Maude the Analyst

Published 8:06 am Sunday, October 18, 2015

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

Following Aunt Maude’s 103rd birthday, she whispered to me when Uncle Mort was deep into his afternoon “log-sawing.” Had the timber actually been hauled from the thicket, it would have been under groaning protests from the truck sinking deeper into ruts caused by such overloads.

“I want to show you where I keep my diary in case something ever happens to me,” she confided. “I keep it on my cookbook shelf, knowing this is the last place Mort would look. He’d sooner read lists of medical side effects than anything suggesting kitchen duty.”

Sure enough, her “diary” included entries printed carefully on Bible-thin, loose-leaf pages for each decade. I spotted “Volume IX.”

   “I think it might be interesting reading for kinfolks, some of ‘em not old enough to read and many not yet born,” she reasoned.

As if to pique my interest, she asked, “What flying creature do you think reminds me most of Mort? I’ll provide a hint: It starts with the letters “b-u.”

“Nope, not ‘buzzard’,” she laughed, insisting what she had in mind was “butterfly.”

“Think about it,” Maude said. “He flits about during waking hours, mostly floating and gliding with only minimal effort. He’s like the butterflies who take easy-to-reach pollen from blossoms along the way, leaving some of it for other butterflies yet to come, the rest whisked away by the wind.”

She claimed Mort to be the “master of unfinished projects,” pointing to wooden objects half-whittled, Lego bridges half straddling rivers half-painted below, scarecrows constructed from the waist down and a much bragged about horseshoe-tossing game that never got the second post driven down at the other end. Maude said part of the appeal was supposed to be the challenge of tossing horseshoes both uphill and downhill.

“I guess the best example is the zip line he promised the great-grandkids four summers ago,” Maude laughed. “Zip lines aren’t much good if allowed to dangle 200 yards, never drawn taut by the pulley-contraption he planned to ‘nail down’ just short of the swamp.”

“We get along because his aborted efforts bother me not at all,” she said, even when many of his favorite expressions are only partially stated.”

She said when they shorten idioms, both usually are better off. “A ‘stitch in time’ doesn’t beg for additional comment,” Maude suggested. “Throwing in ‘saves nine’ makes Mort start wondering if a stitch might sometimes save just eight, or–on a really good day–salvage ten.”

Another old favorite–“Happy as a clam”–is best suspended after “clam.” Maude says if “at high tide” is added, Mort “starts worrying about whether clams really experience measurable unhappiness when tides are low.”

“Right now, Mort is caught up on the idea of sprucing up our animals’ homes,” Maude said.

At first, she didn’t mind fresh coats of paint, and little signs like “Hound’s Hang-Out,” “Guinea Pig’s Guest Quarters,” “Rabbit’s Ranch” or even “Hog’s Wallow.”

Neither did she draw the line on pet fish “Percival’s Pond,” or even “Canary’s Closet.” She admitted finding humor on a sign posted on a slightly-elevated hill: “Lamb’s Look-Out.”

Suddenly, she realized Mort not only views the world as his oyster, but actually as his “man cave,” with no confines or boundaries. She felt immediately left out. “I want him to build something just for me, where I can sew, iron, wash clothes, cook, quilt, play scrabble, churn butter or paint.” Before she reached “full fume,” though, she realized that most of the time, Mort is outside, flitting hither and yon. It dawned on her she already has something special–their home. So what if Mort calls it “his castle?” By hokies, she could name it, too, so she did. Henceforth, claims Maude–backed up by her diary–their entire modest abode is her “she shed.”

She feels better, and also has determined her diary entry for the day.

Maude will be content “being Maude.” Mort can be whoever he chooses.

“If Mort ever gets into the symphony-writing business, he’ll make Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony look like a completed work,” she laughed. “When he’s in a really ‘flitting’ mood, I’ll get him even further off track by suggesting he listen to PDQ Bach’s Unbegun Symphony.”


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Columns archived at, newbury blog.