Category Archives: Hardy Family

The magic in names: slavery and my family

noni mike_NEW

Michael and Noni

My brother Michael remembers Noni,  our paternal grandmother, asking him, “Don’t you think it would be just terrible if you had to go to school with little colored boys and girls?” This would have been in 1954, just after Brown vs. the Board of Education; Mike would have been nine at the time. He remembered thinking about the black boys he played with at the swimming hole and in the park — about Dave and Frank and Harry — and said no, he wouldn’t mind.   He thought it would be kind of fun.

By the time I knew Noni, she was slip-sliding down into the slough of senility, thanks to a decades-long drug habit. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t exactly love her either. Dementia is never endearing and perhaps I sensed the hostility between her and my mother, although I was not to understand the considerable animus between those two until I was an adult. And then there was Noni’s every-Christmas-without-fail gift to me — a set of three gi-normous old lady panties. This was a gift to which I took considerable umbrage. Did my grandmother really think my ass was THAT big?

If my brain were an attic, in one part of that attic, tucked away down under the eaves, you’d find a mildewed hatbox full to bursting with mouldering confederate money, a battered steamer trunk stuffed with moth-eaten petticoats and tattered ball gowns and, a musty, dog-eared history of the Eastern North Carolina branch of the Hardy family published in 1964 by one David Hardee. Hardee, Hardie, Hardy – we’re all the same family; it was just that some of us could spell and others not. Lately, I’ve been poking around in that old corner of the attic, stirring up dust, sending up ragged clouds of moths, sifting through old mouse poop in an attempt to understand my family in the context of history and of race.

Which was how I stumbled upon an inventory of the Bertie County, North Carolina estate of  my forebear William Hardy. According to a will drawn up in 1793, the estate included:

  • Farm equipment — saws, fire tongs, shovels, hoes;
  • Produce – corn, potatoes, salt, flour, flax, cotton;
  • Livestock – 5 horses, 34 cattle, 15 sheep, 14 sows, 65 pigs and 47 other hogs, 22 chickens, 25 turkeys and 47 other fowls, 4 stocks of bees, a yoke of oxen;
  • Books – a Bible, Prayer Book, 3 volumes of Mares arithmetic, Harvey’s Meditations;
  • Furniture – tables, table cloths, chests, 4 beds, 2 pillows, 12 chairs, pots, pans, candles, candle snuffers, candlesticks, glasses, plates, knives, forks;
  • Tools and supplies– one file, one surveyor chair, money scales, 5 spinning wheels, 5 pairs of cards, carpenter tools, 1 cart, 67 weight of pewter, 2 saddles, 2 bridles, 2 grindstones, tailor shears, looking glasses, mill picks, writing paper, 40 barrels of turpentine, 1 bag, 2 wallets, 2 towels, guns

It also included, “Negroes as follows: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew, Daniel,  Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Woman Bell, Woman Penn, Girl Rose, Girl Easter, Girl Polly.”

According to the will, the slaves were to be divided between William’s wife Sarah and his children. Only the sons got land, but everybody “received” one or two in slaves in formulations that read like this:

“Sarah Sutton received Matt and Simon and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 8 pence.”

“Lamb Hardy received his 1/6 part of the land, negro boy Daniel, and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 12 pence.”

It was their names that got me. You don’t think of a slave being named Dave, for example, or Frank or Harry and yet Dave and Frank and Harry they were and Penn and Rose and Easter and negro boy Daniel . . . and they were passed down from father to child in the same breath as forty barrels of turpentine (William was a cooper by trade) or a yoke of oxen. According to a Census of Bertie County taken some 67 years later in 1860, Ellinor Hardy, Humphrey Hardy and Jason Hardy all owned slaves — 79, 33 and 39 respectively — but these were merely enumerated; they were not named. The fact that I know the names of William Hardy’s slaves makes them more real for me.   Whereas Noni lamented a future in which her precious grandson might have to go to school with nameless “little colored boys and girls,”  Michael knew the names of his playmates and did not find the prospect of associating with them in any way problematic.  There is a kind of magic in names.

family crestIf I believed in God, I would ask Him for forgiveness — for generations of my family going back three centuries, for my demented. racist grandmother, and for myself.   But I don’t believe in God, so, instead, I’m sending this out across the arc of history, across the span of 220 years that separates us in time: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew,  Frank, Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Bell, Penn, Rose, Easter, and Polly,  I am sorry and I’m ashamed.

And now it’s high time I clean out that bloody attic.



American Thanksgiving . . . meh

Me with my daughter Sabrina and my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving

Me dandling daughter Sabrina with my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving

I’ve never been keen on American Thanksgiving. In the first place, it’s way too close to Christmas. The memory of my grossly distended belly and the self-loathing that invariably attends that phenomenon have scarcely begun to fade before there it is again: The Holiday Meal, in the case of my family, the exact same meal we ate a month earlier, including the dressing which we always had to call rice because my brother Peter refused, for some reason, to eat anything called dressing.

