Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Modern Magi Tale

“The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

Odelia loved the infamous O. Henry story. As she finished reading the classic tale, a thought overcame her. She wanted to do something special for her newly-wedded husband, Jameson, even though they had both decided their gift to each other this year would be a Mediterranean cruise they had saved for to be taken next autumn. Jameson would be done with his residency in July and Odelia intended to be finished with her final PhD thesis on ‘The Impact of Judaism on Western Religious Traditions’ by then also.

But not giving any gift to her beloved on Christmas, especially since it would be their first as husband and wife, made her feel empty. Perhaps she should purchase him new clothes, or maybe a new IPOD since his was broken. No. Purchasing clothes for Jameson would be more of an indulgence for her than him. And a new IPOD would sit unused while he worked his relentless hours. Maybe a book? No. Despite his passion for reading, he was too often exhausted to even skim through the daily newspaper.

Odelia sipped on her chamomile tea and considered ideas. Then her heart grew full when she remembered something about Thanksgiving. Hadn’t he raved about her grandmother’s pumpkin bread? She’d call Granny for the recipe and bake this afternoon!

“And don’t forget, Dele – they must be white raisins.”

“I won’t forget, Granny. I love you. Merry Christmas!”

A quick trip to the store was needed for white raisins and a can of pumpkin. She quickly bundled herself up and walked three blocks north from their apartment to obtain the magic ingredients. To her surprise, white raisins were plentiful in stock.
As she walked back to her apartment, she began to sweat. Had she overdressed? The temperature on the bank clock indicated only 18 degrees. Perhaps she was too excited about her project. A break from her studies was desperately needed.
Once she arrived back to the apartment, she stripped her clothing and changed into a t-shirt and shorts. Jameson would probably be pleasantly surprised by the change from sweatpants, sweaters and slippers!

Odelia read her grandmother’s instructions carefully, then methodically arranged the ingredients on the counter. After turning on the oven to pre-heat, she smiled. “Won’t you be glad to see something other than a frozen pizza?”
She found two beautiful ceramic bread pans, received as wedding gift, and never once been used. Then she began to create the mixture. At one time in her life, Odelia considered pursuing a career in art. Perhaps she would convert that old interest into perfecting the craft of domesticity.

Careful not to rush the project, she enjoyed each step of adding the various ingredients. But as the temperature in the oven rose, she, once again, began to feel hot. Could she be getting sick? She opened the can of pumpkin. The aroma of the gourd scoured through her being. She could feel her gag reflex engage and quickly ran to the bathroom, only to lose everything she had consumed for the day. But she felt better. After a few deep breaths, she went back to the kitchen to finish her project.

Once again, the quaintness of the bread pans made her feel warm.

The mix was finally complete and the bread was set in the oven to bake. After setting the timer, Odelia decided to lie down for awhile. She curled up on the sofa with her favorite fleece blanket. Being a light sleeper, she wasn’t concerned about sleeping through the timer. However, the light snow falling outside the window hypnotized her. Soon she was dozing.

Then the calmness within the apartment was interrupted by a door slamming shut and the buzzing in Odelia's dreams was realized as a timer going off.

“Odelia?” Jameson was confused by the smell of the oven and the timer buzzing.
She jumped up in confusion. “Jamie! Oh my gosh! I’m baking something for you!” She ran to the kitchen, shut off the timer and quickly retrieved the two bread pans out of the oven as Jameson stood at the door watching.

Odelia furrowed her brow and scratched her head. “That isn’t how they’re supposed to look!” She glanced at the time to see if she had baked the bread too long. “They certainly don’t look burnt.”

Jameson placed his bags on the table and walked to his wife. “Could you have forgotten something?” He picked up the can of pumpkin, still full.

While Jameson smiled at the error, Odelia began to cry.

“Del? It’s okay! It’s just bread.” Jameson put his arms around his young wife.

“It was my Christmas gift to you though! I worked so hard on it.”

Jameson wanted to laugh, but he held back. “Well, it was very sweet of you. Are you okay? Why don’t you have more clothes on?”

Through her blubbering she explained, “I got hot. Then I got sick.”

Jameson’s medical training kicked in. He unraveled his arms and felt Odelia’s forehead. “You don’t seem to be running a temp. When did you get sick?”

“Actually, when I was making the bread. The smell of the pumpkin overwhelmed me. I guess that’s why I forgot to add it.”

Jameson led his wife to the sofa and sat next to her. “Have you felt sick all day?”

“Off and on.”

“Odelia? When’s the last time you had your period?”

Odelia looked up at her husband. “You got a haircut. It looks nice.”

“Thanks. Dr. Douglas thought perhaps I should take a little time to clean up before the holidays.” Jameson took a deep breath. “ Hon? Do you think you could be?”

Odelia stared at her husband. She liked it when Jameson let his hair grow. But she couldn’t deny that shorter hair made his brilliant eyes quite irresistible.

“Oh, Jameson. I don’t know! This autumn semester has been so busy. Could I be?”

