Category Archives: True Life

Grannie Sands, the Surviving Teapot and Sirens with your Supper

They always bombed at tea time.

Not the pass the cookies, pinky finger out thank you very much kinda tea; but the this is the real meal, pass the plate, wash your hands, elbows off the table,  kinda tea.

They always came together, the sirens with  the supper. It was as if Hitler didn’t want the English to ever have a hot meal.

Sirens sounded, chairs pushed away from the table, leave everything,  and remember to close the blackout curtains before you go.

Then with gas masks in hand, the family, the block, the entire city, would walk,  not run to their designated bomb shelters. Not easily rattled, those  English.

The children carried children sized gas masks in little boxes tied with string. Hand in hand, down they would go, each family to their assigned spot, each spot marked with a mattress propped against the wall. The mattresses were lowered onto the floor and they all sat and waited.

First they waited for it to start.

Then they waited for it to stop.

The all clear sounded, the mattresses were propped back onto the wall, and hand in hand they all emerged and went home.

Life went on in Liverpool.

Juxtapose  that with my house,  present day where life just  isn’t worth living if the cable, internet or electricity are out. All three would sign the beginning of the apocalypse. I shudder to think what would happen if everyone should be in the same room, at the same time, talking, and forced to have actual eye contact.

My father-in law, Griffy was one of those children, the ones with the little boxes tied with string.

The night his house blew up, the sirens went off but the supper wasn’t the only thing left behind.

That night, the last night in the house, Griffy was bedridden  and coughing and Grannie refused to go until the tea he had a cuppa tea to sooth his throat.

“We will be right behind you, ” she said as the rest of the family left for the shelter.

Grannie put the kettle on, and as she went to close the curtains, she saw her neighbor across the street writing  a letter at her kitchen table. Her boyfriend was away at war, and afterwards Grannie liked to imagined the young woman’s  last thoughts were filled with love.

The whistle of the kettle and the bombing were simultaneous.  Grannie Sands filled  the Brown Betty teapot with hot water and then collected Griffy from the bed.  Teapot in one hand and child over her shoulder Grannie Sands made for the shelter.

She  made it to the front door before Hitler landed a direct hit on the neighbors house across the street.

Griffy was blown into the alley and landed unharmed. He stood and ran to find Grannie Sands.

He found her in the street, sitting straight up, arms out, with her ass wedged into the street drain.

The teapot  still clutched in her hand.

and she hadn’t spilled a drop.

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Filed under Griff, Humor, Immigrant, Life, My Husband's Parents, Stories, True Life, World War II, Writing

The Night of Two Christmases and the Hassle of Hogmanay

I was 9 the night of two Christmases.

Not two, gotta go to both grandma’s house Christmases. Or two open presents Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Christmases.

Two Christmases, in one place on the very same night.

It was the clocks fault.

The mantel clock with the Westminster chimes  my Nana got as a wedding present.

It sat on her mantel, then on my mothers, and now it is on mine.

It was  hurry, hurry go to sleep.

‘Cause sleep was like magic.

Magic sleep  is the kid kinda sleep.

The kind when you close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, its morning.

Magic sleep won’t come with wishing or squeezing your eyes closed real tight.

Not tonight.

The sooner you sleep , the sooner it comes.

When you wake, it will be Christmas.

The magic isn’t working.

I am thinking about my stocking.

Stocking are Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Black Cherry and Tangerine.

Stockings are Loves Baby Soft, lavender soaps, licorice whips, Life Savers books, and the little rose flavored candies that come in a metal tin so pretty you can’t ever throw them away.

Stockings are new crayons, trace the outline first then fill in the color new coloring books.

They are new tooth brushes, socks and undies.

But mostly stockings are chocolate.

Chocolate only appeared three times a year in my house.

Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

Solid chocolate Santa’s, in milk and white, gold coins and candy canes filled with M&M’s.

That was the American kind.