Then there’s the 2 p.m. timing of the meal. It’s Thanksgiving dinner, for God’s sake, not Thanksgiving lunch!   If Thanksgiving dinner happened at a decent hour – any time after 6 p.m., for example – the torment of having to remain awake while cruelly stuffed might be mitigated by an early bedtime. But, no. This insistence on an “early dinner” blows a black hole in the middle of your day — everything is sucked into it; nothing can escape its relentless gravitational pull, and you are left to lie there, beached and disconsolate, a helpless, unwitting witness to the televised spectacle of giant men in tight pants sustaining the kind of traumatic brain injuries that lead to dementia, debilitating neurological diseases and suicide. By which I mean football.

Great Dane Lovey admires the turkey

Great Dane Lovey scrutinizes the turkey

My family is surprisingly functional – which is not to say that we don’t have our fair share of little traumas, pretty much all of which can be characterized, as per my daughter Alice, as, “first world problems”. However, not even we were not immune to the kind of dysfunction that seems to go along with quivering tubes of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie that looks like baby pooh. Case in point: one Thanksgiving when we were children, my mother, frustrated at my brother who was being all winge-y, shook him. Now my parents were not into corporeal punishment; Mom far preferred a good shaming larded with barely veiled threats that she was on the verge of disowning us, as conveyed by such statements as, “No child of mine would ever do (that thing you just did).” All this to say that Mom probably didn’t shake Peter very hard, but, on that one occasion, shake him she did, and, every year thereafter, Peter would kick off Thanksgiving dinner by dolefully recollecting, “And then there was that Thanksgiving Mom shook me. . . ,” sending the poor woman into fresh paroxysms of guilt.

Sometimes we had Thanksgiving Dinner at my paternal grandparents in Hillsborough, North Carolina. My Aunt Elaine and Uncle Clyde would come down from Winston-Salem and Aunt Elaine, who was something of a gourmet cook at a time when that was regarded with some suspicion in the South, would bring along a little something for the family to savor. One year she presented the assembled, bleary crew with tomato aspic, confounding us all. “What is this?” “Do you eat it?”   This reminds me of a conversation we had with my husband’s Auntie Gloria in which she described the eating habits of her daughter-in-law. “She eats strange things,” Gloria confided in us. “Like vegetables.”

Between her alcoholism and her morphine addiction, my grandmother had succeeded in pickling herself by the time my memories of her congealed into some kind of coherence. Noni contributed but one dish to the Thanksgiving feast – her signature dish, a sweet potato,marshmallow casserole awash in a sea of bourbon. At fifteen minute intervals throughout the dinner preparations, Noni would lurch to her feet, weave her way to the kitchen, baste the sweet potatoes, baste herself and return to the living room to stew in her own juice.

My father carves as my mother looks on

My father carves as my mother smiles for the camera

In the meanwhile my grandfather, by dint of steady  drinking, would wax from sentimental to downright maudlin before deciding to check on the mail.  I would accompany him to the mailbox at the end of the long driveway, both of us knowing full well that there was no mail on Thanksgiving but that we needed the air.

So, all in all, I’m thankful for Canadian Thanksgiving, which takes place in the second week of October.  Canadian Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest rather than that time before we exterminated them that Native Americans saved our bacon.  It doesn’t result in a four-day holiday and, therefore, a loyalty test wherein persons are forced to travel vast distances in inclement weather to prove that they love their families of origin. And finally, being on a Monday, Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t followed by Black Friday, about which don’t get me started.  And then there’s the fact that my ex chose Canadian Thanksgiving 1989 to come out of the closet — scarcely festive at the time, but, in the great scheme of things, something for which I am truly grateful.

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Enjoying ill health

Me, Mom and Peter

Me, Mom and Peter

My mother took a dim view of people who, in her words, “enjoyed ill health,” which meant that, any time I sought to be absent from school due to illness, she would ask me two questions:

1) “Do you have a fever?”

2) “Are you projectile vomiting?”

If the answer to both these two questions was, “No,” then, as far as my mother was concerned, I was good to go. For some reason diarrhea did not make the cut of maladies deemed note-worthy, presumably because diarrhea, though loathsome, tends to take place in bathrooms, whereas vomiting is more likely to be spontaneous, resulting in messes mothers would be expected to clean up.  (When it came to vomit, Mom greatly preferred dogs to children, since dogs, given a sufficient interlude, are inclined to return to their vomit, with generally happy results.)