The couple ran to the bathroom. Jameson had brought home a few pregnancy tests from the hospital after Odelia had skipped a period one other time. Jameson, being a doctor, was compelled to administer the test.

“I can do this myself, you know.”

“While you are quite brilliant as a theologian, you’ve had no medical training, my dearest Odelia.”

The couple quietly waited for the results to appear. After a couple of minutes, Jameson anxiously picked up the stick. He then looked at Odelia with an unflinching expression. Odelia reviewed the results. She laughed, nervously, before facing Jameson. The couple embraced in the small bathroom.

“Odelia? This may be the happiest moment of my life.”

“Mine too.”

Jameson stepped back and clutched his wife’s arms. “Would you like to open your Christmas gift now?”

“Jamie! You weren’t supposed to…”

“I know. But you’ll love this.”

Odelia followed Jameson into the kitchen as he pulled out a beautifully-wrapped gift from her favorite department store. Carefully she opened the package. A white eyelet string bikini lay in the folds of the decorative tissue. Odelia laughed.

“For the cruise, of course.” Jameson smiled.

“The cruise! Jameson! Wouldn’t I be due around September?”

“Well, I’m estimating August. Either way, I think the Mediterranean will have to wait a bit longer for us.”

Odelia walked over and sat on Jameson’s lap. “And maybe the bikini will go into storage for awhile.”

The happy couple kissed as the late afternoon rays of the sun began to cast shadows in the small apartment. It was their first Christmas, and they both were blessed with the gifts of the Magi.

Monday, December 8, 2008

NYC... It is Altogether...

"It is altogether an extraordinary growing, swarming, glittering, pushing, chattering, good-natured cosmopolitan place." -Henry James

Well-said Mr. James!

Doug and I took in as much of NYC as we could in two full days. We skimmed through many of the must-sees, but not all of them! We basically tasted it -- someday we'll go back for the full course.

As the New York skyline disappears while our plane flies us away, I am already missing the place. I swear I've been here before -- perhaps in another life? No, how silly of me. All of my favorite movies take place in New York. When you've watched You Got Mail as many times as I have...

But there's something more to this strange sense of homesickness I feel for a city that I would never want to live. It started when we visited Ellis Island. It's the spirit of my ancestors who braved the elements to make a new life here. Talk about courage. And our particular ancestors didn't stop in New York. They went another world away to the Midwest! (Perhaps the people in the burroughs scared them away...Or perhaps the open prairie beckoned them forth.)

So, while the commerce, architecture, history and the arts in New York genuinely intrigued me, I leave the city most inspired by the courage of all the immigrants who created the most eclectic culture in the world...starting in NYC, then permeating the rest of the great nation of ours.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Cross Necklace

Yesterday was the anniversary of my father-in-law's death. It's hard to believe that a full year has gone by without Mark physically among us.

Last night, the family joined together to celebrate the Mass dedicated to Mark. Then we convened after dinner for a few drinks and much laughter. Undoubtedly, a wonderful novel could be written about life on the Kramer Farm and perhaps it will be a project someday. But as I listened, I heard some of the untold and perhaps unrecognizable lessons taught by Mark and Mary Ann...

Lesson #1: Hard work builds character. And you're never too young to carry ten- gallon buckets of feed, chase cows in a cornfield or gather beheaded, bloody chickens.

Lesson #2: Helping others is rewarding -- even when you think you're free of chores because of your collegiate status. Pulling a calf isn't all that gross once you realize you've helped to bring new life into the world.

Lesson #3: Laughter is a great way to show love. I've seen my husband hug one of his sisters only once in the 17 years we've been together. (And that's when she won a new car.) But the Kramers know how to share stories and laugh together. And boy their laughter is contagious!

Lesson #4: Nothing is more important than God and family. Despite the lateness of the season, combines were shut off and schedules were re-arranged to attend Mass and spend an evening together.

The last lesson resonates with me because of an incident that happened long ago when Doug and I moved on the home place. I was busy carrying small boxes in the house, while the men were carrying larger furniture. While I noticed a bright gold chain laying on the ground, I chose to ignore it. Then one time, while standing outside contemplating which box to bring in next, Mark saw the chain and picked it up. He cleaned off the dirt and offered it to me. The chain had a gold cross pendant. I've worn it on many occasions since.

But on the day of Mark's funeral last year, I couldn't find it. Looking absolutely everywhere, I had to give up the search and felt horrible about not wearing the gift my father-in-law gave to me.

Then a few months later, on a particularly hectic day as I was cursing my busy life, the cross showed up in my car. It made me stop and remember what's truly important.
Even though he's gone I have no doubt that his spirit lives strongly among and within us.

Thank you, Mark, for the lessons you gave to your children and those they love.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Conversation

Please let me escape conversation today.

Martha readjusted her pillow, staring out the small airplane window. Typically, she used every public appearance to promote her business. But it had been a tiresome trip. Making arrangements for her dying mother was physically and emotionally exhausting.