Then there was the other kind.

The British kind. Cadbury’s and  Fry’s Turkish Delight, Flakey Bars, Roses Assorted, and Black Magic. There was Terries All Gold with creamy orange or strawberry filling. The best part was, you could eat as much as you wanted. Chocolate for breakfast, chocolate for lunch, and chocolate for dinner. It doesn’t get any better, even now.

You could open no presents on fear of death before my mother woke up with her instamatic little light cube  flash camera.

Before parents were up,  presents were piled by recipient, mounded and counted always equal,  always.

But sorting piles and seeing stockings will not come, not until I sleep and wake.

Stop thinking about the chocolate, count things instead.

One minute my feet are seeking cold spots in the sheets and the next magic happens, and I am asleep.

Then it is jump out of bed, gotta be first, round the corner see the tree…

see the  stockings are slack and nothing is wrapped.

The clock, it says 6.  I skip a beat,  feel it stop.. sink a bit…. then start again.

I see  the yellow Caterpillar dump truck with the real shovel and bed that dumps, Baby Tender Love, Barbie dolls with the bendable knees, click click see her sit… a pile of books, crayons and coloring books, packages of undies, socks and toothbrushes…

I see and know.

Really know.

I  see then what my parents said, saw the lists and letters I wrote to Santa. The  folded letters I had thrown into the blazing fire…. that is how you reach Sanata..they said.

I see the letters  dissolve into ashes; they rise and fly up the chimney and across the world to Santa’s workshop.

Right.

No more would I wonder why Santa used the same wrapping paper as my parents, why his writing looked like the notes I took to my teachers and why Santa always seem to know exactly what I wanted.

No more.

See the wrapping paper, tape and ribbon and  just start. Start to wrap.

I know but the others should not.

I wrap and guess who get’s what until there is nothing left sit back and see, the piles and packages of the first Christmas after, knowing.

The door opened, parents laughing, next door for a drink,  they laughed at my worry laughed and shoo-fly my tears, go to sleep, back to your room, back to bed, back…but I can’t really go back , not all the way.

The kids will be up soon I say, look to the clock, it no longer says 6, but 1230 instead.

The magic sleep comes quickly the second time around.

My second Christmas I do not bound,  I do not want to be- the- first- to- see just what is underneath the Christmas tree.

I have already seen.

My second Christmas, the packages are piled, and the stockings are full the others are laughing, and counting, and the chocolate is just a little less sweet.

Christmas is here Hogmanay yet to come. My father has the giant green Hefty bag at the ready for the boxes, the wrapping he tosses into the fireplace with glee.

Hogmanay.

The time to ready,  the time to clean,  the time when the house must be, what it will be for the coming year.

Every Scottish housewife knows, the house will be,  what ever it is when the New Year comes.

If it is dirty, dirty it will be.

If it is tidy at the New Year, then tidy it will be.

New Year. Hogmanay.

The way you end the year,  will tell you how you will be in the next.

The dressers are cleaned, the clothes folded, the trash taken out.

The laundry is done, and baskets are empty. The fridge is full, the rooms are cleaned, toilets scrubbed, closets cleared, and garbage out, and no stuffing anything under the bed.

The way you enter the New Year, is the way it will be.

Hogmanay meant cleaning, and hassle and hiding out till the work was done.

When the sun went down on New Years Eve, the feast began, the friends came, the scotch flowed, and Hogmanay really happened.

It was ceilidhs…Kailey’s… dancing and  laughter.

Hogmanay was meat pies, and dark-haired first footed strangers after midnight at your door.

The darker the hair the stranger, the better the luck.

A hold over from the days of unlucky light-haired Nordic Viking blondes who raped and pillaged; the darker the stranger the better the luck.

Mom always looked for a dark-haired man enter the door first after the New Year. First foot was not to be ignored.

