Thursday, December 20, 2012

23. The Mystery of the Christmas Stocking

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The Holiday season is supposed to be about love and caring and sharing.  Huh, try explaining that to an anxiety ridden and disillusioned 6 year old girl.   I grew up poor but honest, as most of the people on the planet.  We didn’t have a cozy fireplace with a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the hearth for Santa.  But the chimney for our house went from the basement furnace up through the roof alongside a corner in my tiny bedroom.   I don’t know what other kids did with their Christmas stockings but my creative mother hung mine on the corner of the plaster covered chimney.
                I was too young to know that the purpose of the fireplace was so fatty Santa could squeeze himself down it to get into your house.  And I was too dumb to know that there was no way Santa could blast through the chimney to get to my stocking without leaving a permanent crater in the plaster. 
            Young, dumb and innocent I curled up in my quilt covered bed on Christmas Eve.  I gazed with trust at the red and green knitted stocking dangling from the wall.  As I fought against sleep, I tried to remember last year.  I was sure I had gotten important treasurers in that fancy sock.  Of course, there had been walnuts, still in their shells; some hard Christmas candy that lasted a long time if you were patient enough to suck them; and in the toe of the stocking, a small round orange.  I guess Santa thought I should have at least one healthy thing to eat as I tore through my presents. 
            I don’t remember my dreams that night.  It was enough that I slept through until the first cold light peeked in my window.  I was saved from worrying about what the morning would bring.
            My sleep fuddled brain finally got through to me.  It’s Christmas!!  My eyes popped open to discover my reward for trying so hard to be a good little girl.
            AGGH!  The stocking was gone.  I closed my eyes and shook my head, my sleep-flattened curls flouncing.  I squeezed opened one eye lid and looked all around the chimney corner, the floor, even under the chair where my clothes were jumbled.  The stocking was gone.  Not only had Santa stiffed me on a gift, but he had stolen my hand knit stocking.  So much for being nice to my rotten cousins.
            Worried and confused I burrowed back under the covers and waited, and waited, and waited.
            Eventually my mother came in.  “Honey, why aren’t you up?  Don’t you want to see what Santa left you?”
            I had always worried about my mother’s brain power but now I wondered if she had vision problems too.  She didn’t even glance over to where the stocking should be.  She just reached down and picked me up.  I grunted.
            ‘”Grandma and Grandpa are waiting for you.  Daddy’s got the camera all ready.”
            She carried me into the living room where the skinny tree was already dropping needles.  My grandparents and Dad kidded me about being a ‘sleepyhead’ on the most important morning of the year.  I faked a smile and looked at the gimpy tree. 
Whoa, what’s this?  My red and green stocking was under the tree and something very bulky was sticking out of it.
            Mom set me on the floor.  As I scampered over to check out the sock, my Mom was saying something about the toy being too heavy to hang on the wall, so Santa had put it under the tree.
            I pulled out the unwrapped doll.  Wow, A genuine, authentic, General MacArthur doll.  The hero of the Pacific during World War II, he was dressed in his official Army uniform including hat and with his right arm cocked in a perpetual salute.  It was a terrible war and inflicted horrendous losses on many people.  But everyone including children, had hope and trust in our heroes.
            Many years later with my own children grown and scattered across the country I still have a Christmas tree.  My General MacArthur doll, a little torn and tattered, still has a place of honor under it.
                                                                      The End


Friday, December 14, 2012

22. Specially Made Latkes: Another Hanukkah Miracle

To start off the Holiday Season here's a story about an inept cook making a Hanukkah favorite.

As Karen talked to her mother, her glance at the kitten-themed calendar made her stomach clench.  The days seemed to scream at her.  ‘Hanukkah is coming!  Hanukkah is coming!  And it’s coming fast.’  
            “Oh, Mom, what was I thinking?  I can’t cook.  Why did I volunteer to bring the potato latkes to Aunt Susan’s party?”  She turned her back on the kittens to look out the kitchen window where nothing accused her of inadequacy.
            “Karen, Karen.  Now you listen to me.  It’s not such a big deal, and I can help.  You don’t have to cook it on your own.”  She knew her mother was trying to be reassuring, but it was irritating.
            “Right.  I’m a grown woman who still needs her mother to solve her problems.”  Karen was sinking into self-pity and she didn’t want anyone to throw her a life-saver.
            “If you’re determined to wallow in misery, I’m not going to listen to you.  I’ve got enough to do without spending time on a fruitless task.” 
            Karen tried to put on a happy face.  She smiled grimly having heard that salespeople always smiled when they made phone calls.  “I’m sorry Mom.  I know you’re just trying to be supportive.  Ooops, there goes my doorbell.  I got to go.  I’ll call you tonight, OK?”
            “All right, talk to you later.  Be sure to look thru your peep hole before you open the door.”
            “Yes, yes.  Don’t worry.  I’m always careful.”

