My friend from north of the border takes his foot off the gas pedal just a tad in this week’s guest column. Even with the topic a tad less incendiary in that sense, Paul Curran’s writing flame still burns brightly.

Your Barrista -- Paul Curran

Your Barrista — Paul Curran

Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, air-conditioned, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cloudy with a high just over 80 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger. We can relax with a cuppa in the air conditioning while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. Have a piece of cake (or any of the sweets on the next table) – electronic sweets are all calorie-free! How has your week been? Are you enjoying the weekend? Any special activities?

High Tea


When I was contemplating this week’s post I gave some thought to friendships I have made on front doorsteps in the past. The most notable and best such friendship was with Penny, at the time a feisty blonde single mom with four kids. I was boarding at a friend’s place, and we used to sit out on the front steps in the summer evenings and chat about our days while consuming a few adult beverages. One memorable evening, a moving truck pulled up in front of the house kitty-corner on our intersection. A car pulled in behind and disgorged a wired 28-year-old woman with four children under the age of 10. The kids spread out on the lawn while the woman – Penny was her name – spoke with the truck driver. They soon started unloading when Michelle, the woman owner of the home and a friend of my landlady’s, wandered over to chat. Michelle was a kind soul who I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw her. Michelle was out to benefit Michelle. Anyway, she explained that Penny had been accepted to Ottawa University in their education program so she and her kids were staying at the house for a year. Michelle had bought the house as a long-term resale investment and so had purchased a split-level, five-bedroom, four-bath home for she and her husband. The downstairs was vacant. Michelle and Penny had met in Montreal while doing a performing arts degree.

Penny Looked Like This with Hair Tied Back


Later that evening, Penny herself flounced across the street. She half flew, half bounced wherever she went. With long blonde hair and an open face, the first thing that popped to mind was “blonde and clueless.” And sure enough, she asked questions that were not well thought out. But then I realized there was someone behind that cascade of blonde hair, someone hiding who was watching and listening and playing a game. She was deliberately dumbing herself down for some reason. I called her on it and asked why she would do that, and she just shrugged and said that most men do not appreciate the competition, so she found it simpler and safer to remain the dumb blonde. Her cheerfulness and energy was contagious and soon we shifted to her porch when the kids were in bed and all was dark. This became our routine and she introduced me to port. Although neither of us had much money (I was paying off a non-existent truck that a failed insurance policy had left me on the hook for and she was a starving student), we scraped up the money for a bottle each night. It became our motto: No matter how bad things get, there is always enough left at the end of the day for a drink of port. We shared that whole summer, one glass at a time, and became solidly bonded friends. As time went by we slept a number of times in the same bed (when traveling with the kids) but never had sex or even kissed passionately – and, if anything, I was the one who was scared. I had the feeling she would have been open to explore if I had wished – but I did not wish for I did not want to ruin our friendship.

The Getaway Car


Penny’s grandparents lived in Montreal, she grew up there and studied there and partied there. We spent a lot of time in Montreal (about a two-hour drive from Ottawa). I owned a Chrysler Intrepid at the time and it was fast and solid on the road. It was big inside and we could fit all four kids in the back seat. Penny was technically a good driver but she drove too fast on the highway. One day she asked if she could drive us to Montreal and I agreed. It wasn’t long before she was up to 160 km per hour, about 100 mph. She was driving fine and the traffic was light, but I warned her she could lose her license for that – here in Ontario any speed greater than 50 kmph over the limit is charged as careless driving and means license lost – we had to do that to stop the street racing that was becoming popular. Anyway, she was OK and her young brain had the processing speed to handle the car at that speed, so I kept quiet. Then the kids started to argue in the back seat and, I kid you not, she turned around to face them while going 100 miles per hour ahead, and began to lecture them. I grabbed her and turned her back facing forward and told her I was making a new rule – no turning to look in back when doing over 150 kmph (90 mph). My physical reaction must have scared the kids because they went quiet while their mother got a tongue lashing.

Penny was so full of life and cared so much about everyone that she was an excellent elementary teacher when she graduated. Her energy kept her students busy and she won a number of awards. It wasn’t unusual to find her up to her elbows in glitter and glue while creating a lesson plan for 6-year-olds or playing with her own kids. Penny herself had apparently been a handful when she was of school age and often found herself in the principal’s office or being disciplined and even suspended a few times. That she would even go into teaching amazed me but she was superb at it – except for one very small flaw that was almost her undoing. You see Penny was perfectly bilingual and spoke both French and English without the slightest accent. She had done one university degree in French and one in English; such was her mastery of both languages. She sometimes used this as a part of her dumb blonde act pretending to be only English or only French while she took note of all that was said in both languages.