The last time she had gone outside without make-up was when Rich rushed her to the hospital to deliver Anna. That was twenty-one years ago. No cosmetic had touched her face in the past three days. Ironically, her personal motto was to never leave the house without a killer pair of shoes and to always dress like you’re going to meet with the President. The President would have to accept a sweat suit today.

She closed her weary eyes. Her poor mother was all she could see. When did she grow so old? How did time get away so quickly? Two weeks was not enough time for her to say good-bye. Yesterday, Martha purchased a plane ticket to return to Des Moines next week. The store would have to operate without her for awhile. Rich could take care of himself. Rich probably enjoyed the freedom.

Rich. Richard. Richie.

“Shall I come with you,” he asked after Martha received the phone call, informing her of Martha’s mother’s deteriorating condition.

“No. You’re in the middle of a semester. I’m used to traveling alone.”

She saw a tinge of relief in his face. He would have gone if she would have asked. Why should he accompany her now? Just because her mother was sick didn’t mean they were automatically a couple again. The thought of her marriage made her sad, but she refused to do anything about it.

The jostling of a passenger buckling his belt next to her made her jump.

“Sorry, did I wake you up?”

A lanky, young man in need of a haircut was settling in the seat nearest the aisle. While she detected no accent, he had a dark complexion making him appear of either Hispanic or Indian descent. Suddenly, Martha was very concerned about how she looked. Then she remembered that she was forty-five.

“No. I wasn’t sleeping.”

The young man shot a sweet smile and took a book out of his backpack before stowing his bag under the seat in front of him.

How refreshing, she thought, not to see him wearing ear buds. His book was entitled Cry, the Beloved Country. It sounded familiar to her. Maybe she had read it before.

Finally, the restlessness in the jet subsided with the plane beginning its’ ascent to the sky. Martha was always fascinated how the chaos of the airport and boarding evaporated once they were airborne.

It seemed her wish for solitude had been granted, as her neighbor was completely preoccupied with his book. Now she felt like conversing.

“Are you from Des Moines?” she asked.

Hiding his annoyance from the interruption, he answered politely. “No, I’m actually from Phoenix and studying in Iowa. I’m going home for a long weekend.” He was hoping that answer would suffice.

“Really? What are you studying?”

“20th Century Modern American Literature. I’m a Master’s student at the U of Iowa.”

“Really? Is the 20th century considered modern?” asked Martha with sincerity.

“Modernism is merely the genre defined by American writers of the late 19th and early 20th century.” He hoped she really wasn’t interested in discussing the factors that defined Modernism.

“So is that book your reading considered modern?”

The young man smiled. “Not really. It takes place in South Africa in the 1940’s. You’ve never heard of it?”

Martha furrowed her brow, “I thought it sounded familiar. So, why are you reading it?”

“Merely, for pleasure. It’s one of my favorites.”

Martha nodded, “Oh, I see.”

After a short pause, Martha introduced herself. “I’m Martha, by the way.” She extended her hand. He decided to close his book and surrender himself to the conversation.

“I’m Zach. Nice to meet you Marta.”

She almost corrected him. But in an instant she decided that Marta sounded more exotic than Martha.

“So, are you going back to Phoenix for any special occasion? Or, do you just need a break from the cold?”

Zach smiled. “A break in the cold will be good, but I also happen to be going back for a very special purpose. I’m going to propose to my girlfriend.”

“How exciting! Does she have any clue?”

“She should. But she thinks I’m coming home only to celebrate my parents’ wedding anniversary.” Zach had envisioned how he’d propose at least a hundred times.

Martha identified a look of anxiety, pleasure and love on Zach’s face. Hadn’t her own Rich looked at her the same way a long time ago? Hadn’t he read her a beautiful and mystifying poem upon his proposal to her? Now, he seemed to only look at her in fear or disgust.

“Well, best of luck to both of you.”

“Thank you.” Zach answered. Then, as if he had forgotten his manners he asked, “And how about you? What’s your story? Are you from Des Moines?”

She knew he didn’t care about her story. She barely did herself.

“I used to be. I live in Phoenix now. I came back to Iowa to see my mother. She’s very sick.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Zach was quiet a moment. “So, do you have other family?”

“Oh, yes. My husband Rich and my daughter Anna. She’s a sophomore in college, with an undeclared major. Rich teaches at the college. A philosophy professor.”

“Wow. Philosophy? He’s obviously a bright man.”

“Oh, yes. He’s wickedly bright.” Martha laughed.

“And you? Do you work outside of the home?”

This was normally the time Martha provided a five minute commercial about her boutique – a boutique that had become financially successful beyond her dreams. But the past week had made her question what she gave up for the success.

“I own a small boutique.”

Zach nodded and wished he could think of more questions to ask the lady. Martha sensed Zach’s boredom in the conversation, so decided to excuse herself to the restroom. When she returned, she let Zach continue to indulge in his book while she rested and pondered.

She pondered her mother. How she loved the sweet woman and how she had visited so little in the past few years.

