Gimme a Smile: Step right up and make your choice

Life is full of choices, large and small.

By Peggy McKee Barnhill

Life is full of choices, large and small. You might face the momentous question of whether to have a latte this morning instead of your usual drip coffee, or the mundane choice between two candidates on a national ballot. Consider a few of these momentous and mundane issues of our time:

■ Early riser vs. night owl. Do you follow Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice about “early to bed and early to rise,” or do you practice “sleep procrastination” by staying up late even when you don’t have to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline? Or maybe you go with the best (or worst) of both worlds, by getting up early and staying up late? Yeah, that’s me. In summer I blame it on the long hours of daylight, but in winter I have no one to blame but myself.

■ Athlete vs. couch potato. Faithful to my Scotch-Irish roots, I’ll take the potato any time. Mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, French fries, potato chips—they can all be consumed while sitting on the couch watching someone else display their athletic prowess. Win-win!

■ Sun vs. rain. Do you prefer a bright sunny day or the soft patter of rain? I prefer sun, but only if I can sit in the shade to enjoy it. I also like rain, especially its smell, but only if I can sit under a roof to enjoy it. Yep, couch potato all the way!

■ Red vs. blue. We’re talking politics here, something I usually try to avoid in my friendly humor columns. But I can’t resist a comment on the color assignments. In the early 20th century when communism was taking hold, communists were referred to as “Reds.” Funny how the Republicans have taken on the red persona in modern political discourse…

■ Tea vs. coffee. Which pick-me-up do you reach for in the morning? Did you know this was once a political question? During the Revolutionary War, when the colonists threw the English tea into the harbor to defy the oppressive taxation from overseas, drinking tea became unpatriotic. Presumably you could tell the patriots, those proud coffee drinkers, from the Tories who stuck to their tea. What about the ones who didn’t want to take sides, so they walked around in an uncaffeinated haze, too tired to notice history unfolding around them?

■ Long hair vs. short. In the 1920s short hair became a sign of independence for women. Young women would bob their hair, don short skirts, and step out of their sheltered roles to scandalize the conventional society of the time. In the 1960s long hair became a sign of rebellion for men. Young men would grow long hair and beards in defiance of “the Man.” In 2020, long hair again became a sign of the times, as hair salons shuttered, and men faced the choice between a tidy man-bun or long tresses suitable for a part in the musical “Hair.” This time the hairstyle was seen either as evidence of government overreach or as the symbol of a sublime act of community spirit, depending on which propaganda one consumed.

■ Sunscreen vs. suntan lotion. When I was growing up as a pale-skinned redhead in Florida in the 1970s, the sunscreen option was not available. People looking for a bronzed tan would bypass the suntan lotion and slather baby oil onto their skin and lay out in the sun like a chicken leg basting in oil while cooking. Not me! To protect myself from a blistering sunburn, I would smear zinc oxide on my nose like frosting on a birthday cake.

■ City vs. small town. Where would you rather live? I’ve tried both. I spent a year of sleepless nights in New York City, constantly on edge from the unending racket. I’m quite at home here in Juneau, where I can listen to birds singing first thing in the morning. John Mellencamp sings, “I can breathe in a small town.” But, if I wanted to see a John Mellencamp concert, I would probably need that city after all.

This is merely a sampling of the decisions we all face every day. Give me a big cup of café au lait, no sugar, and I can handle the challenge!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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