Pine Nuts: Erma Bombeck, Julia Childs, Will Rogers and Mark Twain together


Later this month I have the honor of participating in a Chautauqua down in Boulder City, Nevada as Mark Twain alongside Erma Bombeck, Julia Childs and Will Rogers. What a treat, for they are a few of my heroes…

I like to quote Erma when delivering a commencement address, “Never confuse fame with greatness, fame is Madonna, greatness Helen Keller.” Erma’s lighthearted column ran in 900 newspapers, and in 1996 she published the best selling book, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.“

Julia Childs is such a warm and wonderful character, well, I would give my Golden Gloves to be her sous-chef. Julia brought French cooking to America with panache and élan. (I speak French but don’t understand it.)

And this characterization from Will Rogers could not ring truer than it does today, “I’m not a member of any organized political party … I’m a Democrat.”

Will once did me an enormous kindness … I read that a friend of Will’s bet him $50 he could not make President Calvin Coolidge smile when they were scheduled to meet. Will’s friend was present when President Coolidge and Will shook hands, and President Coolidge broke into a broad smile. As Will’s friend handed Will a fifty dollar bill, he had to ask, “So what could you have possibly said to make ‘Silent Cal’ break into that beaming smile right off the top?”

“Oh,” said Will, “I merely drew him close and appealed, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name.'”

Fast forwarding, Nevada Governor Sandoval invited me to help him welcome visitors to the governor’s mansion one Saturday afternoon as Mark Twain, which I was happy to do. While greeting folks at the top of the stairway I asked an aide, “Where’s the governor?”

“Oh, he went to the UNR football game.”

So I owed him one. I bided my time and finally got my chance. It came during Sheep Dip, which for those who have not had the pleasure, is an annual roast of Nevada celebrities and politicians at the Nugget. Well, I was all mic’d-up in the white suit, making my way through the audience toward the stage with a spotlight on me when I passed the governor’s table and the governor stuck out his hand. Now we are coming to the favor that Will did me …

I stopped, took the governor’s hand, and appealed, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name.” When the laughter died down, he said, “Sandoval.”

“Sandoval…Sandoval…that’s a very presidential sounding name, well, vice presidential, anyways.”

By my count, the governor and I were even to that point, and at the end of the evening I raised my fist to the sky and whispered, “Thank you, Will.”

As you know, Brian Sandoval is now president of UNR, and I’ll bet my Wolf Pack hat he will be back in the political ring in two shakes of a coyote’s tail. Having Brian in Nevada politics was like having an attar of roses in a glue factory. I do hope he throws his hat back into the ring, though this time perhaps as presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, I’ll let you know how Erma, Julia, Will and Samuel get along in Boulder City …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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