Sunday, April 28, 2013

37. One Kitten is Enough

Harry and Martina Noles were friends who lived in the same Chicago apartment building when we were first married. John and I had a one year old boy, Stevie, while they had two children, Emma and Matt, already in grammar school. As a new mother I had lots of worries and questions and always turned to warm hearted Martina for sensible advice. One day, she came to me with a question.
      “Sue, I'm not sure what we should do about a pet. The kids keep asking for one. It seems like every book they read is about an animal or a family with pets. But we live in an apartment. I don't think it'd be fair to keep an animal cooped up all day.”
      I laughed, “Well, there's always a bird which is used to being cooped up in a cage. Or how about a gold fish? The good thing about gold fishes, depending on your point of view, is that they don't last too long.”
      “What on earth do you mean, they don't last long?” Martina looked dubious.
      “They don't seem to have long life spans and in fact they may even commit suicide.” I explained.
      “Oh come on now, I can't believe that.”
      “I had a suicidal goldfish when I was six. One morning I went into the kitchen and Goldie's fish bowl was empty. I couldn't believe she was gone. Where could a goldfish go? I looked all around the counter the bowl was sitting on and discovered my dead pet. She had somehow jumped out of the bowl. I worried for days that the fish hated me so much she wanted to kill herself.”
      “What on earth did you mother tell you?” asked Martina.
      “She told me it had nothing to do with me, it was just something that goldfish occasionally do—jump out of their bowls.”
       “That's a crazy story, Sue, and I don't think the kids would be happy with a suicidal fish. They're thinking more of a kitty or a puppy.”
      “I'm sorry I can't help, but at least let me refill your coffee. It might give you the brain power you need to handle this.”
      We continued to have coffee almost every morning while Stevie took his nap. But I didn't hear any more about the pet problem until three weeks later.
      Martina came in with a big smile. “We finally solved the pet problem but you won't believe how we did it.”
      Our apartment building was around the corner from a busy street with a barber shop, drug store, convenience store and, most importantly for this story, a pet store. Emma and Matt walked by this store every day on their way to and from school. Harry walked by it to catch the bus to work and even Martina walked by when she had to pick up extra milk or bread.
      After school one day, the kids came running into their apartment with the great news that the pet store had a family of three new kittens in its front window. They begged and pleaded to be allowed just one of the kittens. As all kids do they promised, “We'll take care of it, we'll give it food and water, and clean its litter box.”
      Martina said, “We've been over this before. We can't have a pet until we have a house. Daddy and I've been looking and planning and we think we can buy one next year. Then you can have your pet.” She closed her ears to their cries of "oh, Mom" and "we can't wait that long."
      When Harry got home from work, he was bombarded with more pet pleas. “Yeah, I saw the kittens in the window, too, and they're cute. But we've decided a pet'll have to wait until next year.”
      The next morning, Harry smiled at the kittens' antics when he passed the shop window but kept going. Martina couldn't believe all their milk had been used up with the morning cereal so she passed the kittens when she went out to get more. She thought to herself, that little orange and white tabby is so cute. Maybe one little kitten wouldn't take up too much room and the kids will be so happy. On her way from the market, she bought the kitten who caught her eye and her heart and whom she named Marmalade for its coloring. At home she hid 'Marmy' in her bedroom to surprise the kids and Harry when he came home. 
      The kids before breakfast had pooled their saved birthday money and knew they had enough to buy a kitten. After school they picked out the little grey and white kitten that ran up to  them and licked their hands. They put the kitten, now named 'Silver' in Emma's big backpack. When they got home, Matt complained about school to draw Martina's attention away from Emma who hid the kitten in her bedroom. The kids thought they could keep it there without their parents finding out.
      On his way home from the bus, Harry glanced in the window and saw there was only one little kitten left. The black kitten was pouncing on everything in sight even though his playmates were gone. Harry thought he looked like a tough little trooper. “I can't leave the little guy there all by himself. 'Tuffy' needs some children to keep him company. I'm sure we can find room for one small kitten.”
      Harry opened the front door, shouting “Surprise!” Martina and the kids stared at the black kitten. Martina said, “Oh, no, you're not going to believe this.” She ran back to the bedroom and brought out Marmy.
      Emma and Matt were dancing around with delight. “Two kittens!” “Oh, boy!” Then since their parents had bought kittens, they thought they didn't have to hide Silver and brought her out of the back pack.
      Martina said, “Three kittens. What're we going to do?”
      As she told me the next day, “The pet problem is solved. We now have three kittens. I've learned that once you've named a pet it's yours forever.”
                                                           The End

