Monday, December 30, 2013

56. New Year Resolutions

A New Year's resolution to be kinder to my older brother backfired. If you have an older brother you know why I should be kinder to him. He's been telling me what to do all my life, treating me like an incompetent baby sister. I'm 25 years old. I can make reasonable, rationale decisions. So what if I invested in a pyramid scheme. The guy who sold it to me was sooo cute. And I only had $100 to invest so it wasn't like I lost a fortune.

Doesn't Matthew have anything better to think about than remind me of every stupid thing I've done in my life. When he does I end up yelling and crying and looking sooo immature. If he'd just stick his hound dog nose out of my business. But you know what, I've made a mature decision that he's not going to change and I can't make him.

How did I get so smart? My best friend, Alicia, has a brother who got hooked on drugs. To help her deal with her confused feelings, she and her mother started going to Al-Anon meetings. These are confidential, group meetings where people dealing with a loved one's addictions can get help...for themselves, not the addict. So I started reading the Al-Anon material she had in her apartment.

It made a lot of sense to me.

“The basic belief you have to buy into,” explained Alicia, “is that you can't change anyone's behavior, only your own.”

“And how is that working for you?” I glanced up from the booklet.

“It's been hard to let go, but I'm feeling better about myself and even about my brother. And I know my mother has stopped crying herself to sleep every night.”

I don't have anything near the problems Alicia and her family have, but I would like to get along better with my brother. I borrowed her paperback on How Al-Anon Works and stayed up late reading.

That's when I made the resolution to be kinder to my brother and not worry about changing him. But I would also take care of myself and do things that made me feel good.

Matthew is a dentist. I mention this because it explains his strange hobby of collecting old tooth pick holders. As I lay in bed the following morning, I tried to think of how I could be kinder to him and also to myself. New Year's Day, which was also Matthew's birthday, was two days away. Since it was so close to Christmas, he always got a combo-present. I thought maybe he felt slighted because of this, but he never said so. But I decided that one way I could be kinder to him was to find a special gift for him on his actual birthday and then let it go. If he criticized my choice or said I was wasting money, I wouldn't react.

I gave him a subscription to Rolling Stone for Christmas, which was mean because I knew he'd go on a rampage about its editorial content. I needed to turn a new page in our relationship. I would go out and find a 'good' present for him, even if it backfired on me.

On my lunch hour from my job as a paralegal, I dashed out to “Second Hand Rosie's”. I didn't know what kind of special item I'd find but I enjoyed browsing there. So I was being good to myself, too.

Short on time, I went right to the owner, Leon—he'd inherited the store's name when he bought it—and asked if he had any toothpick holders.

“Hey, you came at the right time. I just got some boxes of junk—errr, I mean wonderful merchandise—from a house sale. I think one of those old timey ones was in it. It's in that box next to the stuffed bobcat. Look for a flash of red.”

Everything in the box looked old and dirty, but I did see something red. I gingerly pulled it out and smiled. It was the cutest thing. A red headed bird was perched ready to pick up a toothpick from a hollowed out log, about four inches long. It was made of painted metal, dusty but not chipped. Perfect for Matthew.

I bargained with Leon a little and finally got it for only $40. That night, I cleaned and shined the holder and wrapped it in the financial pages of an old newspaper. I figured if Matthew didn't like the gift, he could always read what interested him.

On New Year's Day, we all met at my parents, I brought a cake for Matthew and after we sang the birthday song and he blew out the candles, I gave him my gift. As usual, everyone else had already given him his combo-Christmas-birthday gift at our Christmas get-together.

“You're giving me a birthday present.” Matthew blinked in surprise. Then reverting to character he said, “Oh, it's wrapped in an old newspaper. I guess it's a joke gift then.” He smirked and tore off the paper. His mouth dropped open when he lifted the holder from its wrappings.

“But this, this is marvelous. I don't know what to say.”

If I didn't know better I would have thought I saw his eyes water. But I did know better so I braced myself to not respond when he started criticizing the gift and me. My New Year's resolution to treat him kinder included not allowing him to get me upset.

He stared at me. “I...I really don't know what to say. I truly did not expect you to give me such a fantastic gift.” I could have taken offense at his low expectation of me and I did feel as if maybe my resolution to be kinder had backfired. But no matter what he said I knew he was really delighted with the tooth pick holder.

I changed my usual behavior. I didn't snap back at him. I just said, “I'm glad you like it.” and, wonder of all wonders, he reached over and gave me a hug.

Perhaps my resolution didn't backfire after all.

                                                                           The End

Monday, December 23, 2013

55. Finding Noel

The moving men stuffed the last box into the van. I took a sad walk around the house that I thought I would live in forever. But life changes, for good or bad, whether we want it or not. The rooms were empty and scuffed looking. I'd come back tomorrow to give it a good vacuuming for its new owners. They were probably excited about moving in and getting settled before Christmas. They wouldn't even notice what I'd done. Oh, well, I would know I had done my best. I looked out the kitchen door at the tiny, snow covered back yard.

I leaned my forehead on the cool glass and sighed. I glimpsed movement below me on the porch. A scrawny, gray and white kitten scratched to get in. I tapped on the glass. His enormous green eyes looked up at me. I could hardly hear the 'mowr' from his pink, opened mouth showing tiny milk teeth.

I tugged the door open. The fur ball hesitated and then with a burst of energy flung himself in as if escaping from a ferocious dog. He wrapped himself around my legs, meowing softly. Now what? I had to go. I needed to be at the new condo to let the movers in. The little guy looked clean. I petted him and he purred like a lion. I could feel his ribs. Was he hungry? I had no food to give him. He had no collar. No ID. But it was below freezing. I couldn't kick him back out in the cold maybe to starve.

He snuggled into my chest when I picked him up. I made a snap decision, hoping it wouldn't be another major mistake. I'd take him with me and when I came back to vacuum, I'd stick up posters in the neighborhood about finding a kitten.

I put him in the tote bag that held my purse and cell phone, grabbed my keys and shut the door on what I had thought would be the perfect home for Jason and me. When I signed the papers I was so much in love I didn't care that it was just in my name. Jason was between jobs and he said he'd just bring down my credit rating. He was so cute, so loving, so attentive. He even brought home a bottle of champagne for the first night in our new home. I think that was the last thing he ever bought.

At first I didn't mind. It's hard for an actor to find jobs that fit his abilities. And my job as an under writer at an insurance company paid all our bills. But I noticed that he never went out for casting calls. His dirty dishes were all around the house. He didn't even carry them to the kitchen sink. I tried to be understanding and considerate. But when I did his laundry--he didn't know how to use a washing machine--I found lipstick on his T-shirts. I was so naïve, I thought it was blood or ketchup. Until I smelled stale perfume that I didn't use.

I took the next afternoon off work, came home and gave him $50 to have a 'nice lunch' with his friends. I shoved his clothes, CDs, Men magazines, and other junk in his duffle bag and put it outside the front door. I put a note on top saying I never wanted to see or hear from him again.

Then I put the dead bolts on the doors and cleaned every nook and cranny to get rid of any sign or smell of him. When it got dark I didn't turn on the lights and took a long, herb scented bath by candle light. I closed my eyes in the soothing water and listened to an audio book, “How to live without a man.” I planned to give it a good review on

Jason came home from 'lunch' around 10 p.m. He banged on the door and yelled until he found my note. I guess he was still sober enough to read. For he picked up his stuff and went back to the bus stop. The next day I put my little 'love nest' on the market and looked for a condo for one, near my job.

I stepped on the gas to get to the one I found before the movers got there. As I drove past all the houses decorated with holiday lights and wreaths, I wished the families inside a Merry Christmas even though I wouldn't be having one.

In the condo, I put the kitten in the bathroom until the movers left. I filled a small box with shredded paper and hoped he'd understand it was his 'litter box.' This little guy was going to be a lot of work. Maybe I had made another error in judgment.

When the movers were gone, I let Noel out. I apologized for giving him a cliché name for a Christmas cat, but I had to call him something. And I pointed out to him, he probably had a real name with a real family who'd come and get him as soon as I put up the 'found kitten' notices. So it didn't matter what I called him. He just looked at me and rubbed against my legs.

