Eureka!

Lonesome, sunburned girl, feeling itty bitty and solo, sat knees up, back pressed hard against the locked screen door of her new house.  Just moved here in time to catch the end of the school year, she woke up each day hopeful, ending the same day hopeless.  Queen Bee at her old school clearly did not give her entree to her new one.  Confidence had actually had the opposite effect and sitting by herself at lunch and walking home alone had become commonplace.   She’d even faced some ridicule when a missed “at bat” during PE kickball turned to a 6th grade mob scene, ugly leering faces saying ugly jeering things.  Stoic, she’d made it home before shedding the requisite tears.  She determined then, however, staying quiet and in the background was her best bet.

Fade.  And she did.  Teachers liked her, she was smart, but that was the kiss of death.  Opting to forgo raising her hand, she never asked questions And when singled out for an answer in class, she’d speak quietly, eyes down.

The isolation was hard.  She wrote a lot of letters to old friends back home.

Thankfully the last day of school was in sight, and school days now held more open time and “fun” activities.   She read books and cleaned her desk.  Alone and quiet, she could contain and maintain control.  Things boded well.  She felt certain she could make it through to a new beginning come next fall and Junior High.

This day, though, was the one she was dreading most.

Early May Track and Field Day.

An unexpected all-day event tantamount to certain humiliation.  Posters and teachers and students had broadcast the special day since she’d arrived, uncool and unwanted, nearly a month before.  Excitement and giggles and shouts of redemption pingponged over her head nonstop.  Fasted kid on her old street, she was confident in her abilities.  Nobody here, though, knew what she could do.  No one asked because, clearly, no one cared.  She listened carefully, though, and when sign ups came, lined notebook paper on the bulletin boards at the back of the class, she waited until everyone else was gone for the day before filling her name in a couple of the remaining gaps.

Early May Track and Field Day, in seems, was the great equalizer.  Boys and girls, normally at odds, jumped around, squirted water, tossed balloons, and generally made communal mayhem.  From the sidelines, she allowed herself just a few more smiles, even a cautious laugh or two, careful not to draw attention.

But for eleven year old white girls, particularly one so transparent she nearly disappeared in bright sunlight, eight solid outside hours fried her skin to fiery red leather.  Oh it felt hot to the touch now, but previous daylong exposure to a spring white sun meant even standing later, blood moving through her veins, would be excruciating.  The part in her curly blond hair was even burnt.  She needed something to drink.

Her cross to bear, she allowed.

At least, at LEAST, she’d shown her mettle, coming from behind, anchoring the last relay of the day to a triumphant win, boosting Miss Catterwoll’s class to 6th grade Champions!

Moving to a new town at the end of the year meant she hadn’t many friends, just the odd kids or those with no friends for reasons unknown, or reasons she didn’t care to know.  Girls are just that way, she’d supposed yet again, reason sometimes trumping solitary sorrow.  They just don’t know me yet.

Still, the popular girls, the fastest and the cutest….maybe not the smartest….actually gave her high fives for her win.  Just the babiest bit of hope tickled the edges of her heart.  She couldn’t give it sway, though.  Stepping lightly was right.  Pushing too hard, getting on the wrong side of just one of those on top of the heap, would send her tumbling down the side back to the bottom where no hands would be there to offer a hand up.

Rattle, rattle, clang.  She lightly banged the back of her head against the thin metal at the bottom of the screen door.  Mama’d told her she’d be out when the track meet was over.  Little Brother had yet another appointment with the allergy doctor.  She should feel grateful it wasn’t HER needing weekly shots to stifle rashy scratchy symptoms.  But all she really wanted was to get inside to the cool, grab an Otterpop from the freezer (heck, she’d even take one of the yellow ones) and lay spread eagle on the chilly, slick linoleum.

It was her own fault she’d lost her key in the sand under the high jump.  Mama’d be peeved.  Daddy’d holler.

She could wait for both.

Boredom was setting in.  She’d counted the cars going by her little suburban street.  That would be three.  She tried to match names with houses in her still unfamiliar neighborhood.  That would be two.

Scabs on her knees were picked.  Eyes were rubbed. Flies were swatted.  Back, the lower not-sunburned part,  was scratched with a stick from the yard.

No classwork today meant no homework or backpack or books to read or re-read.   She’d no idea how long she’d been on the front porch, nor how long she WOULD be.  Lots and lots of the same weighed heavy on her eyelids.  She wanted a nap.

She wanted something to drink.

In the wiggly heated haze, though, her eyes caught some movement up the hill from her house.  Swinging from side to side, then bouncing down the sidewalk on her side of the street, she focused hard, giving her eyes a reason to be alert.  Squinting, and finding her eyelids burned, too, she managed to make out the dancing  mass headed her way.  Not just one thing, but three!  The three girls from her winning relay!  Coming down her street!  Did they live near her?  Could they possibly have proximity in common?

She scrambled up, dusting off her backside, feeling just the slightest tinge from the deepening burn.

This was serious!  Maybe an opportunity!  Maybe friends?

Too soon, too soon, but maybe they’d offer a voluntary “Hello?”  They had, after all, high-fived her earlier in the day.  No, she couldn’t meet this moment sitting down on the front porch, counting cars.

She stood, tense, waiting for them to near.

Giggles and screeches, mouths behind cupped hands, they were giddily ignorant of their surroundings.    They tossed their long straight hair, laughed and pushed each other lightly, they looked neither up nor down, nor anywhere around.  Absorbed in their own hilarity, they fairly floated down the sidewalk, nearly to her driveway when something, some movement, some intuition, caught the attention of the tallest and coolest of the trio.

“Hey.”

The girl on the porch, overcome,  assumed it was a greeting and raised her hand.

“Hey!”

