The Lighter Side

Christmas time brings out the kid in me. The small child who likes to see the lights, wrap the presents, deck the halls, and fa-la-la-la-la! But mostly this child likes to eat candy.  I know!  I know!  I’m diabetic.  You don’t have to remind me.  I have kept my blood sugar levels in tiptop shape for years .I know how to handle the occasional trips on the Sugarland Express.

By sticking to a strict diet, I end up semi-comatose in the candy aisle at the Kwik Stop. I can attest that waking up in a puddle of Slushie with M&Ms stuck to my forehead isn’t pretty…for anyone.

A few years back, after some holiday shopping, I was heading towards the registers when I caught sight of little chocolate Santas sitting next to the interactive Sham Wow table.

The white and blue box said, “Solid milk chocolate.  Made in New Orleans Since 1938.  Premium chocolate, with finest ingredients.”  This was a good thing. They weren’t too large, so it wouldn’t produce a massive sugar high, and only a dollar. Score!  I checked out and headed to the parking lot

I plunked the bags in the back of my car and snagged my chocolate Santa.  I ripped open the box, started my car, and wheeled onto the highway while I took my first bite.  Oh my!  What an unexpected sensation. It’s hard to put the experience into words, but I’ll try.

First, I noticed a firm, waxy texture.  Immediately my mouth was coated with a thick film of lard. The chunks slipped around in my mouth as my teeth tried desperately to grind them into submission. It was like chewing on one of the emergency candles Aunt Edna kept on the third shelf in the hall closet.  I say this because years ago my older brother assured me they were vanilla flavored.

I kept thinking I’d surely be rewarded with a rush of “real chocolate” flavor.  Alas, I only experienced a brief, unsatisfying sweetness. Somewhat perplexed, I finally swallowed.  Huh.  Maybe because it was a cold day the chocolate hadn’t had time to melt.  I decided I should attempt another bite.

I chewed off Mr. Claus’ left arm and let it sit in my mouth to warm up.  In a few minutes I was able to come up with two hypotheses. One: I had become a Zombie. No body temperature would explain the lack of melting the chocolate. Two: This chocolate was crap.  Chew, chew, chew.  Yeah, I’m gonna have to go with theory two

At this point I did something that I have never done.   I spit the chocolate out.  I rolled down the window and ejected the brown wad from my mouth.  Unfortunately I was driving at  65 miles an hour, so it didn’t  catapult out but rather slid down the side of my face and neck before smearing along the side of my car.  The offensive substance was gone, but the lardly sweetness remained.  In desperation I looked around for something, anything, to purge my mouth of the disgusting aftertaste.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dusty Hot Tamale candy nestled in the cup holder.  With an excitement usually reserved for Christmas day, I popped that sucker in my mouth and bit down.  The fiery goodness filled my mouth and the fat particles parted like the red sea as a rush of saliva and cinnamon bombarded my taste buds.  Relief!

When I got home, I read the box again:  Finest ingredients…blah blah bah…pure cocoa,..vanilla…huh.  I didn’t see lard or candle wax listed but I can say, without a doubt, they were in there.  Then I saw this: Contact us at (that’s made up so don’t try it).

I sat down and wrote the following email.

To whom it may concern.

I recently purchased a chocolate Santa Claus at Wal-Mart which was made by your company.  It was most disappointing.  I was surprised, since the box promised such greatness.  It was rather flavorless and had no chocolate taste whatsoever.  Have you had complaints about this product before? Perhaps there was a problem with this batch.  I cannot believe this is premium chocolate.  Further, I find it difficult to believe real ingredients of any kind were used.

I hope this was an isolated experience,

Bowen Barrs

 The Response later that day,

Dear Mr. Barrs,

We are sorry to hear you had an unpleasant experience with our product.  Let me assure you that it is indeed premium chocolate.  All the ingredients are the highest in quality, including real cocoa and vanilla.  We have been the proud creators of premium chocolates since 1938. Currently we are not aware of any issues concerning our chocolate Santa Claus sold at Wal-Mart.  We hope you will try us again in the future.


Shirley Brown

Customer Service Representative

My 2nd email:

Dear Ms. Brown,

Thank you for your timely response.  It’s nice to know there’s a human reading my emails. I would like to revisit the Santa Saga so I may succinctly convey my level of anxiety and confusion. 

“Premium chocolate since 1938”.  Really?  Wow!  That’s great!  In fact it’s amazing if the rest of your chocolate is similar to what came out of this box. Exactly how much real cocoa was used in this culinary delight?  Personally, I’m guessing a pinch between the fingers was tossed into the air and allowed to settle onto the gigantic vat of “other ingredients.”  Then there’s the vanilla.  When you say “real”….oh hell, just see the question about the cocoa and you’ll get the gist of what I’m asking.  I’m pretty sure “Bob” down on the assembly line rinsed out the last of the bottle and dumped it in. How much edible wax is considered acceptable in a piece of chocolate? Rest assured I could have polished my dining room table to a lustrous shine with old Saint Nick.

