‘Life’s too short to fish with a dead cricket’

Published 11:00 pm Friday, September 28, 2012

Evidently, the man in the pickup truck in front of me had never been schooled on what to do when a woman is blowing the car horn and blinking her lights at him.

When the traffic light changed, he took off like he was shot out of a cannon.

All I wanted was to know about his bumper sticker. It read, “Life’s too short to fish with a dead cricket.”

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Was that some kind of philosophical statement or was it an ad for a bait and tackle shop?

I just wanted to know.

“Life’s too short to fish with a dead cricket.” That stayed in my head like a broken record, going round and round.

And it was not until the other day at a visitation that I took heart in what it meant.

I stood transfixed before the video that was playing in the vestibule.

The photograph appeared only for a few seconds. But that was long enough to stir memories of a wonderful friend. A best friend from so many years ago.

Dinah and I were friends during late adolescence and close friends during our teenage years.

She had moved to Montgomery by the time we started “over fool’s hill” as Mama would say. We stayed close by writing letters, that we signed Toothpick Tillie (me) and Fat Fannie (her). We later switched names for obvious reasons.

On weekends, Dinah would catch a ride to Brundidge with a teacher at her school who was from Dothan. I’d wait for her on the front porch and she’d jump out of the car with her suitcase ready for the weekend.

We’d spend the time sharing secrets, laughing and “cuttin’ up.” We’d get the silly giggles and be more than Mama could stand.

We’d go to parties and play “spin the bottle” and fall in puppy love. We would listen to Ricky Nelson and the Everly Brothers on the record player and dance with teddy bears around the room.

When we got old enough to date, double dating, was the only way we would go. Sometimes that meant one of us going out with a “creep” so the other could go with her heartthrob. We’d do that for each other.

But drive-in movies and marshmallow roasts soon gave way to college and careers.

Dinah went off to Auburn University and then became a stewardess with TWA and flew all over the world.

Every now and then, she would come home, very cosmopolitan and trendy, and I got a glimpse of how the rest of the world was “stepping out.”

And when the world stepped out in Dingo boots, so did I, never mind that the shoe store didn’t have Dingo boots in my size. That’s why today I have bunions on my feet and my toes are squenched together like sardines in a can.

Dinah had an exciting, adventurous life. She was going places and doing things that most young women our age could only dream of. As Mama would say, she didn’t let her coattail touch her.

She married an orthopedic surgeon and moved all the way across the country to Washington State. We stayed in touched through letters and phone calls every now and then. We didn’t see each other often but in spring of 1972, she and her husband came “home.” She was expecting her first baby and I was expecting my third.

I had managed to eat enough pimento cheese sandwiches and drink enough chocolate milk to gain a “hefty” 45 pounds. She had managed to gain a “healthy” four to five pounds.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could have our babies on the same day,” Dinah said hopefully.

Not a chance I thought. My baby would have cut two teeth by the time hers came.

But not long before midnight on July 11, I had a baby girl. A few hours later, on July 12, Dinah had her baby girl.

We talked on the phone. “Why didn’t you wait?” she asked, laughing.

“Why didn’t you hurry up,” I laughed.

My memory turned this week to another telephone conversation. One in which we didn’t laugh.

Dinah had fought a valiant battle with cancer. She was in Texas awaiting a bone marrow transplant.

“This is my last chance,” she told me. “This is my last hope. Pray for me.”

Dinah Armstrong Kukes died at age 41. A life far too short. But let it be said that she never fished with a dead cricket.