Sunday, April 21, 2013

36. Entertaining Strangers

I thought there was something unusual about the couple my husband invited to stay with us. They acted like newly weds, always touching each other. On the arms, shoulders, back, even laying a palm lovingly on a cheek, facial at least, not lower down. Gordon, my husband, told me Clark had been married for 30 years. I guess it wasn't unheard of for long time married couples to be affectionate in public, but it was different from how our other long time married friends acted. Of course, Clark was visually impaired so maybe he made up for it with the sense of touch.
      But Gordon was losing his sight due to macular degeneration and he wasn't always touching me. Oh well, as someone once said, 'different strokes for different folks.'
      Gordon met Clark during a special Braille conference up in San Francisco for people who had serious vision problems. Here in the Palm Springs area we were lucky to have a local Braille facility which offered activities and training for the blind and visually impaired. Through this facility Gordon had been offered a “scholarship” to the conference, which included transportation and living expenses. He was randomly assigned to share a room with Clark and they became friendly over many long conversations together.
      During one of these 'talkathons' as Gordon termed them, Clark commented, “You're a lucky man. You live in one of the most beautiful resort areas in the world.”
      “You and your wife should come down and visit us. We have an extra bedroom and a swimming pool.”
      Clark demurred, “Oh, we wouldn't want to take advantage of your hospitality.”
      “No, it wouldn't be any trouble. My wife, Betty, can drive so we can visit interesting places and restaurants.” Gordon was a kind and generous man. And when he later told me that Clark and his wife would be visiting us soon, I seconded his invitation. Although it would have been nice if Gordon had asked me first before offering my services as chamber maid, chef, and chauffer.
      We picked them up at the airport and I drove all of us home. They seemed like nice people, friendly and enthusiastic. I had laid in lots of groceries for some easy cook meals and put fresh, fragrant smelling flowers in the guest room and bath. I was happy to do whatever I could to make feel at home.
      They were only staying for a long weekend, from Friday to Monday, but I wasn't getting younger. Although I was an active oldster, 73 on my last birthday, entertaining was tiring.
      Since Norma, Clark's wife, could drive I lent her my car so they could go off on their own occasionally. It was nice to see how much in love they were after all these years. Their last night with us, I made my special beef stroganoff and a lemon meringue pie. We had lots of lemons from our own trees, quite a treat for a New England girl like me.
      Gordon and I recently celebrated our 50th anniversary and our kids had put together a photo album of our history together. It was in the living room on our tile topped coffee table. After dinner we were sitting there enjoying after dinner drinks of lemoncello, also a treat made by me. Norma picked up the album to look through it.
      She commented, “This is a wonderful book. And your children were very thoughtful to put it together for you.”
      I smiled. “I guess they wanted to honor our 50 years without a murder charge.”
      Clark looked down at our colorful Mexican striped rug and murmured, “Fifty years is a long time, especially today.”
      Gordon, trying to be tactful, said, “But you two have been married for quite a number of years, too.”
      Norma laughed and said, “Not really. We're not married. I just met Gordon at our town's senior center a few weeks before he went to the Braille conference.”
      My Catholic mind reeled as I realized I was entertaining two people living in sin. Trying to be broad minded, I knew it wasn't that unusual now days, even at our advanced age.
      Gordon sputtered on, “But Clark, I'm sure you mentioned a wife. You talked about a wife. Are you really not married.”
      Clark looked chagrined. “Oh, I'm married all right. My wife's name is Nora, not Norma.”
      “But where's your wife?” I demanded.
      “She's home babysitting the grandchildren.” Clark explained. “She thinks I'm down here visiting a Braille friend, which I am.”
     “We're so glad you invited Clark.” Norma beamed. “It was a wonderful opportunity for us to have some time alone together.”
      I stiffened. I had been knocking myself out entertaining two adulterers, helping them to deceive an innocent wife.
      I politely excused myself and went to my bedroom to read and steam until Gordon came in.
      “Oh my God, Betty, I had no idea they weren't man and wife. He never told me she wasn't his wife.  I just assumed she was.” Gordon knew I was upset.
      I gritted my teeth and snapped out, “Well, thank God, they're leaving early tomorrow. I couldn't bear to spend any more time with them. I'll dial the cab company.  You can arrange to have them picked up in the morning for their ride to the airport. I'm staying here til they're gone.”
      The Bible says you should always be kind to strangers, because you might be entertaining angels unaware. It never said anything about the possibility of them being lying, cheating devils.
                                                                The End

Monday, April 15, 2013

35. Mistaken Identity

                         Friends learn from each other and laugh with each other.