She pondered Anna and felt lonely for a mother-daughter relationship that seemed to be overshadowed by the father-daughter relationship in the house. Rich had done more than his share of raising Anna while Martha focused on her business. And she pondered Rich. He was a good man. Interesting. Still good-looking. Intelligent. Very intelligent. He used to have a great sense of humor. What happened to it? Martha knew. She killed it, with her drive to be successful. She took her stress out on Rich. How could he still possibly love her?

Finally, the plane began its’ descent into Phoenix. Martha and Zach exchanged pleasantries as they exited the plane. By the time they reached the unsecured area of the airport, Zach was long out of sight.

Martha combed through the crowd in attempt to find her ride home.

“Anna! I didn’t know you were coming to pick me up! Couldn’t your father make it?”

“Mom?” Anna looked bewildered. “Actually, I didn’t know…”

Anna was interrupted by a man sweeping her into his arms. Martha almost thought her daughter was being mugged, until she recognized the young man was Zach.

“Zach! I missed you so much, Zach!” She then playfully pushed him away. “Zach. I’d like you to meet my mother.”

Zach turned around to meet the lady he sat by on the airplane.

“Anna, we’ve already met!”

Zach formally extended his hand, “So, your Mrs. Cadwell? I guess I didn’t get your last name. Maybe I would have pieced it together then.”

Martha forced a smile, but felt embarrassed she didn’t know about Anna’s boyfriend --especially when an engagement was imminent.

Anna could sense Martha’s embarrassment. “Mom. I was going to bring Zach over to the house this weekend. How perfect that you met on the airplane!” Anna flashed a smile at Zach.

“Anna Banana? What are you doing here?” Rich made him way into the circle.

“Daddy!” Anna quickly hugged and kissed her father’s cheek. “How perfect. Dad, I’d like you to meet my boyfriend, Zach Lahiri. Mom already met him on the plane.”

“What a coincidence! So you’re the young man Anna’s been telling me about? Studying English at the U of Iowa, huh? I’m sure she told you that I received my undergraduate degree there.”

Zach extended his hand, “Yes, sir. I was extremely happy to hear that we would both be rooting for the Hawkeyes, despite their current losing streak.”

Martha watched the interaction as if she were a third party observer with her attention focused on her husband. She noticed Rich’s dark thick hair, now speckled with gray. She noticed the natural smile he flashed as he spoke with their daughter’s new boyfriend. She noticed how Rich asked questions and listened. He studied people because he was genuinely interested. “My God,” Martha thought, “he’s spent our entire marriage listening to me. And how could he have possibly cared about the infinite details of lady’s apparel? He’s a brilliant man. I’ve barely asked him anything about his work, his life. And he’s done nothing but hear me rant for twenty-three years.”

Rich turned to his wife and gave her a conciliatory hug. “Are you doing okay?”

Martha hugged him back, something she hadn’t done in a long time, whispering in his ear, “I know I look like shit.”

“No. You look beautiful. Like always. As a matter of fact, I like you best in no make-up and sweats.”

“Mom?” Anna interrupted. “How’s Grandma?”

Martha stared at her daughter, considering her response. “Honey, Grandma’s very sick. But we’ve had some wonderful talks. Maybe you’d like to travel back to Iowa with me next week to see her?” Martha glanced at Rich. “Maybe you and Dad would both like to come?”

Rich nodded. “We’ll come with you. Don’t try to take this on by yourself, Mart.”

Then Martha buried her head into her husband’s chest and cried. “Thank you, Rich. Thanks for putting up with me all these years.”

Rich caressed his wife’s hair. “Thanks for coming home.”

Zach and Anna watched the couple’s tender moment. Anna was relieved to see her parents showing affection to each other. Zach kissed Anna on the top of her head and thought to himself, “Someday. That will be us.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Peter and Kimberly

“Is something wrong? You don’t seem like yourself today.”

Peter had been unusually quiet this morning, and his office mate, Kimberly wondered if she had done something wrong. At first she enjoyed the peace.

“No. It’s nothing.”

Satisfied with Peter’s response, Kimberly took a sip of her coffee and studied the proposal on her computer screen. She was in the middle of editing the second paragraph when Peter began.

“Well, Kimmie. You know me too well. I don’t get much past you, do I?” Peter took a deep breath. “It’s Bill.”

Bill. Bill. Who was Bill again? She definitely had heard of Bill, but couldn’t put him into context. Was he the boyfriend or one of the pets?

“Bill? Really? What’s wrong with Bill?”

“He’s not acting right. I put him in his roller ball last night, like normal, and he just stood there looking at me with his cute little beady eyes.”

Of course. The hamster. Bill was Peter’s hamster.

“Oh, well, maybe Bill was too tired last night.” Kimberly tried to appear concerned.

“Too tired! No way, not my Billy. Ever since I got him two years ago, he’s never been too tired for a roller ball ride. There’s definitely something wrong.”