No one had rung the doorbell.  Karen just needed to start on the pile of cookbooks she had checked out of the library.  She had tried searching the internet for recipes as she did for any information, but none of them seemed right.  She was going to make credible and special potato latkes without her mother’s help or die stuck to the kitchen floor with grease.  Maybe she shouldn’t have volunteered to be the special latke maker, but she was tired of being the family klutz when it came to cooking.  Everyone laughed at the store bought cookies she brought to every family gathering.
She took a deep breath and opened the first cookbook, “A Cheery Chanukah,” skimming her finger down the index looking for latkes.  She passed an hour looking for a perfect and easy recipe.  She didn’t realize there so many variations to what she thought was a simple dish.  “I guess it’s just like two spellings of the festival—Chanukah or Hanukkah.”
            At last. The recipe from the ‘Happy Jewish Cooker’ seemed to be just what she needed.I  t said latkes could be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator until ready to warm up and serve the next day.  She made a careful note of the page so she wouldn’t forget.
            Every time her mother called and asked about the latkes, Karen countered with a question about her Dad’s health.  That always got her mother off the subject.  She didn’t want any advice from her mother about how everything she was doing was wrong.
Aunt Susan’s family Hanukkah party was on Saturday night, the first day of the Festival of Lights.  She always liked to get a head start on everything.
            On Friday, after about her 100th careful check of the recipe, Karen made a list of the ingredients she didn’t have.  At the grocery store she found everything she needed.  She had already checked her cupboards to make sure she had all the necessary bowls, pans and utensils to prepare and cook her special latkes.
Back home, she set out all the necessary ingredients and bowls and pans. She concentrated fiercely on doing everything exactly as the recipe called for.  She almost bit her tongue off when her phone rang.  “Oh, Mom, I’m in the middle of latkes making and I absolutely, positively cannot talk to you now.”  She hung up and turned it off.
She couldn’t believe how easy everything turned out to be.  “I think I must be a born cook.  I should do this more often.”  The latkes were light and fried nice and crispy.  When she taste tested them, she thought the special ingredient she added gave them an extra zip.  It was a gamble but she was sure everyone would love it.  After all, most potato recipes called for it.
 She put each latke between waxed paper and then in a shallow Pyrex casserole dish.  All she needed to do at Aunt Suzie’s was set the oven to the right temp, remove the waxed paper, slide the glass casserole in for the specified warm up time, and Voila!  Compliments to the Chef. 

Karen stood back proudly as everyone exclaimed over how beautiful and delicious the latkes looked.  She just ignored the insulting comments her younger cousins made. 
One asked, “Are you going to poison the whole family to get everyone’s inheritance?”
            “Ha, Ha.” She felt so self-confident, insults rolled off her back.
            As everyone sat down with their filled plates from Suzie’s beautifully decorated sideboard, the young kids started in, “Wow, these are the best latkes I’ve ever eaten.”
            The adults smiled warily.  Her mother bit into one and couldn’t stop herself.
            “Karen, there’s alcohol in these latkes!”
“No there isn’t,” Karen argued.  "I followed the recipe exactly.”  She crossed her fingers behind her back as she said that.
 Uncle George laughed and said, “Your Mom’s right.  But they sure are tasty.”
            Aunt Suzie said, “I thought they smelled a little different but I didn’t want to criticize Karen’s first attempt.”
            “But these aren’t different,” Karen maintained. “The only change I made was in the milk.  I had some special cream a friend gave me as a present.  Most potato recipes contain milk, so I thought it would make the latkes more delicious and special if I used a richer cream than everyday milk.”
            Uncle George reassured her, “Honey, everything’s fine.  But do you remember the name of the special cream you used?”
“It was Bailey’s Irish Cream.  Can’t you use Irish cream in a Jewish recipe?”
                                                          The End 