There were boxes every where. Noel walked around sniffing everything he could reach. I got two bowls out of the 'kitchen' box and filled one with water. Luckily I had already stocked the kitchen with a few groceries and was able to put some canned tuna in the bowl. Noel started meowing loudly as soon as he smelled the fish. He almost fell in the dish when I put it down. But every few seconds, he stopped gobbling to look up at me and purr. At last there was a male in the house who showed gratitude if nothing else.

I made up my queen sized bed. Thank heavens, I hadn't been able to afford a huge king size when Jason and I moved in together. The acres of emptiness would be even more lonely. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically, and climbed into bed after a glass of milk and a tuna sandwich of my own.

My mind whirled reliving the past few weeks. Christmas was in a few more days and I was alone...

I heard the pad of tiny feet, felt the bed jar as Noel jumped up. He meowed softly, turning it into a purr as he nestled his warm, soft body next to my back. Now I had something else to worry about. What if someone tried to claim Noel?
                                                                     The End

Sunday, December 15, 2013

54. A Christmas Gift

Christmas was coming and I wanted to get my best friend, Josh, a special gift. He'd had a bad year. His Mom, diagnosed with cancer, had suffered through some tough medical treatments. She was supposed to be OK eventually but it was hard on her and everyone in their family. Josh tried to act as if everything was fine. He didn't complain and he joked with us as usual but his eyes were sad.
As a 14 year old kid I knew I couldn't solve any of his problems but it"d would be great if I could make his eyes smile again.

“Sam, stop daydreaming and take out the garbage.” Mom's voice jerked me back to our sunny, blue and white kitchen. I groaned but got up to finish my chores. I knew I was a lucky kid to have a healthy family, but it was hard to keep my mind on what I was supposed to do.

I took the black plastic bag out to our snow covered trash bin, my mind running through possible gifts. Electronic games were good, but my budget didn't stretch that far. I suppose I could get him a new CD but that seemed lame. The dog next door was barking his head off. I guess the neighbors forgot to let him back in after his morning run. Hey, what about that? A dog. Who wouldn't be happy to get a puppy for Christmas? I rushed back into the house to tell Mom.

“A puppy? Ohhh, Sam, I don't know.”

“C'mon, Mom. It'd make everyone smile, not just Josh.” I thought my mother would agree that a spunky, little dog would be a great gift. But she pointed out the flaws in my plan.

“Yes, everyone would love the dog, but who'd end up having to take care of it? Josh and his sister and Dad are away all day. His Mom is home but I don't think she has much energy left after dealing with chemo. A puppy has to be trained.”

“Well, then, I'd get an older dog. One who'd be slow and didn't need to be trained.”

Mom put her arms around me. I was too old for hugs but she kept giving them to me. “Sam, it's a great idea, but a family should pick out a pet for themselves.”

I grunted, “OK. I'll think of something else.”

“I'm sure Josh will be happy with whatever you give him.” She patted my head. She actually patted me on the head like a baby kid. Geesh.

I slumped off to watch TV. Not much was on. Sometimes the cooking show could be funny. Especially when things went wrong. Today it was about Christmas cookies. And that's when I had a terrific brainstorm.

I would make Josh a humongous cookie. Everybody loved cookies. I had never baked before, but how hard could it be. My mom, grandma and aunts baked all the time.

I found the show's “Easy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe” on their web site. The recipe said it would make two dozen--enough for a blockbuster giant one. Three days before Christmas I rode my bike to Kroger's and bought all the stuff we didn't have at home. The streets were a little icy but I kept my balance OK with the bag slung over the handlebars.

Mom was at her weekly yoga class so I had the kitchen to myself. I dumped everything into a big bowl and plugged in the beater. It was like a bucking bronco. Bits of dough flew out all over. I fumbled around but got the speed turned down.

I poured the batter onto a large, round cake pan I had greased according to the directions. It looked lumpy, but it would be perfect once baked in the 350 degree oven. I slid the pan in and set the timer for 15 minutes. It didn't seem very long, but I would test it like I'd seen my mom test cakes. When the timer buzzed I stuck a toothpick in and it came out pretty clean. Hmm, I guess it was done.

I put the hot cake pan on a burner grate from the cooktop to cool off. Then I had a problem. How was I going to get it out of the pan and onto a plate? I hadn't thought ahead about what I was going to carry it on. Our paper plates were too small. I had to take four of them, cut off one edge and tape them together to make a big enough plate for the giant cookie. It was sort of floppy but it'd work.

I put my hand on top the cookie as I flipped it onto the improvised plate. Perfection. It fell out easily. I guess the grease worked. I stood for a minute, wallowing in the successful feeling of an accomplished plan.

I took a red bow from the sack my mother kept in her gift wrapping drawer and stuck it on the cookie. Then I realized I had another problem. How was I going to get the cookie over to Josh. I had planned to ride my bike but no way could I balance the cookie while I pedaled. I would have to walk. It wasn't too far, only about six blocks.
I zipped my jacket and carefully picked up the cookie plate. I couldn't wait to see Josh's face when he saw my gift. Everything was fine until I got to his sidewalk. I guess he hadn't done his chores. The walk hadn't been cleared. I took one step on it and skidded like a clown trying to balance the floppy paper plates. My feet went out and I went down, my face landing in my masterpiece.

Josh opened the door and burst out laughing.

“What's so funny?” I muttered. I wanted him to be happy but not by laughing at me.

“You! I saw you dancing or something out there. And you're face is covered with some kind of stuff. You look like you got an outbreak of the plague. You better not come in if you're contagious.”

“Hey, this is a cookie I made with my own hands. I even walked it over here to keep it in one piece.”

“I guess that didn't work. But c'mon in.” He held the door for me. “I'm sure it's delicious. Sorry, I didn't even notice you were carrying something. Your face looks”

“I get it, no need to say anything else. Here.” I shoved the pieces at him. “It's chocolate chip.”

He started laughing again, “So that's what those brown spots are on your face.”

I scowled at him, but then I noticed that his eyes were smiling. Mission accomplished.

                                                                     The End

Monday, December 2, 2013

53. Accidents Happen

December 13 was about to be the worst day of my life. I was a freshman on scholarship at our state university. It was finals week and I was sure I could breeze through all my exams. Except for one. Introduction to Economics. To keep my scholarship, which was necessary for me to stay in school, I had to maintain a B average. No problem except again for Econ. Professor Jensen was a real stickler having been a successful money manager before turning to his real love, destroying the lives of students.

No actually, he said his real love was teaching. And he was a good teacher with lots of examples from real life. I enjoyed the class and could handle the subject matter. What was tough to handle was his insistence on punctuality. The class was at 8 a.m. I was an owl not a sparrow and as I learned in Psych class it was hard to change from one to the other. I could stay up every night past midnight studying my eyes out, didn't bother me at all. But to get up before 10 a.m. I needed two electric alarm clocks, set across the room, plus a recurring alarm on my cell phone.

At our first class, Jensen explained.Timing is everything. Buying and selling profitably depends on timing, proposing marriage depends on timing, and so does just about everything else.” He paused and it seemed he was looking right at me. “So I intend to teach you the importance of time and punctuality. I will not tolerate late arriving students.

I managed to make his class on time through out the semester. I had only one more class to worry about. The final exam. He said he would lock the door at 8:01—he'd give us a minute of grace. Generous of him, huh. It was almost as if he could read my anxious mind, for he added, “And Mr. Browning, I've noticed that you're always on time, breathless but on time.” All eyes swiveled to my red face.

He continued, “So as not to be unduly harsh, in case some of you don't make it on time, I will open the door to late comers who will be able to take the test, but I will lower their class grade one level.” I wasn't sure university policy would let him do that, but I couldn't afford to take the chance. For me that meant going from a B to a C and losing my scholarship. I was pretty sure I could get a B on the exam and I was determined to get there before 8.

But, as the Scottish poet, Bobbie Burns, once said, courtesy of Intro. to English Literature, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” I was a man whose plan was about to go stray. The night before the exam there was an ice storm. Cramming as much economic theory as I could, I heard the wind howling and trees creaking. Didn't think anything of it. This was Minnesota. Winter storms happened. I slept peacefully unaware that power lines went down all around our dorm.

