Be Like Bessie!


Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”―Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few days each week during the winter I work in a giant laboratory studying the behavior of vast numbers of people.  My specific areas of interest are the characteristics of patience and kindness while in pursuit of happiness and outdoor adventure.  More specifically, I am a Greeter at a New England ski area.  From this vantage point I have face-to-face contact with hundreds of men, women and children of all ages.  The stories my colleagues and I collect could fill a book. (Hey, that’s an idea!)

One of a Greeter’s responsibilities, beyond welcoming guests and answering basic questions, is to be sure each visitor’s wait in the line to purchase lift tickets is as short as possible, hopefully no more that 7-15 minutes on the most crowded days.  This is no mean feat in the age of data collection required for the issuance of a reusable RFID card that can be detected by a scanner in the pocket of even the most high tech parka.  We also draw the short straw sometimes and have to facilitate traffic flow in the “drop off” area.  If the entire ski area is the laboratory, then this particular area is the active Petri dish.  Maybe we should put up a sign that says, “Remember! Children are watching and listening.”

If I was looking to hire people to build a team for a task that required intense, cooperative effort in a stressful situation, I’d insist on seeing videos of how these job candidates handled their cars, friends, family and Greeters in the “drop off” area.  Surely I’d learn more than any resume or interview could reveal.

Since we Greeters spend most of our time managing ticket lines, that’s where the best stories come from.  Just the other day a person was in such a hurry to get his ticket that instead of walking through the short, simple, ten-foot, back and forth maze to the ticket window, this “gentleman” ducked under the ropes to take a more direct route, knocking over several stanchions in the process, which he did not replace.  He may have saved a full three seconds getting to the ticket window.  I just nodded my head and smiled at him sympathetically. You know, one of those smiles that says, “I hope you get better soon.”

We greeters pick up a wonderful assortment of sound bites or snippets from the hundreds of conversations that swirl around us.  My all-time favorite came from two brothers, strolling past with their arms on each other’s shoulders.  The older brother looked at his younger sibling and said, “Hey, your wife’s happy and your girlfriend’s happy.  I think everything is going to be fine.” Then they disappeared into the crowd leaving me with a number of questions that will forever go unanswered. 


I’ve been thinking of asking management to position a large video screen in the ticket line waiting area showing highlights of good and bad behavior of guests collected over the course of the winter season.  We would obscure the faces, of course, to prevent lawsuits, but the instructional value would be powerful…and highly entertaining.

Most people waiting in line to purchase tickets fall into one of three categories:

Group A.  “I am too important to have to wait in line with all of these other people.  Can’t you do something?”   

Group B.  “It’s too bad the wait is so long.  Have you considered ways that might make things move more efficiently?”

Group C.  “I’m not at work, I’m in a beautiful place and eventually we are going to have a great day on the slopes.”

The hybrid of groups B and C is my personal favorite.  By the way, guests can purchase their tickets online at a reduced price and eliminate or greatly shorten their wait in line.  It’s a reward for those thoughtful people who plan ahead.  Let’s label these folks Group S for smart. 


So how does this all tie in with BESSIE’S STORY?  It’s simple.  Bessie is the model of patience.  She’ll stand with her nose to a door calmly and peacefully if she wants to go outside.  When it’s time for breakfast or dinner Bessie sits like an angel without barking, whining or grumbling.  In her dark, fragrant world she somehow just knows that we’re going to do the best we can to take care of her needs.  When we are going somewhere in the car she’ll hop in and sit calmly as long as necessary.  Very few people can follow her example of poise and good manners.  The only time Bessie ever acts or behaves as if she is the most important piece of the puzzle is when someone is playing retrieving games with her.  She can be a little antsy during these times, but we understand.

I’ve said it before.  The best way to make friends and influence people is to BE LIKE BESSIE.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.



Making New Friends


A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
– Walter Winchell

Since launching BESSIE’S STORY – Watching the Lights Go Out we have enjoyed book readings at a wide range of venues.  Ashley and I feel a little bit like we are the crew on a road tour with Bessie being the featured star. When it’s time to leave for an event she hops in the back seat of our car, lies down and falls asleep. Meanwhile we are loading up books, computers, her leash, cookies (Bessie’s dog cookies and Ashley’s homemade chocolate chip cookies) and all of the paraphernalia required to prepare for any possible chain of events.  Bessie’s aplomb in these situations is counterbalanced by Ashley’s anxiety. The nervous mother syndrome, I guess.

At the readings there are always a few participants who form a special bond with our girl, and there is no predicting whom she will choose.  At the end of a program at a retirement home Bessie had her head in the lap of a ninety-seven-year-old gentleman who had beautiful, sky-blue eyes that twinkled like stars on an August evening with each charming sentence he spoke. Turns out he was going blind.  Bess must have sensed this and they formed a bond. He bought a book with the plan that his ninety-three-year old girlfriend would read it to him. He winked at me while sharing this bit of information.

A woman in the audience during the reading kept saying, “Yep, yep, that’s exactly how I feel,” while I was reading about Bessie’s adjustment to a changing world.  She seemed to vividly understand what Bessie was going through. I can still see her nodding her head during the reading, her connection with Bessie was on a cosmic level.  

At a reading in the historic Town Hall of a quaint New Hampshire village a sweet, shy, unassuming ten-year-old girl asked me to sign one of Bessie’s postcards.  It wasn’t me she was interested in, but Bessie. “Be like Bessie,” I wrote on the card, and her eyes lit up!  “I will,” she said. And we both knew exactly what she meant. The card is probably tacked on a bulletin board in her bedroom, or taped to a mirror she sees every day.  I hope so.

During an assembly at one school I paused after reading the chapter about talking to dogs and asked the kids to speak to each other in their dog voices. Suddenly the classroom was filled with affection and kindness. Bessie’s ears perked up, too.

