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  • Mike Martinez

Remembering The Pluff Mud Queen


Although she died more than five years ago, I have been thinking a great deal about my mother of late. Today (August 6) is her 73rd birthday.

In particular, I have been thinking about one of mom’s more colorful nicknames — the “Pluff Mud Queen.”

The name originated in 1982. Another summer at Pawleys Island, South Carolina, was upon us. Each year, family members kicked in money to reserve a couple of houses for a week or two. We were expecting many relatives to join us that year, far more than usually visited.

Thanks to crowded schedules and other family responsibilities, the relatives arrived on a staggered schedule. Mom was there on the first day to open up the houses and prepare for later arrivals, but a majority had yet to arrive. I was not slated to drive down for another two days.

After an exhausting day of cleaning and cooking, mom found herself playing cards with several young men — her nephew, Walter; his cousin, Loren Nauss; and the son of a family friend, Philip Johnson. With the exception of my mother, all were in their late twenties or early thirties. She was 43. The relatives of her generation had long since retired for the night.

The card game stretched into the wee morning hours. Fueled by generous helpings of beer and pretzels, the players laughed and joked and shared their plans for the future. By all accounts, my mother held her own. She was in the thick of it. Even the blare of loud rock music, which she usually found off-putting, did not visibly upset her.

Let me say a word about my mother’s drinking habits. She almost never drank alcohol. Consequently, her intoxication threshold was low. On the few occasions when she imbibed, it did not take much liquid refreshment to leave her shit-faced.

Sometime after 3:00 a.m., her age finally caught up with her. “I’ve had enough.” She staggered to her feet. “I will go to bed now.”

“Laura, why don’t you sleep on the couch?” Walter shouted over the noise of the stereo. He was always a helpful lad.

Mom was supposed to sleep in the other house. We rented two houses for several important reasons. The adults over 35 stayed in one house and the young relatives under 35 stayed in the house where the card game had been played for exactly that reason — so that card games and loud music could ensue without disturbing the older set, which often retired well before 10:00 p.m. As was often the case, my mom straddled both worlds. She cavorted with the under 35 crowd, but she chose to surround herself with the older generation upon occasion.

“No, no, no, Walter. Thank you, though. I want to sleep in my own bed. It's just a short drive to the other house.”

"Do you think you should drive right now?"

"Don't worry about me, sugar lump."

“Suit yourself, Laura. Good night.”

“G’night one; g’night all.”

The young men should have restrained her when it was apparent — and, given her intensely inebriated state, it was readily apparent — that my mother could barely stand, let alone operate heavy machinery. In their defense, I should point out that they were almost as impaired as she. Any attempts to interfere with her herky jerky progress toward the door no doubt would have met with fierce resistance.

Consequently, except for Walter's initial comment, no intrepid soul stepped forward to say, “Hey, wait a minute, Laura, you’re in no condition to drive. I insist that you give me your car keys!” People with that kind of sober judgment had long since retired for the night. The fellows who had sat up until the wee hours to play cards were disinclined to interfere with one of their own.

Mom staggered through the room and into the rear of the house. Once there, she encountered a screen porch. Normally, she would have pivoted to the left, grasped the rear door firmly in her hand, and pulled it toward her. Walking down three steps, she would have found herself standing in the yard next to the line of cars owned by our friends and relations. On this occasion, however, mom could not fathom the intricacies of back porch technology. She knew a screen door was somewhere nearby, but she could not seem to locate it. When Walter struggled up out of his chair to lumber over to the bathroom 10 minutes after he thought mom had departed, he found her scratching at the screen.

“What are you doing out there, Laura?”

Without turning, mom mumbled something about looking for an exit.

“Give it up, Laura.” He closed the bathroom door. “Just sleep on the couch.”

Despite this sensible advice, mom would not be dissuaded. Her trademark stubbornness once again rose to the occasion. She felt around the porch until she stumbled upon the door handle. After only 90 seconds or so, she discerned the mechanics of its operation. Without another word, she pulled the door handle toward her, patiently waited as it swung forward, gingerly stepped through the door, and promptly tumbled down the steps.

Fortunately, a pile of sand and cockleburs broke her fall.

For most rational, sober people, the difficulty she experienced in traveling from the card table to the lawn would have demonstrated the futility of going anywhere other than to bed. Mom prided herself on being unlike other people, and perhaps she was correct. Even in the face of long odds, she still believed she could find her car, get the engine started, and pilot the chrome monster to the corner, turn left, and drive another 300 yards to the beach house where she was staying.