My electric alarm clocks did not go off. I snoozed on. Even if I had known of this potential disaster, I wouldn't have worried. I had my back up cell phone alarm. I should have worried. I had forgotten to check that the phone was fully charged. The charge ran out during the night and it didn't go off.

My unconscious or subconscious must have been tracking time because I jolted awake at 7:30 feeling something was wrong. First, it was very quiet. No electricity meant no music, TV, hair blowers, or coffee machines heard through thin walls. I looked at my wrist watch. Digital and easy to read in my befuddled state. Its battery was still going strong. One part of my brain was struggling with why I had overslept and another part was intent on getting me to the exam on time.

I dressed like Superman in a phone booth, ran out to my car, turned on the heater, frantically scraped off the windshield frost, leaped in like a deployed jet pilot and took off. Class was only 10 minutes away and my designated parking lot was next to the building. I should make it in time.

Except. I was driving down Green street about to cross Livingston on a green light when a car slammed into my passenger door and spun my Honda around. A dark maroon Audi had slid through the intersection, unable to stop at the red light on Livingston.

As my car turned into a merry go round, I saw my scholarship fly away. Would Jensen accept an accident as a viable reason for missing an exam. No. I'm sure he would say when you saw the ice you should have allowed extra time. And if I mentioned the failed cell phone alarm. He would have shook his head and said, “You didn't charge your battery? What if someone was calling with a million dollar job offer?”

The good news was I wasn't hurt and the other driver emerged from his car looking OK, too. I dug out my license and insurance card and prepared to exchange information with him. I was feeling a little groggy so when I faced the idiot who ruined my life, I thought my sight had been affected. But I looked down at his driver's license and saw he was indeed, Professor Jensen.

“Browning?” he read off my license and stared at me. “Aren't you in my econ class?”

“Yes, sir. I am. And I'm really, really sorry but I think I'm going to be late for your exam.”

He frowned and said, “I think I'm going to be late, too.”
                                                             The End

Monday, November 25, 2013

52. A Turkey's Thanks Giving

One November, we drove up from Los Angeles to northern California to visit relatives in the area and then go over to Salinas to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with our nephew, Sam and his family. He and his wife, Carol, had invited both sides of their families and expected 45 people. With such a huge number, they decided it would be easier on everyone to have a delicious turkey plus dinner at their club house. The menu included roast beef and salmon for anyone who didn't like turkey. But all the traditional side dishes would be served, sage and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry relish, and of course, pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I knew there would be lots of other dessert choices, too, for non-pumpkin lovers. The star of the table, though, was always the golden brown bird bursting with flavor.

The day before, with the help of their red haired daughter, Morgan, they had set the round tables with rust and brown colored tablecloths and napkins. Each table had a centerpiece of yellow and orange mums interspersed with multicolored leaves.

The fall is my favorite season with its beautiful colors and crisp, fresh air. Of course down in the LA area we don't get too much crisp air, but the Salinas area was beautiful. Thanksgiving is also my favorite holiday—no gifts to buy, wrap and worry about, no major house decorating, and no required church service. Of course, at the dinner table we always go around the table, giving thanks for the past year's blessings. No matter how bad a year it may have been, we can always be grateful for our friends and family and that we have enough (more than enough) to eat.

On Thanksgiving morning my husband, Joe, and I stopped at Sam's for a light breakfast of croissants and strong coffee. Sam and Carol's house is located in a beautiful, wooded area and it was good to see the results of all the work they had put into making it comfortable. Other family members including our son, Bill, and his family were there having just arrived from Idaho.

Will, our 11 year old grandson, was going through his repertoire of turkey jokes. At that time his life's ambition was to be a stand up comic.

We paid closer attention when he qualified one, saying it might be unsuitable for children. His mother jumped in and said, “Well maybe you better not tell it.”

He brushed her objections aside, “Oh, Mom, don't worry. It's just a joke.” Then asked, “Does anyone know why you can't take a turkey to church?”

Grandpa Joe played along with him. “Gee, I don't know. Why can't you?”

Trying to suppress a grin, Will replied, “They use FOWL language.”

When his captive audience finished groaning, he continued on. “What happened when the turkey got into a fight?”

Winn, Will's younger brother, yelled out, “Oh I know that one. The turkey got the stuffing knocked out of him.”

Will gave him a dirty look. “Winn, you heard me rehearsing. You're not allowed to answer any.” But he didn't let the interruption stop him, he went on.

“I bet no one else knows what you get when you cross a turkey with a banjo?”

Before anyone could disappoint Will, I jumped in to reassure him, “I don't have a clue. What do you get?”

This time, Will had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing as he explained, “A turkey that can pluck itself.”

Carol said, “Thank heavens, when you buy a turkey now they're already plucked and ready for the oven. Of course, this year I didn't even have to shop for one since the chef at the club is doing all the cooking.”

Morgan shouted, “Hey everyone. Look out the window. Guess who's coming to dinner?”

We all turned our heads to look out the big picture window overlooking the rural road at the side of the house.

“Oh, my gosh,” I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I and everyone else went outside to get a better look. Mitzi, the little dachshund, was barking her head off.

Down the road, walking erratically as if they hadn't a care in the world, came a flock of white, wild turkeys. Mitzi was going crazy trying to drive off the intruders. It was wonderful. I had never seen a flock of turkeys before.

Winn laughed, “Hey, don't they know it's a dangerous day. They could get eaten.”

Morgan said, “No, they know everyone's already got their turkey. So they're safe for another year.”

I added, “Well, it is Thanks Giving day. They must be thankful they aren't on a dinner table.” Will, of course, had the last word. Although I think he must have been thinking about another holiday, Fourth of July – Independence Day.

He asked another of his 'fowl' questions. “What did the turkey say to the man who tried to shoot it?”

Winn's eyes lit up and he opened his mouth, but Will, with perfect timing, jumped in with the answer.

“Liberty, equality and bad aim for all.”

                                                              The end.

Monday, November 18, 2013

51. Cruising, Italian Style

I was surprised when I saw Antonio, our Italian tour leader, slip out of Anita's cabin. I was on my way to the ship's coffee set up for those of us early risers who couldn't wait for the breakfast buffet. Was Anita sick, did she need help? It had been clear from the first day of our trip that friendly, outgoing Antonio did not like Anita. What on earth was he doing in her room?

I ducked back into my own cabin and shook my husband's shoulder until he woke.

“Jim, there's something going on.” I sat down on his side of the bed.

“Unnn, there's always something going on. Let me sleep.” He rolled over and burrowed his head into his pillow.

“What do you think of Anita?” I demanded.

“Anita who?” he muttered.

“You know, the pretty blond girl who's traveling alone. I thought it odd she didn't have a boyfriend or even just a friend to travel with. But Antonio...”

“You're not going to let me sleep, are you, unless I play this guessing game with you?”

“Oh, go back to sleep. Barbara will be up getting coffee. I'll go talk to her.”

My best friend Barbara and her husband Dennis were with us on this two week small ship cruise down the western coast of Italy. We enjoyed blue skies with marshmallow fluff clouds during the day as we visited ancient, picturesque villages and in the evenings dined on too much pasta, pizza, and tiramisu. The trip was like a travel brochure. Except for the hostility between Antonio and Anita.

Jim and I had been on other cruises and the tour leaders were always friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, no matter how difficult a traveler might be. And Anita was nice. But they avoided each other as if they were in a school yard and afraid of getting 'cooties' from each other.

Carefully holding my fragrant cup of coffee, I plopped on a green and white deck chair next to Barbara. I brought her up to date on what I'd seen.

“That is odd. Yesterday he yelled at her for being the last person to arrive for the day's outing. And she wasn't even late. There was still two minutes before departure time.” She took a sip of her coffee and sighed. “Well, it's not our problem, is it?”

I shook my head. “Nooo. But if he dislikes her what was he doing in her cabin? Could he have been looking through her stuff while she was up here with a wake up coffee?”

“I haven't seen her yet this morning, and I can't imagine that nice young man would go through her things. Why he'd certainly be fired, if he was caught.”

“I'm sure you're right, so again I ask what was he doing in her room?”