“Is he eating?” Kimberly sometimes was amazed at their conversations. Peter was an engineering genius. She relied on him so much for his quick ability to solve the most difficult engineering challenges. But the poor guy’s personal life was pathetic.

“He never did eat very much, so I can’t tell.”

“Maybe you should take him to the vet.”

“Last time I went to the vet, they took my pet away. Remember Becky?”

It wasn’t Becky that she remembered so much. But she remembered the grieving period. Peter wore black for a month. Kimberly had thought all along that Becky was at least a dog or a cat the way her office mate spoke of the animal. He took Becky on trips with him. He’d curl up with a good book and Becky sleeping in his arms. He even made Becky a winter sweater. Kimberly was amused when she saw the scrapbook of Becky, the guinea pig.

“But Peter, if Bill’s suffering, you have to put him out of his misery.”

Peter was quiet and Becky felt sorry for him, despite her indifference to hamsters.

“I need a break.” Peter stood up quickly and Becky couldn’t help but notice that his pants were completely unzipped. Again. She really wished she hadn’t noticed the candy cane striped underwear. There’s no way she could tell him.

Peter briskly walked out of the double cubicle space with his head down. Unaware of his surroundings, he ran into a tall, large woman in a purple pinstriped suit. It was their boss, Dina Moore. Kimberly watched the interaction, wishing she could hear the details of the conversation.

Dina brushed Peter’s bangs out of his face, probably asking him if he was okay. She nodded as Peter talked, with a genuine look of concern. Then she furrowed her eyebrow and spoke slowly. Then Peter started to walk away. Dina quickly stopped him and said one more thing before moving on. Peter looked at his pants and immediately zipped them up.

Kimberly went back to work. Peter returned after thirty minutes. To Kimberly, his absence seemed like thirty seconds.

“Here you go, Matey.” Peter set a cappuccino next to Kimberly. He then plopped into his chair, sipping a mango banana fruit smoothy with a pile of whipped cream topping. Peter would never notice the dried whipped cream on his upper lip. “Nothing like a fruit smoothie to cheer you up!”

“Thanks for the cappuccino, Peter.”

“Anytime.”

Even though Peter was incredibly annoying, he always made the work day interesting. Just when she thought she couldn’t stand another minute with Peter, he would do something like buy her a cappuccino.

“Hey, you want to come out dancing with me tomorrow night? You promised you’d try it one of these weeks! You know, when I offered you that idea in the Misek Proposal.

Now she was obligated. She absolutely hated country music, Peter’s favorite genre.

With a sigh, she agreed.

“Hey, if you’re busy, you don’t have to.”

“No, I’ll go. I want to. It’ll be fun.”

“That’s the spirit! I worry about you sometimes, all cooped up in your apartment. Never doing anything cool.”

Kimberly smiled to herself and tried to focus on her work. “Okay, Peter. Let’s get to work. I can’t let you distract me anymore.”

Then it happened. Without any warning, flatulence overcame Kimberly’s petite body. Not only was it loud, but it was long – as if she couldn’t quit. With utter dismay, she shot a glance at Peter. Peter studied Kimberly. When the passing of the gas had passed, he asked, “Are you okay?”

As if she didn’t understand what she had just done, Kimberly responded, “Yes?”

Then Peter laughed. And so did Kimberly. They laughed until tears rolled down their faces.

“Kimberly? You never fail to surprise me! Wait ‘til Mom hears this one!”

Then Kimberly quit laughing.

But only for a split-second.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Grandma Dot's Journal

November 27: Temperature reached a high of 63. Mostly sunny. Nice for November.

Eighty-three Thanksgivings now. Today I was ready by 8:30 a.m. and waited on the porch until 9:20 for Sully to pick me up. I wasn’t supposed to bring anything, but my pies always seem to go over so well. This must sound like bragging! I made an apple, pumpkin and peach. Not one piece was left to bring home. I’m glad. I don’t like pie.

Sully has a new car. I can’t remember what kind, but it was pretty and silver. I wonder what his father would think about him driving something foreign. Sully told me that I looked nice and was glad I baked the pies. He knew Anna told me not to, but he told me secretly to bring them anyway. We had a nice talk in the car. He said that Max will be doing his residency in California. I was happy for him even though he’ll be clear across the country. Sara was promoted to a vice president and is now the manager in her division. She’s still not engaged, even though she has dated the same guy for five year. I asked about Zach. Sully said he was glad that Zach finally landed a bank job. I said that doesn’t sound like Zach. Sully didn’t say anything.

Dinner was good. Sully picked himself a pretty darn nice wife. If I would have had a daughter, I would want one like her –not that I don’t like my other daughter-in-laws. They’re pretty nice, but Anna’s a bit more sincere than the rest. She’s the only person in the family to call Sully by his real name, David. When I told her that he got the nickname because he was an amazingly moody two-year old, she said she would only call him Sully when he was in a bad mood.