I have always wondered why she did not walk. Even for someone unaccustomed to physical exertion such as my mom, the distance was not daunting. Add to that consideration the possibly deleterious consequences of driving under the influence, and the solution to her problem of finding her bed seemed obvious. Alas, to someone in her condition it was not obvious.

Mom climbed to her feet and brushed herself off. No one had seen her fall down the stairs. She thought about hollering for help, but the stereo was blaring and the guys were somewhere deep inside the house. Even if she had needed assistance, she was on her own.

The song that filled her ears admonished an American woman to stay away and don’t come hanging around the door because the singer didn’t want to see her face no more.

Mom got the picture.

She was not a graceful woman even in the best of times, but she was known to be lucky. She was lucky on this day. The stairs were blocks of concrete, and they could have inflicted severe damage on her arms and legs had she landed wrong. Perhaps God really does look out for small children and drunks. In any case, she got back on her feet and found that she was more or less uninjured. In the morning, she discovered a nasty bruise running the entire length of her left thigh, but at the time she felt fine.

Lurching across the lawn, she paused at a Toyota Tercel just long enough to vomit on the car’s side mirror. Wiping her mouth and adjusting her glasses, she pulled herself upright.

“Better. That’s better.” She mumbled and half sang to herself as she set off in search of her Chevy Nova.

For persons who have never seen a white 1969 Chevy Nova, here is a photograph. It is not mom’s car, but it resembles her vehicle from that long-ago time.

It waited for her exactly where she had parked it that afternoon. Mom seldom locked the car — this was the era before everyone had electronic automatic door openers attached to their key chains — although someone had vandalized the car some years earlier while she was watching a movie at the Crown Theatre in Florence.

Had the Nova been locked on that early morning at Pawleys Island, she might never have found her way inside, thus depriving her relatives of a treasured family story. Because it was unlocked, though, she soon figured out how to swing the door open and slide behind the wheel.

My mother was almost always a responsible person. Other than the time she was arrested for smarting off to a macho police officer draped in black leather, she had been a model citizen. She paid her bills and her taxes, usually on time. She reluctantly dragged herself to work every day. She cooked, cleaned the house, washed the clothes, and performed all the other rewarding chores that go with operating a household and raising a child.

This was the exception that proved the rule. As I said, she seldom drank alcohol, but when she did indulge, it generally turned out badly. On the few occasions when I had seen her this way — on New Year’s Eve, at a Christmas party, a graduation — she became sweety-sweet, a condition she normally detested. I remember her once throwing her arm around my shoulders at a wedding reception and pulling me close.

“You know something, Mike.”

“No. What?”

“You are a sweetheart. Yes, you are. Don’t try to deny it.”

“Okay. I won’t.”

“How did you get to be such a sweetheart?”

“I don’t know.”

“C’mon, you can tell me. Tell your mother. How did you get to be such a sweetheart?”

I shrugged. “Honestly, I do not know.”

“You can tell me.”

“Practice, I guess.”

She laughed and laughed. “Practice, you guess. Practice, he says. You practice to be a sweetheart. That is funny. You know that, Mike? That is funny — really funny. You are a funny, funny boy.”

That kind of silliness usually was the limit of her shenanigans on the rare occasions when she guzzled to excess. The episode at Pawleys Island was a singular event, an anomaly in an otherwise sterling record of good citizenship (excepting the incident involving her earlier arrest, of course).

The engine erupted into life after fewer than a dozen attempts to overcome the riddle of the starter mechanism. Mom sat slumped in her seat, turning her head this way and that so she could fathom the mysteries of the steering column. She believed that the symbols facing her — P, N, D, D2, R — were eerily familiar, but in her present state they were as indecipherable as ancient hieroglyphics.

“Now, let’s see. How does that go? ‘I’ before ‘e’ except after you see a Roman numeral. Sumpin’ like that.”

Walter reappeared on the porch. He called out to her when he saw her behind the wheel. “Laura. Come on back inside. You’ve got no business driving in your condition.”

I was not there, but from what I have learned from the post-incident reconstruction, he was not far removed from her condition. Yet Walter was not trying to pilot an automobile. Therein lay a world of difference.