Steve look-alike in Costume

Web Site:

Anyway, Penny taught in a French school and around here they are very strict that only French be spoken in the classroom, as so much daily living is done in English. We had a mutual friend, Steve, who was a professional clown. Steve owed Penny a favor when she DJed a dance for him as he was double booked with a clown gig at the same time. Penny did not want money but rather took out the debt in the form of a trade for Steve’s participation in a classroom birthday at her school. At the end of each year, Penny would have a small party for all those in her class whose birthdays fell in the summer. She invited Steve the Clown who spoke only English but normally mimed most of the time anyway. To make a long story short, the clown talked, a passing teacher heard English being spoken and ratted out Penny to the principal. That evening Penny complained to me saying: “Paul, I am spending more time in the principal’s office as a teacher than I ever did as a student and that was bad enough.”

We’ll come back to visit Penny again another day as our time together over a period of 10 years produced some hilarious and thought-provoking stories.

Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea on this weekend. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Oh and roughseasinthemed, your bottle of chilled Muscadet is on the table on ice. Have a great week.

First Get in here



To Go



31 thoughts on “Penny

  1. The Tim Horton coffee at the end made me smile – and looking forward to hearing more about Penny – oh snd it always amazes me how some folks master languages so well / and interesting she had little accent – 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for dropping by Prior. I am honored. The Timmy’s was a part of every trip when I had a car. Delightful for sure and many memories. Actually that would make a neat post = the important times in life when Timmy’s was there. That armrest at the driver’s right elbow flips up and there are two cup holders in there. It is a great design because if there is any spillage or mess, it is contained.Ha! And I appreciate anyone who designs to contain mess – being a certified grand mess maker myself.

      Penny was one of a kind – she has since had two more kids and married. She had her first child before she was 18 and she broke every rule out there. The kids never slowed her down and she continued to have them while she did degrees and worked. She used to get really angry when people judged her early start without a partner and said she was going to write a book – as kids never slowed her down, and she wasn’t going to marry until she fell in love.Ha! But kids she loved.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi P – (and Marky Mark) –
        well thanks for sharing about the cup holder -and the little things matter with a car! ha! and contained spillage does help =- and I know many folks who complain about some of the imports not having a large enough cup holder to even hold the standard mug – in fact – I do not watch Better call Saul because I do not like it, but when I was checking it out – one thing they did that was funny had to do with Saul getting aggravated with his high end car not being able to fit his mug inside the cup holder…. so many could relate.
        but that Dodge Intrepid sounds like it was a good vehicle for you.
        well good for her for not marrying just for the sake of a child – argh! I have seen many divorces unfold because people married for the wrong reasons….
        oh and lastly, in the 80’s – before Tim Horton’s made it to the States – it was a huge highlight to go to Canada to get their coffee. Each summer we looked forward to it (and for a while we got our gas up there too – there was a time when it was the cheaper option – but seems like never again after that…)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Firstly Paul, thank you very much for your thoughtful attention to my request. I shall try and be moderate so we can put the bottle back in the fridge for next week.
    We’ve known a few Pennys recently. Both pretty, blonde/fair, smiley, and full of life and vitality. Perhaps there’s something in the name.
    On the high tea/afternoon tea photo, I’ve had this discussion elsewhere on the Internet. Oh, I remember, it was a book review I did on my blog. It was set in Carolina (?) one of them, and the main character was invited for afternoon tea. All he got was a cup of tea. British afternoon tea is technically the picture you included. But British high tea is not the same. High tea is a later cooked meal. Anyway, I’m planning a piece on sloppy journalism, so I’ll include the Telegraph piece where she refers to the two as the same.
    By the way I took a cucumber sandwich to accompany my glass of Muscadet. See you next week 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great to have you visit roughseas. I hope your Muscadet is properly chilled. We will be sure to have a supply ready, so drink as you please. You re right about the tea – my apologies. I was not aware of the difference until you pointed it out. help yourself to the cucumber sandwiches and sweets and whatever your heart desires. Please drop by again, your presence is an honor.


      • Muscadet is perfect. Thank you. I’ll stick to sandwiches, I don’t eat cakes/desserts, but it looks like you cater for all tastes. I think the tea thing is one of many that has got lost in translation across the Atlantic. My gripe wasn’t with you but that an incompetent journalist on a UK national newspaper didn’t know the difference in this country. What it’s called in North America is down to you all. We each have our idiosyncracies, I just wish for a little more accuracy sometimes and an awareness of history. I know. Dream on.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi, Paul and thanks for another lively word-portrait. Are you still in touch with Penny? And is she still teaching?

    I’m absolutely amazed at how (relatively) calmly you took her driving. Most people would have had the car at the curb and switched drivers on the spot. But I assume the traffic police never caught up to you?

