"Oh, my lord — that was one crazy New Year's party," Tammy Naughton said to me as she settled into the shotgun seat. I was booked to drive her from Burlington back to her home in Colton, a small town just south of Potsdam, N.Y. Her unshod right foot was wrapped in thick gauze — something to do with the party, I imagined.
"I'm just dying to see my little girl," she continued. "Becky is 6 and loves staying with her grandma, who spoils her silly. But I miss her something terrible. Two days may not seem like much, but it might be the longest we've been apart."
I glanced at my customer before shifting into gear. Tammy was cute, with a small frame and pixie hair, and appeared quite young, though she was probably in her thirties. When she spoke of her daughter, I sensed a "mama lion," which made me smile. Nothing is so fierce and powerful as a mother, I mused.
Getting under way, I asked, "Putting two and two together, I'm guessing you injured your foot over the holidays?"
"Oh, I'll say," Tammy replied, reaching into her bag to extract something. "Can you look at this X-ray while you drive?"
"Sure," I said. The photo was one of the most disturbing images I'd ever seen. Her foot appeared to be pierced clean through by a shard of some kind.
"Sheesh!" I said. "What the heck happened?"
"It was the freakiest thing," Tammy said. "For some reason, we decided to have a bonfire in the yard at about one in the morning. I was carrying some cut wood to add to the burning pile when one heavy log dropped on my foot.
"Crap, I thought, that really hurt. I dropped the wood and looked down, hoping I hadn't broken a bone. What I saw to my horror was that a 10-inch pointed branch, which must have been jutting off the log, had landed at the precise angle to cut through my sneaker and foot. We rushed to the emergency room in Massena, but the doctor was worried about nerve damage and sent me to Burlington. Luckily, it turned out that the wood missed any nerves or arteries."
"Wow, what a story," I responded. "Well, let this be the worst thing that befalls you in 2019."
"Amen, brother," Tammy said.
"So, what's life like in the North Country?" I asked.
This trip was going to take a couple hours, so I figured an open-ended question would lead to a nice meaty conversation.
"I do intake for a social services agency. Ironically, it's about increasing people's access to health care. I went to Plattsburgh State on a hockey scholarship, but that didn't pan out."
"Plattsburgh has one of the top Division III programs in the country, so I'm impressed. Were you recruited?"
"I was. Not to brag, but in high school I was one of the better players in the state, so a number of colleges made offers. Unfortunately, after a good start to my freshman season, I blew out an ACL. I returned to the team my sophomore year, but by then all my teammates had improved, while my game had gone backwards. To be honest, I was partying too much and didn't really make the effort to get back to form. So, I gutted it out that year and then dropped out."
"The twists and turns of life, Tammy," I sympathized. "But at some point you had your little girl, so that's great. Does she have a good papa in her life?"
"She does. Forrest is a great dad. Sadly, we're getting divorced and live apart. He was my high school sweetheart and has a decent job, but he never quite made the transition to an adult life. Even after Becky arrived, he still wanted to party every weekend."
"Did you guys try counseling? I mean, are you certain the marriage is over?"
"Well, I found out he was running around with other women, and that was a deal breaker. And he refused to go to counseling with me, so there's your answer."
"That's rough," I said. "But you seem to have landed on your feet. Of course, one of 'em got a hole in it..."
Tammy laughed, which is what I hoped for. I admired this feisty woman and lamented her soon-to-be ex-husband's lack of commitment. What is it the blues women sing? A good man is hard to find.
We crossed the Rouses Point Bridge and cruised west on Route 11, talking all the way. In an hour and a half, we reached Colton and pulled into the driveway of Tammy's neat single-floor ranch. In the yard, I could see the remains of the ill-fated New Year's Eve bonfire.
"Nice place, huh?" she asked with a smile. "It's the first home I've had to myself. I mean, for me and Becky. We got a good deal at $110,000."
"You sure did," I said. "In Burlington, a place like this wouldn't sell for less than about $300,000."
As she prepared to exit the taxi, I said, "You know what, Tammy? You're an awesome person. If you start dating again, don't ever settle. Listen to what I'm saying — I'm an old guy and know what I'm talking about here. You deserve a man that's truly your equal in every way that counts."
"Thanks for that, Jernigan. But I'm good for now; I really am. My granddaddy is half Native American and, for the first time in my life, I want to explore that part of my heritage. So dating is the last thing on my mind."
"That's great," I said. "I hope you heal up soon and get back on the rink."
"Oh, those days are over for me, but that's OK. Becky has taken up hockey and, I kid you not, she's already better than I was."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.