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Katherine Snow Smith finds the funny in midlife

Her essay collection “Stepping on the Blender” looks at motherhood, divorce, career change and more through a witty lens.
 
Katherine Snow Smith's new book is "Stepping on the Blender."
Katherine Snow Smith's new book is "Stepping on the Blender." [ Froelich Photography ]
Published Dec. 30, 2023

I’m a klutz. I’m the first to admit it, and I have the scars to prove it. Don’t ask me to dance.

But Katherine Snow Smith takes missteps to the Olympic level. In her first book, “Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker,” she told the story of borrowing a pair of towering heels to wear to a White House reception — then falling off them right in front of then-President Barack Obama, forcing the leader of the free world to graciously hoist her off the floor.

She leads off her new book with an equally memorable pratfall, albeit in her own kitchen rather than the White House. She recounts how she knocked over a small appliance while standing on a chair to put away glasses, resulting in — well, the title of the book is “Stepping on the Blender & Other Times Life Gets Messy.”

She stepped on the blender’s blades just before she was supposed to drive from St. Petersburg to Georgia for a book signing. After a friend comes over to help her slow the bleeding from her shredded heel, she writes, “I drove up Interstate 95 with my left foot wrapped in a blue bandage, propped up on the dashboard between the steering wheel and window, and headed into the next phase of my life.”

In both of Snow Smith’s essay collections, some of the pieces are funny, some are poignant, but all share that positive attitude. A former St. Petersburg resident and former writer and editor at the Tampa Bay Times, she writes with empathy and self-deprecating wit about the challenges of motherhood, divorce, friendship, journalism and caring for aging parents.

In the book’s first essay, “Home Again,” she writes about moving back to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in her 50s, decades after graduating from the university there. The title echoes “one of UNC’s most notable alum’s famous words: You can’t go home again.” But Snow Smith doesn’t let Thomas Wolfe stand in her way, although she admits she has “aged but haven’t grown up as much as I feel I should have.”

Her move is motivated by several big changes in her life. The youngest of her three children graduated from high school and headed off to college not long after she and her husband divorced after 24 years. She had grown up in North Carolina and her parents, both in their 90s, still lived there. They needed a helping hand, so she moved back, at least temporarily.

The essay “Parents Should Be Seen and Not Heard” looks at one of the current pressing questions for mothers: Just how much, or how little, should you text your kids? (Trick question. You’ll never get it right.)

Snow Smith fairly bursts with love and pride for her three kids, and she praises their generation for its social consciousness and tolerance. “But as careful as they are not to disturb a coral reef or offend an Uber driver,” she writes, “they have no problem offending the woman who brought them into this world and was financing four days in New York City.”

In “On the Campaign Trail,” Snow Smith gathers tales from behind the scenes in politics, drawn from both her ex-husband’s career and her father’s. She was married to Adam Smith, a former political editor at the Times, and she recalls his long but predictable stretches away from home in election years.

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Except, that is, in 2000. He got home from working Election Day at 3 a.m. and fell asleep thinking he was done. She turned on the TV four hours later and woke him, asking, “What’s a chad?”

“In less than an hour, he was driving to South Florida, and we didn’t see him again until Thanksgiving.”

She treats her ex amiably, mostly, although she can’t resist dishing a little in “Sending Roses to My Husband’s Girlfriend.” She describes how they decided to divorce while taking a walk after Thanksgiving dinner. He told her he was going to start dating ― and got right on Match.com and went out on a date a few nights later, while they were still living together.

She watched him go. “‘Have funnnn,’ I bellowed in a cheerful tone akin to Marion Cunningham sending Richie off to the prom.” The next night they hosted a dinner party for 12.

Snow Smith later has her own adventures in online dating, as she tells us in “I’ll Never Meet Sven at Flyleaf Books.” One notable failure occurs when she agrees to meet a man at a bar. It turns out the guy sitting on her other side is a member of one of her favorite local bands, and she ends up interviewing him while her date fumes. She admits she can’t blame him for his last words after the date: “Have a nice life.”

The most touching essay, “Every, Every Minute,” is about the life and death of Snow Smith’s father, A.C. Snow. A lifelong journalist, he wrote a newspaper column until he was 95. His daughter became a journalist because of him, and in this essay she gives us a brief biography summing up why he meant so much not only to her but to his community.

In the book’s afterword, she finds new inspiration in the career of her mother, who was a much-beloved teacher. Her mother was at UNC getting her Ph.D. when Snow Smith was an undergrad, which was then a source of embarrassment. But the tables have turned for the daughter, who’s now in graduate school.

At the urging of a friend, she taught a journalism class as an adjunct. When a student tells Snow Smith she’s her favorite teacher, she writes, “I remained cool while Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech filled my mind: ‘I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me.’”

Stepping on the Blender cover
Stepping on the Blender cover [ Lystra Books ]

Stepping on the Blender & Other Times Life Gets Messy

By Katherine Snow Smith

Lystra Books, $16.95, 208 pages

Meet the author

Katherine Snow Smith will be in conversation about her new book of essays, “Stepping on the Blender & Other Times Life Gets Messy,” with Washington Post journalist Laura Reiley, also formerly of the Times, at 7 p.m. Jan. 4 at Tombolo Books, 2153 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Free; RSVP at tombolobooks.com/events.