Barbara looked at me over her reading glasses, “Well if you really need to know why don't you just ask him.”

Of course I couldn't do that. My curiosity wasn't that rampant, but I vowed I would keep an eye on him to see if he did anything else that seemed odd.

Every night after dinner there was dancing in the little bar lounge. And every night Antonio took turns dancing with each woman who either didn't have a partner or whose husband didn't want to dance. Except I realized he never danced with Anita. But she didn't seem interested in dancing with him either. She always turned her back to him when he approached her table to see if anyone wanted to dance.

I pointed this out to Jim and being a man, he said, “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, you never notice anything.”

The next morning I was quiet as I left our cabin for my early morning caffeine jolt, in case I'd see Antonio again.  The hallway was clear. I hate to admit it but I did slow as I passed Anita's door. She must have had the TV on for I could heard low voices murmuring. At least Antonio wouldn't be sneaking around her cabin if she was there.

Our excursion that morning was the seaside village of La Spezia. We were climbing about 100 uneven stone steps up to the heavily carved doors of a Baroque church. Anita, like a young colt, hair streaming behind her, was scampering up ahead of the rest of us, probably trying to avoid Antonio again. She yelped as she stumbled and fell to her knees. Antonio, his face pale, scrambled to her side and gently examined her ankle.

At last he was acting like a responsible tour guide even if he didn't like Anita. But as we gathered around to see if she was OK, he dropped her foot like it burned his hands.

Anita's brown eyes glistened with tears. “I'm so sorry to cause trouble.” She looked at him and then down at her rapidly swelling ankle.

“Can you stand?” Antonio demanded. He helped her up. “Can you walk?”

“I'll help her back to the ship.” I offered. “You need to stay here to continue the tour for the group.”

Jim and I helped her make her way down the hill to the dock, across the gangplank and to her cabin. He went to get ice while I put a pillow under her ankle.

After assuring myself that she was all right I couldn't stand it any longer. “What is wrong with Antonio? I've never seen a tour guide be so mean to a client.”

She looked at me stricken. “No, no, you mustn't blame him.”

“Well, then what's going on between you two?”

“Please, if I tell you, do not repeat this.” I promised to keep her story confidential.

"Antonio and I were married the day before the tour started.”

I almost fell on her bed. I was not expecting that story.

“We were supposed to leave on our honeymoon but the original guide for this tour got seriously ill and couldn't continue. Since Antonio had lead this tour many times, the company begged him to do it and offered to let me come on the tour free of charge. We agreed because we thought we could save the money we would have spent on a wedding trip, but of course, we couldn't let people know we were honeymooners. It would have been unprofessional.”

“So instead you acted as if you disliked each other.” I thought of that old saying, 'Oh, what webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.' But then I thought of how much I was going to enjoy telling Barbara this story. After we got home, of course. I didn't want to let the cat out of the bag just yet.
                                                                   The End

Sunday, October 6, 2013

50. Cruising in France

I looked around the small cheerful cabin. The perky blue and yellow Provence print on the bedspreads, curtains, and desk chair echoed the style of the French countryside we'd soon be sailing through. Outside the wide window I could see steps leading up from the concrete dock to the road which ran alongside the Rhone river. I sat down on one of the two twin beds and considered my options. I could unpack, or go to the sun deck to watch the crew cast off, or I could go right to the bar and order a stiff drink, or just curl up in a ball and wait to meet the stranger I would be living with for seven days.
Emma, the oldest of my four children, who made the arrangements, urged me to ask for a travel partner. Not because a double was cheaper than the single supplement, but because she thought I needed someone to talk to. Although I didn't really want a room mate, I knew it would be less expense for my children who were paying for this French river cruise. Even if the person was difficult I only had to be in the cabin to shower, dress and sleep.

My husband Carl and I had always dreamed of traveling once the children were through school. I mused on how life has a way of changing the best laid plans. It had been three years since a fatal car accident had interrupted ours. He was only 53 and with our last child out of college we had been looking forward to life without tuition bills. I didn't want to go on this cruise, but my children wanted to give me a special gift for my 55th birthday and thought it would be good for me to get away from my memories. But your memories travel with you.

A bustling out in the hall interrupted my day dreams. The door opened and a man carrying a huge overnight case stumbled in. He looked at me. “I'm sorry. I must be in the wrong room.”

I looked up at him. “This is cabin 224.”

He looked down at the sheets of paper in his hand. “That's where I'm supposed to be.” He stared at me. “You aren't Robin are you?”

“Yes, I am. Are you Frances?”

“This happens to me, all the time. Yes, my name is Francis, but spelled with the male i not the female e. The tour company's computer made a typo.” He gave me a shy smile, “And I thought Robin was a British nickname for Robert.”

“I'm not British.”

“And you're not a Robert either.”

The tour company must have thought we were both females when they matched us up. Well, I wasn't going to spend a week in the same cabin with a male stranger--no matter how nice or even how good looking. Oh, my friend Jenny would love to hear about this. She was always reading romantic novels.

He dumped his suitcase and said, “Come on, let's see the purser or whoever and get this straightened out.”

Fortunately, there was a gentleman traveling alone who was willing to share his cabin for a substantial reduction in price. Francis moved his bag from the room saying, “It's a small boat, I'm sure we'll see each other again.”

That evening I changed into fresh black pants with a black and white silk blouse. And since I was in France, I tied a red scarf around my neck. When I walked into the small bar that evening for a pre dinner drink to calm my nerves, Francis waved me over to his table. I went over but hoped he wasn't going to assume we were now joined in some special way.

He explained he was supposed to be with his brother, but his brother got sick at the last minute. Nothing serious just a flare up of shingles. So the tour company, thinking Francis was female, put him with the first available passenger, who happened to be me. We laughed and both said, “Small world,” when we discovered we lived in St. Louis, including his brother, but had never met until this cruise.

Francis taught French and history at a Catholic high school, which is one of the reasons he was on the trip. Jenny would have been disappointed, as no romance kindled as the result of the name mix-up. Francis was friendly to everyone on the trip and translated when we needed help bargaining with the merchants along the river. It was a wonderful trip and everyone shared interesting travel stories. My children would be happy when I reported that I had enjoyed myself.

The next to last day on the ship was a Sunday and the daily bulletin announced there would be a Catholic Mass celebrated on the sundeck. When I got up there I found out why there had been no romantic overtures from Francis, not that I wanted or expected any. He was the priest presiding at the service.

At lunch, he apologized to those of us at his table, “I'm sorry I didn't tell all of you I was a priest but I've found that people are usually more comfortable not knowing.”

“You certainly looked like a different man in your vestments. I almost didn't recognize you. Is your brother a priest, too?” I asked.

“No. He was a happily married man until his wife died a few years ago after a long fight with cancer. I was hoping he would have some fun on this trip. I think stress made the shingles pop out. But I do have good news.”

“Great, I love good news.”

“Paul sent me an email saying he had recovered from the shingles and would meet me in Paris so we could continue our driving trip to Belgium.”

“That is wonderful news.” I was happy for the brothers.

“Robin, I know you'll be in Paris for the few days included at the end of the tour. I hope you'll be open to meeting Paul and maybe having dinner with us one night.”

“If he's as good a talker as you are, I'll sure it will be a fun evening.” Hmmm. Maybe I'll have something interesting to tell Jenny after all.