Mistaken, sadly so, her heart dropped when the tall girl flipped her mane and looked left and right at the others.

“Hey, it’s the girl from school.”

In unison, choreographed, they stopped short, turned as one and considered the girl standing straight and stiff on the porch

“Look at her.”

“She’s red!”

“Totally!  Red!”

“Who GETS that red?  Is she sunburned?”

The girl on the porch felt her cheeks redden further, and gosh, it hurt!

“Who is she, anyway?”

Do they not know I can hear them, she thought?

“Who knows?  Isn’t she that brainiac in Math?”

“I hate math.”

“Me, too.  I think she sits by Barbara.”

“Barbara?  She smells!”

“And she never combs her hair!  I think she lives outside.”

A smug laugh, then, a head leaned her direction, “She probably smells, too?”

“How would we know?”

Giggles became guffaws.  And they weren’t hidden behind hands.

The girl on the porch felt hope drain from the top of her head clear to the bottom of her sneaks.

She did sit by Barbara.  And Barbara DID smell.

But she didn’t.

Barbara DIDN’T comb her hair.

But she did.

And she knew Barbara DID sleep outside, in fact she didn’t have a home at all.  She’d seen the girl and a woman dash into a large box shelter behind the market.

She’d never talked to Barbara, not one word.  And Barbara had steered clear of her, as well.  Probably never destined to be friends.  But still.

But still.

But still.

Volcanic, quick and fiery and hot, no attention whatsoever to the sunburned pain she vaguely knew was exploding her skin’s nerve endings, what had been unsure was now known.   What had dropped to the soles of her shoes rose quickly and erupted pure and loud and sure!

Surefooted and quick, she leapt, not in a single bound, but two, off the porch, landing square in front of the vicious and now recoiling triad!  Smug eyes read fearful now, they felt the boiling wrath in the girl’s eyes.

A growl, like bee’s humming,  grew louder, born from that solid strong nugget heretofore hidden deep deep down, then,

“Get off my property,” Quiet, seething, nasty, scary.  Then again.  Nastier.  Meaner. Scarier.

“Get. Off.  My. Property.”

Panic, manic,  overcame their ability or desire to smirk or laugh or pull rank of popularity.

She stood her ground on the sidewalk in front of her porch, red fists clenched.

And those girls, they hesitated not one moment, turning on their heels, heads down and embarrassed in front of each other. Maybe a new feeling.  The three walked single file back up the street.

And the girl from the porch watched them the whole way, not once moving or flinching, or giving ground, or regretting not “stepping lightly.”

She had, she noted,  found her voice.

….But what she really wanted right now was something to drink.

 

 

 

 

I Know…..

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone….”

California mornings.  Bright with sun and promise, blue skies, cloudless, blissful, always the same blind beauty.  Numb to it, are we?  Maybe.  Do we expect it, perhaps as our due?  Probably.

I do know we miss it when skies are overcast and our shadows faint.

Same as every other blameless, shameless California morning,  days nearly always opened brilliant and fair.  A soft, whisper breeze teased us as we gathered on the porch, same as yesterday and tomorrow, cups of  rare tea and exotic coffees, or orange juice or choco milk in hand, our little family tradition.  Before processing our day, barefooted and jammie-clad,  we’d stumble to the kitchen for a cup of whatever was hot, or not, then paddle blindly out front to our favorite rickety rocker, or the stone ledge under the Japanese maples.

Did we ever look at a clock or watch, either going out or going back in?  Not that I recall.  Our inner clocks were timely as tardiness never seemed an issue.   Did we discuss politics?  Did we debate economic policy?  Discuss, possibly.  Debate, never.  The delicate breath of wind set the mood.  It was time to just settle, contemplate, enjoy the moment and the moments to come.

“I know.”

Utopia-sounding, I’ll allow that.  But it was, and still is.  Life marches, though, however much we contemplate and consider.  It surges then withdraws, much like the ocean waves over the hill behind our family home.  We adjust our sails and our keels appropriately, not always seeking a perfect ride, but always, always finding a way through.  Those still moments so early in the day, ending when the cups were empty, evened us out, allowing us surer passage through those ups and downs.

Early days, the kids might tell jokes or try tongue twisters through still sleepy mouths.  Gentle giggles, always.  We’d tell stories of family adventures, sounding like humming an old song, remembering particularly silly moments to cement them in our heads.   Guaranteeing, we told ourselves, they not be altered as memories were pushed to the back by newer, fresher ones.  Later days, we might lazily discuss daily plans, do a quick walk-through of the day, coordinate schedules, or even memorize a spelling word or two.

They grew.  We expected they would.  It’s what they’re supposed to do.  Tiny kiddo-feet turned into delicate dancer’s feet and giant often-cleated feet.  Largely trippable, now, so we learned to watch our morning steps more carefully.  Those days we spoke of dances and boys and girls and dresses and boutonnieres.   Then college trips on the front edge of tomorrow and exams and summer jobs.

“I know.”

Some days we spoke wistfully, peering into our cups for reassurance, knowing, but hoping beyond hope these morning reveries were not numbered. Our oldest, maturing lovely and sharp, began her days now with eyes leveled on the horizon.  We often had to repeat ourselves to bring her back to the commons of the porch.  She’d smile, always gracious. The horizon, however, continued to beckon.

“I know.”

I’m the mama, and always relatively prepared, insinuating myself into the preparations, albeit more for my own peace than anything else.   Diplomas had been dealt, scholarships secured, roommates introduced and courses of study scoured and devoured.  She, we, had been oriented, vetted, counseled and selected.  And the horizon got ever closer for us all.

“I know.”