Either she did not hear him over the noise of the stereo or she chose to ignore his admonition. In any case, she somehow found the correct sequence of actions to move the car from Park to Drive. Off she went.

A hundred yards from the house, she came to a Stop sign. She had two realistic choices — turn left or turn right. If she went straight, she would careen down a steep embankment and slam into the marsh. Even in her impaired condition, mom recognized that she had to turn one way or another.

If she turned left, she would arrive at the second beach house in 90 seconds or so. If she turned right, she would drive a quarter of a mile or so before reaching a pier that led to a communal boat dock. For anyone with a basic orientation of the island, a right turn was not a suitable route for an automobile. It led to the back of the inlet waterway. No houses or structures of any size lay in that direction. The twinkle of the lights to the left also should have alerted my mother that she only had a single viable option.

Her sense of direction was never good even when she was sober. Intoxicated, she had found it difficult to fight her way through the screen porch. What chance did she have to drive from one beach house to the second without severe consequences?

Turning right, she found herself off the roadway as the houses of Pawleys Island dropped behind her and the marsh loomed ahead. It was a dark night and what few streetlamps were available and lit were too far away from a desolate boat dock. No boats were anchored, for it was low tide in a rain-starved month. The boards on the dock were damp and rotting. If it had been used in recent years, which was doubtful, the dock was a dangerous place. Persons who relied on this rickety structure would have been in desperate straits.

Out onto this abandoned pier rolled my mother’s 2,000-pound Chevy Nova with her portly frame secure behind the wheel. She later said the sudden change in the road as the relatively smooth gravel path gave way to the rough bumps of a wooden pier alerted her that something was amiss, but she was at a loss to explain how or why such a change had occurred.

Within a matter of seconds the pier ended. Had she come upon a railing or a wooden seat built into the end of the wooden structure, she might have depressed the brake and thereby avoided her fate. Unfortunately, she saw no railing, no wooden seat, nothing to indicate an abrupt end to the boardwalk.

Down she and the Nova plunged, down into the deep muck that served as a home to fiddler crabs and loose seaweed drifting in from dark recesses, down into a blackness invisible to all but the most discerning eye.

The nose of the car sank into the soft underbelly of the pluff mud while the rear jutted upward at a 45-degree angle. It was as if a much smaller, less opulent version of the Titanic — a poor man’s replica, perhaps — had landed near the shores of South Carolina. Perhaps it was Chappaquiddick redux, except no one died this time.

For those of you blissfully unacquainted with pluff mud, here is a photograph of the thick, black, tar-like substance:

Mom sat quietly for 30 seconds or so. The engine sputtered and died. The thundering sound in her ears was her heart galloping through her chest cavity. When she realized she was not injured, she reached for the door handle to alight from the car and investigate exactly what had happened.

The car door would not budge. Although she did not know it at the time, the thick mud from the inlet waterway prevented any attempt to engage the engine or open the doors. Her only avenue of escape was through the windows.

Mom was fortunate that she landed at low tide. Although the water rarely rose high enough to submerge the car, her options would have been more severely limited had she faced a tide of rushing water. As it was, she rolled down the driver’s window and hoisted her torso up and over the threshold.

Tumbling head over heels, she landed in the soft dark mud. Fiddler crabs scrambled out of harm’s way while my mother struggled, gasping, to right herself and find her glasses, which had been displaced in her unusual gyrations from the car window.

The night was dark; mom was inebriated and disoriented, and time had lost its meaning. In recollecting the events, she was unable to say with precision how long she floundered in the pluff mud before she rediscovered the dock and climbed onto the wooden planks. One thing was clear: She was covered from top to bottom in dark, thick ooze.

Had anyone spied her ambling down the road, they might have supposed her to be a walking practical joke — a poor woman’s idea of a blackened zombie. She shuffled her feet, mumbling to herself, as she tried to retrace her footsteps. To the uninitiated observer, she would have appeared as a creature rising from the swamps, the apocryphal missing link emerging from the waters of Pawleys Island to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting populace.

Walter had settled into a fitful sleep when he heard an unusual sound emanating from the area of the porch. Exhausted from a long night of imbibing alcohol and playing cards, he ignored the sounds as long as he could. The faint scratching sound reminded him of a stray dog or perhaps a raccoon searching for food in the trashcans outside the kitchen door.

“What is that sound?” He spoke to no one in particular. Loren and Philip lay asleep on separate cots in the same room, but they did not stir. Aside from the strange noise, their snores were all he heard. The stereo had long ago fallen silent.