    Hope your summer is going well. I’m looking forward to more of your character sketches. Some day one of us (or both?) will HAVE to write a book for all those characters to live in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome Barb! Sorry to take so long to reply – word press ate it for some reason and it just popped up. Yep, Penny is still teaching and lives a few miles away. I stopped seeing her much since she got married. I didn’t think it fair to her husband as her time is already stretched and time with him would be limited even without me in the picture. Over the years that we were friends there were times that she had boyfriends and it never worked well. I was fine with it, but she would arrange her schedule around my free time and the boyfriend would get shunted aside. We never once touched in any sexual manner but it felt like I was supplying the emotional component of a sexual relationship – just without the physical component. For sure part of the dynamic was the fact that I was a bachelor without a relationship so I would come when called and contribute what I could. She was free to use my car as long as she dropped me at work, and when she needed things moved, I would get a truck and some friends and do it. I would happily go anywhere she chose with or without the kids, on days off or weekends. I sometimes supplied food if she was short (she never asked) or gave a gift certificate to families she knew were short of groceries around Thanksgiving or Christmas. In return (not that anyone kept track because we didn’t) she was the only one who stuck with me when I had colon cancer and kidney failure – no matter how bad things got. Even my landlord threatened to throw me out. I had been laid off when I got a degree because I was over educated; my 12 year relationship with my wife ended; I had to move out (she had kids and they needed the house); I had been diagnosed with cancer; and many other bad changes simultaneously. Psychologically I recognize that her kindness was especially welcome given my state.

      Your question about speed is particularly excellent Barb. I spent many years as a safety manager who did test drives and sucked up every formal course I could find on safety. I was anal about speed limits and safety. Interestingly enough, when Penny made a mistake i would point it out and insist she change while driving my car. She would argue but would change. That said there were times when she broke the law that “felt’ safe – and I would always warn her of the consequences but would leave it up to her whether to continue. Penny was very special Barb – and as a writer and observer of humanity I am sure you have come across the occasional person like her. She had an abiding Faith in God – not religion – that was so much a part of her that there was no way to separate the two. She judged absolutely no one but unless this was pointed out it was not noticeable. So many bad things had happened in her life and she had turned everyone of them around with love. She never spoke of church although she took her brood every Sunday to whatever church was closest. Unless someone else brought it up she never spoke of the Bible. She never swore but she could cheerfully fit into a group of longshoremen who swore continually and unless you paid attention you would not realize she was not swearing.

      In short Barb she played in a very different world than most of us do – it looked identical and yet she read very different information from the same inputs. When you were around her, a sense of peace descended and it was clear she was special. Unless i could see immediate negative effects of her actions I left her a long, long leash. And I felt very safe doing so. I’ve seen her do things that I would never give even an infinitesimal chance of success and yet they turned out far better than could have been imagined. For her there was no question, no hesitation, just a certainty of action. Don’t get me wrong, she would puzzle over which cheese to buy, which car was best, what she should wear,etc. – the same as everyone else – but that was the physical world. When it came to emotional or spiritual concerns she never hesitated. And the reason she was speeding was that her grandmother was sick and had called Penny to ask her to come. The road was newly paved and with very little traffic, it was wide and dry and flat. Penny had defensive driving training and was a good technical driver with reflexes that were far better than mine. Like most under 40 she had a higher risk tolerance but it was normal. The car was rated as the most stable car on the road,beating even sports cars like Porsche and Audi. It had new, wide tires on it that had just cost me $1,500 and it had been aligned and tuned. There was not a tremor even at 160 km per hr.

      Thanks again for dropping by Barb. I have anther Penny post partially done that was scheduled for today but I was not well last night and couldn’t finish it.Hopefully next week. 🙂


  4. Pingback: Politicians, journalist and idiots | roughseasinthemed

    • Interesting observation Kerbey. I had to sit and think for a while on that one. Penny is a woman of great Faith and she is not particularly religious – as in she will go to what ever church is close by,not necessarily a specific denomination. That said her faith in God is unshakable. As such she is a person with a great deal of love and who is very respectful of treating others as she would want to be treated. Those rules she does not break – even to her own detriment. However when it comes to rendering unto Caesar, she is not very obedient I am afraid. If she can see how her actions may harm others, she definitely will be obedient – otherwise not so much.

      Thanks for dropping by for a read and comment Kerbey. I am honored. Have a great week!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Paul, I loved this story! You are such a masterful storyteller . . . and Penny sounds like someone I definitely would’ve been good friends with. We had the grandkids for the last 7 days – yeah we are exhausted and Mexican food & a couple of margaritas were in order – but wanted to pop in on you 🙂 LOVE this post, my friend ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Sadie. I trust all is well with the grandies. Mexican and Margaritas sure sound good to me.Yum! Have a great evening and thank you so much for the read and the compliment.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Penny was water: knows the river route but also undersatnd there’s more ways to flow from source to destination…and no obstacle will deter long. In some cases not a bad idea to play cards close and let people underestimate you – sadly education field is one of those – creative teachers willing to put a toe over the edge of rules are often the most effective and most remembered. Penny sounds like a real delight.
    (HA! found you! Reader isn’t working and the email notices MIA, but tracking you down)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Darn, I was sure i’d hidden well. Sigh, never could win at hide and seek. ha! Your comment is actually quite amazing Phil. Penny was addicted to the water. Whenever we had a bit of time (not long enough to go to Montreal) she would want to go to the water. We would spend hours just sitting quietly beside a lake or river. Often Penny would bring or buy dried bread to feed the birds,muskrats and ground hogs ( and squirrels). In summer she would take her family to the beach as often as possible.

      Thanks so much for dropping by Phil.It is an honor as always to have you here.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.