Aspermont StarThe No Fever/No Vomit/No Note rule did not apply to my brother Peter, whom my mother deemed ‘puny,’ by which she meant not ‘small’ so much as ‘sickly.’ You will not find this meaning of the word ‘puny’ in your dictionary; I checked. It appears to derive entirely from The Puny List, which appeared in the weekly newspaper of Aspermont, the widening in the road with a post office that was my grandfather Zant’s West Texas hometown. This column assiduously listed all those people in the newspaper’s catchment area who were “feeling puny,” i.e., suffering from maladies ranging from mysterious female trouble to shingles, whose put-upon families might benefit from the quiet conveyance of a covered dish or pie.  Because Peter was disposed to chronic respiratory infections, he was “puny.” As was established in my last blog post – Pretty Feet — I was “chunky,”and thereby better evolutionarily equipped to fend off germs.

I did not get sick often but, when I did, I made sure to pull out all the stops, for example, when I managed to extend a bout of the three day measles into two weeks by cunningly getting them not on the outside of my body, but on the lining of my stomach. My piece de resistance, however, my crowning triumph, was the contraction, at age 30, of Guillain-Barré Syndrome – a catastrophic disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, resulting, in extreme cases, in complete paralysis.  Mine was an extreme case:  at its nadir, I could blink and that was about it. I may not have had a fever and I certainly was not vomiting, but, boy, was I sick. I did recover, except for the occasional tick, twitch and tremor, but only after a lengthy stint in the ICU, followed by weeks on the Neurological Ward, followed by a month in Rehab where I had to learn to walk again.  It’s like I always say: go big or go home.

The only photo you'll ever see of me in short shorts.  Post GBS I weighed in at 99 pounds.  Me and daughter Sabrina enjoying one of the only guilt free ice cream treats of our lives.

The only photo you’ll ever see of me in short shorts. Post GBS I weighed in at 99 pounds.  Here my daughter Sabrina and I enjoy one of the only guilt free ice cream treats of our lives.

As I have with so much else that was my mother’s, I have internalized her suspicion that, when I claim to be sick, I am, in fact, malingering.  Unless I am running a fever or vomiting (or, post GBS, paralyzed), I find it exceedingly hard to tell whether I am actually sick or just trying to put one over on myself. This leads to me soldiering on in ways that are inimical to public health and probably, on occasion, detrimental to my own.  My yoga teachers are always exhorting me to listen to my body, but I find it very difficult to hear the poor old thing over the accusatory remonstrations of my super ego.  Because I know deep down, just as Mom always did, that I am a shirker by disposition, that I will go to great lengths to get out of practically everything, and that, when it comes right down to it, there’s every chance that I’m just faking it.

For  The Puny Column, a short story based on the Puny List,  click here.  It appeared in the journal Exile, 27, 1 in 2003.


wizard hatWhen I was a kid, Halloween ranked right up there with Christmas as the best holiday ever. You got to dress up in costumes and, along with others of your tribe, wander around in the dark with paper bags or – for the more ambitious – pillowcases, soliciting candy from oddly complacent grown ups. Second to the candy, it was the being out at night, with no pesky adults riding herd over you, that was the most compelling thing about Halloween. It felt dangerous — like freedom. All too soon, I knew, my mother would confiscate my loot and, from then on, it would be her doling out the candy, lest I spontaneously combust, leaving in my wake a little heap of refined sugar. But so long as I was out on the town and footloose, it was Candy Land. And I loved candy.

My mother was a fine seamstress and an actress; you would have thought my brother Peter and my costumes would have been spectacular. But, just as I, a competent seamstress, loathe hemming or mending things for other people (boring!), so my mother wasn’t overly keen on constructing elaborate Halloween costumes. Left over from some random children’s theatre production was a wizard’s black peaked hat, appliqued with silver stars and crescent moons, and a cocker spaniel costume – basically a black skullcap held in place by a chin strap to which  floppy ears made of Persian wool were appended. The origins of the cocker spaniel costume were obscure. We had a black cocker spaniel– Ughy – the costume was black and Mother had at some point and for some reason sewn it … from which I can only deduce that the costume referred to the dog. Beyond that, I cannot say.

The upshot of all this was that one year I was a wizard and Peter was a cocker spaniel and the next year Peter was a wizard and I was a cocker spaniel. We didn’t seem to invest in our costumes as much as children do today; it was not important to my sense of self-worth that I be the right kind of fairy princess or to Peter’s that he be his favorite super hero. Really, when it came right down to it, it was all about the candy.

When my daughter Sabrina was born, I decided that, unlike my mother, I was going to go the extra mile when it came to Halloween costumes. Accordingly, by the time she was two and ambulant, I was in full Halloween mode. In September I took her to a fabric store and showed her patterns for Halloween costumes.

Sabrina as  a very sick Kermit the Frog

Sabrina as a very sick Kermit the Frog

“What do you want to be?” I asked.

“Kermit the Frog,” she replied.

Now, let me tell you, I have sewn some pretty complicated things in my life, but nothing . . . NOTHING . . . as hard as that damn Kermit the Frog costume. Good Lord! The huge stuffed head alone took me weeks to construct.

Then, on Halloween Day, Sabrina got the flu.

 I made her go out anyway.