Eventually, Walter swung his feet onto the floor, reached for his glasses, and marched through the house toward the scratching. It was dark and he was tired, but he deftly maneuvered through the furniture without barking his shins or meeting with calamity.

There, crouched at the entrance to the screened-in porch, was a creature of some sort clawing at the screen. His brain fought the image, but he could not stop thinking of a wandering minstrel show. Wearing his black face, so offensive to modern sensibilities, Al Jolson stood at the back of the rented beach house in Pawleys Island and desperately sought a means of entry.

“What in the world?” Walter tried to make sense of this thing confronting him on the lawn. He was not yet scared for his safety, but he felt himself slipping in that direction. This unfolding drama was similar to a scene from a cheesy horror film.

The creature responded to the sound of the spoken word. It straightened and pierced him with its knowing stare. Walter felt his stomach drop as though his body had been hurled from a great precipice toward a certain death on jagged rocks far below.

“Who’s there?” His voice sounded small, weak.

Mom recognized the sound. “Walter? Oh, thank God!”

Adjusting his glasses, he stepped onto the porch. “Laura?”

"I looked into several houses before I found the right one," she explained.

"That must have made for an interesting experience."

"There's a woman still screaming down the block."

Walter rubbed his eyes.

“Open this door? Can you open this door?” In the minutes since she had departed from the beach house, my mother had not yet mastered the intricate technology of screen doors.

“What happened to you?” He reached for the door and pushed it open with his hand.

“The car.” She spoke in a horrified whisper. “The car. It’s down.”

Frowning, he tried to make sense of her words. “Down? Whattaya mean, ‘it’s down’? Down where?”

“I need the bathroom.” Mom pushed past him and lumbered down the hall.

Within minutes, she had wiped her face and hands of excess mud and had washed all but the most offending stains from her clothes. She was still a frightful picture of dishevelment, but at least she no longer resembled a murderous swamp creature engaged in a vicious rampage. Wiping her hands on a towel, she returned to the living room.

Walter pointed to the kitchen. “Should I brew some coffee?”

“That would be wonderful. Where are Philip and Loren?”

“Asleep.”

Walter rooted around in the kitchen, searching for a coffee filter. He clanged pots and pans around in the cabinets as he sought his elusive prey.

“We may need their help.” With that brief and enigmatic introduction, she launched into her tale of hardship and woe. Now more or less sobered up by the sordid circumstances and her roundabout trek back to the beach house, mom pieced together her narrative with admirable clarity.

In almost no time, Walter was laughing hysterically. “And you had no idea you were on a boat dock?”

She shook her head sorrowfully. “No.” Maybe one day she would laugh about this embarrassing episode, but not now, not on this day. Until she could fish her automobile from the drink, mom was worried about the financial calamity that awaited her when the repair bill came due.

They agreed that the Nova could not be left to languish in the pluff mud indefinitely. They must make plans to extract the vehicle from its murky depths or run the risk of high tide occasioning even more damage than what already had occurred.

“I’ll wake the guys.” Walter was grinning; he was a regular Cheshire cat. His unabashed delight at the prospects of sharing such a delicious story was disturbing, but what could be done?

In due course, the fellows drifted up from their depths of sleep, learned the details of mom’s misadventures, and joined in the merriment. Their disgust at having been awakened prematurely from their naps was more than ameliorated by the delicious details. The family character had struck again.

Mom had become more rational in the interlude between leaving the beach house, planting her Nova in the drink, and returning on foot. With the mud wiped away from her face and hands, she struggled to plot her next course of action. The young men who shared in the mirth were not known for their handyman prowess or crisis-handling abilities. Pondering this dilemma, she forgot that Walter was nothing if not a problem-solver of the highest order.

Walter planted his hands firmly on his hips. “Well, Laura. I can’t pull your car out of the pluff mud.” Here he had to stifle a laugh, but he did so admirably. “But I bet I know someone who can.”

With that cryptic remark, he led my mother, Loren, and Philip to his rental car. He had sobered up enough to drive without incident.

They arrived at a convenience store along Highway 17 in only minutes. The Li’l General was one of those places that remained open 24 hours a day. It seemed to have little purpose except to serve as a convenient target for robbery. As Walter expected, the parking lot was littered with pickup trucks.