Anna always asks me to help in the kitchen, so I do. Today I helped her make scalloped corn and mashed potatoes. She can never figure out why my mashed potatoes are so good. I sneak in some sour cream and put twice as much butter as she puts out for me to use. How many times have I written in this diary, complaining about the amount of potatoes I’ve made in my life? Now I look forward to it.

Everybody made it this year, except, of course, Raymond. He’s been gone for three years now, but holidays still feel strange without him. I supposed they always will now.

I was worried that my Zach wouldn’t be there today. He didn’t come last year and the entire day felt wrong. But he came today and brought a sweet little girlfriend named Claire. I can’t deny a little of my disappointment about him going into banking, but his parents are proud. I love all my grandchildren, but there’s something special about Zach. I asked him several times to play me something on the piano. He kept saying “Later, Grandma.” Finally, I told him that I wouldn’t leave until he played me something. I don’t like being a pest, but sometimes I must. He played and sang a song he’d written about his girlfriend. Of course it was beautiful. Then I asked him, “You won’t let this banking job get in the way of your music, will you?” He smiled at me. “Hope not Grandma. But like Dad tells me, I got to grow up sometime.” He said it in a way that made me sad.

When I was young and always had Thanksgiving at the house, I used to hide in the bathroom. Actually I hid in the bathroom even when it wasn’t Thanksgiving. I just needed some alone time. I always thought to myself, “If I smoked, I’d be smoking right now.” Now, I long for those days when my children were young. The noise, the action, the incessant requests. But it’s enjoyable to observe the chaos from my position now. But I still miss the craziness of that life. I even miss hiding in the bathroom. I don’t need to hide anymore. Quiet surrounds me.

I’m thankful for my kids. They all take time to visit me. Never do I want to be an obligation, but I fear that’s what I’ve become. For a person who…

Sorry, I was just interrupted and can’t remember what my last thought was. But my interruption was a nice surprise! Zach came by to drop off my pie plates that I forgot. He sat and talked with me for over an hour. I asked him why all the sudden he decided to be a banker. Then I found out that his little Claire is expecting and they are getting married in a few weeks. They were going to announce at Thanksgiving, but he decided to tell me first before telling the rest. Isn’t he a sweetie? So, that explains the job. I asked if he was going to stay in his band. He didn’t know. I told him that I was proud of him no matter what. Since his brother is in med school and his sister is an engineer, he doesn’t get as much encouragement. I love my Sully, but he’s an awful lot like his father. Zach asked me what I thought of Claire. I laughed and said she was a dish. He laughed and said he’d pass on the compliment. When he turned to leave I told him never to give up his music. He said “Grandma, I have more important things to worry about now.” I said “Zach, you have a gift from God. Don’t forget to thank Him for it.” He smiled and gave me a hug. Then he said, “I love you, Grandma Dot” and it almost made me cry, but I didn’t. I just told him that I loved him too.

I’m tired, but will go to my piano and play a song before I go to bed. Arthritis hasn't taken that away from me yet. Tonight: As Time Goes By.

Yours Truly,
Dorothy Marie

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

I recently finished reading this classic novel which takes place in South Africa in the 1940's. I'm unsure how this amazing piece of literature completely escaped any of my high school or college curricula, but it did.

The poetic, lyrical and emotionally-charged novel depicts a tragic event that exposes the demise of the native tribes along with the European exploitation of South Africa's natural resources. It gives insight into the issues of apartheid that have afflicted the country for so long.

Anyway, I end with this recommendation with a quote to give you a taste of the beautiful prose:

"Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply."

Cry, The Beloved Country Alan Paton

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Grandma Ruby's Gift

The other night I had a dream about Grandma Ruby. She was sitting in her wheelchair, looking bright eyed, her hair freshly-styled and telling me a story about my great aunt Myrtle. The significance of the dream wasn't the story she told me, but how wonderful it felt to be talking with her again. Grandma died in 1998 and I haven't dreamt about her in awhile. I guess I miss her.

Race relations have preoccupied my mind lately. Not so much because of the presidential campaign, because of books I've been reading. Earlier this summer I read Warriors Don't Cry which detailed the experience of the nine black high school students who dared to integrate in 1957. Now I'm reading one of the most poignant novels I've ever read, Cry the Beloved Country, which takes place in South Africa in the late 1940's. I'm not finished yet, but recently read a passage which explores how a person's perspective on racial injustices develops.

Two nights ago, Cole asked me, "Mom? Grandma was in a wheelchair, right?"

"Yes, for the last eight years of her life, she was."

"Was she black?"

I wasn't sure what he was asking. "Do you mean was her wheelchair black?"

"No. Was Grandma black? Like her skin black?"

"No."

"Oh. I was just wondering."

I'm unsure where the question came from, but it made me contemplative. Grandma was a good person. She was easy to make happy, always laughing a lot. But the best thing about Grandma? She wasn't judgemental, always willing to accept anyone and everyone into her circle of friendship. She most definitely wasn't a prejudiced person -- this was an exceptional quality, especially for a person who grew up in a community that wasn't particulary welcoming of diversity. When I married in 1994, it was somewhat of an issue for a Protestant to marry a Catholic. After telling Grandma about my engagement to a Catholic, she smiled and said, "It's good for families to mix religions."

