Romneys not only family with embarrassing stories

Despite my love for our miniature dachshund, Mr. Lucy, I refuse to pile-on the story concerning Mitt Romney's treatment of his Irish setter, Seamus. By now the facts have been widely circulated.

In 1983, then 36-year-old Romney packed his wife and five sons into the family station wagon for a 12-hour drive to his parents' cottage in Ontario, Canada. Romney fashioned a windshield to a dog carrier and then strapped the crate to the roof of the car. Midway into the drive, there was a cry "Gross!" from the eldest son, Tagg, who'd seen a brown liquid running down the rear window. Romney pulled over, hosed down the dog and car, and got back on the road.

We know this because Neil Swidey wrote about it in the Boston Globe as part of an election profile five years ago. (So often has the story been parroted that Swidey has written of his concern that the anecdote will be part of the lead of his obituary, like Watergate will surely be mentioned with regard to Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein.) But it was Swidey's recent explanation to me as to how he learned of the story that causes me to cut Mitt some slack. Swidey said he'd gone looking for the Romney versions of those stories that every family has that are both embarrassing and usually shared only among one another.

"I'd been talking at length with one family friend who knew them well," Swidey told me. "I come from a big family myself and I know when we get together as a family, there are the kind of family stories we tell and retell to transport us back in time. So, I asked him , 'What are the stories they tell each other when no one else is around?' He mentioned a couple, and then this one, and I said, 'Whoa, really?' And that is how it started."

Embarrassing family stories? Like the night when my mother didn't like the looks of the crowd outside a student dance where she'd just driven my brother. After circling the block, she decided to march inside wearing her bathrobe and remove him from his peers. Or when my dad got so excited while winning on Wheel of Fortune that host Chuck Woolery told him he was concerned he was going to have a heart attack. (We still shake our heads when, as the returning champion, he couldn't solve the puzzle that exposed nearly all the letters spelling the name of a then A-list actress - Victoria Principal.

Growing up Smerconish, the Romneys had nothing on me when it comes to such tales. And today, a family of my own means my embarrassments are still being recorded. Mention dogs to my brood and someone will surely tell you about the day we lost our cocker spaniel, Winston. I was devastated, totally overcome, so my wife wisely decided I needed some grieving room and she took the kids out for a drive. By the time they returned, I'd taken an antique chest that once belonged to her deceased mother out of our living room and used it to bury Winston in the back yard. She still complains about my use of a "family heirloom." I tell her not to worry, we know right where it is.

Our sons never let me forget the time I badly misjudged the opening-night demand for tickets to see Talladega Nights. I was so sure the Will Farrell/Sasha Baron Cohen movie would sell out that I drove to the box office in advance to "beat the rush," later returning with my family - to a nearly empty theater.

According to our middle son, who has taken to writing down some of the more ridiculous things I often say, I give him plenty of material. I confess to once having tried to impress a gallery owner in SoHo who was trying to sell me album art by offering that I was a "nationally syndicated talk show host." The man was a stranger and I was a blowhard. And I am reminded of it constantly.

If you think my stuff is simply embarrassing, where Romney's was potentially dangerous, my wife begs to differ. She reminds me that I once took our then 4-year-old on the Space Mountain ride at Walt Disney World even though the safety harness barely fit him. And, just last year, despite a storm, I was intent on taking a 27-foot pontoon boat with our kids aboard into the Gulf of Mexico until I saw fishermen standing on neighboring docks, swaddled in quilts and shaking their heads.

Neil Swidey told me that he printed Romney's dog story "for a particular reason, as part of a larger story as to how the guy operates in big ways and small."

I think some of us have plenty of our own material.

Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com. Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.