“Let me do the talking. I know how to communicate with the natives.” He spoke as they entered the store. It was a ridiculous thing to say unless he was wallowing in irony. Walter was a Yankee, educated at Groton and Yale. His distinctive accent and haughty manner all but ensured that if he served as a spokesman, the group would not succeed in its mission.

A group of fellows stood next to the pork rinds. They wore baseball caps and their cheeks sported the unmistakable signs of Copenhagen or Skoal. Hearty laughter erupted from the men as Walter pointed. “There. That’s what we came to find. The Great American Good Ol’ Boy. I have tracked him here many a night.”

He had already started his approach before he could be stopped. “Good day gentlemen,” he said as he scurried across the store’s cheap linoleum. “Can I enlist your services in a noble enterprise in service of southern womanhood?”

"Huh?"

“No, it’s my problem.” Mom decided she must seize control of her predicament. She brushed past her nephew. “I was wondering if you guys could help me? I’ve got my car stuck in the mud and I need to find someone who can haul me out. There’s a case of beer in it if you can help me.”

“Geez, lady, what happened to you?” One of the men pointed to her muddy clothing.

“Well, actually, that’s why I’m here.” She launched into an abbreviated version of events, conveniently omitting any mention of alcohol.

The fellows were enticed by the unusual circumstances and the offer of liquid remuneration. After a minute or so of discussion, one young fellow allowed as how he had a chain in the back of his truck that could be wrapped around an axle and used to hoist the car from its watery grave. The others agreed to assist in the extrication.

With the particulars of the deal settled, mom purchased the beer. She kept it in the car with her relatives lest the gentlemen, incentive in hand, chose to vacate the premises before fulfilling their end of the bargain. She was shrewd when she was sober.

To make a long story short, the group of Good Ol’ Boys drove their monster truck and followed mom, Walter, Loren, and Philip in Walter's rental car to the site of the mishap. The Nova was exactly as she had left up, nearly vertical with its rear end pointing toward the heavens. The sun was almost visible as the men stared down at the car.

“Damn. Dat’s a sight. You done it real good,” a gentleman in a fishing cap opined as he tucked a pinch of tobacco between cheek and gum.

Mom sighed. “I really don’t want to talk about it. So can you get it out or not?”

“Yeah, that shouldn’t be no problem.” The ringleader spoke as he casually hopped from the dock into the mud. It came up almost to his knees, but he seemed not to mind. Carefully lifting his foot, he approached the car. Using a hand trowel, he started digging out a spot near the rear axle. A moment later, his companions threw themselves into the mud to lend a hand. My relatives remained on the dock watching the laborers and marveling at the new employees’ work ethic.

Walter wiped his glasses on his shirt tail. “It’s amazing what a case of beer will get you in the Southland.”

My mother growled. “Lower your voice, smartass.”

After 15 minutes or so, the young men had excavated enough mud that the ringleader was able to lean down and feel his way beneath the rear suspension. One of his friends tossed him the chain and he wrapped it around the axle. Another fellow climbed up and attached the other end of the chain to the axle of the truck. These guys had this car-towing chore down to a science.

The first fellow waved to his friend. “Okay, Jeter, give it some gas.”

Jeter slid behind the wheel, popped the truck into gear, and slowly inched away from the boat dock.

“Easy, easy.” The ringleader held up his hand, palm first, to indicate that Jeter should stop, which he did. The leader reached down and adjusted the chain.

“Is everything okay?” Mom lit a cigarette from the safety of the dock.

Dawn was approaching, and Jeter apparently was itching to get at some beer. “Hey, Eddie, you ready now? Let's get this show on the road.”

“Hold on.” Eddie, the ringleader, was fiddling with something beneath the car. He looked up at mom. “You really got this thing jammed in here.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay, try it again, but real easy. Scooter, you and Kevin get up front and push.”

Scooter and Kevin slogged through the mud to the front of the car and took their positions as Jeter stepped on the accelerator and Eddie guided the chain. The men were earning their case of beer and it was not yet 6:30 a.m.

“Is that the smell of burning rubber?” Walter sniffed the air. Mom, Loren, and Philip joined him in the exaggerated gyrations.

“Hold it.” Eddie looked exasperated.

Scooter and Kevin wiped sweat from their faces. If the Nova had moved, it was not much. It still resembled the Titanic bobbing up one last time before it slipped beneath the waves and headed for the ocean floor. The force of the initial impact had wedged the front bumper deep into the soft pluff mud below.