Day came, bright and early and beaming and California cloudless like all the others. And like all the others, we stumbled out to the porch, but this time clouds in our eyes made our trek all the more off-balance.  She, tea, me, coffee, Daddy and the boys some smelly protein concoction, we gathered just this one more time before the first giant wave hit.

Steadily, we steered what tidbits of conversation there were to things past.  Remember when?  Remember that day?  Oh, man, how did we ever?

“I know.”

Smokescreens, all, but a safe harbor before she set sail.  Cups emptied, one by one, she and me, the last.   Deep sighs and slow, small movements to standing.  And there we all stood.  No idea how long.  Even the why was a bit hazy.  But there we stood, still.  Words that should have been said, could have been said, were said in silence.  Together, new tears were now flowing freely,  before the wave of the new day swept us out to new seas and new days.

“I know.”

We’ll adjust our sails, we always do, and we’ll sail on.  But for now, I’ll fully feel the deep and dark sadness of clouded days, use them to gauge my way ahead.  And for now, my heart heavy, I’ll note the dark skies and weep silently, hoping the swells next time are more familiar.  Still, my heart, like the skies, will be gray.

“Any time she goes away…..”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stairway to Heaven!

I hold firmly to the belief, soundly and roundly, there is not a single twelve-year-old girl who revels in being twelve.  Nope, not here, not there, not then, not now, not ever. Angst and self-loathing and mean girls and bad hair and chewed fingernails, and yes, that “boy thing,”  shadow that little bridge between glorious oblivious childhood and overheated, overachieving teenhood.

My twelfth year, however, was a light between the cracks.

Our lovely compact family grew up happy and healthy and surrounded by beloved cousins and grandparents and fried chicken dinners ever Sunday and birthday in the lovely state of Kansas.  Such a grand place to grow up.  No fences.  And an ice cream man down our street every afternoon.  Trees to climb, yes, in Kansas.  We could whoop and holler as loudly as we wanted and not upset the neighbors.  Fact is, they’d often just come to the door with grand smiles and wave.  And sometimes bring out fresh-baked cookies, which we were always allowed to accept!

May I have another please?  Oh, thank you!

Generations of us had grown up before us exactly the same way, like all the rest of the families we knew.  We lived like a long parade.  Never knowing what was coming next, but knowing it’d be good.  And someone might even throw candy our way.

That summer, though, the parade took a different route.

Busting his buttons with untold news, my daddy came home from work the day after the last day of school,  red in the face and sporting a goofy grin.  Nearly silent until we were seated around the dinner table, we held hands and thanked the Good Lord for the bounty which we were about to receive, Amen.  Then, like always, we waited for Daddy to take the first serving of whatever was near.

Instead, he looked at the four of us, Mama, too, one by one.

“We’re moving to Omaha!”

…..wh….what…I couldn’t quite understand….these foreign words….

“I got a promotion and a transfer to Omaha!  We’re moving to Omaha!”

My little brother Sam got it way before me, and stood up in his chair, bouncing a little and waving his hands, a travesty in a house where the rule was no singing at the table.  As for dancing?  Why, while not specifically listed, I’m sure still the rule was implied.

But there he was, my goofy little six-year-old brother, grinning and giggling and wiggling his ears with joy.  Which, of course, got my goofier littler brother to singing and waving his hands, too.

“Can I have my own room, Daddy?”  shouted Sammy at the top of his lungs.  “Can I?  Can I please?”

Then littler James, “Can I, too?  Me, too?”  But, of course, with a little less gusto.  I guess he kind of liked sharing Legos and Tonkas with Sammy.  And he was a little afraid of the dark.

Me and Mama, though, we just sat, wide-eyed.  I wondered what would become of the ducks down to the pond I’d been feeding.  Mama, looking ’round the dining room and kitchen, looked to be estimating the number of boxes she’d need to “borrow” from behind the Circle Super Market.

Enthusiasm, though, is contagious, and before long we were all talking about new schools and new friends, and a new swing set with maybe monkey bars, one with legs set in concrete so it wouldn’t tump when we swang way too high.

I’ll admit to dreaming of a bedroom with walls and a bedspread that went together, instead of the mishmash I’d been living with.  Mama patted my hand, read my mind, and whispered, “We’ll go shopping!”

Well, what began as a gasp, ended as a celebration, with us calling the Grands and the cousins, and us kids running up and down the street until after dusk, telling neighbors we were moving to the big city of Omaha.

We’d be gone by summer’s end.

Truth be told, we never once considered this the end of anything.  We had no concept of ending one life to begin another.  During the first week after the news, we invited everyone and their brother to weekends in the wonderland that was Omaha.  We looked at World Books, memorizing the population and average temperature, peering deep into the picture of the rivers and bluffs.

Sammy and James sorted toys for keeping and for giving away.  Sammy more than James.  Hand-me-down toys were his birthright and I caught him snitching back trucks and Tinkertoys from the “give away” box more than once.

As for me, I daydreamed about a room with green shag carpeting and a green gingham bedspread with ruffles and separate pillow shams for pretty pillows used just for decoration.  JC Penney had just the thing, I’d poured over the catalogue’s shiny pages of bedding for hours, finally settling on the most beautiful set I’d ever seen.  Ever.  I showed Mama.  She even let me tear out the page and tape it on my soon to be old door, as inspiration.

Mama hummed more than usual, doing her own share of throwing out and giving away.  She’d spend the day packing our Sunday dishes in old newspaper pages and when those ran out, old washrags and towels.

And Daddy?  Why, a raise and a promotion and a moving van carrying all our belongings at no cost to us whatsoever plastered a smile on his face that didn’t even relax when he was sleeping.

We were off on an adventure never experienced before in our extended family.  Like Columbus or Marco Polo, we didn’t know what we’d find, but we knew for a fact we’d be charting new territory, and moving to a whole new state to do it!