Sunday, October 7, 2012

21. Reruns With Different Scores

Joe was 13 when his Dad took him to his first major league baseball game, the Chicago Cubs versus the LA Dodgers.  His mother never forgave the Dodgers for moving from Brooklyn so she didn’t go.  But his younger and older sisters went.  Ann, 15, liked baseball and was actually looking forward to the game.  Beth, 10, was happy to be going on a trip with her Dad, who she could wind around her finger like a piece of limp spaghetti, and who would buy her all sorts of goodies at the game.
 Joe had never been a baseball enthusiast and had been known to comment with disgust, after watching a few games on TV, “They’re just reruns with different scores.”
            But he was excited about driving from the northwest suburbs to Wrigley Field, picking up Dad’s friend, Martin, on the way.  Joe also knew they would be eating hot dogs, chips, and pop—not usually available in their nutrition conscious home.
            When they left, Mom called out, “Have fun.  Don’t eat too much junk.  I’ll have dinner ready by 6:00.”  Right, Joe thought, broccoli was sure to be on her menu.
            After picking up Martin at his condo, they got to the historic, ivy covered ballpark in time for batting practice.  After the game started, they ate their way through nine innings of salty, greasy, fatty treats.
            Back at home, the clock ticked around to 6:30 and they still weren’t home.  Even allowing for heavy traffic their mother thought they should have been home by then.  She was beginning to worry, “What could have happened to them?”
She tuned the radio to the Cubs station and heard, “Cubs 1, Dodgers 1.  Top of the 17th and still tied.”
Oh, my gosh, she thought, the game is still on. No wonder they’re not home.  She didn’t know much about baseball since she turned her back on the game with the treacherous behavior of the Dodgers, but she knew this had to be a record.  She pulled the casserole out of the oven, so it wouldn’t dry out, and wrapped it in a towel, so it wouldn’t cool off.
Back at the ballpark, the game was being called because of darkness.  On August 17, 1982, Wrigley Field did not have night lights due to the neighbors’ determined objections.  The game would continue the following day.
Joe was annoyed.  “This is NOT fair.  We paid for a game, we should see a whole game.”
His Dad tried to explain, “It's too dark to see the ball.  The players can’t see it, and even if they tried to play we couldn’t see what they were doing.”
“Why don’t we just go over to Comiskey Park, where they do have lights, and finish the game there?”  Joe wasn’t a White Sox fan by any means, but he was willing to go to their field if they could see the end of the game.  He knew there was no way his Dad was coming back tomorrow to see the end of the game.
Ann and Beth were tired of sitting on hard plastic/wooden bleachers and ready to go home.  Martin agreed, “Hey, guys I got to get to work in the morning.  I need my beauty sleep.”
They wiped the evidence of greasy foods off their mouths and headed for the parking lot to start the journey home.
The baseball fans walked in the front door at 8:25. 
“Do you want any dinner?”  Mom asked.  “Or did Dad stuff you with junk?”
Dad defended himself saying, “For god’s sake it was 6 hours, I had to feed them something.”
“Right,” Mom agreed.  “I’ll just put this in the ‘frig for tomorrow.”
The next day, they all watched the end of the game on TV.  The Cubs lost 2-1 after 21 innings.
Joe grumbled, “We could have just watched the Highlights of the Game and saved a lot of time and trouble.”
                                                        The End


Sunday, September 30, 2012

20. To Lunch or Not to Lunch

[Marriage is always a matter of give and take. This is especially true when traveling. Always remember-- Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? Sometimes when you choose one, you also get the other.]

"I swear Janice, if I hear one more word out of you, I will stop this car and one of us will have to leave.”
Charles and Janice had driven thousands of miles in their trusty VW van, from Chicago to southern Mexico, all around the province of Oaxca looking for interesting pottery and then back to Illinois.  Although they usually got along, on the last stretch home they were arguing about where to stop for lunch.
            Charles wanted to keep going to get home before dark.  He thought they had enough peanuts and other snacks to stave off starvation.  Janice was tired and knew he was too.  She thought it would be safer to take a break.       
            “If you’re that tired, climb into the back and sleep,” he snorted. “I’m not tired.  I’ve got plenty of get up and go left.”
            Janice held her tongue and climbed into the back of the van.  Although her mind raced with thoughts of what she should say to Charlie, she decided to keep the peace.  That old question played in her mind, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”  Happy she decided and slowly fell asleep.
            Two hours later, Charlie noticed they were getting low on gas.  A billboard advertised a cheap price and he decided to pull in to the service station.   He got out, filled the tank, and went inside to pay.             
            Coming back to the car, he thought, Boy, Janice must be tired, usually she hops out at every rest stop.  Well, I can manage the driving until she wakes up.
            He continued cruising down the interstate under the speed limit, not wanting a ticket to ruin this last day.  Checking his rear view, he was surprised to see a state trooper coming up behind him.  As the trooper turned on his flashing lights, Charlie was astounded and called back to Janice, “Hey, there’s a state trooper wanting to pull me over.  I don’t know why.  I’m not going over the speed limit.”
            He carefully pulled over to the shoulder, rolled down his window, and started to pull out his wallet for his driver’s license.
            The trooper leaned into the window, smiled and asked, “Are you Charles Jordan?”
            Eyes bugging out, Charlie admitted that he was.
            “Did you forget something?”
            “I…I…don’t think so.”
            “Where’s your wife?” 
            “She’s…she’s …just in back, taking a nap.”  And Charlie turned around and took a good look in the back of the van.  “Oh, my gosh, she’s not there.  What happened?  Where is she?”
            “You left her back at the gas station.  She got out to use the restroom while you were inside paying.  I guess you didn’t see her, unless you did it on purpose?”  The trooper looked at Charlie with a question in his eyes.
            “Oh my gosh, no, no.  I got to go get her.  Oh my gosh.  How mad is she?”
            “Well, let’s just say, you’d better get back there as soon as possible.  There’s an interstate crossing you can use up ahead.  I’ll follow you to make sure you don’t get lost.”
            Meanwhile back at the gas station, Janice was sitting at the lunch counter, enjoying a hamburger and fries.  It had been a shock not to see the van when she came out.  And she did have a few bad moments when she thought Charlie had left her deliberately.  But she knew he would never really do that.  Everyone had been so nice.  The station manager had called the state police to track Charlie down and then had offered Janice a free lunch to sooth her frazzled nerves.
            Poor Charlie, Janice thought.  Nothing turned out the way he thought it would.
                                                               The End