Well, to one or two houses until, shamed by her plaintive whimpers, I packed the poor thing up, took her home and put her to bed. That’s when I decided that my mother was right and it was not a great idea for mothers to get too invested in their kid’s Halloween costumes.  Also it meant that I would never again have to construct a stuffed head. From that point on, my kids were on their own when it came to Halloween, which meant they were ghosts or hobos (a quaint notion in today’s world) or something that required a great deal of time for them to explain to those grown ups who leaned in and gamely asked, “And what might you be?”

faunLately photos of people in their Halloween costumes have been appearing on Facebook; it happens every year. My husband believes that this constitutes a trend, that, in time,  instead of Halloween parties, people will just post selfies of themselves in a costume and sit at home in the dark, eating the candy they pretended to buy for Trick or Treaters while watching videos of adorably costumed cats and dogs on YouTube. Virtual Halloween, if you will.

As for me, I’m not a big fan of dressing up. In the first place, I no longer rock a sexy nurse costume. In the second place, costumes can have consequences. The last time I donned a costume for Halloween was  in 1976 — my first date with my ex. I wore a blue velvet 1930’s style gown and purported myself to be “Blue Roses” from Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie (admittedly, it was a stretch). My ex, on the other hand, came exquisitely decked out as a faun in a costume he had himself created.

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I can tell you one thing. It sure wasn’t straight.

Clan of the Dog People

Cave painting of girl with dog

Cave painting of girl with dog

When National Geographic’s Genographic Project was all shiny and new, my husband Ken and I joined 678,632 other individuals in over 140 countries in sending in samples of our DNA to be included in the database. This was not inexpensive, but we figured it was our contribution to scientific research and, besides, who doesn’t want to unlock the secrets hidden in their DNA?

In due time we received a package from National Geographic and the big reveal was this: our ancestors originated in Africa long, long ago, but had more recently hailed from Northern Europe.  To which we could only say, “Duh!”   As it turns out, we had opted for the Economy DNA Package. If we had wanted to know whether we had inherited a genetic predisposition to like cilantro or what percentage Neanderthal we were, well, that’ll be extra.

Or would it?

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise?  Not really.

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise? Not really.

My grandfather, James H. Zant, who liked a good story, told this one about an acquaintance’s visit to a local Cherokee chief.   “Dig deep, White Man,” the chief reportedly told his visitor.  “Puppy at bottom of pot.”

A few nights ago, I found myself sitting in a darkened room, mired in thought,  when our dog Nellie deposited herself before me, trawling for attention. I obliged, closing my eyes as I scratched her ears, and conjured up an image of myself in my mind’s eye.  However, instead of picturing the little old lady  I am all too rapidly metamorphosing into and her (sort of trusty) dog,  what I saw was a girl — nine or ten, Neanderthal, grubby and sitting on a rock in a dark place barely illuminated by flickering fire light, scratching the ears of a wolf cub.

Now, my view of reality has always been a tad elastic — the result, no doubt, of coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies and all that that entailed — so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to conclude l that what I had glimpsed in my mind’s eye was a distant ancestor, one embedded in my DNA, that  I had, in fact, descended from those humanoids who, laboring in different places over vast expanses of time, succeeded in the magic trick of turning wolves into dogs,  that, just as our domestication of dogs impacted their genome, so their domestication of us  has impacted ours, meaning that the term “Dog People” describes something not superficial, but very fundamental.    Which explains SO much. Why I cannot imagine a happy and contented life without a dog. Why my father, speaking of his life in the nursing home, says, “The only thing I really miss is a dog . . . ,”  his voice trailing wistfully off.

Golden Retriever?  Hummm...

Golden Retriever? Hummm…

Back when we acquired Nellie, we were unconvinced that she was, in fact, the Golden Retriever the Kijiji ad purported her to be, given her ridiculously long legs, her narrow muzzle and crooked tail, and, all of it, the whole nine yards, completely wired. While we never suffered from Buyers’ Remorse – well, maybe just a little when she hoovered up a finishing nail, necessitating a $2,500  surgery – we were, nevertheless,  curious to know the ancestry of our whacky little bundle of fur and fun. So we tested her DNA.

Turns out she’s a Golden Retriever – quel surprise! — just the way it turns out Ken and I are Northern Europeans. As for delving any more deeply into our DNA, there’s really no need now. Not after my little epiphany.   I know who I am, down deep:  a  Dog Person with slightly more than a dollop of Neanderthal. As for Nellie, she’s clearly a wolf.


Viva the Tidewater!

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodward in his book, North American Nations.

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodard in his book, North American Nations.

This question has long flummoxed me: “How can I self-identify as both a Southerner and an American and still find the mindset of fully half of my fellow countrymen utterly incomprehensible?”

Or, to put it more succinctly, “What is wrong with these people?”