It meant the best of luck, the best of things to come, even  now 40 years after the year of the two Christmases, and the clock who told the wrong time, I look for a dark-haired stranger to cross my threshold at the New year, and bring the best of things; it means the best is yet to come, in the New Year.

Slainte! (Slan-ja) To your Health,  all you dark- first- footed- strangers, imaginary or not.

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Filed under Children, Family, Humor, Life, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Phoenix

Vivid blue crayon sky.

Camelback, Praying Monk, and Squaw Peak, familiar shapes rise from the desert floor.

Lunar landscape pink Papago with worn holes through and through, the place to ride bikes watch the sun set and the stars rise.

Giant saguaros marching, stopped forever in their uphill climb, arms  ever reaching.

How could you forget such things.

In town for a reunion, driving east, new roads fast and paved in basic black,  extra wide lanes with solid bright white lines, stay on your side please

Rear view mirror,  look behind, see the sun set, it never fails to impress, only see it in pieces, and curse the luck of my direction, always going the wrong way.

Invite for pizza at a childhood friends house, meet her kids, see her mom, her brother always a huge crush.
Standing around the kitchen granite gleaming, spic and span, glass shines, so unlike my own, where I consider myself lucky to have floors the color of dirt.
It is not unusual to have some foreign unidentifiable substance stuck to your bare feet…. last time it was a gummy bear.
The patio something out of Pottery Barn, a little living room, sofa- chair-tables lamp, all complete with drapes, hold the warmth in.
Here he was, the golden-haired boy of summer, how many times did I sit in the bleachers hoping he would see me?
Stories began…
His stories were crude, his language base and biased.
Jew whore, bitch, slit..I took a breath, sat and just listened.
…. we  had lit a fire outside,
I had forgotten how cold it gets when the sun goes down in the desert.
Then they both really started talking…
their  mom used to leave them for days at a time. 10 and 8 no food, mom gone… imagine.
Mommy was off for the weekend with different boyfriends.
He remembers sitting in the back of a car with his sister while their parents were in the bar  gett’n their drink on….strangers knock on the window and
laugh….
After working with children in foster care for a decade, I knew how damaging neglect could be they don’t even care enough to beat.
I watch him, but his voice is drowned out in my mind,
Coldplay Fix you….I will try to fix you…plays instead.
No way social worker girl….this is not your problem..
His story was drugs,  38 years worth, everything you could imagine. The longer he spoke the more broken he became, splintered and scattered.
I was given tours of scars and injuries, DUI’s…
I sat and listened, as rants of political views vastly different from mine began,
I hear some Fox news one liners spouted with ease.
Only when they started on immigrants did I speak.
“I am an immigrant”
She seemed shocked.
The rant became one of foreigners serving in the military,
“I wasn’t a citizen when I was in the Navy, ” I said.
She was agape.
“But you were born here, your parents had a mortgage, how could they do that not being citizens?”
The basic civics lesson ensued….one can be a legal immigrant, tax paying with all the rights and duties except holding office and voting.
It almost stopped the ranting, having a familiar face be the unmentionable, immigrant non-citizen scapegoat for all of the country’s ills.
Almost.
They ranted on, he gesturing violently punching the air, Michele Obama the intended target.
Calling Barrack, Barry, a child chiming in, age ten looking up for approval.
I watched in two worlds, seeing the boy, hearing the man.
I realized their view comes from a place of fear, distrust, and ignorance.
Not my view, I chose another way.
Yes,  I voted for Obama, I said when asked.
Yes,  I am in Law school.
“You’re not going to work for those ACLU assholes are you, those lying un-American Civil Liberty Union pricks”
It almost turned uncivil when I showed them my ACLU membership card.
My childhood friends, different paths different world views, here they were with a Democrat in the house. Don’t think there is enough bleach in the world to clean that up…suddenly I have the image of them hosing down my chair when I left.
I let them rant, the rants only outpaced by the number of bottles of beer, I lose count.
No thanks I am driving….
He asked  me for a ride to his mother’s house.
I blink and remember we are both 48 years old.
I swallowed my judgment, smiled and nodded.
He wanted to stop and get beer, wanted me to drink  a tall boy in the parking lot, I just laughed, and said I didn’t roll like that.
What else could you do?
I pulled up to the house, he opened the door, and then paused.
He turned and looked me straight in the eye and said,
“I love you, I have always loved you, and always will.”
Then he left.
I cried all the way back to the hotel,  deep sobs, and had to calm down with hot bath and an overpriced mini bar shot of  Grey Goose.
Fix you,  still playing, this time on my ipod….they seemed so splintered, and the pieces are scattered…even social worker girl knows…
There is no way to fix that.