Golly!

I made sure I knew the abbreviation for Nebraska, as I’d promised all my friends long and chatty letters every single week.  I’d spent a chunk of my allowance on stationery with roses in the corners and no lines.

Checking the calendar, marking off the days, June turned to July and Mama and Daddy circled the very next weekend to visit and find us a house.

Mama secretly told me she hoped we’d find a new one, so she could be the first to put her dishes in the cabinet.  We’d always lived in one house, so I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it seemed to be her grandest wish and I felt grown up and honored she shared it with me.

Mama and Daddy packed a few things, and with Grandma and Grandpa staying at the house with us, we stood on the front porch and waved goodbye until we couldn’t see their car anymore.  They’d be driving three hours and staying in a hotel!

Lawsy!  We were living high on the hog!

Of course, there would be no phone calls, long distance charges being like they were.  Whatever that meant.  I think it had something to do with expensive wires, but I never knew for certain.  They all looked black and droopy to me.

Either way, we itched through the whole weekend, ants in our pants, wishing the minutes and hours away, unable to concentrate, nearly unable to eat.  Nearly.  Grandma made all our favorites, smashed potatoes, fried ham, corn on the cob.  Temptation overcame us.

Finally, finally, Sunday evening came.  The shadows lengthened little by little, and I grabbed the little brothers and we planted ourselves on the front porch, knees under our chins, watching the end of the street, waiting for the green Plymouth company car Daddy’d gotten as a bonus, to turn down our way.

Seemed like hours.  Seemed like hours upON hours!  Seemed like forever!  The boys got a little wiggly, but one evil eye from me, I’d trained them to fear me just a little, got them back in line.

What was that?  What?  Is it what I think it is,  a way off down the highway?  Just a shimmer…it’s green!  I think it’s green!  It is!  It is!  I stood up, hand over my eyes. “It’s Mama and Daddy!”  I bolted from the porch and ran clean to the top of the street before they even made the turn.  I bounced and bounced and waved until they stopped and let me climb in.

“Did you get a house?  Did you?  Did you?!”  Beside myself with anticipation and joy, they looked at each other with little grins.  Daddy leaned back over the bench seat and mussed my hair.

“You bet we did!  Four bedrooms, one for everybody, plus a bonus room!  But that’s all I’m going to say!”

Whoop!  Whoop!  I didn’t know anybody who had four bedrooms!  We were going to live in a castle!

Smug, I plastered my nose to the back window so the boys could see me clear when we pulled into the drive.  They’d stayed put on the porch, but made a tear for the car once the engine was killed.

Mayhem ensued!  Hugs and giggles and giddiness and trunk-unpacking and more hugs and hopping.  Grandma and Grandpa ambled out, and there were even more hugs.  Knowing the little I knew, I was panting for the whole story.  I grabbed Mama’s hand, she nodded at Daddy, who was decorated with Sammy and James, once hanging from each shoulder.  Like our own little parade, we followed the Grands into the house.  Mama and Daddy sat close on the divan, holding hands.  Imagine!  We kids sat cross-legged on the floor at their feet.  Grandma and Grandpa anchored the door, as if to keep out any distraction until the tale was told.

Drawing out the moment, Daddy and Mama, still holding hands, looked at each other with special secret smiles, then,

“Well, kids?  Do you think you’d like to live in a house with FOUR BEDROOMS?!”  Daddy bellowed, and we all nodded and laughed, even though I knew this already, I got shivers of anticipation.

“Do you think you’d like to live in a house with a DOUBLE CAR GARAGE?!”  He roared again, clearly enjoying the loud delivery.

What?!  What?!  Room for our bicycles?  Room for both cars at the same time?!

I was near to bursting.  I couldn’t even LOOK at the brothers!

Then, Mama, not so loud, but with intensity, and misty eyes, “Would you like to live in a BRAND NEW HOUSE?”

Silence.  Then eruption!

“Whoo Whoo!  Yes!  Yes!”  We leapt up, shouting and dancing happy and shimmying for joy, and me adding a wiggle or two for Mama!  Even Mama and Daddy got into the act, and we held hands in a family circle, swinging and swaying, I don’t know for how long.

“And, ” Mama stopped, “Best of all, we get to pick all our paints and carpets…”

OOOOHHHHH, I was hugging myself with hope and joy….

…”And you can pick any color you like!”

OOOOHHHHH, my green shag carpet!  My life would be perfect!  Green Shag Carpet!

Mama wasn’t done, but she kindly waited until I could gather myself from my revelry.

…”And, all the bedrooms, ” she looked at Sammy and James and then me, straight on, eyes sparkling, “are upstairs on the SECOND FLOOR!”

We had a TWO STORY HOUSE?!  A NEW ONE?!  With GREEN SHAG CARPET?!

We were going to live, surely and purely and truly, in a castle!

Never ever in the history of ever had a twelve-year-old girl felt the world could be so perfect!

A Stairway to Heaven!

 

Please Plass the Salt!

Fourth of Ju-ly.  Every year, Fourth of Ju-ly up at Grandma and Grandpa’s lazy, hazy farm in Northern Missouri.  Days was long and blue, breezes playing amongst the trees and the Rose of Sharons sidling up to the wire strands fencing the yard.

Sparklers and fireworks and punks and M80s under a can would come with twilight.  But for now, a still afternoon, chores done, America celebrated early, we’d slowly gather, meander, find our way, to the just barely overgrown front yard. Thick blades of dark green grass felt soft and cool under our bare feet.  We kids hated to sit down, but when we did, we left deep marks in the flattened grass.  Jo Jo left the biggest mark.  He had the biggest backside.  He’d always quick fluff up his spot, to avoid ridicule from us cousins.  Don’t recall that ever working.  We were beasts.