Friday, September 21, 2012

19. Birthday Cake Blues

I used to work for a major weight loss program, which shall be nameless.  With obesity rates in the United States approaching the 50% mark, the program was turning out to be a platinum mine, for the owners.
          My job was to provide group counseling for our enrollees.  I also focused on how to substitute appropriate for inappropriate behaviors associated with eating.  You know the drill, always eat at a table, never eat while watching TV or reading.  Yada, yada, yada.
 I always told my classes they knew more about calorie content than I did.  But we were meeting to learn ‘mindful’ eating.  Sort of like a Buddhist retreat for chunky monkeys.
One of my clients was a sweet faced woman about 45 who was cute as a button, but the button was for a supersized jacket.  She never missed an appointment and took lots of notes.  She was a star performer, on a great losing streak, working off one to two pounds a week. 
However, at her most recent weekly appointment she had not lost any weight, which wasn’t that unusual for people trying to regain a healthy weight level.  But she had gained two pounds.  I went over her daily activity and food intake chart with her to find out what had happened.  Hopefully, if we located a problem she could avoid it in the future.
I pointed out one notation for Sunday and asked, “What does, “Badly Behaved Cake” mean?  Did it jump into your mouth and force you to chew and swallow?”
She sighed.  “I wish I could say that, but I was badly behaved not the cake.”
            “Well, that’s what we’re here for--to learn about behaviors-- so what happened?”
          “It was my husband’s birthday so I made his favorite chocolate cake.  We each had a slice and with four kids that meant half of it was eaten that night.  I put the rest of it away in the freezer.  I thought it would be easier for my husband to slice a piece for himself each night and easier for me to ignore it if I couldn’t see it.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” I complimented her.  “Out of sight, out of mind.” 
“Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.  It was more of an ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ plan.”
The rest of our group started smiling as if they knew what was coming.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about that cake and how good it looked and how good it tasted when I ate my small piece the night before.  I kept thinking about it and thinking about it.”
“Ok, now Linda, we’ve talked about this before.  What are you supposed to do?”
“I know, get out of the house or start cleaning a bathroom.”
I nodded encouragingly.  “That’s right.  So you know what you should have done.”
“Yeah, my mind knows, but my mouth overrides it.  I finally couldn’t stand it any longer and took it out of the freezer, cut a thin slice, and ate one thin slice at a time until the whole cake was gone.”
“Well, that wasn’t a good decision.  But now you can learn from that mistake.”
“Oh, gosh.  I’m not done yet.”
Now I was getting concerned.  “What else happened?”
Cindy, another group member with a love of chocolate, wanted to know more, too. “Yeah, we need full disclosure here.”
Linda continued, “I was so upset with my lack of willpower.  How could I eat all of my husband’s favorite cake.  He was probably looking forward to some when he came home for work. “
I pushed her to keep going, “What did he say when he discovered you ate the rest of his birthday cake?”
She laughed and admitted, “He never found out.”
I shook my head to clear it. “I don’t understand.  I can’t believe he forgot about it.”
“No, he didn’t forget.  I just hurried and made another cake and ate half of that one, too.”
                                      THE END


Monday, September 10, 2012

18. The Winds of Change

[Note:  This story is longer than usual--about 1,000 words, and it has a very different tone.  I hope you like the change of pace.]