.

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Filed under Arizona's Immigration Law, Immigrant, Law School, Stories, True Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Nellie Bell, the Wonder Bread Bag, and Decades of Different Dye



 

 

 

 

 

Nellie Bell loved to dance, laugh, smoke, and drink.

Usually simultaneously.

Nellie Bell was my Nana, my mothers mother, who told everyone she was five feet nothing, but that was just a bold-faced lie. At five foot  two, I towered over her, even in her heals which she wore every day without fail.

Nellie Bell only ever gave me two pieces of advice.

The first was, “always put lipstick on before your husband comes home from work.”

I think I was 12.

The second, when I was 19 and living with her for the summer.

Spontaneously one afternoon with her highball, Pall Mall and while listening to Dean Martin on the stereo,   she turned to me and said,

“Mens bodies are awfully ugly, …you know,  I never saw your Papa naked.”

Not knowing what the appropriate response is to your grandmother voicing her sexual dysfunction, I remained silent.

For once.

Mistaking my silence for acquiescence, she continued after pausing and taking a long drag on her fag and letting the smoke simply rise from her mouth.

“He took his jammies into the bathroom every night and dressed in there.”

Only for a moment did it cross my mind to tell her that I already had formed an opposing opinion.

Nana was a brunette before I was born,  a red-head after, and a platinum blond from 1970 on. Sifting through the family photos, you realize sorting the decades by her hair color is a pretty safe bet.

Nellie would send me to the drug store, armed with a twenty, a bribe of candy, and a piece of cardboard.

Never a logical being, the cardboard which had been torn from the top of the hair color box, never bore the brand, shade name or color number. Nellie saved the photo of the model instead.

Many a long hour did I spend walking the hair color aisle in Rexall Drugs, moving from picture to picture, box to box until I made the  correct match.

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn’t the same…

It wasn’t as easy when they changed the models on the box.

The dying of the hair is something of a hereditary trait.

The sisters and I have our own …colorful past, which shall remain a secret, at least for now.

It happened in the spring of 1966.

I remember because it was right after I won the bathtub fight. The one where my sister and I fought over the right to sit closest to the bath tub spout.

I won.

Only because it was my 4th birthday, my father said.

It happened after that.

It started with the cackling, and ended with The Wonder Bread.

Well,  not the bread, but the bag.

The gleaming white bag with the blue, yellow and red circles.

My mother, my Aunt, and my Nana were having a cup of tea.

To a 4-year-old, cackling meant tea, tea meant cookies.

The cackling drew me in,  but I stayed for the shortbread.

They sat around the table, tea and shortbread at the ready, my aunt was dying Nellies hair.

This being 1966 it was red.

It wasn’t until much later I realized the early do-it-yourself hair colors didn’t really come with all the supplies you needed.

I just thought everyone wore a Wonderbread bag on top of their hair when they were waiting for it to “take”.

It wasn’t long after the final cup, the time finally came to take off the plastic, and give it a rinse.

The stove timer buzzed, the moment was at hand.

I watched the magic happen from my seat under the table, under the laced tent, where the sun came through in pieces.

The Wonder Bread bag was removed, and silence followed.

It had come off, you see.