Grandma’d cleared the midday dinner dishes from the hot kitchen only  an hour ago.  She’d barely time to wipe her worn hands on her equally worn apron from that meal before the next stanza of the day.

Not a hurry nor a worry, today was the Fourth and one for just relaxing and playing, after all.  We knew what came next, though, and it was up to us cousins to find the saw horses down to the machine shed and haul those puppies up to the yard.  The men, uncles and grown boy cousins, they’d bring some planking up from the barn on their shoulders, makeshift banquet tables in the making.

I knew what was comin’.  I KNEW what was comin’!  I’d seen them giant green orbs coolin’ down to the edge of the pond.  Pretty soon, never knew what took them so long, the men’d amble off that di-rection.  We kids would fairly burst with whoops!

Nearin’ time, it was!  Grandma popped through the screen door, slammin’ hard behind her, arms laden with metal cups that hurt my teeth to drink from, and a gallon jug of her sweet, sweet tea.

We did like it sweet in our family, begun with a pure sugar syrup, tea bags steeping just so.  Clear brown tea, mine with no lemon, thank you, and barely cooled with only an ice-cube or two so’s I could gulp it down quick, long slurps, satisfying all the way down.  Then I’d ask for my.

My belly’d be nearly as big as Jo Jo’s be-hind after downing a long tall glass or two or three or four if it was real hot, but like love, there was ALWAYS room for more.

And I was born ready.

Eyeballs pealed to the other side of the lane, we heard ’em before we seen ’em.  The men, giant green and white striped watermelons  hoisted on their shoulders, whistled and laughed, actin’ like a bunch of boys, come over the bank from the pond,  Sleeves rolled to the elbows, wider grins that what we saw regular days, we knew they was as giddy joyful as us, knowing what lay ahead.

Odd, but ever Fourth, ever single one, it happened the same.  Like Disney’s dwarves, they carried their loads up over the hill up to the yard, all us left to the yard near standing at attention.  One by one, they unloaded their bounty into the metal tubs, filled with ice water, under the sea-horse tables.  Couple of us kids would slide below and bounce and spin them in the water, just a wantin’ to be close.

Over our heads, the laughter and chatter was a low buzz, the main event on the horizon.

“‘C’mon over here, ” Grandpa’d bellow to one of us cousins, ragamuffins all, bouncin’ and pokin’, knowin’ one day it’d be our turn, but hopin’ beyond hope this would be the one!

Like runnin’ a gauntlet of grins and joy, the lucky one would dash to Grandpa’s side.  A big ol’ knife, scary anywhere else, anytime else but now, rested firm in his hand, poised over the top of the first ripened watermelon.

With care and caution, the chosen one would lay his hand atop grandpa’s, with the precision of a surgeon, they’d slice open the first melon, laying bare the succulent, juicy ruby red, strawberry red, what am i saying, WATERMELON red fluffy icy insides!  Dots of black seeds stood at attention during the slice, and once the first melon was done, triangles was passed down the line.  We’d settle in, makin’ us new dents in the too long grass, and starting with the point where the melon was near pure juice, we’d dive in!

Heaven!  Juicy, delicious, cold, eyes-waterin’ deliciousness!  No idea what anybody else was a’doin’.  Me, I was in my own little watermelon nirvana, juice decoratin’ my face ear to ear, sticky fingers and juice runnin’ clear to my elbows, drippin’ off the ends.

Ain’t nothin’, ain’t NOTHIN” better’n this moment right here!

Unless….(and Grandpa taught me this…)

“Hey Ain’t Florence?  Please plass me the salt!”

I’d learned to ask Ain’t Flo, since she’d never make me “Come up and get it.”  She’d just reach right over the table where the grownups would eat their melon off plates with knives and forks, imagine, and toss the shaker to my spot in the grass.

Only thing better than watermelon in the grass?  It’d be watermelon in the grass with a shake of salt here and there to keep the eyes waterin’.

God Bless America!

 

 

The Way of Things….

 

“I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date!  No time to say hello, Goodbye! I’m late! I’m late!  I’m late!”

HummIng, drumming, got to go, got to go, off I go, off I go!  Got your stuff, get my stuff, got my stuff!  Red today, red today!  Off I go!

Buzzing and mumbling and darting quickly like a sparrow, Aggie Maggie Magpie, her pet name for herself, she agitated and wrangled herself out of her bitty bitsy one room of a castle.

Did it all the time, do it all the time, doing it again, anyone see?  No one ever sees, free like a bird, slick like a rabbit down a hole!

I’m late!  Gotta go!  Be seein’ ya!  Wouldn’t want to be ya!

A chuckle escaped as she shimmied past the nurse at the desk, busy in self-conscious conversation with the doctor on call, blushing and fawning.    Aggie Maggie Magpie grasped her baggy blue striped sweater to her chin and peered about, fearful she’d been found out.  Sometimes it happened, and she’d be escorted, head down and ever so repentant, back to her little room on the second floor.

“Now, Miss Margaret,” You never get my name right, Aggie Maggie would mutter, “You can’t be going off by yourself.  You get lost and we can’t find you.”

Bah, I don’t wander off.  I know exactly where I’m going.  We go to the park, to my bench by the fountain, every time the park,  with the birds and the baby buggies and the smiles and the laughter and the puppies.

And you always find us.

And you always bring us back  home.

Till we do it again.

“You comfortable now Miss Margaret?” you query, after tucking that ratty old camp blanket around my knees in the chair by the window.

Damnation, no!  But I’m ever so patient, always patient,  and I just smile.  That’s what you want, always want, just that, isn’t it?

But look here!  This time, I’m past the desk and out the door, quick as a lick!  Gone!  Gone!  Free!  Free!

Then panic!  Oh no!