I will give you an “A” for fat content. I had great difficulty keeping my tongue in my mouth halfway through my first bite.  The coating in my mouth gave me a flashback of Eskimo women chewing seal fat on National Geographic’s “The Frozen North.”  Thankfully I wasn’t pulled over for a sobriety test. It would have been nigh onto impossible explaining to the officer what happened with brown drool down one side of my body and a tongue wagging about like the toothless Chihuahua  in last year’s Ugliest Dog contest.

Santa only cost  a dollar so that’s no concern.  I shan’t, however, be able to recover those agonizing moments of horror nor the ten minutes it took to get the vomitously ejected sludge off the side of my car. Which, by the way, left a lovely, mirrored shine.

Hopefully this will make my complaint a bit clearer to you.  I beg you, Shirley, to go back in the factory, grab one of these suckers, and taste test it yourself.  But PLEASE, have a trash can,  washcloth, and some chewing gum readily available.

And her reply…

Dear Mr. Barrs,

I believe I now completely understand your feelings regarding our chocolate Santa Claus.  With such a vivid description in front of me, all I can think to say is, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

Warmest regards

Shirley Brown

My response…

Shirley!  You have made my day.  What a great response!  Oh, my gosh!  I am still laughing about it.  You retort to my rather obnoxious, yet  completely true, accounting of my chocolate nightmare is BRILLIANT!!!!  It was worth every bit of torture I endured.  Thank you, thank you!  You are a gem among the rocks of humanity.  Your company is lucky to have you!

Touche! My hat is off to you madam!

Your adoring fan,


 Dear Bowen,

You have to admit that your second email left no room for argument. I had to throw in the towel!  I’m glad you found the humor in my response.  Believe me, I have saved your email to treasure for years to come.  I would like to send you a ten-dollar gift card, good at any Wal-Mart.  If you’ll send me your address information, I’ll get that right out to you.

Thanks for the laughs and banter,




I was ten when my family moved from Florida to Colorado. We went from sea level to an altitude of 9000 feet.  Upon this mountain, my family bought a Dude Ranch. My parents had what mom called a restless spirit. Later I realized this was a euphemism for bug eyed crazy.  Life was a tad different in the mountains. Our school in Florida was a ten minute car ride away.  In Colorado we rode snowmobiles 8 miles to catch the school bus which carried us another 8 miles to town. My parents had definitely lost their minds.

Preparing for our daily descent required layering; lots and lots of layering.  Long Johns, jeans, two layers of socks, boots, undershirt, over shirt, sweater, jacket, scarf, snow mobile suit, goose down mittens, down face mask, goggles and helmet.  Skin exposed to the elements at -40 degrees suffered frostbite.

In the numbing cold of early morning, my father had to start our snowmobiles. Eons ago snowmobiles were pull-started.  Imagine hand cranking a commercial sized lawn mower and you’ll get the gist.  At ten and twelve years of age, my brother and I didn’t have the strength to turn over a cold engine. Pop would crank them up and send us on our way.

Our skills were challenged on many days. Bad weather could drastically altered conditions on the narrow dirt road.  At times, several feet of snow or huge drifts appeared overnight.  After making it down, we’d get into our truck, peel off several layers, and call my parents on the CB radio.  If we didn’t call within a half hour, my dad came searching for us.  He said letting us attempt the trek on our own was “Character building”.  I was becoming quite the character.

I was notorious for wrecking my machine. My mother said I was more adventurous than my older sibling, but I think my father had a different perspective. He shook his head and muttered a lot.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’d have stand in front of him and explain what happened. An example is the time I fell off my snowmobile at the top of a hill. I watched helplessly as it zoomed down the slope and dead centered one of only three trees in the field below. This time, I managed to barrel roll into a steep ravine, snap off my windshield, and sling a few parts far afield.

My father loaned me his snowmobile hoping against hope that I would keep it intact. It had  the largest engine of all and brakes that could best be described as non-existent. I had made it through the whole week with nary a scratch on his machine. A few more days and I’d be in the clear.  On Friday we got off the school bus and headed to the machines.  It was nice, warm, 10 degree day in February. Cranking up dad’s behemoth would be much easier.

We used some clever tricks to get the snowmobiles started by ourselves. The engines were not frozen solid as in the early morning, but getting them to turn over still took all of our strength.  Here was our system.

1)      Wrap bungee cord around throttle, keeping it wide open

2)      Pull choke out to full

3)      Use both hands to pull crank 3 or 4 times

4)      As the engine sputtered to life, remove cord from throttle and disengage choke.

I wrapped the throttle, set the choke and grabbed the pull-cord with both hands.  Normally it took three or four cranks to get it started.  I gave one hearty yank and the engine unexpectedly sprang to life.  Stunned, I had only a nanosecond to jump onto the running board as the machine sped off. I was barely clinging on, frantically trying to get the bungee cord off the throttle, as I passed my brother.  The kill switch was on the other handlebar so there was no way to reach it.  I raced down the road, gaining speed as I fought that cord.