I’ve finally found my answer in Colin Woodard’s fascinating and compelling book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.  According to Woodard — and his arguments are extremely cogent — North America was … and is less a melting pot than a witch’s brew of fundamentally different and often diametrically opposed cultures that do not often see eye to eye.  It turns out I am not alone in my fear and loathing of “those people”.  We’re all in the same boat . . . just in different camps.

In a post for the Washington Post, Reid Wilson summarizes, as per Woodard, the three nations that made up the Southern block of the “United” States:

“Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.

“Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”

“Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.”

I decided to poke around in my family’s history with a slighter sharper stick than I have hitherto deployed in order to ascertain what the Hell kind of Southerner I am,

This is what I discovered.

My direct forebear, John Hardy, was born in 1665 in Dorchestershire, England, immigrated to the James River in Virginia and traveled thence to the Albemarle region of North Carolina via the Chowan River, acquiring 640 acres in what is now Bertie County in 1695 and taking up residence on a property known as the Manor Plantation.  He owned considerable property besides along Salmon Creek and, contrary to my assertions in an earlier blog post, Ruminations on the Confederacy, that we were Crackers, the family was prominent enough that John’s son of the same name held a number of public offices, including sitting as a Member of the House of Burgesses – the oldest legislative body in North Carolina.  My people settled in the Tidewater more than three hundred years ago and  stayed put for fifteen generations. I think it’s safe to say that I am a Tidewaterite.

When I asked my Grandfather Hardy what his people had done in the Civil War, he replied, “Why, they hid in the swamp every time the recruiter came by. They didn’t think the war had anything to do with them. They were dirt farmers.  They didn’t own slaves.”

Turns out Pops was being  a tad disingenuous. Twenty nine Hardys fought on the Confederate side, we did own a small number of slaves, and we were by no means dirt farmers, even though, over time, large land holdings ceased to be the norm in the Tidewater as fathers divided land between their children.

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County -- the before shot

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County

All this explains why there was always something rather courtly about my grandfather, uncle and father — affable, humorous men with nary a whiff of the downright cussedness typical of the denizens of the Nation of Appalachia or the sanctimonious snake-eyed supremicism that characterizes those of the Deep South.

Slavery is a blot on all Southerners’  escutcheon and, no matter how hard you scrub, it doesn’t come out in the wash.  That being said, I’ll take my fellow Tidewater natives Thomas Jefferson and George Washington over Andrew Jackson and George Wallace any day.


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“Little ****”



When Tenney, the second of my parents’ two Great Danes, bought the farm, my parents decided that it would be best, given their advanced age, to go with a more compact version of The Family Dog. Accordingly, they reverted back to their first choice of dog breed  and saddled themselves with the worst dog ever – a black cocker spaniel named Skatoula, Touli for short. They had just returned from Greece and “Skatoula,”my father was fond of telling people, is the Greek word for “Little Shit.” Which about sums Touli up.

Maybe because my parents were old and didn’t move around much, Touli got it into his head that people should just stay where they were. If anyone stood up and headed, say, for the bathroom, Touli would lunge for his or her ankles, snarling and snapping. And he meant business; my parents were forever nursing some Touli-related injury that inevitably became infected thanks to the apparently toxic nature of his drool. My grand dog Albert gets anxious if anyone strays from the pack and Harry, our old collie, was forever herding the children, but corgis and collies are herders; that’s their job. Cocker spaniels are gun dogs and soft-mouthed retrievers; Touli had no business herding people and he knew it. For him it wasn’t about the flock; it was about the power.



When it comes to clothes, my husband eschews flamboyance. The only thing that trumps his aversion to standing out sartorially is family feeling. That is why he one day donned a pair of fluorescent lime green swimming trunks in preparation for a dip in the pool – his sisters had given them to him as a birthday present. This was when we discovered that Touli was an undercover officer in the Fashion Police. He took one look at Ken’s trunks and his head exploded. It was like a horror movie. Before our eyes Touli metamorphosed into the Cerberus of classical mythology, the multi-headed dog who guards the entrance of the underworld to prevent the dead from escaping and the living from entering. The only way to appease the hell hound he had turned into was for Ken to retreat to the bedroom and replace the green trunks with a more subdued pair. Only then was he allowed to pass. (Touli later had the same reaction to a set of golf clubs. Which I sort of understand.)


In order to procure treats, Touli would snatch a high value target – Mom’s glasses, the remote, and, on three separate occasions, one of my father’s hearing aids — and dive under the bed with it. Any attempt to regain the purloined object manually would result in savaged fingers and yet another suppurating wound for my parents. Instead, they would raid the supply of dog biscuits and cry, “Meat cookie! Meat cookie!” until Touli would slink out from under the bed, grr-ing, and a grim exchange of prisoners would take place. Two of Dad’s hearing aids did not survive the ordeal and had to replaced at great expense.

