“My New Mug,” Nov. 24, 2020

My granddaughter Eleanor is 5 years old. She loves to have her photo taken. And every photo is just like her: beautiful.

Children need to feel beautiful. They also need to feel smart and good and loved. But it helps to have at least one person who makes them feel like a beauty.

When I was Elle’s age, that person was my granddad. He’d smile at me and quote Song of Solomon 6:10: “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?”

I wasn’t sure about the “terrible” part, but overall, I took it as a compliment. He especially liked my waist-length hair. Then my mother had it chopped off into a Pixie and Granddad bawled like a calf.

But the worst blow to my self-esteem came in second grade, when I hit my mouth on a tile floor and broke out my brand new permanent front tooth.
We couldn’t afford a porcelain crown, so the dentist covered it with a metal cap. Boys at school called it the Silver Bullet.

For years, I hated posing for school photos. The photographer would try to get me to smile, but I kept my lips clamped tight to hide the Bullet. In every photo, I looked like my grandmother when she was dipping snuff.

Finally, when I started high school, my dad worked some extra shifts at the mill to pay for a porcelain tooth. I was glad to get rid of the Silver Bullet. But I’ve never gotten rid of my dread of having my picture taken. It doesn’t stop me from smiling. I smile plenty. I just don’t like smiling for a camera. I avoid it whenever I can.

All of that is to tell you this. The photo that appears with a column is called a mug. In my 30 years of writing a column, I’ve had a series of mugs. They all look like different women:

_ The woman who wrote about juggling the roles in her life as the wife of a coach, the mother of three young children, and a reporter covering everything from parades to earthquakes to violence in schools.

_ The woman who described her husband’s battle with cancer, her children growing up, her father taking his life, and her blind brother’s struggle to live alone after losing his wife.

_ The woman who wrote about being a widow, falling in love, getting remarried, living in Las Vegas, speaking at fundraisers to strangers who treated her like family, and having eight grandbabies in nine years.

They were all the same woman in different stages of life. And they all hated having their pictures made. In the past 10 years, I’ve kept the same column mug, despite being nagged by editors (and they know who they are) to update it with a new one.

Recently, however, I finally published a novel that I’d been working on for years, and I forced myself to get a new photo for the book’s jacket.

The differences in the old mug and the new one are simple: In the old one, I have long hair, a big smile and look more like my daughter. In the new one I have short hair, less of a smile, and look more like my mother.

I sent the new mug to all the papers that carry my column to use as a replacement for the old one. And now I’m hearing from readers who say either:

_ They love the new mug.

_ They like the old mug better.

_ Or they don’t believe the new mug is the same person as in the old one and they want to know what exactly I did with her?

Once, long ago, I was driving my 4-year-old and his buddy Eric to preschool. We passed a parked car that was covered with a tarp and Eric said, “Look at that, Josh. Grownups are so dumb. Everybody knows there’s a car under there!”

As for the column? It doesn’t really matter if the mug is old or new. Everybody who reads it knows the age of the woman who writes it. And she is never changing her mug again.


  1. Lynn Laseter says

    I love seeing your new mug. And I also loved your old mugs. I remember in the first one I ever saw of you in the newspaper, you had short brown hair and a little grin that made me wonder what you were up to. I still look forward to reading your column every week. Thank you!

  2. Linda Taylor says

    I saw your new mug on Facebook and loved it! Several years ago I read an article about a woman who loved to take pictures of others but didn’t like having her own picture taken. When she passed away, there were very few pictures of her for her family and friends to remember her. Since then I’ve tried to allow my picture to be taken more often, even if I don’t like the results, because I don’t ever want my husband to say that he doesn’t have enough pictures of me!

  3. Barbara Pattberg says

    I have enjoyed your column for many years. Some are happy, some are sad, but all are beautiful, in the human spirit. Just ordered your novel from Amazon this morning. Keep smiling, even if you don’t get many pictures taken. The smile comes from your soul.

  4. You have always been beautiful in every stage of life that I’ve known you. 💜💜 A new book? What???? I just looked it up and I’m going to run right out (actually I won’t go anywhere, I’ll order from here) to see your new mug! Looking forward to the day when I can get your John Hancock or Sharon Randall inside its cover. Hope you and Mark and family are well.
    Happy Thanksgiving—still so much to be thankful for in this crazy world!

  5. Ann Harrell says

    How can I order your book? Love whichever mug you use. I was fortunate enough to get a picture with my mug and your mug when you spoke in Hastings, Ne several years ago. It even appeared in our local paper.

  6. I am like you because I never like to have a picture taken of me. You have such a bubbly personality shows through in every picture and column that I have the privilege of reading. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and God bless you and yours. I am looking forward to many more of your delightful stories.

  7. Kate Sciacca says

    Saw the new mug when the book arrived (which I still have not had a minute to begin reading… but I will!). Where’s that cute porcelain tooth? It’s a nice smile, but no teeth 😂😂. Old habits die hard 😉. I once found a website (or maybe it was a YouTube channel… I can’t recall) – that offered a long video on “how to put your best face forward “ for photos. Meh… I tried it… I still looked like a granny… best thing I can do is remember “hold the head high. Necks up!” In most pics I look like I’m about to do a back flip!

  8. Janice Sizemore says

    I noticed the new “mug” in the newspaper, and I love it! You are beautiful, and so is your heart! Just keep writing, and I will keep reading. Your article is one of the highlights of my week. Honest!! Happy Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family.

  9. Sylvia Short says

    I was lucky to have my Mom till she was eighty five years old. She lived to be the oldest in her family and we were thick as thieves! She hated having her picture taken. She would even tare them up if she saw them on our table or anywhere else in our home. Much later in life she was reflecting and said she shouldn’t have done that because it keeps memories more vivid. She should have just grinned and bared it! Just smile and hope for the best.

  10. Jo Anne Roberts says

    We all change as we move through life. I have fought wrinkles and aging as hard as I can, but you know what? I look like my mother anyway and she didn’t give a second thought! I am who I am and you are who you are, and who you are is a famous writer with a wonderful sense of humor who makes our day better every time. Thank you for being you. We all love it! And, it is perfectly normal to change some–forgetaboutit. It is totally unimportant. The important part is just getting better all the time. Keep it up.

  11. Diane Shehane says

    Love your writing! Sometimes it makes me laugh out loud, other times it makes me cry a little. You have a special gift so it doesn’t really matter about the mug. Please tell me what the name of the novel is & when it will be available to purchase. Can’t wait.

  12. I am beginning to look more like my mother every day. This is OK, but still surprises me when I look in the mirror. Just when did this change take place! How can I have aged so much! Seems like I just graduated high school. Each age is interesting…I’m just glad to be alive. Mug shots are fine as long as they are not prison related or posted in the post office as a “most wanted criminal.” Gosh, sorry so long-winded. Yours is a pretty mug.

  13. I think you are beautiful inside and out. More importantly you always make me smile.

  14. Vanessa Kennedy says

    Heres to the lady that’s been a part of my life for years. You’re such a blessing to all of us.
    Such a pretty mug.

  15. I love your new “mug”, Sharon!!!!! And I love you!!!!!! Thank you for all of the joy you bring to us through your columns!!! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loves!!!!

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