Sunday, February 24, 2013

29. Give the Bully a Snickers Bar

I never considered myself an athlete. In school games I was always the last kid chosen for a team. Usually the coach or teacher just made a team take me. I never blamed the team captains. I was such a weakling I couldn't hit the ball over the volleyball net. A team member standing near the net had to boost my serve over to the other side. I wouldn't want me on my team either if I had a choice.
     I was good, though, at running. This skill was entirely due to the training I got trying to outrun Danny, the school bully. He was only in 4th grade, like me, but legend had it that he beat up an 8th grader. For some reason he had taken a real dislike to me. Possibly because my mother made me wear Sears husky jeans. I don't think they make them anymore, for which slightly portly boys every where should thank God.
      For three years I had run home as fast I could to escape being jumped on by the red-faced menace, Danny. He never actually drew blood. But he could cause enough pain and humiliation to fire my determination to avoid him. From third grade to sixth grade, I ran like a scalded rabbit, 5 days a week. And then puberty hit. Strange things happened. I slimmed down as I grew taller, and muscles bumped out on my arms and legs.
      I started outpacing Danny. One day I was so far ahead of him I could actually stroll the last half block to my house. My mother was happy I came home without panting like a walrus. When the Danny races first started, she thought I had a heart condition and had taken me to the doctor's. He said I just needed to lose some weight. Of course, I never told her I was being chased. I may have been weak but I wasn't a wuss.
      Since he couldn't catch me anymore, Danny stopped chasing me. And I was able to walk home with my friends.
      One day Jim piped up. “I saw Danny last night at Walmart.”
      “Danny? Who was he chasing—a little old lady.” I scoffed.
      “No, I think he was being arrested for shoplifting.” Jim's eyes gleamed as he passed on this exciting bit of news.
      “He probably deserved it, the skunk.” I didn't want to feel sorry for my nemesis.
      “I don't know but his Dad was really mad. In fact, he knocked Dan to the ground and called him a “dumb shit”, when the security guard accused him.
      “Wow, my Dad's been mad at me, plenty of times, but he's never called me that.” I said.
      “Yeah, and mine's never knocked me to the ground,” agreed Jim.
      I couldn't believe it but I was beginning to feel sorry for Danny.
      That night I asked my Dad what happened if you were arrested for shoplifting.
      “What! Why do you want to know that? Are you planning something?” For the first time ever he dropped his newspaper.
      “Oh gosh no. It's not about me. It's a kid I know at school.”
      “I guess it depends on what he stole and if he's done it before. Do you know that?”
      “No. Jim just told me he saw this kid, Danny, get arrested at Walmart.”
      “Is he a friend of yours? Does he need help?” Dad's eyes searched my face.
       “He's not a friend.” I snorted a little laugh. “Although he's been a running partner for a long time.” I repeated everything Jim had told me.
      Dad thought for a while and then he said, “It's hard to know how to help. I wouldn't want to make Dan's situation at home worse. The security guard saw what happened and if it goes to court, he'll have to testify. The judge may order a family investigation. Let me know if you hear any more about this, OK?”
      I didn't spend too much time worrying about Danny. I thought he had finally gotten pay back for all the times he terrified me.
      Several days later, he was back in school. He looked like he'd been in a fight. Both his eyes were bruised and his lip was swollen.
      Jim whispered to me, “Whoa, do you think his Dad beat him up?”
      “I don't know. But if he did, no wonder Danny's a bully.” Although I was only 11, I knew about parental abuse. We always had to read 'socially relevant' books 'suitable for our age level'. I just wanted to read fun stuff, like Harry Potter. Although I guess Harry suffered from a mean uncle.
      Jim and I passed Danny's desk as we went out for noon recess. The bully looked away from me as we went by. I pulled out of my lunch sack a Snickers bar and tossed it on his desk. “If I remember correctly, you always liked these.”
                                                         The End

