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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Comic strips hit close to home, mostly for the better

I wonder how he did it.

How did Brian Crane, creator of the comic strip “Pickles,” sneak into our house and set up listening devices to capture the conversations between my husband and me so he could chronicle our lives in his strip?

It’s uncanny. No sooner does some issue begin its evolution through our lives than it appears, perhaps altered slightly, in the funnies in The Spokesman-Review and wherever “Pickles” is syndicated around the world.

The comic strip, which first saw life in 1990, looks at the lives of a retired couple in their 70s, Earl and Opal Pickles. There are a few other characters in the strip, but most often the interactions are with their 6-year-old grandson Nelson. Lots of fodder for generational miscommunication and wonder.

I was especially suspicious that Crane had invaded my home when I saw storylines, which continue to appear from time to time, about hearing loss and misunderstanding words spoken.

I remember one strip that had this conversation between the couple:

Opal: “I think the Cadillac is here.”

Earl: “Huh? What Cadillac? Is it my birthday?”

Opal: “Who said anything about a Cadillac? I said I think the cat likes it here.”

Earl: “Oh, you shouldn’t get my hopes up like that.”

Bruce and I have had many, many, many conversations just like that. Or like with memory issues, which are often presented sweetly but with zinging accuracy, and match the diary of my own life.

There was once this exchange between Earl and young Nelson:

Earl: “My father, your great-grandpa, was a very robust man … And he lived a long life, into his mid-90s … The only thing that showed his age was sometimes he’d tell the same story over and over.”

Nelson: “I know. You told me that lots of times.”

Welcome to old age, my friends.

There’s a new arc that started last week that I am positive comes right out of my own kitchen. Bruce doesn’t cook. Not really anything. It was a division of labor thing early in our marriage that has lasted way too long, abetted by my fanatical control over all things kitchen. It borders on the felonious to put the mustard back in the refrigerator in the wrong place.

But we’ve realized how awkward that became when I was recovering from surgery or in the first wretched days of my COVID infection. Bruce was lost in the forbidden room, and I was not well-nourished. We’ve been talking about him doing some cooking, how we’d get that to happen without a homicide taking place, the learning curve and whether I am actually capable of giving up my death grip on the kitchen.

Then last week Earl opines that maybe he’ll do some cooking. Nelson asks his grandma if his grandpa knows how to cook. Heavens no, says Opal: “Once he caught a pan of mushroom soup on fire. It set off every fire alarm in the house.” Replies Nelson: “Cool.”

It’s gone on from there, and I’m loving it, but if they hit on certain sacred (kitchen) cow subjects, I’ll know that my very own kitchen has been wired for comic strip fodder for sure.

I was kind of curious who the cartoonist is, so when I looked him up, I learned he is in his 70s and is from Twin Falls, Idaho, and that he modeled Earl and Opal after his mother-in-law and father-in-law, who resided in Pocatello. We’re practically neighbors (though I think he lives near Reno now).

On an expanded subject, I’d like to put in a general endorsement for reading the funnies daily. Some are actually funny, some wry, some political and most all touch some aspects of most of our lives. I still miss the wisdom of “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Pogo,” now confined to the archives.

If you’ve had teenagers in your home, “Zits” is a must. “For Better or For Worse” is a wonderful look at all members of a family and its foibles, extended through a generation of growing up. When the family dog Farley died, there were national stories written about it and an awful lot of real tears (mine included) over his heroic passing. That strip has been so popular that it’s been rewound and the story of that family’s lives is being retold in print with new story lines.

And those are just a few. There really is something for just about every demographic.

One final thing about “Pickles.” Though the characters bicker, it’s clear that there is a lot of love there, which is why the conversations and frustrations are so heart-warming and real. Like this one:

Earl: “So you’re saying that married men live about 10 years longer than unmarried men … Therefore, in all likelihood I’d probably be dead now if it weren’t for you.”

Opal: “Correct.”

Earl: “Hmm.”

Opal: “I believe the phrase you’re searching for is ‘thank you.’ ”

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at

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