During meals, Touli would stand beside my mother’s chair and bark at her. He would pause in his barking every few minutes to give her a little nip – this by way of impressing upon her the fact that she’d better feed him or else. He did this all meal long, without interruption. (In our house dogs do not do this. Our first golden, Buddy, would sit silently by as we ate, looking stricken and drooling, but never making so much as a peep. As for Nellie, she’s proactive without being too pushy. First she steals the napkin from my lap exactly twice, then she lies down directly on my feet, just to remind me that she is there and would like to be considered for the prized gig of pre-rinse cycle.) One night my husband had finally had enough of trying to talk over Touli’s incessant, insistent barking. He seized his muzzle, looked him straight in the eye and shouted, “SHUT UP!” Touli stared at him, incredulous. Clearly no one had ever yelled at him before. His mouth opened and closed as if to bark; no sound emerged. I don’t know who was more shocked – the dog or my parents. “Your Mom and Dad looked at me,” Ken remembers, “and I realized I’d crossed a red line.”

My brother Peter once saw a different side of Touli – desolation in a dog suit. “Mom and Dad had gone out and there was just me at home,” he told me. “Touli sat by the window and howled. Then he collapsed on the door sill and lay there in a heap, looking completely abject, as though he couldn’t believe they had left him and he had no idea how he was going to cope going forward.” Peter then keeled over on the couch and lay there on his side in imitation of Touli, whimpering softly and shivering, looking frightened and pathetic.

Mom made me promise to take Touli if anything happened to her and Dad. I reluctantly agreed. Fortunately, that day never came. Touli contracted a rare canine virus at the young age of seven and slipped away in a matter of a couple of days – days over the course of which my parents forked out over $3,000 in an attempt to save his miserable ass.

Big Mac

Big Mac

Touli had one trick. “Find Big Mac,” Dad would say and Touli, charged with purpose, would bustle off, returning some time later  with a squeaky rubber hamburger. My parents saw this as a sign of Touli’s intelligence. I didn’t have the heart to point out that there are border collies who can recognize and retrieve hundreds of different objects – one famous one can identify over a thousand. When we were packing up Dad’s apartment, I found Big Mac and gave it to Nellie. She played with it for a while, then ate it, squeaker and all.

And that was that.


Lovey eyes his nemesis with trepidation. Notice her sock.

Lovey eyes his nemesis with trepidation.  Frances guards a purloined sock.

As I narrated in my blog post Crocapuppy , my parents brought home a Great Dane puppy when my brother and I were teenagers, thereby providing our vituperative cocker spaniel Frances with an object towards which she could in perpetuity vent her already considerable spleen. You’ve heard of love objects; Lovey was a hate object. So long as Frances lived, she waged a merciless Reign of Terror against Lovey, restricting his movements by physically blocking his access to this set of stairs or that room and controlling him with a potent and baleful stare that clearly mesmerized him. One of my most vivid memories of those years was of Lovey, who stood 6’5” on his hind legs and weighed in at over two hundred pounds, tearing through the house, ears flattened, tail between his legs, with rotund little Frances barreling along in hot pursuit, snarling and snapping at his heels.

George Booth's great cartoon

George Booth’s great cartoon was a favorite in our house.

Mom was fond of observing, “Life was more genteel before the dogs.” This might have been true, had there ever been an epoch in our household which could have been described as, “Before the Dogs.” The addition of a gargantuan dog to the mix, however, raised the dearth of gentility to a whole new level.

When we ate dinner, Lovey would sit beside my mother, his muzzle poised about two inches above the table, drooling. Anyone familiar with Great Danes will know that their capacity to drool is staggering. A pool of saliva would start to form on the table; this would gradually increase both in volume and in reach, wobbling, viscous and oozing. At some point one of us would be dispatched to the kitchen to retrieve a towel with which to mop up the drool and Lovey would be ordered to lie down. This he would do, his enormous front paws inevitably protruding just a fraction into the area beneath the table – Crocapuppy territory. At this rash intrusion into her domain, Frances would spring into frenzied action, lunging and randomly snapping – more than one ankle was bitten in these nightly frays. At length  Lovey would retreat a few feet and Frances, the enemy repelled,  her borders once again secured, would subside back into a seething heap of grrr-ing menace.

The Urban Dictionary defines the verb “snorfel” as “the act of holding someone close and inhaling their scent at the base of their neck;” it dates the word’s usage to 2009. In this, the Urban Dictionary is mistaken. My mother used that word at least as far back as 1970 to describe the way a dog greets you when it sticks his or her face in yours and performs some perfervid combination of sniffing, snuffling, snorting and mush wiping. Lovey was a master snorfeller; he just stuck his big old jowly face in yours and had at it. For all the years that he and I shared my parents’ home, Lovey snorfelled me awake. “Go wake up Sister,” my father would say. Moments later, Lovey would poke his nose through the crack in my bedroom door, lope over to my bed, stick his face in mine and snorfel me into consciousness. People who live in horror of dog germs will find this alarming, but we survived, some of us to a very great age, and counted ourselves lucky that Lovey had not proved a licker, given the Slobber Factor.