I scramble, digging into the dark depths of my tapestry bag slung over my chest, I peer deep inside.  Is she there?  Are you there?  Sweet angels in Heaven, are you in there?

But I feel the tufts of hair beneath my fingers, feeling the glassy eyes and the smooth porcelain skin.  I pull her out, she needs air, my little sweet Matilda Mae, my baby!  She needs to stroll, you see, see the sights, see the children play, watch the clouds!  Little baby of mine, my forever baby, Matilda Mae.

I hold her tight in my arms, smooth the woolen strands still left in the doll baby’s head, tilt her up so her eyes stay open.  Beautiful blue!  Beautiful blue!  Look here, Matilda Mae, look here, and I raise her up to the sky!  Here we go, we’re taking a walk, seeing the sights, playing!

Let’s go!  We’re late!  We’re late!  Get to the park! Keep going, be safe my sweet doll baby! Mama’s got you!  Chilly day, Matilda Mae, Mama will fix it!  We’ll sit on our bench and watch the children play and the puppies romp!  And today, Mama’s got a happy surprise for you!  It’s almost done!  Almost ready!

I see it!  I see it!  I’ll run now, just a little scamper!  There’s our bench, doll baby!  Just for us!  Can you see?

The light at the corner turned green, and not one soul noticed the elderly woman skitter across the busy street, an ancient baby doll tucked under one arm and a raggedy bag weighing down the other.

She happily claimed her bench by the fountain, patted and settled her baby by her side, then pulled out a skein of rosy red yarn, a perfectly knitted, nearly completed tiny sweater of carefully cabled stitches, and two rusted knitting needles.  Frantic, near maniacal, focused, Aggie Maggie Magpie commenced clacking and knitting and purling,  it took but moments for her evolve into a woolen red frenzy.  Matilda Mae looked on, unblinking, with her frozen pink porcelain pout.

“Look what Mama’s making!  A warm sweater just for you!  Just for you!  Warm, you’ll be, warm!  Like the other little children!  Cozy Matilda Mae!”

 

*********

 

“Artemis? Artemis?  Lock the dog in his kennel!  We’ll be out far too long to leave him in the house.”

Then sternly, with a steely edge to her voice,  “Remember last time we trusted that little fuzzy muffin?  Your slippers, Sir, were shredded!”

Katz, satisfied her instructions were clear, moved methodically through the house,  quietly proud of her efficiently and grace, sailing effortlessly through the bedroom to the kitchen to the hallway to the front stoop in one elegant move, picking up, replacing that, fluffing this, stashing that, wiping this, then arriving totally bedecked and utterly prepared for their trek from their worn well, long-lived brownstone to the music hall just a few blocks distant.  A lovely afternoon of pleasant concerto bits and slices of sonatas lay ahead.  The orchestra master, long a friend and neighbor, allowed them to sit quietly in the darkest recesses during rehearsal.  A grand gesture, appreciated and anticipated with relish, Artemus and Katz were given early access before the season.  But they needed to leave shortly,  or the master would be cross.

We’ll dash through the park, Katz decided for them both, hurry down the always clogged thoroughfares,  dodge yellow cabs and  those wily bike messengers, back again in force on their city streets.  But we’ll make it.  She glanced back through the door, waiting, as usual for her husband.

We’ll make it.  If we leave now.

“Artemus!”

Orderly by nature, above all else she desired order in others. Disturbed when it was ignored, Katz  believed wholeheartedly structure was the normal scheme of things, that it took a purposeful deviant effort to ignore it.   And to ignore it was to encourage chaos.

And what could be less desirable than chaos?!

“I ASK you,” she mumbled aloud, a momentary breach of her own treasured self-control.

“Artemus!”

************

Amused, Artie patted Pete upon his knobby pate, snickering at his unsung wit. Pete? Pat? Pate? Could he work a room, or what?

“See you buddy, back home soon. Off to make Mama a happy woman!”

Giving the backside of the elderly and compliant Golden an encouraging nudge into his comfy oversized create, he whispered conspiratorially, “Pops’ll bring you a hotdog!”

English being his first language, the doggie wagged expectantly,then settled in for a long winter’s nap.  He loved his crate, and his puffy blanket smelling of fabric softener and  flea repellent.

Mouthing his favorite toy, a much-loved, much chewed duck with a squeaker inside, he fell into a contented sleep, never once doubting he was loved.

And never doubting a treat would be coming when his Man and his Woman came peering into his crate after his nap.

It was the way of things.

***********

Leaves danced and lifted and twirled as the wind picked up.  Nannies and mothers and fathers and caregivers of every ilk were gathering children from the playground, noting the ominous  storm clouds gathering skyward.

Oblivious to the impending storm was a panicked attendant,  soft hospital style shoes pop popping staccato up and down the sidewalk, eyes darting right and left, searching for something, or someone, missing from her care.

Oblivious, too, was the little woman, knitting frantically, putting the finishing touches on her miniature sweater of  the bright red yarn, as well as the porcelain doll beside her on the bench by the fountain.

Less oblivious, but focused on the journey,  were the man and woman, hustling quickly across the blustery city park, arm in arm against the wind, giving but the most cursory glance at the funny woman with the little red knitted sweater.

“She’s out in this weather” Katz sniffed, “Won’t they ever learn?”

Artemus, sighed, “It’s the way of things.”

 

*********

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multi Chok-a-latta!

I do not lie! I do not lie!

Forget delayed gratification, I need my frothy, fluffy, double shot, extra non-fat, extra sugar-free caramel fix FIRST THING!

And I’ll do whatever it takes to get it!

Get up late? Exceed the limit.

Forget cash? Check truck seats and plaster a smile for good measure.