                                                                        The End

Sunday, September 22, 2013

49. Dad's Magic Paint Brush

Peter was two years old, cute as a baby panda, and his vocabulary was growing as fast as he was. His mom, Heather, said, “I think he learns one hundred words every time he grows an inch.” Of course, much to her chagrin one of the first words he learned was ‘tini, referring to the martini his dad relished after a long commuter train ride and a frustrating day solving computer problems. It was also embarrassing the way Peter said it with the same loving tone Dan used when mixing it each evening. Heather was afraid her friends might think she was raising an alcoholic baby. The little boy still staggered when he walked giving further support to a “drunken baby” allegation.
Neither Heather, Dan or the baby were alcoholics, of course. They were a typical, suburban family who had moved into a new house. New to them, but really about 50 years old and in need of repairs. They couldn’t afford everything they wanted to do to the house, but paint was a cheap and quick fix. 
While they were figuring out what colors the various rooms should be painted, Peter was engrossed in figuring how to communicate all the many thoughts that whizzed through his consciousness. When they first moved in, they only had 2 kitchen chairs. One Saturday morning, Dan and Heather were sitting in them, drinking coffee. Little Peter toddled in from his play area in the dining room. He looked around and asked, “Where’s my sit down?” 
Heather and Dan smothered their laughs when they realized what he meant. Dan said, “I always knew my son would be a genius. He’ll never have a problem asking for what he needs.” Heather brought in his little rocking chair from the dining room so Peter could ‘sit down’ next to them.
It was mid-January, very cold, although it hadn’t snowed yet. Dan was eager to get all the inside painting done, so he could start on the garden when the weather warmed up. He and Heather decided they should perk up Peter’s little room first. It was going to be a typical boy’s design of red, white and blue color scheme. Heather knew her dad, a former Marine would appreciate their effort.
She made red and white striped curtains with a trim of little blue cotton balls. Dan covered the beat up, built in wooden bookcases with a coat of Williamsburg blue to go with an old blue trunk they found in a thrift store.
Peter didn’t say much as he watched all this activity. His eyes followed every brush stroke as Dan used a paintbrush to cover Peter's gloomy green walls with a bright, clean white. The little guy tried to imitate his Dad, sticking his hand in the can of white paint, which caused a work stoppage for a major clean up. And then, when Dan turned his back again, Peter tried to use his little hairbrush to paint “like Daddy.” Dan couldn't let him do these messy things, but secretly he was proud that his son wanted to be just like him.
Although the winter had been snow free so far, the weatherman predicted a heavy snow fall for the day after Dan painted Peter's room. And for once it was an accurate prediction. When Heather saw her transformed yard and neighborhood, her eyes danced with anticipation. She knew Peter was going to love playing in the fluffy, cold stuff. Last year he had been too young to appreciate it.
As she looked out the hall windows, she heard Peter's happy morning sounds. She walked in to his room with a big smile. “I have a surprise for you today.”
'Prize?” Peter asked. He raised his chubby arms for her to lift him out of the crib. Heather first bent to give him a good morning kiss and hug. He squirmed away and asked again, “Prize?” She nuggled his neck as she carried him over to the window. They looked out at a white world. Snow covered the front yard, the driveway, the street and all the trees.
Honey, look. It's a surprise. Everything's all white.”
Peter opened his eyes wide as he peered through the frost framed window. He looked at the world that he'd last seen as brown and green and orange. He laughed and clapped his hands. “Daddy painted it all white.”
                                                   The End

Thursday, September 19, 2013

48. Thank You

Thanks to everyone who downloaded my e-book, A Likely Story, by Amy Mull Fremgen, on  Last week my book was the 10th of those that popped up when someone searched for 'humorous short stories'.  This morning it is 8th.
I also appreciate the great reviews that readers have given me. 
If you are interested in seeing what the book looks like, downloading directions are in the following post, no. 47. 
When the cover appears on, just click on 'look inside'.  You can read the first five stories without buying the book.
Now that the 'publication' process is over, I hope to have a new short story here Monday, September 20. 
 If you have comments you can send them to me at
Thanks for visiting my blog.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

47. "A Likely Story" now at

My e-book, A Likely Story, by Amy Mull Fremgen is now available.
If you don't have a kindle reader, you can download a free app for your computer at:
It is based on the stories I created for this blog.  So I'm grateful to everyone who visited this site in the last two years.  Thank you for giving me the confidence to go ahead with the book project.
Now I'm finishing up a humorous mystery novel, Eula May and the Flim Flam Nun, which will first be published as a paperback in December, and then as an e-book a little later.
If you would like me to continue posting new short stories at this blog, send me an email at     Thanks, Amy

Sunday, July 21, 2013

46. Grandma Jean's Famous Soup

My grandmother was 18 when she got married. Unfortunately for her husband, Grandpa Jim, he never asked if she knew how to cook before he proposed. This was back in 1930 and he assumed every woman, including those only 18 years old, knew how to prepare a tasty meal. Of course, it's not really his fault for overlooking this important ability. Jean's mother was a wonderful cook and every time Jim came over for dinner, she let him believe that her unmarried daughter had prepared the delicious meal. At 25, Jim was already working shares with his Dad on almost 500 Illinois acres of planted corn. He was considered quite a catch. And he was a good, church going man who was just plain nice, too.

The first day in the kitchen of Jim's small cabin on his Dad's land, Jean decided to make a special soup for him. Her mother had given her the recipe and stocked the necessary ingredients to make it. She also added her own fragrant, home made bread to the pantry.

Jean brushed back her light brown hair when it fell over her face as she leaned down to read the recipe laid out on the scrubbed wooden work table. Her mother had wonderful penmanship and the directions were easy to read:

Place 1 whole chicken, including neck and giblets in a large pot, cover with water. Well she wasn't sure what giblets were but she just put the whole chicken and everything that came with it in the largest pot she could find. The next two ingredients confused her because they required 3-4 ribs of celery and 3-4 carrots. She though, “Why can't they make up their mind?” She decided they must mean 3 and ½ of each, because that was between 3 and 4. So she cut the 4th rib of celery and 4th carrot in half.

The two bay leaves and two onions were easy. She found them in the pantry and plopped them in, as they were. One teaspoon of salt and one-half teaspoon of pepper were also easy. Her mother had laid out the measuring spoons and explained them to her. Continuing to follow the directions, Jean put all these items into the pot with the chicken, turned up the gas flame under it and waited for the water to boil. She pulled a wooden, spool backed chair up to the stove and waited. She was afraid to go away because it might boil when she wasn't there.

After what seemed like hours but was only about 20 minutes she saw the water bubbling as her mother had described. She turned down the flame to let the water calm itself and just simmer. It was supposed to do that for three hours so she could finally get up and do other things, such as unpacking the clothes she had brought. The little cabin had no closets, but Jim had bought a pine chiffrobe for her from Sears that had a long mirror covering the door to her hanging clothes. The other side had drawers for clothes she could fold up. She was quite proud of it and polished it with the lemon scented oil her mother had given her.

Three hours later Jean went back to the pot, carefully removed the chicken and other pieces that floated out of the chicken. She put them on a large platter until cool enough to touch. She cut them into pieces to drop back into the pot with the vegetables and the water, now turned into rich chicken stock. She let the whole thing simmer softly until Jim was home from the fields, had washed up, given her a very satisfactory kiss and sat down to eat.

Jim said a quick “Thank You, Lord, for my beautiful wife and this wonderful bread and soup.”

He scooped up a big spoonful of the fragrant soup and chicken. He held it in his mouth before swallowing. His eyes got big and he gulped as he swallowed it down.

“Well, what do you think?” Jean asked, “Do you like it?”

Jim coughed and said, “It's absolutely fabulous. I've never eaten a soup like this before in my life.”

Jean went on to become a really great cook. But she and Jim laughed many times over that soup. He waited a while before he told her that he had never eaten a soup with all the chicken's innards in it, including liver and heart. But since they were all thoroughly cooked, he knew they wouldn't hurt him. He also had never eaten soup before with three and a half whole ribs of celery and three and half whole carrots. They usually were cut up into pieces. But as he told her, it wasn't her fault since the recipe didn't say cut them up. Also, it was a little unusual to have a whole onion, including the dry outside, in his soup, but again cooking it for so long made even the skin soft enough to digest.

[If you want to try this recipe, I'm sure you know the correct way to use the ingredients. You could also add some elbow macaroni to the final simmer. When it's cooked, ladle the soup into bowls. And then top each bowl with a generous serving of Parmesan cheese. Oh, be sure to note that the cheese should be grated not dumped in whole.]

Our family still prepares and shares Jean's Famous Soup, with a few necessary corrections. Bon Appetit!
                                                              The End

Sunday, July 7, 2013

45. A Friendly Ghost in the Cotswolds

The pretty, honey colored, stone cottage in England's Cotswold area had been on the market for a “donkey's age” said the realtor who rented us the house. She must have been eager to get the house off her list, because to me that was short hand for the owners are desperate.