She always knew that someday she would have to move—everyone said so.  She was too old, too weak, too frail to continue taking care of this old, frame house.  Its paint was peeling, window sills cracked, chimney leaning.  In fact, the house looked like she felt some times.
            But she had been born in this prairie house, married in it, gave birth to 3 sons in it, watched her husband, Don, sicken and die in it, and God willing she would die in it, too.
           Yes, she lived alone now.  No one wanted to come out here to the middle of nowhere, 20 miles from town and the grocery store.  Everyone thought she was foolish when she could live in comfort with one of her sons.   Or so they said. 
            Sometimes when she woke out of a sound sleep, she forgot that everyone was gone.  She thought she had to jump out of bed and run to the kitchen to start breakfast.  She didn’t want Don to start a hard day’s work without a full stomach and she didn’t want the boys to be late for the school bus.  But then she’d remember she had no one to cook for, no one to hurry for, and she’d sink back into bed, her heart rate slowly returning to normal.  And part of her would be relieved but part of her would be sad.
            Well, she’d tell herself that was what life was all about—some times you were happy and some times you were sad.  If you were lucky you had more things to be happy about.  Or at least you made up your mind you would be happy no matter what things you got in the life of chance.
            She didn’t want to be one of those old women who always complained about their health and how no one came to see them any more.  Actually she was in pretty good health for a woman of 88 years.  She supposed that’s why no one really pushed her when it came to the issue of moving.  And her boys and their wives were good about checking on her.  Even the grandkids, now that they could drive, stopped by to see her.  Of course, they all liked her chocolate chip cookies.  “Maybe I bribe them but at least I don’t whine,” she thought to herself.
            She heard the wind quicken and swirl around the house.  She peered out the dusty window at the setting sun.
            “Looks like there might be a breeze tonight.  I guess a little freshening wouldn’t hurt this old house and me any.”  She smiled as she climbed back into the bed that had once belonged to her parents.  These days she seemed to go to bed with the sun and rise with the sun.  Of course, that didn’t mean that she slept those long hours.  She happily opened her book.  Thank God, she still had her vision.  Heavens knew what she would a done if that had gone.  It was a new murder mystery that her oldest son’s wife, Martha, gave her.  Martha was a reader, too, and knew the joy of losing yourself in someone else’s life.  Not that her own life wasn’t interesting enough.
            “I guess that’s the problem.”  She thought other people couldn’t understand how she enjoyed watching the clouds shift across the sky, and how the breezes and occasional rain moved across the fields.  In town, in another house, she couldn’t live her own life and see the beauty she was used to.  She’d be living someone else’s life.  And although that might be fun to read about, she didn’t think it would be fun to do.  
            She would continue living her own life in her own house.  The only way she would leave this house, no matter what they said, was in a box, God Willing. 
            People asked her why she liked murder mysteries--weren’t they morbid.  But she didn’t think they were morbid.  In fact, most of them were funny.  The victim was usually hated by everyone in town, so you didn’t feel sorry he or she was dead.   Course then you did have to worry that the wrong person would be jailed and convicted.  But you just had to remember it was just a story and that justice triumphed in the end.  At least in the books she read.  She didn’t want any of those dark, dismal miscarriage of justice miseries.
            She noticed that the wind seemed to be picking up.  “Well, I better get to sleep now, so I can get up early to clean up any wind damage.”  She said her nightly prayers, asking for blessings on everyone she knew—which still took a long time.  And then she added, “ And please God, let me stay in this house forever.”  She slowly fell into a deep, comforting sleep.
            But it seemed that God was not willing--Later than night was was woken by a fierce, roaring windstorm that was sweeping across the prairie.  She used to laugh and say nothng was between her house and the Rocky Mountains, a thousand miles away.  The winters could get might cold.
             She sat up in bed, wondering if she should go down to the storm cellar.  The windows were rattling, the house was shaking, the chimney making sounds like a groaning ghost.  She shook her head, “No, I ain’t running away from a storm.   This house and me have stood up to much worse than this.  I reckon I’m safer where I am.”
            As she said these words there was a great creaking and breaking sound as the roof was torn clear off the house, she watched branches blowing over the open ceiling and felt the fierce strength of the wind come down into her room.
“Oh, dear, everyone was right,” she cried.  “I am going to have to move.  My house is going.”
She scurried out of bed and under it.  Laying there in shock she felt safe.  Her parents’ bed had been build from sturdy oaks that had been on the farm a long time.  She felt it could withstand anything.  But just then a ceiling beam still hanging from the remains of the roof, was pulled away by the wind and dropped across the bed, crushing it and the old woman beneath it.
The Winds of Change helped her keep her vow.   She would be leaving her house as she had wanted.
                                                               The end

Thursday, August 30, 2012

17. No More Dogs

As a little girl I had, a wonderful dog named Skippy.  He was brown and white, happy and friendly.  He was a faithful friend for someone like me who didn’t have brothers or sisters and whose solider-father was far away in a foreign country.  Because my father was away, my mother and I and Skippy lived with my grandparents.  One day I came home from school and Skippy was not there dancing a circle around me, joyous to have me with him again.
            “Where’s Skippy?”  I asked Grandpa.  He frowned and said slowly, “Your mom will tell you about him, when she gets home from work.”
            My mother worked at the canning factory because all work was part of the war effort and because we needed the money.  Standing on her feet for 8 hours tired her out, but she always smiled when she saw me and Skippy.  While I waited impatiently for her to get home that day, Grandpa tried to distract me with a game of Chinese checkers.
            She must have known before she went to work what was going to happen that day, but she hadn’t said a word to me.  I threw myself at her when she stepped onto our wooden front porch.
            “Mom!  Skippy’s gone.  What happened?”
            She sat on the porch chair and held me.  “Do you remember the other day when the mail man said Skippy bit him?”
            “Yeah, but that was a lie.  Skippy would never bite anyone.”
            “I know, dear, I know.  He was a good dog.”
            “Why isn’t he here?” I demanded again.
            “Well, the mail man complained to the police about Skippy and although we argued that he was a good dog, they believed the mail man.”
            “So we have to keep Skippy locked up when the mail comes?” I asked.
            “Oh, honey.”  I could see her brown eyes glistening with unshed tears.  “They took Skippy away and we will never see him again.”
            Grandpa came out on the porch.  “It’s a terrible thing.  I never want to have another dog.”
            “I know Dad.  It’s heartbreaking to lose a dog.”  Mom tried to smile at me, “Skippy is in a wonderful place, but we'll miss him.”
            I was too little then to understand exactly what happened to Skippy, but I was told repeatedly that we could never have another dog.  Until one day, months later…