One of the most touching moments came while pointing out to a group of fourth graders how important it is to respond to people with handicaps or disabilities the same way they responded to Bessie―be compassionate, curious and helpful.  A nine-year-old described his friendship with a pal who has autism, and how much the relationship blossomed once he understood the condition. Rather than passing judgement, this insightful boy found joy in acceptance.

At a reading in a beautiful old library in a tiny New Hampshire town one gruff guy sat in sullen silence with his arms crossed over his chest for most of the session. Then, at the end, he almost broke down in tears describing how much he missed his old dog who had been a companion through some challenging life transitions. I think if we’d okayed it he would have taken Bessie home.  She’d have gone with him, too.

Dogs bring magic to our lives.  They are relatively brief visitors in our busy day-to-day schedules, but their impact is magnified in moments and they skillfully slow us down.  Dogs are wonderfully, flatteringly loyal, but at the same time can be uncommonly generous with their affection towards strangers. Bessie has become a conduit for the best that we have to offer each other.  A simple message is best: BE LIKE BESSIE!


We've Been Busy!


Well done is better than well said. Benjamin Franklin

Momentum begins gradually and then accelerates suddenly.  Bessie’s notoriety seems to be progressing that way.  Since the original book signing event at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, CT in late October we’ve sold over 800 books and been featured at five book readings with more scheduled in January.  Here is a listing of Bessie’s appearances to date and scheduled events for January 2019:

October 26, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT – Over one hundred people attended the launch event for BESSIE’S STORY – Watching the Lights Go Out.

October 29, Rumsey Hall School, Washington Depot, CT – Students and teachers in grades K-9 were introduced to Bessie through a personal appearance, a sequence of inspiring videos and selected readings. The kids LOVED her, and learned some things, too.

December 9, Acworth Silsby Library, Acworth, NH – Bessie was allowed to participate in this well-attended event in the beautiful reading room of this historic building.

December 13, Disnard Elementary School, Claremont, NH – Bessie visited with the fourth grade students and charmed them with her subtle, powerful spirit.  One little boy was moved to tears by Bessie’s bravery and irrepressible joy.

December 22, The Village Store, South Acworth, NH – This historic general store has been in continuous operation since the 1860s.  Bessie was right at home at this reading/signing gathering, sleeping soundly on the wide board floors in the midst of a group of new best friends.

Upcoming Events 

January 8, Aspen Elementary School, Aspen, CO

January 15, Reading/signing hosted by Woodcrest Village, New London, NH.

TBD, Newport Montessori School, Newport, NH


If you would like to schedule a BESSIE EVENT please email

Thank you.



Bessie and Boomer Get it Right


Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well? They have a common enemy.―Sam Levenson


When friends and family gather one of the best measures of their collective love and appreciation is the ease with which the group resumes familiar patterns and interactions.  It’s the “pick up where you left off” syndrome and it doesn’t matter if it’s been two weeks or two years, there is instant synergy.  Ashley, Bessie and I enjoyed one of these engagements recently when various members of three families shared a small house for two nights.  Of course dogs were included. 

The ages of the people involved ranged from three years old to sixty eight.  There were grandparents, young parents and young children, along with nine-year-old Bessie and the group’s newest member, Boomer, a ten-week-old black lab who seemed to grow larger by the hour.  One interesting observation was the stark contrast between the way the young and older adults interacted with the children when they were misbehaving.  It was fascinating, a bit like colliding cultures.  Grandparents, the smart ones anyway, have to walk on eggshells in these situations.  

We had some wonderful laugh sessions that brought us to tears discussing useless parental threats we’ve all thrown out there in moments of frustration, such as “If you don’t stop misbehaving Santa won’t visit our house this year”.  Or, “If you don’t calm down and finish your lunch, I’ll put you outside to eat”, delivered when it’s 38 degrees and raining.  Among my favorites, one almost all parents have delivered while driving in a car is, “That’s it.  Keep fussing and you’ll have to get out and walk home”.  Yeah, right, when you’re three miles from the destination?  Of course all parents, or at least most normal, loving parents have offered similar, unenforceable ultimatums.  It goes with the passionate territory where parents of young children live. 

Meanwhile, the canine members of this large assortment of characters established clear, easily understood guidelines in the first few hours they were together.  When cuddly little Boomer pestered or annoyed Bessie the old girl snarled authoritatively, bared her teeth and the message was clear. “I’m the boss here, got it?”  Rather quickly young Boomer, a smart pup, jumped on board and they got along just fine, playing together occasionally and taking side by side naps.  Meanwhile, over on the human side of the fence familiar patterns of testing between the kids and adults continued in the most normal, predictable way.

There are things my mother did to my brothers and me when we were naughty or fresh in supermarkets, in full view of other shoppers, that would probably get someone arrested today.  And my father had no issue offering his brand of discipline, even in the middle of a sandlot baseball game, with dozens of spectators.  I should add that I was never in question about my parent’s deep, devoted love for me, not for a moment.  And I’m sure my grandparents would refer to them as soft, and my great grandparents would have even stronger comments.  On it goes as theories and practices evolve and change depending on the latest research and trends.

There will forever be one topic on which all grandparents can agree.  I’m referring to the “I certainly wouldn’t have handled it that way” phenomena.  This of course is in response to attempts by the younger parents to keep their children in line while trying to impart important life lessons.  As I think back to the dogs in my life, beginning with a cocker spaniel named Zippy when I was three and continuing all the way through Bessie, the old and the young established the rules of engagement exactly the same way Bessie and Boomer have.  Smart animals, these canines.  Perhaps we humans will get it right someday.  In the meantime, behave or your stocking will be filled with coal.