I didn't know why it hadn't sold or been rented. The house seemed in good repair and was located within walking distance of the train station and village green. It was surrounded by pink and red roses, yellow daisies, blue bells, and smelled sweet and minty like my idea of an English garden. A fruit heavy apple tree was also in the backyard. Rounding out my impression of a real British home were the chrystalline chimes of the nearby Anglican church striking the hours.

My husband, Ben, had been transferred to the area by his American firm which was trying to bring their gourmet brand of dog food to England. We were promised two wonderful years in a foreign country at no cost to us. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. As time went on, we wondered if heaven was the right word for where we were.

My first visit to the tiny, local grocery explained why the house had stayed vacant for so long.

“Ah, and you'll be the new tenants over at Woodside cottage, I reckon,” asked the owner, John Goodson, whose ruddy face seemed to shine with British honor.

“Yes, we're so lucky to be living in a real Cotswold cottage and this fine village,” I enthused. I decided that 'quaint' was not a PC adjective to those who lived here.

“Well, then, did they not tell you about the ghost?” he asked.

“Ghost?” I didn't know whether to be frightened or thrilled at the prospect of meeting an English ghost.

“Perhap I shouldna be telling you the story, but may needs you be forewarned.”

“I love ghost stories, please tell me.”

His clear blue eyes looked straight at me and he said, “Well, not ta worry, Bartholomew wasn't murdered or a suicide.”


“He's the ghost, you know. A very friendly one. But still and all, he puts some people off.” As he put bread, cheese, and tea into my string carrier bag, he added, “Ya don't seem to me to be put off, though.”

“As long as it's a friendly ghost,” I thought of Casper the friendly ghost I read about as a child. “I wouldn't mind one.” I smiled, accepted my change and walked on home with happy thoughts of meeting a real English ghost. What stories I'd have to tell my friends back home.

I was putting things away when Ben came home. “I think I'll go out and see if any of the apples are ready for harvesting. It'll be a treat to have apples from our own tree.”

A few minutes later, I heard Ben yell and he came stomping into the house.

“I think that tree attacked me,” he sputtered.

“A tree can't attack anyone.” I said.

“Then you tell me why, when I was trying to pick an apple, several others just jumped on my head.”

“Oh, for gosh sakes, apples can't jump on your head. You probably just shook them loose.”

Our phone rang and it was a friend from the states, so the jumping apple conversation was shelved and forgotten.

The next time I went to the grocery, I asked Mr. Goodson to tell me more about Bartholomew, the possibly friendly ghost.

“If he wasn't murdered or a suicide, how did he die?”

Mr. Goodson cleared his throat and then explained. “You understand he was already a fair old age. In fact, he was 101 on the day he died.”

“The poor man died on his birthday?”

“Aye, after all the birthday party guests had gone home, and after he had argued once again with his son about needing to move into a home, the old gent decided he wanted an apple to calm himself down.”

“Did the apples jump on him?” I asked, remembering what Ben had insisted they had done to him.

“Jump on him?” Mr. Goodson looked confused. “Nay, I never heard that. But a branch did break loose and crack him on the head. Doctor said he died immediately.”

“I'm so sorry. Is that why he hangs around as a ghost? Because he's mad at the tree?”

“Missus, I don't know why he hangs around. As far as I know it's all just women's gossip.” And he started talking about the beautiful autumn weather we were having.

That afternoon I made a pie using my grandmother's recipe and the tasty, red apples Ben had gathered without any more attacks from the killer fruit.

However, maybe I ate too much of the pie because that night I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. Faint cries drew me to the bedroom window overlooking the back yard and there I saw Bartholomew for the first time. The moonlight made everything glow with a misty light, but I clearly saw an old man dancing around the apple tree, shaking his fist at it. I jumped back into bed telling myself, I had eaten too many apples and was having a nightmare.

I never told Ben about my dream since I scoffed at his story of attacking apples. However, I did have concerns about eating apples from that tree. I refused, in fact, to make any more pies or applesauce or jelly from that tree's fruit. And I never looked into the back yard if I couldn't sleep at night.

In fact I was relieved when Ben complained all the apples from the tree had disappeared. None were on the tree or even laying on the ground under it. We thought maybe kids had stolen them. Since I was never going to eat another one, it didn't bother me a bit. Although by then I was beginning to doubt Mr. Goodson's story about Bartholomew since no one else ever mentioned him to me.

Another trip to the grocery store may have solved the mystery. The little market had old wooden bushel baskets filled with sweet smelling, red apples that looked a lot like ours. Did helpful Mr. Goodson tell a gullible American woman a ghost story for his own purposes?

The End

Monday, July 1, 2013

44. Her Last Wishes

Some people might call me a thief. I prefer to call myself a re-distributor of assets. What would you call me?

My Great Aunt Claire was the last of three elderly sisters to die. None of them had married or had children, so Claire inherited what few assets her sisters left. Now the question was what to do with Claire's (and her sisters') remaining assets. She named no executor, but since I lived next door to their home and had helped them in many ways, including fighting with the tax assessor to get their ridiculous taxes reduced, my siblings and cousins decided I would be the perfect person to handle all the minutiae that occurs after a death.

I dealt with the funeral home, cemetery officials, death certificates, and I notified social security and her pension plan of her death. Because I was on her checking account I was able to pay all her last bills. Until a person dies you have no idea how much work is involved in ensuring the deceased can lie easy in her grave.

Although I was sad Aunt Claire died, it was true she lived a long and full life, happy I don't know. But she was 101 when she fell into eternal sleep. She and her sisters must have baked a million German chocolate cookies for me and the others who stole them from my cookie tin in the night. I was glad to do whatever I could to help settle her affairs.

Claire and her sisters had one charity they supported as much as they could with their meager earnings, Mercy Childrens' Home. Since she left no will, no provision had been made for any last donation to help children who needed a home. As 'executor' it was my job to make sure all her funds in her bank accounts or from the sale of her house and household goods were divided equally among her heirs—myself, my siblings, and my cousins.

I was able to do all that without problems, and, even more amazing, without any fighting among all of us cousins. I had heard horror stories of families split apart over the tiniest inheritances or even over a worthless coin collection.

The only glitch was when I was doing a final walk through the house before meeting with the buyers to turn over the keys. We showed the house furnished as the realtor thought that would make it easier for potential buyers to envision how furniture would fit in the rooms. But after a sales contract was signed, we had an estate sale and anything that wasn't sold was given to the Salvation Army, after all the heirs had chosen anything they wanted, drawing numbers to determine in what order they would choose. I tell you, it's details, details, details when someone dies.

I was walking through the house, remembering good times our family had shared. None of us would ever forget the Thanksgiving dinner when the aunts told us they had cooked the turkey the day before to save time. No one said a word but it was the driest turkey we ever ate.

I fondly thought of the little odd things people sometimes did as they got older. That brought to mind my own parents and what they told me when I helped them clean out our family home before their move to a warmer climate. It was a very old house and still had hot and cold air registers in the floor.

My father whispered to me, “Don't forget to get the money out of the cold air registers.”

“What?” Did I just hear him say 'money in the registers'?

“You heard me,” he muttered. “Check all the cold air registers.”

I took the grate off the one in the living room. In it were three cigar boxes filled with $20 bills. The same with the dining room and master bedroom. My parents had squirreled away $2,000.

My husband said to my father, “So that's why you were always asking for my empty cigar boxes.”

“My gosh,” I yelled. “If there'd been a fire, all of this would've been lost. Or if you'd died we'd have sold it not knowing about this money.”

That was when the light bulb turned on, so they say. I started checking the cold air registers in Claire's old house. The final tally was $3,500. And no one knew about this except me. What should I do? What would you do? If I told the other heirs they would want a share of it, especially Hilary who just had a darling baby girl.

I had a few qualms about it but I did what I thought was the right thing. I deposited the cash in my checking account. Then I wrote a check for the total amount to Mercy Childrens' Home. Perhaps the other heirs would have agreed but perhaps not. I didn't want to take a chance with fulfilling what I'm sure would have been my great aunts' last wishes.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

43. The Prodigy

Blond, curly haired Charles Dawson was three years old when he first started playing the piano. He pulled a box over to the living room upright so he could climb up on the bench. He figured out enough key sounds to pound out the melodies from his favorite TV commercials. He laughed as he realized he could make the music he loved. 
His mother was shocked and then amazed as his musical ability developed at an amazing rate. She enrolled him in a toddler music class and from there he quickly advanced to a professional teacher in the small town where they lived.