Grandma didn't have a lot of money. But in addition to her love, she gave me a very important gift I only most recently realized. She gave me the perspective of acceptance. Without acceptance, I never would have understood the importance of diversity in enriching my life and the lives of those I love.

Thank you Grandma Ruby. I love you.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Summer of the Butterfly and Lightning Bugs by Stef Kramer

Jenna sat on her front steps eating buttered toast and sipping coffee. A monarch butterfly was furiously flying around her. Its’ rapid movement caused her to flinch a few times.

“Aren’t you supposed to be a peaceful creature?”

Every morning in the summer Jenna went outside to pray before she went to work. Sometimes she forgot to pray. And sometimes she didn’t finish her breakfast there either.

The deep orange wings of the Monarch reminded her of something oriental. Although her only experience with the orient was an occasional meal at the local Chinese restaurant. She loved fried rice with the steamed vegetables.

Throwing her crust and the rest of her coffee on the ground, she took notice of her grass. “Tonight I must mow.” The one flower pot in front of her house needed to be tossed. The bright pink wave petunias that were sold at the grocery store had appealed to her so much that for a week she considered gardening as a hobby. But she kept forgetting to water the flowers and set them in a location that rarely saw the sun.

After setting her coffee mug back inside and quickly brushing her teeth, Jenna went to work. On her way she plotted out her day. Baths, haircuts, exercises. Lunch was hamburger gravy today. This afternoon she would help with a new admission. Jenna understood the daily routine of the nursing home so well that she could even predict when a resident was going to die.

She had been an aide for the past six years. Her wage was on the high end of the scale because she was skilled in her position, and she worked a lot -- signing up for additional shifts and covering for anyone who called in sick. She devoted herself completely to the job after her husband left her. After all, she needed something to occupy her time. Something different from drinking or doing drugs. Although it had only been six years, those days were now a distant memory. And so were a few friends who walked away during her transition from party girl to working girl. At least her family talked to her again.

“Good morning, Sandy!” Jenna greeted her manager brightly.

Sandy looked up soberly. “Hi Jenna. Come in and sit down a minute.” Sandy motioned Jenna into her office. Jenna felt a sense of panic. Had she done something wrong? What had she forgotten?

“Fred died. Sometime in the night.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in. “Fred? No! Not Fred. He was fine yesterday when I left. We had a long talk. He felt good!” Jenna put her head in her hands. Many residents had died during her time at the nursing home. Some saddened her. Some relieved her. But none had truly grieved her. Until now. She looked up at her boss.

“But I always know, Sandy. I always know when they’re going to go. I should’ve known if Fred was ready.”

Fred appeared to be a bitter man with a consistent scowl on his face. Jenna had become good friends with him because of her ability to combat his sharp tongue. She knew behind the critical fa├žade was a gentle soul who never quite got over the death of his wife. They never had children and Fred never remarried.

“It was just his time, Sweetie. We can’t always tell.” Sandy rubbed the young lady’s back. “Hey. At least he died peacefully.”

Jenna wiped her eyes, stood up and said, “I gotta get to work.”

Sandy wanted to tell her to take the day off, but she needed her help too badly. Besides, how could she start letting her staff off for residents dying?

Jenna performed her duties the rest of the day solemnly and avoided Fred’s common hangout areas when possible. A few of the other aides and nurses offered words of consolation to Jenna, but she shrugged them off and responded, “We all gotta go sometime.”

Jenna went home that night and mowed, trimmed and watered her dead petunia. Maybe she could bring it back to life if she moved it into the sun. Instead of eating supper, she took a shower, curled into bed and thumbed through the local college’s course offerings for the fall semester. Fred had told her she should become a nurse.

“No money.”

“So! I’ll loan you some.”

“I’d never pay you back. Never loan money to your friends.”

“Who says you’re a friend?”

She liked the idea of being a nurse. An RN. It made her feel proud to wear scrubs and she wondered how many people assumed she was a nurse. Her mother and sister always called her for health advice. She spent a lot of time on the web researching medical conditions. Especially the long-term effect of drug abuse.

She turned off her reading lamp and watched outside the window. The summer evenings had been filled with lightning bugs, unlike any summer she could ever remember. She watched the glow of the insects flicker until she fell asleep.

She got ready for work in the same manner she did every other day. But as she ate her breakfast on the front steps, she noticed the butterfly was gone. And her petunia didn’t look any better.

When she arrived at work, Fred’s nephew was in the office paying a bill. She smiled politely at him as he passed her by. He didn’t really recognize her, or any of the aides in the building.

Jenna walked into Sandy’s office.

“Sandy?”

“Hey, Kiddo. Doing any better today?”

“I’m enrolling into the nursing program. Today. Is that okay with you?”