Forget pants? Use discarded beach towel as a sarong. (This is, after all, California….who gives a rip, anyway?)

Hurricane? Steal a boat.

Seriously, man, I need my coffee NOW!

This day, THIS DAY? Bad karma, crossed stars, glitch in the matrix, whatever, coffee run was not to be BLITZKRIEGED!

Good start, though, considering. Hot water stuck on “Scald” and the only dry towel was a pink “My Little Pony” washcloth.

No worries. Got this.

Found the keys, minor miracle.

Found the door, no complaints.

Truck has gas. Day’s looking better all the time.

Sun’s out. I’m early enough to beat the tech crunch rush from the chichi new startup in the old warehouse up the hill.

Score!

I’m feeling a song coming on, and crank up the AM radio in my ’59 Chevy pickup. Woohoo, 1970s Top 40 never sounded so good!

I’m making lights, yep, another one green!

Find me a lottery ticket, it’s my day, man!

And there it is, I see it just over the next rise! My stand alone, mom and pop cafe, built of old barn boards, because, yes, it was an old barn, stable actually. Spend the day there blowing time and I come out smelling just a little of old hay and older horses.

Turned high end coffee with flavors and styles and methods beyond their imagination, Mom and Pop, they’ve handed over the reins to Son and son’s life partner. The darkened shake shingles of the roof, looking nearly burned, shine in the new morning sun. The sagging overhang of the front awning looks less treacherous and less likely to fail than usual, and when I swing into the crunchy gravel lot along side, I consider enjoying my Godly nectar outside on the front porch.

The way my day is starting, I’m willing to take a chance!

Taking a moment to savor the last guitar riff of “Stairway to Heaven,” I flick off the radio with gusto and leap out of the truck.

Pants? Check.

Cash? Check.

I am on a roll!

The wooden slats, long past needing replacing, creak and give way ever so slightly as I step up on the long low porch. I reach for the screen door, circa 1950, judging by the metal advert for PepsiCola bisecting its middle. It slams , tingy and hollow behind me, and I find myself in aromatic, coffee heaven.

Mismatched chairs and stools line the room, the walls just the insides of the same rotting boards on the outside. Insulation or sheetrock or clever phrases caligraphied cleverly and tastefully on every surface?

Heck, no.

Giant construction spools make up tables, there’s even an old ladder laden with 2x4s for a community bench. Dotted here and there, mostly in shadow, folks wrap two hands around their hand-thrown pottery cups, leaning in for earnest conversation. A low murmur fills the room, not a smartphone playlist. Trendy might come in, but trendy don’t stay. They take their drinks like most all of us, but they take them in takeaway cups and take them away. Folks spending time here are a grizzled mismatched bunch, but like me, they savor their first cup, slow and seated, not grabbed and gulped.

To each his own, I say.

“Hey, Pete.”

“Hey, Davis.”

“Same?”

“Same.”

Ah, yes, I sniff in deep and long, the aroma heady, almost foggy.

This day, this day shows promise.

Calm Before the Storm…..

 

Burnished to bronzes and golds and bordered with easy shadows, the California high country gleamed.  Waving sawdust grasses, butterflies flitting and dusting their wings on the poppy tops, the vistas were pristine.  Steep-walled arroyos, rocky crags eroded over time and troubles crisscrossed the hillsides making the hilltops near unreachable, except by mule or by footfall.  Tall, straight pines, armies of them,  anchored the rocky hills in place, their needles cushioning and scenting the journey.

Captain Sutter knew his fortune lay on these mountains. Granted sovereign of one of the first Central Californian massive ranchos, the Captain was neither a rancher nor a Captain.  Having arrived in California via Hawaii and Alaska, he had, however, found his Utopia and was determined to expand his holdings and make a go in this most  perfect of environs.

Entertaining trappers and traders and men of trade, he hired, then partnered with, a crafty fellow by name of James Marshall.  Mr. Marshall, himself a man of travels and great journeys, had reached the end of his line.  This place smelled of heat, warmth in every step. This was the first time he felt at peace and at home.  Handy himself in the building trades, he and the Captain reached an agreement to harvest this bounty, contracting to build a sawmill to cut and slice and distribute the multitude of robust pines.  This California, this land of golden promise, was only destined to grow.  Both men knew it, and both felt destined determined they’d lead the way.  The Captain, he was the money and the motivation.   Mr. Marshall, he was the brains and the brawn.

Suited them both just fine.

Till the one fine afternoon, wetted through and through from expanding the shallows of the lower waterway feeding away from the nearly completed mill, a solo Mr. Marshall spied a glint in the ripples out the corner of his ever watchful eye.  Thinking it was one of the slick silverfish bottom feeders, a delicacy amongst the less civilized population of his workforce, he went back to sloshing his soggy boots and rusty spade , mucking up a cloud of dirt and debris from the creek’s bed.

Here, now, there was another one.  And another.  Surely he’d scared them suckers off by now.  But as the dirty haze settled, the floor of the stream bed fairly glistened, winking at him,  yellow and bright.

Wetting his lips, dare he look?  Mr. Marshall tossed his shovel up high onto the apex of the bank and bent fairly double for a better view.

Lord, Lord, he knew! He knew for sure before he knew!

Gold!  Gold!  He jumped for joy, losing his hat in the process, then waiting impatiently for the stream to settle back to still.

And still, yes, it was there!  More now, tucked between the pebbles and mire!  There was no pretending nor questioning nor rubbing his eyes!  This was gold in these here hills!

And James Marshall, partner of Captain John Sutter, had discovered it!

Couldn’t let it get away, could he?  Couldn’t let it travel downstream, lost forever in the twists and turns and rocky outcroppings of the watercourse.  There may be more but for now, this was what there was and he was bound and determined to gather it up and carry it back, somewhere, proud and maybe, maybe, rich!