Charlie loved music and playing the piano more than anything else. Soon after he started high school, he was at the piano when his mother called, “Charlie, John's at the door. He says he needs you to fill out their baseball team.”

Charlie answered, “Sorry, Mom. But I've got this new piece I promised Mr. Taylor I'd master by my next lesson.”

Charlie's dad frowned when he heard this. “Charlie, it's Saturday morning, you should go out and play with your friends. Get some fresh air. The piano will still be here after the game.”

“But Dad, I'd really rather do this. Mr. Taylor says I might have a chance at becoming a student of Professor Wallowitz.”

Mr. Dawson threw up his hands. “I give up. If that's what you want to do, that's what you want to do.”

Mrs. Dawson said, “You've been talking about this Professor ever since he played at the Christmas concert.”

“Mom, he's world famous and he only takes three new students a year. I want to be one of them.”

His parents sighed, but felt as long as his school grades were OK they couldn't interfere.

At the end of his freshman year in high school, he rushed into the house dropping his book bag on the floor.

“Mom, Dad! Great news! I've got an audition with Prof. Wallowitz.”

Mrs. Dawson said, “Charlie, pick up your books. But that's wonderful, I know how hard you've worked for this opportunity.”

As he picked up his books, he explained. “He's going to be in town this weekend and Mr. Taylor told him about me and he agreed to hear me play. Gosh, I'm so nervous. I've just got to do well.”

Charlie practiced every spare minute he had until time to meet Prof. Wallowitz where he was rehearsing for his concert.

To calm himself, Charlie practiced the deep breathing exercises Mr. Taylor had taught him. Although his teacher had also said that a little nervousness was good, it gave you an edge.

He played the difficult piece he had chosen perfectly. When the final chord died away, he waited expectantly. The professor listened intently, silently nodding his head. Then he said in a causal voice, “Not enough passion.”

Charlie was crushed. He had played his heart out and it wasn't good enough. He never touched a piano again. He was a resilient young man and eventually realized he had other talents. He put the same dedication he once had to the piano, to his new love, the law. He became an excellent trial lawyer and was known for his meticulous preparation.

Although he stopped going to concerts, his firm was sponsoring a charity concert and he felt obligated to go. He hadn't paid attention to the program and was surprised when he saw and heard his former nemesis, Professor Wallowitz. After wards as one of the sponsors, he went backstage to meet the great performer.

He introduced himself and added, “Many years ago I auditioned for you and you said I didn't 'have enough passion. What did you mean?”

The old man laughed and said, “Oh, I say that to everyone.”

Charlie was stunned, “But I gave up the piano because of you. I could have been a great performer.”

The professor shook his head, “Not really. If you were going to be a great musician, you would have done so, no matter what I had said.”
                                             The End

Sunday, June 16, 2013

42. A Scary Walk in the Dark

The summer storm hadn't dumped rain on us yet, but the cracking of thunder was moving closer and lightening flashes were more frequent. It was getting late and we realized we should have left the 'get away' cabin an hour before. There was no electricity or street lights in the Minnesotan woods and once we put out the cabin's kerosene lantern it would be dark.
      Marlene and I were college friends working as counselors at a beautiful but rustic camp on sparkling, clear, and icy cold Blueberry Lake in the pine scented forests. On our time off from herding little girls we had two options, we could get a ride into the nearby town of Ely for a wild day of walking around, shopping for authentic 'Indian' souvenirs, and eating lunch without 100 laughing or screaming children surrounding us or we could spend the day at the quiet cabin, reading or writing or whatever we wanted to do without the children and without electricity.
      Since we were both readers, we opted for the peace of the log cabin, about one mile down the road from the camp grounds. It had been a good day, sitting in comfy, overstuffed arm chairs with a view of the water. In the camp library, I found a battered copy of a Mary Higgins Clark thriller. Marlene brought her own copy of an Agatha Christie mystery. Perhaps not the best choices for a secluded location.
       It was time to go back for our evening duties. We turned off the lantern, startled by the instant darkness. We stumbled down a short path to the main road and turned right towards civilization and safety. But first we had to get there thru a black velvet world.
      “I think we better hold hands so we don't get separated.” Marlene suggested.
       “Yeah,” I agreed. “And if we trip, we can hold each other up.”
       Marlene complained, “I can't believe we didn't bring flashlights. I've never seen darkness like this.”
       “But it should still be light at 8. It's the heavy cloud cover that's making it so dark.”
      We didn't admit it to each other, but the thunder and lightening were scary. I could feel Marlene's hand clench each time one occurred and she probably could feel mine.
       But, really, thank heavens for lightening. It allowed us to keep on track as we forged our way between thick stands of ancient pine trees. If we wandered off the road we stood a good chance of never being found until morning light. The brief flashes of nature's light kept us going in the right direction.
       We walked along listening to the muted sounds around us. No sounds of birds, just the rustling noise of the wind through the pines and the intermittent ominous thunderclaps. We reassured each other that if lightening struck nearby it would go for the tall trees without hitting us.
       I tried to focus on the peace I found in this spectacular location, although I was mainly praying we wouldn't get lost. Gradually, I heard a different sound, it was a louder rustle than the wind and trees made.
      “Marlene, do you hear that?”
      “Hear what?”
      I whispered, “That louder rustle every now and then.”
      “Yeah, I thought it was just a burst of wind.”
      “No, it doesn't sound like wind.”
      “You think it's an animal?” Her voice wavered.
     “I don't know. Are bears around here?”
     “Oooh, I should have paid more attention during the local nature talk.” Marlene moaned.
     “It's probably just a rabbit or squirrel.” I tried to reassure both of us.
     “Shouldn't the weather keep all these animals in their homes or dens or whatever?”
      “You're right. It can't be an animal. They're all staying safe from the coming rain.”
      “But if not animals,” she asked, “what's making that noise?”
     “You don't think it could be a person, do you?” I voiced our worst fear and nightmare.
      She squeezed my hand so hard, I thought my blood circulation would stop. “Oh my God, we've got to walk faster. Feet don't fail me now.” She whispered.
      “But, if it's so dark that we can't see, whoever is out there can't see us either, right?” I reasoned.
      “Well, if we can see the road in a lightening flash, then we can be seen whenever that happens.”
      “Don't be so logical,” I complained. “What should we do?”
       Marlene being logical again, “What can we do except keep on going?”
      We kept on in the direction of camp, although our hearts jumped every time we heard the loud rustle.
      After what seemed a hundred miles, but was only one, we heard voices and slammed doors and other camp sounds. We could see the lights that lined the road along the camp grounds and started running as fast as we could towards safety. We headed over to the dining hall where some of the counselors hung out before putting the campers to bed for the night.
      We were huddled over hot cups of coffee when Mr. Swenson the camp owner, a tall, thin, muscular man ambled in.
      “Well, girls, you did a good job tonight.”
      “We did?” I asked, wondering what he was talking about.
       He replied, “When I saw the weather getting bad, I decided I better go over to the 'getaway' cabin to make sure you'd make it back here all right.”
       Marlene interrupted, “We didn't see you. Did we pass you in the dark on the road?”
      “No, no. I took a short cut thru the woods. I have night vision goggles and can see everything. By the time I got to the cabin, you were walking on the main road. You did good. You held hands so you couldn't get separated. And when you got confused you stopped until another flash of lightening showed you the way. You made it back here without any help from me.”
      “You were in the woods, following us as we walked?” I couldn't believe it.
      “Yah, I wanted to be sure you were safe, but I wanted to build your confidence so I didn't let you know I was watching over you.” His eyes twinkled as he tried not to smile. He needed to keep up his reputation as an unemotional Swede.
      I didn't know whether to hit him for scaring us or hug him for coming after us.
                                                                     The End

Monday, June 3, 2013

41. A Big Purple Bouquet

This story is in honor of the courage and loving heart of a good friend named Stacey.