Sunday, February 17, 2013

28. Disaster at Dinner

It was almost time for Cynthia's guests to arrive. She took a pitcher of water from the 'frig and a dishcloth to catch any drips. She poured the icy water into the eight stemmed water glasses. Ice cubes were already in their bottoms, so it wouldn't matter if the guests didn't sit down to eat for a while.
       A soft pink cloth covered the table under the white china plates with fluted edges. Polished silverware was at each place setting. Pink, white, and red roses with baby's breath filled a sparkling crystal bowl set between two tall white candles. It was like a breath of spring with winter still outside.
      She sighed with pleasure as she looked around. Everything was perfect. Everything that is, except for her wrought iron etagere with glass shelves. Actually there was nothing wrong with it. She liked it. What she didn't like were the ugly multicolored crystal glasses that were displayed on its top shelf. They were up high, hopefully so no one would notice them. She had also placed several tall candles on the shelf below to distract a viewer's eyes. 
      Jack, her husband, came in with a bottle of red wine to put on one of the etagere's shelves until time for dinner. "Hey, honey, everything looks really nice." He leaned over to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.
      "Thanks. I know my friends aren't picky, but I want them to have a pleasant, relaxing evening."
      "You do everything just right. I see you even put my Mom's old glasses out for display."
      "Yes," she knew he really liked those glasses his mother had given them as a wedding gift, although he had never asked her to use them. She would never hurt his or Mother Johnson's feelings. So she tried not to look at the ugly things and hoped her friends wouldn't think they reflected her taste. Not only were they a million bright clashing colors but they had bumps all over them. Oh well, it was a small price to pay for being married to such a great man and having such a wonderful mother-in-law.
      The door bell rang and soon all the guests had arrived with big smiles. Predinner cocktails and appetizers put everyone in a festive mood. When the rosemary scented pork roast was ready to serve, Cynthia finally lit the candles on the table and the etagere creating a romantic background for good food and conversation.
      Their friend, Bob, had just told a funny anecdote about his law partner. Everyone was laughing, when there was a loud crash. An earthquake? The top glass shelf on the etagere had shattered. Its contents spilled onto the tile floor. Glass flew everywhere. Jack and Cynthia jumped up to make sure no one was hurt.
      "What happened?" asked Bob. 
      Jack said, "I don't know. Why would the shelf go kaboom like that?"
      Cynthia looking at the mess that had been her display unit cried, "It was the candles. They were too tall and heated up the glass shelf above them. That's an outside wall and the shelves must have been cold."
      "It's not as bad as it looks like. Luckily nobody is hurt and only one shelf and what was on it are broken. The other shelves are OK." Jack reassured everyone. "Oh, oh, but that includes the glasses from Mom."
      All their guests expressed their sorrow and surprise about the accident. 
Jane laughed. "We always know we'll have a bang up time at your house."
      Cynthia tried to laugh, too, but couldn't. It was hard to believe that those ugly, ugly glasses were actually gone. And irreplaceable according to what her mother-in-law said. Still, she felt awful. It was her mistake that caused Jack to lose something he valued.
      Jack noticed her sad look and hugged her. "I know you're sorry to lose those wild colored glasses you like so much but, honestly, I thought they were ugly." 
     Cynthia just smiled and kept her mouth closed.
                                                                      The End