They had waited too long. Cackled too much.

There across my Nana’s gleaming red hair, and all the way around, were the words Wonder Bread, and the bright colored circles of the wonder bread bag.

The cackling only got louder.

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Filed under Family, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

Clean

The game we play, my father-in-law and I, has no written rules, no tiny hour glasses filled with sand,  buzzers, or points to be counted.   Well,  that’s not exactly true, there is a type of score. 

This time the score is 7 days, 4 hours and 27 minutes.

That’s 7 days, 4 hours and approximately 27 minutes since Griffy’s last shower.

The first move is always his.

“Sharon, I think I’ll go for a shower.”  …although he has started calling me Karen…

“Ok Griffy,” my reply.

Let the game begin.

The announcement comes mid-afternoon,  never in the morning, never at night. He declares his intent, shuffles off down the hall, slippers buffing, scuffing all the way. One does not need to watch, you can hear his progress, down the hall fainter and fainter until he reaches his room, opens the door and goes inside.

The shower isn’t in there.

There is nothing he needs to retrieve; supplies and towels are ever ready in the master bath. Do not ask me what he is doing, there are  some things I just don’t care to know.   A few minutes later, the door opens, he comes out empty-handed, and heads for the master bath.

The next move is mine.

I sit and count to 100, not too slow, not too fast, 1 -1000, 2-1000,  3-1000; like a game of hide and go seek only now there is no seeking,  just me hiding out of sight.  

I take my cell phone and into the master bedroom I go, taking my place just outside the bathroom door and wait.

Well,  not just wait exactly. I listen.

I listen for the sound of the water being turned on, and when it starts, I look down at my cell phone  and start the stopwatch.

It started out just listening, listening for trouble. The plastic shower seat, hand rails, and hand-held shower were there to assist, make it easier, but  the mommie mind  raced, never at ease waiting on the other side of the house for his return. He can barely keep upright walking on a solid dry surface, never mind on a wet soapy one. So instead of waiting out of ear shot heart racing thinking every noise is a sign of distress, heart pounding call the paramedics!  I started sitting in the bedroom listening for trouble just outside the bath room door. 

The proximity eased my worry.

I don’t know why that is, why being closer  seems to alleviate the fear. It just does. It’s the same with  all my children, as long as they are near, as long as they are close,  as long as they are under my roof, in my house, they can come to no harm.

The simple nearness is a strange comfort, but it works.  So I sit, just outside the bathroom door assuring that no harm will befall the tottering 75 year-old man just  beyond the door, nothing can happen, because I am near.

That’s when I first noticed it. I noticed that despite the fact that the water takes a while to warm up to even body temperature, it never seemed to run for very long.  

So I started timing it. The water did shut off almost as soon as it was turned on.

How soon?  

Less than two minutes. As in you have got to be kidding  there is no way  you are soaping up and rinsing off  anything in that amount of time, soon.

That’s how the game began.

It started off with me just listening, making sure he didn’t fall in the shower, and evolved into me playing  some sort of hygiene monitor.  I now arrange the soap, shampoo and even his tooth-brush and when I check them after his almost weekly attempts at personal hygiene they have not been moved.

His tooth-brush is never wet.

That’s the game we play, Griffy and I. 

He pretends that he washed.

And I pretend not to notice he was in the shower for less than 120 seconds.

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Filed under care giving, Caregiver, Griff, Life, Multiple System Atrophy, Shy Drager Syndrome, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

The Easter Bonnet, the Bag of Chips, and the Cricket Obstacle Course

 

Nothing rocks like a train. It catches you off guard, rolls you from side to side, throwing you off-balance.  

The ride south is sunfilled; mirror glass icons gleam, alleys and chain link fences anchored with discarded cups, straws and empty plastic bags. The other side of the tracks. The facades faded, flat; chipped paint and rusty doors rule.

The backside of business. Count the Bed Bath Beyonds’, Taco Bells, and Dominos. What the market will bare.