Stacey was a cute little red-headed girl with freckles sprinkled across her happy face. She loved animals but was especially crazy about cats. She could not sleep unless one of her two cats was on her bed tucked up close and comforting.
       And she loved the color purple. She had begged and begged until her baby pink bedroom was painted a 'good' shade of purple. She had purple pajamas with different types of cats scattered over them. She would have worn purple all the time but her Mom coaxed her into trying different colored clothes with just a touch of purple—a purple pin or purple socks. Yes, Stacey was a character but charming and everyone liked her.
       At this particular time she was very excited because her 5th birthday was coming up. She knew she was a big girl now and would be going to school soon. Her Mom and Dad were having a special birthday celebration for her with all her relatives and neighborhood friends as guests.
       Her Dad asked her, “Well, I hear you've got a special birthday coming soon.”
       Stacey's eyes sparkled and she nodded, “Yes.”
       Dad said, “A special birthday deserves a special present. What do you think you'd like to get?”
       Stacey screwed up her little face and thought and thought. “Purple.”
       Dad laughed. “I can't get you just purple. It has to be something that's colored purple. And what might that be?”
       Again Stacey thought and thought and then carefully said, “Bouquet.”
       “Hmmm, that's a big word. You must have heard it on TV. I'll see what Mom and I can do about getting you a purple bouquet.” He thought, Well that should be easy enough to get.
       And since Stacey's birthday was on June 22, you'd think it would be a great time for blooming flowers but it wasn't. The day before her birthday--Dad being a man had waited until the last minute to fulfill Stacey's wish—not a single purple flower was blooming at any florist shop, garden store, or neighbor's yard. Well, the garden store did have some spindly purple orchids, but he didn't think that's what she meant by a bouquet. She wanted a lot of whatever flower he got.
       He was appalled. He and Stacey's Mom tried to think of what they could do. Perhaps cut pictures of purple flowers out of seed catalogs.
      Mom said, “I don't think that would be much fun for a little girl.”
      Dad asked, “What else does Stacey like that's fun,”
      Mom's face lit up. “I've got the perfect answer. I know she likes these and I think I can get them in purple. We'll just have to touch them up with a magic marker. While you're making her cake, I'll run out and get them.” Dad was the baker in their family
       She told Dad her plan and he said, “It just might work. Worth a try.”
       Stacey was so excited waiting for the guests to come to her party. She had on a frilly, purple party dress and purple ribbons in her hair, never mind that her hair was red and the two colors usually didn't go together. They looked perfect on Stacey.
       Mom said, “Try not to get dirty before the party starts. You look so pretty right now.”
       Dad said, “We thought we'd give you your special birthday gift before the party starts so everyone can enjoy it.”
       Stacey laughed and said, “OK.”
       Mom went in the master bedroom to get the gift they had hidden. Dad set up the camera to take pictures of, hopefully, Stacey's delight when she saw her purple “bouquet”.
      And she was delighted. She smiled, clapped her hands and then went to grab her 'bouquet' of big purple balloons, each with a flower face drawn on it.
                                                                 The End

Monday, May 27, 2013

40. What's in a Name?

When I first saw the tiny, gold locket in the musty resale shop I thought it might be the perfect gift for my niece whose 13th birthday was coming up. Most young girls liked sentimental objects. A second hand present might sound cheap, but I was squeaking by paying college tuition and rent. It wasn't that I had little 'discretionary' money, I had none. Every penny was accounted for before I even earned it at my night waitressing job. The locket was priced at $10, which was within my gift budget.
      As I held the delicate heart-shaped pendant and chain in my hand, it grew warmer as if sending out waves of love. I wondered about its past. Who had originally owned it and why had it ended up here? Its latch resisted my prying fingers so I couldn't see what was inside but decided to buy it anyway. At home, I could use a pointed nail file to pry it open.
      In my drafty studio apartment I placed the locket on a thread bare kitchen towel laid on the cracked Formica counter top. I gently worked at it until it popped open. Smiling at me was a handsome, young man wearing a naval uniform. It looked like a picture from a photo booth. Opposite it was a scrap of paper, folded to fit inside.
      Oh my goodness, I thought. Maybe this will be like those romance novels with messages in a bottle. With trembling fingers I smoothed out the note. It was handwritten and faded. I could barely make out the words. But I read:
      “Margie, Remember me always, for I will never forget you. All my love, all my life. Ralph. 5/30/44.”
       A sailor named Ralph. I plopped down on a kitchen chair. My grandpa's name was Ralph and he was a sailor who served in World War II. I shook my head, no, it couldn't be. It would be too much of a coincidence. And as a science major I didn't believe in coincidences. And besides, my grandma's name was Helen, not Margie. But still....
      I put the picture and note in my small jewelry box, which held the few gifts I received when my parents were alive. I polished the little necklace as best I could with my white toothpaste, all I had for such cleaning and tried not to think about a possible connection between what I was working on and my grandfather.
       The party for my niece, Emma, was in two weeks, so I had plenty of time to let the mystery of the locket fester in my brain. One of the reasons I wanted to be a scientist was because my bump of curiosity was 'too big for my own good'. My mother always told me that when I asked too many questions. It annoyed me then, but now I wished I could hear her say it again.
      Grandpa Ralph and Grandma Helen lived in a small condo at Shady Acres, an assisted living facility. They were both 86 years old and insisted they 'didn't need any help' but agreed to move there when they 'lost' their driving licenses as the facility provided free transport around town. I tried to bus over to visit them once a week.
      When he opened the door, Grandpa grunted his usual refrain, “Welcome to Shady Acres. Don't it sound like a cemetery. Come on in and sit a spell, but don't stay too long or they might try to bury you.”
      “Where's Gran?” I asked as I followed him into the cheery yellow living room. It smelled faintly of cinnamon. Grandma must have been baking.
      “Oh, she's at her bridge club. Actually, it's more her gossip club, if you ask me. Those women never stop talking long enough to make a bid.”
      “Good.” I murmured as I sat on the faded floral couch.
      “What's good about it?” His light blue eyes stared at me.
      “No, no,” I stammered. “It's just that I wanted to ask you something when she wasn't around.”
      “Now that sounds exciting. Secrets, huh.” He perked up. It almost looked as if his long ears were stretching forward to catch my every word.
      I didn't know how to ask him what might be a very sensitive question. But I thought I best be direct about it.
      “Grandpa, I found a picture in an old locket and I wondered if it could be you?”
      “Me? What the heck would a picture of me be doing in a locket?” He sputtered.
      “Could you just look at it and let me know?” I handed the small picture to him. I had put it a clear plastic envelope, the type that some greeting cards come in. I suppose it was silly, but I thought I should protect it.
      He shoved his glasses on his nose and peered down at it. He squinted his eyes and moved the picture back and forth.
      “Jumpin' Jehoshaphat! That's me! Where'd you get this? I must've been 18 years old. I sat in one of them photo booths before I sailed for the Pacific.”
      “I found it in an old locket in a resale shop. But there's more. It also had a note from the sailor.”
      “You mean from me?” He grinned and ran his gnarled hand over his balding head. “I just can't believe it turnin' up after all these years. What'd it say?”
      “Well,” I hesitated. This might be embarrassing. I worried about what might have happened to Margie, the love of his life. But I carried on, as they say. “It was to someone named Margie and you said you would love her all your life.” I paused and then asked the fatal question. “Who's Margie?”
      Grandpa laughed so hard I was afraid he'd choke. When he could talk, he said, “So that's why you were glad your Grandma Helen wasn't here. Don't worry, she knows all about it.”
     “Oh, that's good, but I don't see why it's so funny.” I was peeved after all the worrying I had gone through.
      “It's sort of like that Shakespeare fellow said, 'what's in a name'. Your grandma's full name is Margaret Helen, so of course everyone called her Margie. When I came back from the war, hale and hearty, God be praised, I married a woman I thought was named Margie. But in 1952 when the show 'My Little Margie' came on TV, my dearly beloved wife announced she was dropping the ditzy Margie name. She wanted to be known as the more sophisticated name of Helen forevermore. And so she has. But how did you get that locket?”
      “That's another story, for another time.”
                                                                      The End