            My friend, Scotty, told me his little rat terrier’s puppies were ready to leave home and I could have one for only a nickel.  Excited and forgetting about the ‘no more dogs’ rule, I stopped at his house after school to see the squirming, little bundles of joy.  One in particular kept licking my face as I held him. 
            I raced home and asked Grandpa if I could have a nickel to buy my Mom a ‘puppy” for Mother’s Day which was the coming Sunday.  Grandpa thought for a minute, then pulled a nickel from a pocket in his workpants and said, “Be sure to pick out a fresh one.”  I ignored this strange comment and happily went back to Scotty’s to pick up this special gift for my mother.
            Grandpa’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw my wriggling purchase.
            “I thought…I thought…” he gulped, “you said ‘poppy’ not puppy.
            And that’s how the ‘no more dogs’ rule was broken at our house.  Tiny as he was, he had a large enough spirit to fill all of our hearts, though he could never take the place of my first love, Skippy.
                                                               The End

Saturday, August 18, 2012

16. Cat with a Positive Attitude

My friend, Diane, was cat less due to a series of unfortunate events dooming even the liveliest cat she had rescued.
“I’m cursed, Michelle” she moaned.  “No cat should come within 100 feet of me.”
“You’re not cursed,” I argued trying to cheer her up.  “Things happen to animals that we can’t control.  You’re an excellent cat mother.  And all those cats had wonderful lives after you rescued them.”
“But their lives were so short!” she twisted her hands in misery.
“They might have been even shorter if they were on their own.  A car could have hit them, or they could have been carried off by a coyote.  They were safe, and well fed, and well-loved while you had them.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.  But I can never have a cat again.  I can’t go through this anymore.” She shook her head, her short brown hair flipping back and forth.
“Maybe a more positive attitude would help,” I suggested.
“Positive thinking?  Positive thinking will help me keep a cat alive?”
“Well, no, not exactly,” I backed off.  “Actually, I’m thinking it might help if the cat had a more positive attitude.”
“Are you out of your mind?” She looked at me with big, round green eyes that looked like a surprised kitten. “Even if it would work, how can I give a cat a more positive attitude, especially a rescue cat that’s been abandoned and mistreated?”
I held up my hands slowly.  “Just hear me out.”
Diane got up from the soft, easy chair in her living room.  “Oh, I’ll hear you out, Michelle.  How about out with you?”  She started walking towards the front door.
“Come on,” I pleaded.  “You love cats and I want you to have one for a long time so you won’t continue feeling guilty.”
“OK, what’s your idea?  Not that I’m going to follow it.” 
“Since you’re a teacher you know how important it is for your students to feel good about themselves and how you give them little chores to build up their confidence.”
“Yeees.  But cats won’t do little chores. They aren’t going to wipe down the chalk board or carry my books.”  She laughed at the thought.  Good, I was at least helping her feel less depressed.
“How about this?  What if you gave your next cat…” I held up my hands again as she started to argue that there would be no next cat.  “If you gave your next cat a positive name?”
“What? Like Norman Vincent Peale?”
I laughed this time.  “No, I mean a name like Lucky.  Call your little bundle of fur Lucky.”
“And that will help him, how?”
“There are some people who believe that names are destiny. And I do agree that the last five cats you rescued were not lucky.  Well, they were lucky when you rescued them, but not so lucky when the…”
She interrupted.  “I don’t want to talk about it.  Ok, I’ll give it a try.  If I ever have a rescue cat again, which I won’t, I will call it Lucky.”
That was all I needed to hear.  I knew she wouldn’t refuse the next offer of a cat that needed a good home.  A few weeks later she called to tell me the news.  She now was taking care of a beautiful, but skinny, black and white female cat that had been living on its own for over a month, according to the person who had noticed her and finally caught her.  The cat was in good health, except Diane needed to fatten it up with generous meals.  As time went by, Lucky thrived and even got fat and then fatter.  In fact she got so fat, Diane took her to the Vet to see if the cat was OK.
“I’m going to be a grandmother,” Diane smiled as she told me the good news.  “I’ve never had new born kittens around, lots of cats but no little ones.”
“That’s wonderful.  So this cat is having good luck.” I enthused, mentally patting myself on the back for my name suggestion.
“Not everything is wonderful.  The vet said Lucky might have some delivery problems, so she will have to be monitored carefully to get her in to the office in case she needs help.”
“I’m sure Lucky will be lucky.”
“My fingers will be crossed.  And I’ll let you know how it all turns out.”
As Lucky’s delivery date loomed near, I sent more and more positive thoughts her way.  I know it sounds crazy but I’ve read that quantum physics, a very serious science, shows everything in the universe is connected, so positive energy can be effective.
Finally, Diane called me.  “I don’t know if the name Lucky gave my kitty a positive attitude because she did have a difficult delivery.”
I broke in, “But how is she and the babies?”
“They’re all healthy and in good shape.  The vet said it was a miracle they all survived since Lucky’s pelvis must have been broken at some time in her past life.”
“I’m glad they’re all OK and if my name suggestion worked that’s great. How many babies are there?”
“She had 5 sweet things and I’ve already named them:  happy, joy, cheery, delight, and of course, Lucky2.”
                                                             The End