Eleanor Morgan, my best friend in college was tall, blond, and sophisticated from a Michigan resort city. I had brownish hair, was short and naïve, perhaps because I grew up in a small Illinois town surrounded by corn fields. We met when we were assigned next door rooms as freshmen. We were journalism majors and ended up joining the same sorority. After graduation we shared an apartment for a year until she married the young lawyer I introduced to her. A few years later when I was married and about to have a baby, she let me give a bath to her own baby for practice. A true friend.
      Once when we were taking a large reporting class I had to be absent. The instructor passed a sign up sheet to track attendance. A tiny part of our grade would be based on that. I asked Eleanor if she would mind signing my name to the sheet. She agreed, knowing I would do the same for her when necessary.
      Later, she told me, “I was sitting there, thinking about how I could disguise my handwriting. Perhaps I'd use my left hand to write 'Ann Fox'. But then the clip sheet came to me. I remembered Professor Scher stressing the importance of honesty and integrity in reporting. And I just couldn't do it.” She signed her own name and passed the clip board to the next person.
      I was chagrined. “You did the right thing. I apologize for even asking you to do it.” I was glad she had kept both of us honest.
      We shared many other experiences, including one we'll never forget, which also involved our names.
      One cold Wednesday night, our sorority and the Alpha Phis, another nearby sorority, had an exchange dinner. Eleanor and I were in the group assigned to go over to the other house.
      We bundled up in our winter coats and with our other 'sisters' hustled over to the host sorority. As we climbed the stone steps to the paneled oak door, Eleanor was first in line and I was right behind her. She rang the bell and the door swung open to their house mother. Eleanor explained later that she was rehearsing in her mind how she would introduce herself and then introduce me.
      She smiled, reached out to shake hands and introduced herself, “How do you do, I'm Amy Fox.” She continued, turning to me, “and this is...”
      A jolt of electricity swept through my brain. In milliseconds I thought, Now what? Should I cover up for Eleanor and introduce myself as Eleanor Morgan? But then I'll have to go through the whole evening using that name.
      Eleanor's face was turning bright pink.
      I stuck out my hand for handshaking, laughed and said, “No, she's not. I'm Ann Fox, she's Eleanor Morgan.” We've laughed over that story many, many times.
                                                          The End

Sunday, April 7, 2013

34. Ice Cream Saves The Day

The scale hovered and settled. Henry groaned. He had gained another pound. Martha would never nag him, but he knew she would be disappointed. She was the perfect little wife. Little and perfect being the operative words. They were going to her 35th high school reunion and she wanted both of them to look their best. That was no problem for her. To him she looked as good as she did the first time she skated into him, knocking him over at the Stardust Roller Rink back in LaSalle, Illinois. Her blond pony tail swinging back and forth over his felled body was the first thing he noticed when he stopped seeing stars.
      “Oh, my goodness, I am so, so sorry.” She crooned as he struggled to get up. She insisted on taking special care of him the rest of their time at the rink because she felt guilty. And she continued taking care of him right up until now, 30 years after they first met. Once, a little tipsy on champagne they drank to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, she confessed.
      “I ran into you deliberately. You were so cute, I thought you'd never notice me so I had to do something drastic.” He was flattered and flabbergasted.
      But now he felt he was looking older and he knew the extra weight wasn't helping his appearance. Martha was concerned about the effect on his health but he wanted to lose weight so her friends wouldn't think she had married a loser. Ha, he thought, that's funny. If only I could be a loser, of weight, that is.
      He left the weekly meeting determined to do better. But he was depressed. All his calorie and point counting had added up to another pound. He noticed the empty store next to the Weight Watchers office had a new tenant. Oh no, he whined, Satan, get behind me. It was a gourmet ice cream shop.
      After a short internal fight with himself and a longer time in the shop choosing his 'cheer up' consolation prize, he walked out of the store. It took two hands to carry a huge banana split, overflowing with scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, bits of banana, pineapple and walnuts. And then, sin of all sins, everything covered with mounds of white, fluffy whipped cream. His mouth watered just looking at it. He would eat it in the car, tossing the plastic bowl and spoon in the nearby trash so Martha would never know.
      Henry struggled to get his car keys out of his pants pocket while balancing the ice cream temptation. A woman shrieked and he jerked his head up. A scroungy kid was tugging at the black leather purse hooked over her arm. She fell and the robber jerked the purse away, swiveled and started to run, right into Henry.
      Splat! The banana split was crushed between the two of them and dropped to the asphalt surface of the parking lot. The boy slipped on the concoction falling on his back with Henry falling on top of him. The strip mall's security guard had heard the woman, called 911, and was running over to handcuff the thug.
      It must have been a slow news day because as a police officer was questioning Henry and the victim, a KWTV news van pulled up and started filming. A reporter waited until the officer left and then slid in with more questions. Henry was flustered, embarrassed to be seen with 'contraband' ice cream, and jumped into his car to escape, leaving the woman to deal with the interview on her own. The reporter called out to him. “You're a hero.”
      Home at last, he sighed, and snuck into their bathroom. Luck was with him. Martha was pulling weeds in the back yard. He stripped off his sticky, icky clothes and took a 5 minute shower. He hoped Martha wouldn't notice the smears on his dirty clothes now stashed in the hamper. After a 500 calorie dinner, they settled down on the family room love seat to watch the news. Too late, Henry remembered the TV news van. Sure enough, the lead story was, “Ice cream one, purse snatcher, zero”. Henry cringed as he saw his tubby body covered in ice cream. What was Martha going to say?
      Martha's mouth dropped open as she stared at the images flashing before their eyes. When the news switched to international events, she hugged him and said, “Why, Henry, I never realized a man wearing an ice cream suit could be a hero.”
                                         The End