The city blooms and suburbs fade; smokers litter the sidewalks, each wearing plastic name tags, badges, and labels; the new lepers of polite society.

Outside please.

Big slow turn, spy the grassy knoll, see the flag, the window, brass markers gleam on the sidewalk and always remember, never forget. Yes,  it really happened…right there.

All stop. Switch westward bound. TRE means half way there, bigger train, commuter filled, bags and brief cases hogging the seats.  The sweat and barbecue sauce, oil and designer fragrance mix.

See her wipe the table top with antibacterial wipes; lemon fresh. Add to the bouquet. 

The paper napkin from the bag, unfolded, placed on the clean table. All is ready, out comes the sandwich, the juice box, the carrots and ranch?  Dinner is served. With each small bite she looks out the window; she watches where we just left.

The rolled up sleeves and black aprons board.

“Ever have a raw habanero?”one apron asks the other.

“Many times, but it’s not the hottest. The hottest she is the ghost pepper.” 

His pronoun choice makes me smile.

“Hotter than… the hat, ah what is the word,  the ….cap pepper?” he gestures with both hands  on top of his head which necessitates letting go of the strap that steadies him.

weebles wobble but they don’t fall down…Scotch bonnet

“The Scotch bonnet pepper. Ghost pepper ten times hotter, your mouth will break into sores, it is so hot. I have done this, just one time. In my country they smear this pepper over fences to keep the animals out, it works, even on elephants.”

Elephants and Scotch bonnet peppers. Gotta love the train ride, it’s a United Nations of world views all wrapped up in a moving metal box.

The aprons are quiet now. They step off  at the next stop and disappear. 

The westward journey over, disembark, destination just ahead. 

Intermodal Station,  dodge the buses, cross the street wrestling the roll bag filled with books along the cracked and crooked sidewalk. The best swear words are saved for this exact moment.

Usually.

Elevator down, push open the thick glass doors, the library awaits.

A different type of wrestling begins.

Afterwards pull the book bag, heavy black, filled to the brim. 

Class over, another day marked off; X marks the spot. 

The journey back in the night-time is aware at all times, don’t wear your iPod,  listen up, don’t be an idiot scary, sometimes. 

Still afraid of the night-time, watch and beware.

The eastward train everyone sees in, the mirror windows in the night-time limit the view; reflect only whats inside. 

Seats abound I take two one for me, one for the bag, and try to read. The same page over and over and over, give it up.

See his arm is around her, the wife beater white tee-shirt a bright contrast  to the blue and black letters, symbols and patterns that cover his shoulders, arms, and hands.  After a while he stands, reaches down, then slings a diaper bag over his shoulder. She stands now, so very much smaller than he. A slight, slim, dark-eyed, young mother holding her tightly wrapped baby in blue. He walks ahead, turns and holds her hand, one- two-three steps down onto the platform. The train moves and I cannot see them anymore. 

Almost there now, here the slow curve again feel it there in the dark; the shrine to historic horror.

The dark dims the view, but you know it’s there.

Union station after dark.

Iconic shapes vanish. Giant gleaming mirrors with nothing to reflect loom like a hole you can feel in the dark. Colors melt in the dark glass and blur the straight lines into shapeless waves.

Keep my head down, back against the wall, and wait; watching everything, looking down the track, willing the redline to appear. Loud voices appear from the tunnel, drunk laughter, high fives slapping, missing. They walk  along the bench asking all who wait for smokes or change, have to get home, need a smoke man…my turn next. I shake my head no, and they move on. 

Redline appears, last leg, northward now, soon back to green grassy lawns, brightly lit streets, jogging paths and home associations.

I like the seats that face forward, have to see where I am going.

The only empty seat is facing inward, back to the window and the world. 

Then I see the hat. 

The battered straw with a stiff pink tulle fringe around the brim.

