckett’s Grocery. It was locked, but it looked just like my old 1960 green Fairlane 500 that I drove all through high school.

Barney's Car

Barney's Car

On the back of the car is Mt. Pilot Ford, Mt. Pilot, North Carolina. I can almost see Barney and Thelma Lou in the front seat. Or Andy and Helen. Or Gomer running after Barney yelling, “Citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest!”

Mt. Pilot Ford

Mt. Pilot Ford

I am hooked on Andy Griffith reruns. I watch two in a row every night at 10:00 and 10:30. I’ve seen each one at least forty times. Barney was brilliant, and his character never grows old. I’ve memorized almost every line and I’ve oft quoted his famous “Nip it, nip it, nip it in the bud.” It’s a light experience at the end of a hectic day.

Besides, the dog knows when she hears that familiar whistled melody that it’s time for her to go to sleep.

Peaches, Canned and Otherwise

This time of year the air at the Farmers’ Market is flooded with the smell of ripe peaches. Baskets and crates and piles of them sit in the heat, further ripening, bruising with each sampled picking up and putting back down. They are fat and soft, just the right color, juicy, and their smell is worthy of just one more long sniff.

Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, I didn’t have peaches like this to eat. There were orchards here and there and the grocery store carried fresh peaches, but they always seemed to be the size of a walnut, and the fruit was as hard as the woody center. We’d chip off green pieces to go over our Rice Krispies.

Most of the peaches I ate came from a can filled to the tip top with a corn syrupy liquid. They were shiny smooth yellow and came in uniform slices or halves. We might’ve had a little bowl full of slippery slimy peach slices, or Mama would set them on a plate next to our green beans, and the beans would take on peach flavor. We’d have a peach half with cottage cheese in its depression, whey running alongside peach juice in a stream, like yin and yang. It was enough to make any kid pass on the fruit group for the day.

But there was one dish Mama put together using canned peaches that I still have a hankering for today. Chocolate cake covered with peach slices and peach juice.

She’d bake a two-layer devil’s food with her homemade chocolate icing of butter, cocoa, confectioner’s sugar, and cream. Then she’d cut a slice and put it in a bowl. She’d open a can of peaches and put a few slices on top and then pour heavy juice straight from the can on top of it all. It made a nice presentation — rich dark brown slice of crumbly cake, rich wet yellow slices of peaches — opposing textures, complimentary flavors. She’d set the white bowl down on the yellow Formica table. We always used white dishes in our family because Dad was a barber and wanted to see any hairs that might fall onto his plate.

The peach syrup would soak into the devil’s food and the cake would sort of sink and crumble into it. I’d spoon a bite of wet crumbs with a hunk of icing and some juice and let it linger between my tongue and the roof of my mouth so I could absorb the full flavor. I preferred the peach juice mixed with cake over the actual rubbery slices of peaches and cake, but either way it was a memorable dish that Mama liked herself and fed to us many times over the course of my childhood. It’s one of those things that most people curl up their lips and wrinkle their noses over. It’s one of those things most mothers didn’t serve up to their children. It’s one more way my childhood was different. Light and dark…and sweet.

Black or Green or Orange Pekoe?

“Drink your tea!”

He bellows the imperative from the top of Lemansky’s Bradford Pear, three houses down. I am casually riding my bike and can’t resist stopping to look for him, as he hides behind thick green leaves. He says it again. Then he jumps to the ground and runs over to Jan’s yard, ducking behind her air conditioning unit.

He wears a black hood. His eyes are red.

“Drink your tea-e-e-e-e-e!” He sings it, the second note lower, the third higher, ending in a falsetto trill.

He forages on the ground. He flicks his tail as he hops. It has a white mark at the tip of it and it makes for a nice show as he does a jig.

He’s an Eastern Towhee. He looks like a big robin. He makes a memorable sound that mimics real words and draws a smile on my face every time.

“Drink your tea-e-e-e-e-e!”

Bikes and Tunnels, Oh My!

I’ve wanted to go through those tunnels for more than a decade, and by golly, I finally did it!

Fieldstone Farms is a large neighborhood with two thousand homes and a network of paths and trails on both sides of busy Hillsboro Road between Franklin and Nashville. The shopping center with Publix, Walgreens, The UPS Store, Blockbuster, Bricks Restaurant, and so on is on the other side of Hillsboro from the circle on which I live, and I would never be brave enough to cross the busy speedway on my bike. But alas, there are the tunnels: one that goes under Fieldstone Parkway and then immediately veers eastward and goes under Hillsboro Road.

When the sons were home last week, we got the bikes out one evening and headed to Walgreens. I had no idea how to even access the tunnels, but Son #2 did, so he directed the journey…and snapped pictures of me from behind.

Tunnel under Hillsboro Road

They close the gates at dark, and I kept worrying they would somehow automatically shut as we were crossing through, but they didn’t. It’s dark inside, a little scary, but very handy.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Light at the End of the Tunnel

An Open Door

We have something new at our house. Something we’ve needed for a long time, but one of those projects my engineer husband had studied thoroughly and would’ve had to have it all measured out and exactly right and it was one of those things that this approach would not support. However, in the end, knowing what I know about how my two sons approach projects with abandon and with the creative side of their brains and with the thought they can do anything, I enlisted them. And voila! Done in one day, except for the painting and rehanging of the blinds.

Doggy Door

Doggy Door

I wasn’t sure I could teach an old dog new tricks, but I got down on the floor and repeated her new mantra — Push it, go outside, tee tee — and tried to stick my head through the door. I ended up giving her a shove from behind. She didn’t mind coming in, but was hesitant about going out at first. Now when the doggy door is unlocked and open, she sails out. She scoots her behind on the patio, eats dead locust shells, sniffs in the ivy, and checks out the perimeters.

It has brought some smiles to the household.

"I'm free at last!"

"I'm free at last!"