Two seconds later, I launched up the ice hill. You know, the one made by the snowplow? My brother later said, “You rocketed off the top of the ramp and went up 15 or 20 feet. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen you do.”

I knew all was lost as I slip the surly bounds of earth. Everything quieted as I achieved altitude.  The sun had begun to soften in the sky and the wind stilled as upward, upward I flew.  Like the space shuttle losing its main fuel tank, the snowmobile rolled slowly to the left as I arced to the right. I was floating, soaring, and then falling in slow motion. Houston…we have a problem. I heard a crash and felt the sudden thud as my helmet hit the frozen tundra.  As I lay on my back, parts of snowmobile sailed over my head like a skein of geese.  I’m talking major parts here: Tread, one front ski, and a few sprockets of some sort.

With a mixture of horror and relief, I realized I had survived the crash.  Not only did I survive, I didn’t have a scratch on me.  No broken bones, twisted ankle, cut, or bruise.  The same could not be said for Pop’s machine.  I started to cry as my brother came up beside me on his snowmobile. “Are you okay?”  I blurted out, “Pop’s gonna kill me!” I begin gathering pieces of god knows what and putting them in my pocket.  I clearly was in shock.  This amount of devastation could not be fixed.

We walked over to what was left.  The carnage at ground zero was amazing.  I never knew there were so many pieces under the plastic and metal housing.  I looked at the part in my hand and gently dropped it upon the carcass.  In shame, I rode home behind my brother as snotty sobs froze my nose shut. I dreaded standing in front of my father to once again explain how I managed to destroy another snowmobile

My brother took it upon himself to tell my dad the tale.  Very sporting of him, I must say.  My dad’s face went crimson as the story unfolded. He stopped my brother halfway through.

“It’s my fault.”

What did I hear?  Could this be? My father continued,

“I came down to town and on the way home I warmed up your snowmobiles so they’d be easier to start. I guess I should have left a note.”

Relief flooded my soul. I was going to live to face another day!  My father asked my brother, “How bad is it.?” An uneasy silence filled the room. Slowly, I reached in my pocket, removed some parts and laid them quietly on the table.  My dad lowered his head and muttered something, but this time I think I caught a glimpse of a smile.



family tree





I enjoy having a unique name; truly I do.  My Southern family has proudly mingled historical, traditional, and oft times fanciful names into the fabric of the ancestral tree for generation upon generation on both sides.

My brother, the first born, became a junior with no questions asked.  This meant my mother had free reign on my name. My first name, Bowen, is my mother’s maiden name.   I am grateful because my grandfather’s first name was Ralph. Sparkman, my middle name, was grandfather Barrs’ middle name. This was also a good call since his first name was Byrd. Sparkman was also my great grandmother’s maiden name, so a multigenerational nod to dad’s side of the family made everyone happy.  Bowen Sparkman Barrs.

I have spent my entire life explaining my name, and most of the time I have no problem doing so.  However, I have a pet peeve about office personnel not being able to comprehend my name.  Come on!  They’re paid to take information accurately over the phone!

“Thank you for calling Dr. Conrad’s office, this is Stephanie, How may I help you?”

“I’d like to make an appointment as a new patient please.”

“Alright sir.  Let me get some information from you.  May I have the correct spelling of your last name?” This is where it starts; why would I spell it incorrectly?

“ Barrs, B-a-r-r-s”

“Alright Mr. Barf, may I have your first name?”

“No, S.  S as in Sam”

“Sam Barf.  And your date of birth, Sam?”

“That’s wrong.”

“How could it be wrong? You haven’t given it to me yet?”

“My name is wrong.”


“Because it’s not Sam”

“Then why did you tell me it was?”

“I didn’t.  I told you my last name had an S at the end. S as in Sam”

“I’m sorry, an S on the end…Okay Mr. Barfsnow that we’ve gotten your last name straightened out, let’s get that first name on file, shall we?”



“No, Bowen.”

“I hope you don’t mind me saying, but Nobowen Barfs is rather an unusual name.  Where is your family from?”

“I give up!”

“Well, many people don’t know their family history. Can I have your middle name?”

“Oh, Christ!”

“Middle name, O’Christ. Well that sounds Irish!”

“My middle name is Sparkman”

“You’re kidding, right? Spartan can’t possibly be your middle name.”

“Your right.  It can’t possibly be.”

“Is this a prank call?”

“I’m beginning to wonder.”

“I’m going to hang up now, if you’re through.”

“No! My name is Bowen, B-o-w-e-n, Sparkman S-p-a-r-k-m-a-n, Barrs, B-a-r-r-s. Got it?

“Bowen… Sparkman… Barrs?”

“YES!  That’s it!”

“Really? That is such an unusual name!”

“Well, when you compare it to something common like, Nobowen Spartan Barfs, I suppose you’re right. It’s been a pleasure talking with you Step- Hammie.”

“No, Stephanie”

“Nostephanie? Hey! I wonder if we’re related. Are you Irish?”

family tree

©Bowen Barrs and Communicationchaos January 2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bowen Barrs and Communicationchaos with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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