Staying as still as a man in his excitable condition possible could, he stood feet planted in the water, twisting this way and that, looking for a jar or a plate or something to gather his findings.  Durned spade he’d tossed up top, couldn’t reach it for losing sight of his findings.

“Hey, Senor Marshall, what work you got there?” a quietly accented voice queried from somewhere behind him.

Nearly jumping and almost shouting, but not, control and stealth overcame his excitement.  Mr. Marshall calmly turned, leaving the stream nearly unstirred, standing calf deep in the meandering water, hatless, spadeless, nearly speechless.

Gathering what wits he could, he ventured a smile.

“Ah, Paco, yes, Paco, hello there,” nearly a whisper, “I’m doing my best to deepen this race so the water can move down the line faster.”

Was that suspicion in Paco’s eyes?  Was that a tin cup in his hands?!  Mr. Marshall struggled to look Paco full on.  Torqued backwards as he was, he was hard-pressed to make full claim of Paco’s view, but he couldn’t have him peering into the water.  Lord, he was feeling a fever.

“Want some help, Senor Marshall?”

Paco knows!  Paco knows!

No, Paco couldn’t know.  Couldn’t possibly.  Look up!  Look up!

And the eyes of the man on the bank obediently followed his.

“Ah, no, Paco, you’re a good man, but no.  I have this under control,”  Boots filled with water, breathing heavy, face pale below the weathering and leathering, he felt anything but.  Certain, too, he looked anything but.

Paco’s eyes flitted on toward spade resting atop the high bank above, then back to his boss.

“You are sure, Senor?”

“Sure.  Yes.  Sure.  I am sure, thank you.”  Small cough, then, “I hear Ernesto and his men up top of the race are needing a hand, though.  Maybe, ah, you could head on up there?”

Why in tarnation was he asking, he was in charge here!

“Go on up, Paco!  Go on!  No sense lollygaggin’ ’round here, there’s work to be done.  Step on, Sir!”

Pausing just a second too long, Paco turned to go.  Then,

“You be wanting your shovel, Senor?”  Paco tossed his cup to the side and broached a step into the stream, clearly aiming to ford the shallows and climb the slippery bank opposite to retrieve the tool.

“No!”

Mid step, Paco squinted long at James Marshall.

“Ah, no, Paco, I shall gather it myself.  Move quickly, then, move quickly.  Work to be done.”  Paco lowered his chin slowly, eyes on the twisted man in the stream, and backed away through the slippery mud to the rutted road leading up the low bank of the race.

Mr. Marshall gave him what he hoped was a jaunty salute and watched the quiet man make his way up the pathway and out of sight.

Leaping quickly to the lower bank, he landed awkwardly, spied the discarded tin cup, and grasped it maniacly in both hands.  He then leapt back into the stream’s center, again waiting for the debris to settle, sweating now, and glancing over his shoulder.

Some time later, evening dropping, shadows growing, night birds tuning up, James Marshall, cup in hand, with the other atop tight, slipped near to the bench of project woodworker, Mr. Scott.

“Scott,”  he hissed.

“What’s ‘at?!”  Mr. Scott lifting his head abruptly,  hollering over the racket of his hammering and pounding.

Shaking his head roughly, “Scott, “Mr. Marshall hissed again, “Quiet, sir.  Quiet.  I need your help.”

“Hang on then, hang on,”  He laboriously laid his hammer aside, regretfully it seemed, and wiped his hands on his leather apron.   Marshall could barely contain himself, but  feeling now the need of  an ally, he stiffened, but waited.

Tools in place, neat to the point of excess, Mr. Scott turned his attention fully to Marshall.

“What is it you have there, Sir? ” politely, nodding purposefully at the cup clutched tightly to Marshall’s chest.

Suddenly struck purely dumb, his mouth couldn’t find proper words.   He finally mumbled, “I found it.  I found it.”

Like urging a child, “Well, let’s see here what you found, Mr. Marshall,”  and reached to take the cup.

And childishly snatching it back, Marshall peered underneath his hand, looking deep inside.  Satisfied the contents were intact, he  took a deep, raggedy breath.

“Sir, it’s gold.  I’ve found gold.”

Silence.

“Did you hear me, man?  I found gold!  Down yonder in the lower stream, I found gold, Sir!”

Silence.

Marshall strode within arm’s reach, “Mr. Scott, Sir! I said–”

Stonily, “Sir, I heard you.  It simply cannot be, ” He looked down at his scarred and bruised carpenter’s hands, “It simply cannot be, Sir.”

Marshall pushed the tin cup under the man’s nose, “Sir, it IS  gold!  I know it to be nothing else!  It’s yellow and  sparkles and glistens like the sun!  I know it to be gold, Sir!”

Then hushed, “And Mr. Scott, we must keep this to ourselves.  We will be overrun with vagabonds and drifters and scallywags!   Our work here must be done, and we do, Sir, have work to be completed! We are obligated by contract, Sir.  You are obligated, Sir.”

Even closer still, “You do agree, don’t you, Mr. Scott?  We have work to do.”

Near frozen, barely audible even in the evening quiet, Mr. Scott’s hollow gaze met the harsher one of his employer.

Breathily, beaded upper lip, “Mr. Marshall, I will abide by my agreement. I will remain silent until you allow me to speak.”

“I am, Sir, a man of my word.  I am, Sir, a company man.”

And James Marshall relaxed.

Then, from beyond the stand of trees, another voice, accented this time, took his turn.

“And I, Sir, am merely a man.”

***************************************************************************************

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas:

Easy way, hard way

rivers around bends

gold rush–don’t tell, I will, I won’t, you won’t you will, later

 

I’m a company man.

 

I am but a man.