Sunday, February 10, 2013

27. Can Nested Hens Mend a Broken Heart?

My heart was breaking.  I sobbed more tears than I knew I had in my body.  Earlier, when Joe and I decided to end our marriage, I was calm and stoic.  But sitting on my parents’ faded brown couch I had broken down.  My mother’s worried frown and her eyes glistening with unshed tears for me seeped through my fences of denial.   I felt like a child again.  She held me and patted my back, saying, “There, there, it’ll all work out.  Don’t worry.  Your boys’ll be fine.”
                I felt like such a failure.  Joe and I had been happy once.  How did it turn out so bad?  Was I depriving our sons of a father they needed? 
                Mom sorrowed with me as I cried.  She wanted to help, but I didn’t know how anyone could help me.  She reached over to hand me a tissue from the box on the coffee table.  Her fingers accidentally brushed one of her prized possessions, an amber colored glass nesting hen.  In two pieces, the hen sat on a bowl shaped like a nest.  During my childhood it was always filled with special candies.  Mom looked at it and looked at me. 
                “Darlin’ I know you’ve always loved this.  Please take it.”  And she pushed the carnival glass hen into my clenched hands.  I almost laughed.  My mother was trying to comfort me in the only way she knew how.    I carefully held the hen to my heart and thought, ‘At least this hen will be more faithful to me than my husband was.’
                I hiccupped, wiped my face with the tissue and shook my hair back.  “Thank you, momma.  I’ve always loved this cute little hen.   And I’m going to use it as a symbol for my new life.   Just as a hen doesn’t need a rooster hanging around to take care of her and her young’uns, neither do I.”
                That was the start of a new life for me.  I still had lonely nights when I cried myself to sleep, but I would look at my little nested hen and remind myself that I didn’t need any rooster, either.  I had an interesting job at our local college which kept me busy during the day, and running my two sons to after school activities kept me busy almost every evening. 
                I also discovered a weekend activity that kept me happy.  Flea markets.   I had told Diane, a close friend the pathetic story of my treasured sitting hen.   She encouraged me to go with her on one of these fun outings.  “You might even find another nesting hen.  They were popular in the 1920s.  And flea markets have a lot of old stuff.”
“No.  One hen is enough.  The whole point of the hen is that she doesn’t need anyone else to be happy.”
“Maybe she doesn’t NEED someone else, but don’t you enjoy our friendship?”  She gave me a mock glare.  “Everyone needs friends.”
 “Yeah, you’re right,” I agreed sheepishly.  “It’s nice to have friends, especially like you that I can talk to and have fun with.”
We started going to flea markets about once a month.  And that’s where I did find a second nested hen one sunny weekend.  It was made of white milk glass with tiny raised knobs all over it.  When we first saw it on the cluttered table filled with glass collectibles, Diane nudged me, “Hey, there’s a nested hen.”
“It is sort of cute and maybe my amber hen would like a friend.”  I consented.
 “You’re darn right.  Now buy this hen because I know you really like it, don’t you?”
Once my sisters, cousins and other friends heard I liked nesting hens they multiplied rapidly.  Everyone felt she should give me another nested hen to represent her relationship with me.
I can look around my house and see 100s of nested hens, in all sizes and colors and made of all kinds of material, from cloisonné enamel to braided straw.   I have to admit I became addicted to the cute little things.
And then the impossible happened.  At a flea market I almost got into a fight with a man over a special hen with a bright yellow beak, flamboyant colored feathers and a saucy tilt to its little head.    We both reached for it at the same time.  I looked up to see who was trying to grab ‘my’ hen.  A long, white sleeved arm was attached to a nice looking man with the deepest dimples. 
At first he tried to argue me out of it.  “My grandparents had a chicken ranch and this hen looks just like the one I had as a pet.” 
I rolled my eyes and said, “I’ve heard that story before.  I need this hen to give to my poor sick son.”  
He frowned.  “Are you messing with me?” 
I laughed and admitted, “Yes I am.  But I want that hen.”
He looked hard at me and said, “I’ll do you a trade.  If I let you buy that hen, then you have to buy me a beer.”  He looked clean and decent and had those devastating dimples.  I thought, ‘What the heck, it’s a public place.’
Ten years later, we still argue over who owns the yellow beaked hen sitting on the mantel overlooking our living room.
                                                 The End