It looks like a childs hat, minus the thin white elastic chin strap that always seems to pinch and snap and leave a deep mark on your skin. The small hat cradles her rocking head perfectly. The tulle and straw brim is pushed up against the glass. She is sound asleep against the window. Like a sleeping child her head starts to roll, sideways, then all the way back, coming to a stop against the back of the bench seat.  The hat stays perfectly planted. She is vulnerable grace, her smooth slender neck childlike. I fight the urge to place my sweater under her head. Instead I watch her sleep in her Wal-Mart name tag, and Easter bonnet. 

I take out another book, give it a try.

“Whats that book?”

Don’t look,  don’t answer, don’t flinch; can’t you smell the  booze?

Didn’t notice him until he spoke. That’s not good.

“Acing Torts” I hear myself reply.

“whats that mean, ….acing?”

I see the little boy he was, unable to read, trying to sound out the words, and wonder when and why he stopped trying.

“It means earning a high-grade, to do really well on a test, getting an A is acing an exam.”

He brings out a bag of chips munching as he speaks, “You…going to college or something?”

Every syllable spews flecks of potato chips in my direction.

“Something like that,” I answer.

For a moment I imagine teaching him to read. I stop the fantasy when he starts  just talking, out loud crumbs flying, one of those crazy out loud cross the street he’s a whack job rants,  to no one in particular.  I keep my head down, reading the same page over and over.

Johnny Depp’s doppelgänger boards and stands between the bag of chips man and me. 

“Nice boots” chip man sprays.

“I got these bad boys in New Orleans.” Depp replies

“Man you from New Orleans… I’m from New Orleans!” They grab hands bend elbows and chest bump.

“I miss that place man been here since Katrina man…that was hard dude, how long you been here?” chips only occasionally fly.

“I’ve been here five years bro.”

The train stops Doppelganger and Chip man step off. 

They too fade to black as the train pulls out.

Last stop Parker road. The car is parked at the far end of the lot.  Old fears creep in, push them away.

I am Eowyn, see me roar.

Fuck off fear.

Step off the train, looking back, the Easter bonnet is still asleep. I fight the urge to wake her.

what if she’s riding it back downtown and this is the only sleep she gets? ”

Black bag behind, the brick path rattles me inside and out.

The lot is empty, my car a foot ball field away.

I start to walk, aiming for each of the pools of light.

I didn’t see them until they jumped.

Crickets. Big black armoured crickets having a gathering under all the lights. I ponder my next move.

Either walk right through them and stay in the light, or go around and risk darkness.

Place your bag in front of you, not behind, and use it to clear your path….

Thanks Eowyn, brave sword wielding  princess,  I think I’ll just do that.

I put the bag in front of me and began to run, staying in the light, crickets parting like Moses and the Red Sea.

Car straight ahead, keys in hand, click to unlock throw in the bag, lock the door.

Safe!

Driving home I can’t wait to see what tomorrows train ride will bring.

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The Dinner Table, the Burping Alphabet Bet and The Peter Pan Collar

The table was always set, every night, fork to the left of the plate, knife to the right, paper towel napkin folded in half tucked under the knife.  The fork was always in the left hand, still is, the knife in the right, and napkin always stayed on the lap. Under no circumstances was said napkin to be balled up, held in the hand or otherwise disfigured before the end of the meal and it found it’s way to the trash.

Mom do we need spoons?

You always asked, one didn’t want to have to set and wash spoons that were not used and more importantly;

Spoon meant jello, or custard or canned fruit or on very special occasions, ice cream.  

Spoons meant  dessert.

The fruit cocktail single half a red cherry mined and fought over;  the pears packed in syrup juice drizzled over the warm Birds custard a half a pear on the side; the frothy rectangle jello, scoopable and smooth;mix the can of evaporated milk, pour it through the hole in the top the moving blender,  the whirling teaches patience as the jello orange or strawberry creamy treat takes a while to set. Listen to the roar,  the foamy layers settle;  see them forming in the glass 8×10 on the refrigerator shelf, shake the dish still not ready,  close the door!