Out back of our house was a fenced in area for the dogs to do their business in. During Frances’ solo turn, it had remained a pleasant enough idyll, with a ground cover of grass and ivy and several mature camellia bushes that were beautiful in bloom.

Then Lovey arrived on the scene.

Dad regularly brought home bones from the butcher for Lovey. By bones I mean, leg bones. Of cows. These large bones required large holes in which to be buried; Lovey provided those holes; he also uprooted all the camellia bushes and ran around the back yard with their trunks clamped in his jaws while the rest of us shouted, “No! Lovey!  Stop!” Soon the enclosed area began to resemble a cross between the trenches of World War One and the lair of a serial killer — muddy and pitted and strewn with femurs. My father, ever one to look on the bright side, reckoned this a deterrent to crime. “Somebody would think twice about breaking into a house with a back yard that looks like this!”

Lovey in repose

Lovey in repose

There comes a point in every dog’s life when it must take pills and that point for Lovey coincided with the time I left Chapel Hill for graduate school in Toronto. When I returned home for Christmas, I went to my closet to don a pair of pinkies I had left there – these were the fuzzy pink slippers that were my mother and my preferred footwear – only to find a hard lump of something peculiar wedged into the toe end of each slipper. I shook the slippers and two lumps of hardened, congealed dog pills fell to the floor. After some deliberation, we realized that Lovey had only pretended to swallow the pills my father doled out to him, then sneaked into my bedroom and spat them into my pinkies, where, over the course of my absence, they had accreted into their present iteration. This sleight of mouth on Lovey’s part gave me new respect for the Great Dane, who had never struck me as but so bright. Clearly Crocapuppy’s lessons in guile had not gone entirely unheeded.

I always said that I didn’t want to be within a one hundred mile radius of Chapel Hill when Lovey died. I couldn’t bear to witness my parents’ terrible grief. As it turned out, I was in Toronto when he passed and my parents’ grief was indeed terrible … until the following day when they went out and bought another Great Dane, black this time and named Tennessee’s Waltz.

And with that, a whole new era commenced, the chronicle of my family being divided into epochs not by the ascension of Presidents to office  or  kings to thrones, but by a succession of dogs.

Reality Therapy

Noni . . . on her way out

Noni in better times

When my father was a child, my grandfather – Pops — served as foreman for a construction crew that traveled all over North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland building Texaco gas stations. My grandmother and their two boys – Dad and Clyde Junior — traveled with him, living in rooming houses along the way; it was my grandmother’s job to cook for the crew. “What was Noni like?” I once asked my father. “You know. Before?”

Dad shook his head sadly. “She was very capable . . . and warm-hearted, hospitable.” He added, “I wish you could have known her then, when she wasn’t this way.” By “this way” he meant, “senile.”

Noni was not all that old when she stepped out for lunch and never came back – in her early sixties, about the age I am now. The reason for her early-onset dementia was fairly straightforward. When she was in her forties, she underwent an operation for phlebitis. The doctor prescribed morphine for the pain and, “Do no harm” notwithstanding,  kept on prescribing it. Noni became a  morphine addict, which, as it turns out,  does not promote brain health. In not very much time at all Noni effectively pickled herself.

Throughout my childhood and several times a day, Pops would announce that it was time for Noni’s medicine and off the two of them would repair to his study where he would, essentially, shoot her up. It was treated very nonchalantly, by which I mean doors were not shut. At the time I thought it was creepy – it involved a hypodermic needle, after all, stuck in parts of your grandmother’s body that grandchildren do not wish to contemplate, much less view – but I did not at the time realize that Noni’s “medicine” was, in fact, morphine, nor did I realize how common morphine addiction was among white  women of her generation until I was researching the topic for Paper Son, one of the short stories in The Uncharted Heart – it was, in fact, a virtual epidemic, albeit a hidden one. I suddenly saw Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night in a whole new light; as it turns out, it’s the story of my father’s family set in mid-twentieth century working class North Carolina.

I  only remember one instance during my teenage years in which Noni appeared cogent – probably because it was such a rare event. Pops had just concluded a tall tale and Noni piped up,  “Anybody believes that, stand on your head and I don’t see no feet!” Silence.  Everyone turned to look at her.  “What?” she said and went back to being not there.

Most of the time Noni sat on a urine-infused sofa in the living room looking blank. Every fifteen minutes or so, she would lurch to her feet, exit the living room, turn right down the hall, traverse my grandfather’s study, enter the kitchen, duck into the pantry where she would take a slug of bourbon from the bottle stashed there, return to the living room via the dining room and resume her seat on the redolent sofa, where she would twitch a couple of times before sinking once again into catatonia. That was how Noni rolled. She would only come back to life when it was time for us to leave. Then she would rouse herself and, no matter what time of day or night it might be, say, “Are you sure you won’t stay for lunch? There’s plenty of bologna.”