Monday, February 4, 2013

26. There’s More to Love than Chocolate

This love story is a little early for Valentine's Day. Read on to find out why.
A big red heart decorated the calendar for February 14, Valentine’s Day.  The heart was to catch Mike’s eye and remind him that a special, gift giving day was approaching.  Remind him if he ever bothered to look at the calendar, Marcie thought.  She didn’t care if he gave her only a single flower, she just wanted to feel that Mike still cared for her romantically.  She didn’t want to be just his housekeeper.  She longed for the days when he couldn’t wait to see her after work, when he called her his little sweetheart.  With a mortgage and fatherhood, he seemed to hardly notice her at all. 
            The phone rang jerking her away from fond memories of their early days together.  “Hi, it’s me. Do you want anything from the store before I get home?”  Mike’s husky voice could still shiver her timbers and he was considerate to call.
“No, I think we’ve got everything we need.  But thanks for calling, I appreciate it.”
“OK, see you soon, then.”  And he hung up without any special words or endearments.  Oh well, Marcie thought, this is what happens after 10 years of marriage and two kids.
That night, Mike checked on Ethan’s and Marta’s baths and tucked them into bed.  He sighed as he plopped down on the family room couch next to Marcie who had loaded the dishwasher and left the pots to soak. 
Mike said, “Hey I see a special day is coming up soon.”
“Oh really, I hadn’t noticed.  What day do you mean?”  Marcie played dumb.
“I thought you’d be interested since you like chocolate so much.”
“Maybe I am, but what day do you mean?” Was he really going to talk about Valentine's Day?  Was he planning something just for her?
“February 9th.” He smiled, but Marcie’s heart plummeted.  “I just discovered that Hershey’s chocolate company was founded on that day in 1894.  And that’s not all,” his eyes twinkled as he continued.  “That day is also National Toothache day.  Do you think there’s any connection?
“Oh, you!” She hit him with one of the blue and orange Chicago Bears’ pillows on the couch.  “I’ll just leave you to watch your old football tapes.”  Now that Super Bowl was over there wasn’t any new games, but Mike still liked to watch old ones.
The next few days went by as they normally did.  Kids going to school, Mike going to work, and Marcie keeping the household running while she also did her volunteer work.  She tried to stop thinking about Valentine’s Day and romantic dreams.  She forced herself to realize those days were behind them.  She actually lost track of what days were going by.
Early one February morning Mike woke her up with a big cup of hot chocolate.  “Hey sleepy head.  Did you forget what today is?”
“Whaa..what do you mean?  It’s just Saturday.  It’s a day when we can sleep a little later.”  She looked at the clock.  She had not slept a little later.  Why did he wake her up so early on a Saturday?
 “It’s “Hershey Chocolate Day”!  February 9th!  Remember I told you about it last week?”  He grinned like a mischievous little boy.
“Yeah, I remember.”  Marcie said cautiously.
“Well, I know you think I’m not romantic or thoughtful or anything women want men to be.”
“Oh, no, honey.  You’re a great husband.  You always take care of the kids when you can, and help me out….”
“I know, I know, but you want and deserve something special.”
“Well, this hot chocolate is really special.  It was very, very nice of you to make this for me.”  Marcie reached up to give him a hug but he sat down on the bed and put his arm around her.
“I’m glad you like it, but it’s just the beginning.  I decided that instead of celebrating Valentine’s Day which everybody does and restaurants are so crowded, we’d have our own special day.  And since you like chocolate so much, what better day than Hershey day.” 
She just stared at him realizing he was not only a great husband but a great lover, too.
Mike continued with his plans, “I made lunch reservations at the little French restaurant you like on the pond.  I thought lunch would be better than dinner so you could see the ducks in the water.  And then for dinner, we’ll order your favorite pizza—it doesn’t have to be chocolate does it?”  He looked worried.
“No, no, of course not.  I love pizza.”  Marcie was dazed.
“I got a great DVD for us to watch tonight.  It sounded like something you’d like.  It’s called “Chocolate.”  And it takes place in France.  It must be romantic, right?”
All she could say was, “Oh, Mike, I love you so much.”  But then she thought of a problem.  “What about the kids, are they going with us on our special lunch?”
“No, no.  That was my master stroke.  I arranged with your parents to pick up the kids this morning and keep them until after church tomorrow.”
“You are incredible.”  She gave him a big kiss.
“Yes, I am,” he agreed.  “And I also have a special gift for you.”  He reached under the bed and pulled out a small, crookedly wrapped box.
“What on earth could this be?” she asked him.  She wondered if it could be more chocolate?  Certainly not lingerie or jewelry.  She ripped off the gift paper until there it lay, in all its sparkly pink and chocolate, two toned wonder.  A new toothbrush.  She stared at Mike.
“Remember I told you, today’s also National Toothache Day.  With all the sugar floating around you today, I wanted to protect your teeth.”  That was Mike, husband, lover, and protector. 
                                                The End