Sunday, August 12, 2012

15. What's wrong with Arlene?

Something was terribly wrong.  No one had seen Arlene in two days.  Usually she never missed a meal, let alone the shore excursions.  Like me this was her and her husband’s first trip to China and she had vowed that she was going to see and do as much as possible.
            On our tour we had already visited Beijing and been amazed by the ultramodern, 100 story skyscrapers that still had empty spaces near their tops so evil witches could fly right through without stopping to do mischief to the people living and working in the building.  We had also seen the incredibly primitive and cramped hutongs, courtyard areas where people had lived for centuries.  They were now being razed in the name of progress and healthier living conditions with a few being saved for historical reasons.  As we got on and off the bus at each tourist site, Arlene kept urging her husband to keep up so they wouldn’t miss anything.  Although both past 65 and breathing hard, they kept up with the rest of us.
The Yangtze River Cruise was more restful as the ship drifted with the current past tiny fishing villages and the brightly painted fishing boats.  The first day, Arlene and her husband made it to every meal as early as possible and were the last to leave.  Her little fireplug shaped body seemed to need constant refueling, although she occasionally complained that she was overweight.  It seemed unlike her to miss so many meals.
Of course if she wasn’t feeling well, she could be getting trays brought to her room.  Her husband, Henry, still appeared, slightly tipsy, at each meal and complaining of how Arlene was driving him crazy.  We wondered if he stashed bottles of liquor in his luggage.  He never drank at the ship’s bar but always seemed to be a little incoherent.  
We did sympathize with him.  His wife had started out on our tour walking without help.  The first day on the river though she brought out a cane.  Perhaps the motion of the boat upset her equilibrium because each time we docked at an interesting village on the Yangtze, it was a miracle how she maneuvered over the cobblestones, rough pavement and gravel.
Now Henry was accusing her of refusing to walk—just to drive him crazy.  When we asked how she was, he would just say, “Crazy as a coot, crazy as a coot.”
            Well, that didn’t explain why we hadn’t seen her.  Finally, a group of us first requested and then demanded that we be let in their cabin to see her.  He tried to stall us, saying she was sleeping but we forced him to open the door.  The door swung open noiselessly and we saw Arlene tied to a chair in front of the TV.  She rolled her eyes at us and muttered, “Oh, no, oh, no.”
We gaped at her and then looked aghast at Henry.  Had the man tied her up so he could drink as much as he liked.  What was going on?  Did we need to call the captain?
Henry stuttered, “Now, now.  It’s not what it looks like...”
He turned to Arlene and pleaded, “Please tell them what this is, before I’m thrown in a Chinese prison!”
Arlene hung her head, “Oh, I’m so embarrassed.  I just wanted to lose some weight and I can’t help myself when I see all that tasty food spread out, and it’s all FREE, even if it is Chinese.”
“But why are you tied up?”  I asked.
“I asked Henry to tie me up so I couldn’t go to the dining room.  Don’t worry, I had regular bathroom breaks, when the dining room was closed. And I do drink water.”
“So you’re OK?  You’re not being held against your will?”
“Yes, yes, I’m OK.  Please go now.”  She lifted up her head and smiled.  “I’m really fine and I’ve lost five pounds already.”
                                                 The End