Eddie reached for his tobacco pouch. “I don’t know if we can get this thing out for ya.”

Mom was devastated. If these fellows could not help, she would be forced to employ professionals who undoubtedly would charge a great deal more money than a single case of beer. Her night of drinking and revelry, it seemed, would never end — or, if it ended, it would be enormously expensive.

“Think we could have one of those beers right now?”

Walter consulted his wristwatch. “It’s 6:17 in the morning.”

Scooter scratched his head. “Pushing this car is hard work.”

Mom did not desire a labor-management split when success was not assured. “Give him a beer. Give them all a beer.”

Philip trotted back to Walter’s car and retrieved a beer for the workers and one for himself. After tossing the cans to the convenience store clan, he turned to mom and Walter. “Want one?”

Mom held up her hand. “God, no.”

Ever the smart ass, Walter laughed. “It’s 6:17 in the morning. I try to wait until 7:00 a.m. before I imbibe.”

Mom shot him a dirty look for introducing a big word into a volatile situation. Such learnedness was so unnecessary in a time of crisis. Turning back to Eddie, she adopted her most plaintive tone. “Can you please try it one more time?”

Sipping his beer, he shrugged. “I guess so.” He crumpled the can with his fist and threw it into the drink. “Okay, boys, I guess we can give it another shot. This time, Jeter, really give her the gas.”

Walter muttered under his breath. “Not very environmentally conscious.”

Mom shot him a dirty look. “Can’t you shut up for once?”

“I’m just saying, Laura…. I mean, do we really want our employees to adopt such sloppy work practices?”

“Hush, you.”

With their beer cans emptied and their work ethic fortified by the brew, the workers returned to their battle stations. Eddie clapped his hands together. “Okay. Let’s do this thing.”

Jeter slammed his foot on the accelerator, and for one brief, heartwarming moment, the Nova lurched forward. The chain wobbled, emitted a loud screeching sound, and promptly snapped.

“Oh, shit.” Eddie screamed as he threw himself into the mud. On instinct, Scooter and Kevin followed suit.

The severed chain swung in a wide arc before striking the rear window of the truck with a loud slap, like a bag of meat hurled from the top of a tall building and striking the asphalt below. The glass starred; it was a large snowflake drawn on a child’s poster board.

Eddie instantly shot to his feet, inspecting the windshield, frowning, shaking his head. He could see, as could everyone, that the easy work with a case of beer at the conclusion was no longer possible.

Jeter scrambled from the truck anxious to make amends. “Ah, Jesus, man. I’m sorry ‘bout that.”

Eddie shrugged and waxed philosophical. “It ain't the end of the world.”

"That's very existential," Walter muttered.

Everyone fell silent for a moment. Finally, mom spoke. “Does this mean you can’t pull my car out of the pluff mud?”

“It means,” Eddie said, “we'll need a lot more than a case of beer.”

Walter spoke up again. “No, Laura. It means we have to call Triple A.”

Mom sighed as she lit a new cigarette. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Thank you gentlemen,” Walter called over to the perplexed Good Ol’ Boys as they examined the cracked window.

“Do we still get the beer?” Scooter asked as he licked his lips.

Mom shrugged. “Why the hell not?” She pointed at Walter. “Give me one before you toss the rest to them.”

Walter did as he was instructed.

"Who's gonna pay for this windshield?" Eddie asked as he wiped mud from his face with a rag.

Mom sighed. "Do I look like I have any money?" She gestured to her posse. "Would any of us be standing here like this if we had money?"

Eddie nodded as if to say, hey, it was worth a try. "Let's go, guys."

As the valiant former employees departed, Walter hugged his aunt Laura. “We will go back to the store and call Triple A. Leave it to the professionals.”

Mom chugged her beer in between puffs of her cigarette. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“By the way,” Walter said with a chuckle. “You’ve got a new nickname.”

“Uh-oh.”

“The Pluff Mud Queen.”

“Oh, no. Promise me,” she said with a grimace, “you won’t tell Mike.”

“But Laura, how else will we keep the story alive?”

The story is still alive. Now, 30 years later, I am remembering the Pluff Mud Queen on her 73rd birthday.

Author's Note: While the general events recounted here are true, most of the conversations and colorful descriptions have been "enhanced." Names were occasionally changed to protect the guilty.


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