Will we need a spoon?

Yes,  we need spoons.

Never is the fork  to be switched the right hand  and turned up  in the- too busy shoveling to hold both required utensils maneuver; the knife was never used and then simply set aside across the plate. The knife was to be held and used with every single mouthful.

That along with  a hand around the top of your plate, guarding it as if someone was about to walk by and steal it before you finished were uncouth, common and ill-mannered and got you either a slap with the flat edge of the knife across what ever flesh was available, or if particularly egregious, a full-out stab with the tines of the fork.  In my father’s defence, he usually only gave you the  loud silent stare, a clearing of the throat, and left the stabbing ritual for my mother as she was within reach most of the time.

These things were never spoken, but clearly understood, the social moray’s of the meal.

Among the other verboten table manners were burping, spilling, chewing with your mouth open, using your fingers, cramming in or eating too-fast, and serving yourself.

My mother always served.

There was always enough, but just. 

The portions filling, but never outside of  the Thanks Giving Turkey, and Christmas Standing Rib Roast were there any left overs.

Milk,  the only beverage, salt, pepper,  the only acceptable spices.

We five sit and wait as my father brings in the evening paper,  and turns on the news. 

Noise of any kind was strictly forbidden at the table, including talking…

The news is on.

“I canny hear the news!” the usual single warning uttered before temper flared.

Above all he must be able to hear the news.

In his defense my brother was easily led a stray.  One could actually egg him into doing almost anything before the age of ten.

Something this especially evil older sister did with regularity. 

“I bet you can’t burp ten times in a row before dad gets here,” I offer.

Honestly they came so quickly I really couldn’t count them, so I had him do it again.

Never once did the boy ever ask to what I was betting, what he would get in return, never once.

He just innocently accepted whatever challenge I could think of.

Sucker.

“ok…I bet you can’t say the entire alphabet while burping.”

It took him two glasses of milk, three attempts but he was able to do the entire alphabet in two long consecutive burps.

Laughter was uncontrollable. My brother was laying flat on the floor as his stomach was distended with the large gulps of air he has swallowed to produce said entertainment, when my father finally entered the dining room.

Silence in hind-sight was too much to ask.

Silence upon the sight of  brother rolling on the floor in pain was just impossible.

“QUIET!” came the single warning.

My brother cames out from under the table, proceeded to take another gulp of milk, look straight at me,  and giggle mid swallow.

Milk upon meeting a closed throat due to laughing proceeds to exit ones nose.

Milk spewed.

Mayhem ensued.

Laughter reined.

My father lost it. Unable to hear Walter Cronkite, he roared,

“Enough!”

My father then began ejecting children one at a time, the sequence of which were based both on the timing of who laughed next and the proximity to his chair.

My brother has lost his seat at the table first, quickly followed my older sister, baby sister, and then me.

All except one were ejected pre dessert.

With each ejection my father rose and pulled out the chair, and pulled you up from your seated position by the arm, and generally motioned toward the direction of your bedroom.

He never really uttered the words, “Go to your room”

So I didn’t.

Instead I laid in the hall on the floor army crawl style and spied on my sister the last remaining laughter hold out.

I don’t remember what made her laugh, or even if she ever did.

My father rose and stood behind the last remaining hold out.

Instead of grabbing her arm,  he grabbed her collar instead.

The collar gave way with a rip, bouncing my sister back down into her chair, leaving him standing there with the peter pan collar in his hand.

From the four corners of the house, laughter broke free.

My father defeated, tossed the collar aside, returned to his chair and finished his supper alone, fork in the left, knife in the right, napkin on his lap.

The sounds of our laughter drowned out Walter Cronkite that night.

They still do.

And now you know the story of the dinner table, the burping alphabet bet, and the peter pan collar.

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