Saturday, August 4, 2012

14. Advice from Patron Saints

Marcy gave a gasp of recognition as she realized her horoscope had finally pointed out why her life was so unsuccessful.  It wasn’t actually her horoscope that had the solution.  She was reading that with her usual curiosity but little faith, if truth be told. She told herself it was just fun to pick up the paper on Thursday when she met her friend Jackie for coffee and check out what the stars had to say to her.  She only did it once a week so how bad could it be.
           Today it said, “Your many friends love you just the way you are.  Success comes to those who keep on the path.”  She scoffed to herself, where are these many friends who love me, and what path?  I don’t have a path I’m just cutting my way through a tangled mass of foliage in a dense jungle.” 
            Her eye caught a little boxed feature next to the horoscope she never noticed before.  It was entitled, Today’s Saint.  Hmm, she mused as she quickly read it.  Today, which also happened to be her birthday, was the feast day of Santa Marta (or Saint Margaret).  The note said Santa Marta was “the patroness of housewives, domestic workers, waitresses, and food workers.  She is invoked to protect the home.”
            Frowning, Eula May considered this information.  “No wonder I’ve never kept a job for longer than two months.  I’ve been working in the wrong fields—banking, finance, legal offices, and brokerage firms.”  She continued to argue with herself, “But, I’ve got a business degree from the U. of Wisconsin so shouldn’t I be working in those areas.”
           She flinched as she thought of all the disasters that happened to her in those jobs.  She once sent her boss’ wife the Christmas gift he had ordered for his mistress and vice versa.  Unfortunately, they each got a note with the others’ name on it, too.  The wife was especially incensed when she realized the gift for the mistress was much more expensive than any her husband had ever given her. 
Marcy shuddered.  She was beginning to think maybe she should find a job in her patron saint’s fields and stop thinking about material gain. 
“Since I was born on St. Margaret’s feast day, maybe I’d be more successful if I worked with my feet and my hands, not my head”.  Hmm, she thought about it.  Did she really want a job where she would be on her feet all day.  She flipped the paper over to the want ads and spread it out on the cafĂ© table to find a job in the ‘service’ industry.
“Hey, Marcy, What are you looking so serious about.”  Blond and bouncy Jackie came bustling across the coffee shop holding her own cardboard container of caffeine.
“Oh, Jackie, I’m considering another job change and I was looking to my horoscope for inspiration.”
“You should be checking out the on-line job listings instead of that woo-woo stuff.”  Jackie gave her a quick hug, “But I know how you feel.  In this job market, it’s tough to find something you like and will pay the rent.”
Marcy smiled, “I think maybe I’ve been spending too much time on finding something that will pay the rent, rather than how I feel about it.”
“Didn’t someone once write a book about do what you love and the money will follow?”
“Well, I haven’t loved any of my jobs and the money certainly hasn’t followed.  Maybe it’s time I did do what I really like.”
Jackie plunked her large, fake designer bag on the fake wood table and asked Marcy,  “Well, what do you really like to do?”
“Eat fattening food and read, but I don’t think I’m going to get paid for those activities.” Marcy laughed, at least the laughter was helping her feel better.
“You’d better stay away from restaurant and library jobs, then, or you’ll never have time to do any work.”
Marcy tapped her finger on the paper.  “I did see a job ad where I could make some money while I look for a ‘real’ job.”
“Doing what?”
“Now don’t laugh, but being a dog walker.”
Jackie smothered a laugh. “There’s nothing wrong with that if you don’t mind picking up poop.”
“I always had a dog growing up.  I’m used to the poop parade.”
“I’ve seen dog walkers on the street and they’re usually trying to corral several dogs at once.  That might be hard to do.”
“That’s the plus of the ad I saw.  It’s just one dog and the owner wants him walked separately because he’s sort of skittish.”
“Who’s skittish, the dog or the owner?”
Marcy laughed again, “You are just what I needed.  In fact, I’m feeling so much better I will apply for that job.  It can’t be any worse that those I’ve had before.”
“Let me know how it works out.”….
However it was more than a month later, that she was able to meet Jackie again at the coffee shop.
“You certainly look a lot happier than you did the last time we were here.  Did you get the dog job?”
“Not only did I get the dog job, but I also got a career job.”  She triumphantly dropped a business card on the table in front of Jackie.
Jackie pushed up her sunglasses so she could read it better.
“Marcie Adams, Special Assistant, Oak Valley Veterinary Office.  What does ‘Special Assistant’ mean?”
“It means Dr. Vic was so impressed with the care I gave Jupiter, the skittish dog, that he asked me to work full time in his office.”
“Get outta here, you don’t know anything about taking care of dogs and cats.”  Jackie was almost speechless.
“Don’t worry.  He and his regular staff do the medical stuff.  I just take care of the business side of the business and in my free time, I help our patients feel at ease.  He thinks I have a special touch with animals and he was also impressed with my business experience.”
“Your business experience?  I hope you didn’t tell him about your disasters.”
“Sure I did.  He thought it was funny.  By the way when I told him about my patron saint and how she led me to answer his ad, he told me his story.  It seems his birthday is October 4th and that’s the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.  I’m sure you’ve heard of him.  He always loved animals and some people believe he’s the patron saint of veterinarians.  Dr. Vic just thinks St. Francis keeps his eye on vets so they don’t do any harm to his beloved animals.”
Jackie declared, “After hearing these stories, I guess I better find out who my patron saint is.”

                                      The End