This woman provided one quarter of my DNA. (Or something like that.  I’ve never properly understood DNA.)

Pops and Noni.

Pops and Noni.  By this time Noni’s pretty cooked.

My grandparents both lived well into their nineties. They spent the last five or so years of their life in different wings of a nursing home. Pops was frail but, like my own father, mentally sharp. He resided in the unlocked ward and had a great old time, acquiring a girlfriend named Bunny and editing the home’s newsletter.

Noni was placed in the block of rooms set aside for people with dementia. My brother Peter and I visited her there in the mid-eighties. A sign on the door to her room read, “Mrs. Hardy is undergoing Reality Therapy. Please ask her what day of the week it is, what year it is and who is President.”

“Hey, Noni,” we asked. “Who’s President?”

Noni shook her head. “Why does everybody ask me that?” Then, “Harry S. Truman.”

As we were waiting for an elevator down to the main lobby of the nursing home, I said, “What do you think about this Reality Therapy business?  Do you think it’s doing Noni any good?”

The elevator arrived. We entered it. The door ground slowly closed the way elevator doors do in old folks homes. Peter looked solemn. “Don’t see no feet,” he said.


Past Due is a story about a senile old woman, her housemaid and a whole lot of chickens coming home to roost.  I did not base Miss Bob on Noni, but Noni does inform certain aspects of her character. It appeared in the Dalhousie Review in 1992. To read it, click on the title.

Happy Hour

Bill Hardy, 2nd Lieutenant, US Navy

Bill Hardy, 2nd Lieutenant, US Navy

On March 30, 2014 my father, William Marion Hardy, turned 92. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1922, the second son of Clyde Thompson Hardy and Norah Morris Hardy. My grandfather was from a town called Little Washington in eastern North Carolina. He met my grandmother when he was working at a saw mill near her father’s tobacco farm in neighbouring Littlefield. When they were courting, an itinerant photographer took my grandfather’s photo and tried to talk my grandmother into buying a print. “If somethin’ were to happen to Mr. Hardy,” he told her, “you wouldn’t take five dollars for it!”

In 1995 my father suffered a clinical depression, made that much more unnerving by the fact that his disposition had been, up to that point, unrelievedly sunny. During this period he slept fourteen hours a day and lost twenty pounds; his effect was flatter than road kill. My mother finally got him to get help by threatening to leave him. Then she threatened to leave him and take the dog.  Dad went to a psychiatrist and a few months later recovered his misplaced bonhomie. He refers to this period as, “When I was crazy.”

Recently we traveled to Chapel Hill to break up Dad’s apartment; he was moving to the nursing home attached to the assisted living community where he has lived since 2004. It was Friday night – the night of the week when a group of between twelve and fifteen of Dad’s friends gather at the Clubhouse for Happy Hour — drinks and dinner, with an emphasis on drinks. With an average age of 88, they are a rowdy bunch; the Cedars reserves for them their own private dining room, doubtless in the hopes of not terrifying the other old people. It is an odd assortment of individuals. At other times in their lives they would have probably moved in very different circles . . . but, as it turns out, age is a great leveler. Who cares what your political views are or your social status? All that matters at Happy Hour is that you have a pulse, a thirst and a yearning to connect.

We accompanied Dad to Happy Hour as his guests. My sister and I ordered a gin and tonic. We observed the bartender pour. “Doesn’t that seem like a lot of gin?” my sister whispered to me as the girl half-filled a large tumbler with Tanqueray. Neither Pamela nor I back down from a challenge, especially when the challenge involves alcohol. We drank our drinks and ordered another.

After that I don’t remember a thing.

Well, actually, that’s not true.

I remember gushing at great length to a beautiful old woman about how truly grateful I was that, in my lifetime, blacks had made such great strides and weren’t they an amazing race? Why, what would America be without them? This paean to the black race is my default encomium when I’ve had one too many (in this case two were one too many). At least I wasn’t flirting outrageously with an eighty five year old Auschwitz survivor. That was my husband. He  had had one martini. A Happy Hour martini.

Hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, I awoke, disoriented and jumbled, to find myself in the guest room of Dad’s apartment. I did not remember the rest of the meal. I did not remember returning to the apartment. I did not remember going to bed. An image of my aged father sitting slumped in his wheelchair, abandoned and forlorn, leapt into my mind. “OMG,” I gasped. “Did we leave Daddy at the Clubhouse?”

Fortunately we had not.

Glancing around at all the flushed and animated faces that night, I could see, glittering from within the crusted carapace of age, the young person each Happy Hour devotee still was, full of life and passion — pretty girls and dashing boys, and chief among them my sparkling father, holding court, holding sway. They’d all had two drinks, but they were the Greatest Generation. Unlike our sorry lot, they could hold their liquor.

I have many photographs of my father, but my memory of Happy Hour, incomplete and ragged though it is, is its own kind of keepsake.

I wouldn’t take five dollars for it.