Sandy smiled, nervously. “Jenna. You’d make a wonderful nurse. Of course I’d support you.” She paused a moment. “Have you thought about how you’re going to finance it?”

“Yeah. I’ve got some resources.” Jenna had failed in many areas of her life, but she was good at saving money.

Sandy sighed. “I know you and Fred were close. But his nephew just informed us that Fred left everything to charity.”

“Good for Fred. He was a good man.” Then Jenna’s forehead creased. “Why did you tell me that anyway? Do you think I expected some of Fred’s money?” Jenna felt her blood start to boil.

“Hey -- don’t get cross with me. He talked many times about leaving you some. I just didn’t want you to be disappointed.”

Jenna started to cry. “The only thing that disappoints me is that I lost my friend yesterday. And I don’t have so many, you know.”

Sandy stood up and hugged her. “I’m your friend.”

Jenna backed away and wiped her nose. “Thanks.”

“Now, why don’t you take off and get yourself signed up for next semester. Before you change your mind.”

Jenna walked slowly out of the facility and took a deep breath. As she looked over the well-landscaped courtyard, she noticed a monarch butterfly feverishly flying toward her. She raised her arm, and the butterfly landed harshly on her hand. It fluttered twice then flew away. She waved and called out. “Hey! I’m on my way.”

And then Jenna went on to make her way.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Ballerina Slipper by Alex Kramer


“Wow! Thanks grandma!” said Kia.

“You’re very welcome, Kia,” said her Grandma Joyce. “It’s was mine when I was a girl you know. It’s been passed down from generation to generation in my family.” Kia’s grandma had just given her a pearly white, ballerina slipper! The ornamental slipper was made from real pearls. It had Alexandrite gems streaming all around the bottom rim and engraved in silver the words “To A Real Ballerina” with a little gold heart right above it. It was the most beautiful thing Kia had ever seen.

“Now Kia,” said her grandma, taking Kia out of her trance. “Never let anyone take that from you. It’s very old and very delicate.”

“I promise, Grandma!” said Kia.

10 years later

“Wow! I would have loved to get something like that when I was five!” said Camille, Kia’s best friend. Kia had just shown Camille the ballerina slipper.

“Thanks! I always bring it with me before a big test like this one,” said Kia, beaming. “Just for good luck.” Kia and Camille walked into class, took their seats, and took the test.

They’d just finished the test and were headed home.

“That test was sooo hard,” said Camille. “I can’t believe I even finished it!”

“Speak for yourself,” Kia said. “I had, like, nine questions left.”

Camille was staying at Kia’s house for the weekend while her parents were away. They got home with the greeting of Kia’s dog barking and shouting from the inside.

“Be quiet you stupid dog,” said a man’s voice Kia had never heard before.

“Come on! It’s not here,” said another man’s voice, also unfamiliar. “We’ll just have to tell the boss what happened.”

“Hide behind this tree!” said Kia so frantically it made Camille jump. They ran behind the nearest tree while the door opened and the men walked out. Camille stuck her head out a little. One man looked around at the tree while Camille quickly ducked.

“I think there’s someone behind that tree,” said the man.

“Don’t be stupid,” said the other man. “That girl couldn’t have walked home so fast.” The men left, and Kia and Camille came out from behind the tree, both puzzled.

“Who were those guys?” asked Camille, she still had a puzzled look on her face. “What were they looking for?”

“I don’t know, but it must be something valuable,” answered Kia. She was hoping it wasn’t her slipper, but she had half a mind that it was. They walked in and saw that nothing was messed up. They both set their bags down and walked up to Kia’s room and sat on her bed, listening to music and reading magazines. Then suddenly they heard a scream! They both looked out the window at the same time. The two men were grabbing a woman’s purse and telling her to be quiet. Kia ran outside grasping the slipper while Camille darted after her. Kia bounded out the door with Camille (who had finally caught up) and raced toward the woman!

“Stop!” yelled Kia.

“Let go of her purse!” yelled Camille. The men dropped the purse and the woman ran in terror. Both men were staring at the slipper in Kia’s hand.

“Get the slipper!” one yelled. Kia ran, Camille couldn’t keep up. Kia kept running! She turned into a corner and saw it was a dead end!

“Give us the slipper,” said one man.

“No! It was my grandma’s and I’ll never give it up!” yelled Kia in terror. “Why do you want it anyway?”

“Cause it’s worth a lot of money and we were paid to get ‘em from ya.” said the other man.

“What do you mean ‘them’?” challenged Kia. “I only have one.”

“We found the other one in a box at your house addressed to you,” said a man while he pulled out another ornamental ballet slipper and was made from pink pearl with light green Peridot gems running around the top half. Engraved in gold were the words “To Ballerinas with Grace” with another little heart right above it only this time the heart was silver. Then the man pulled out a heart-shaped locket with a ruby inside.

“This stupid thing was also for you,” said the man and tossed the locket to her. She caught it as she lunged forward for the other slipper. Once she had the slipper, she started to run when she heard sirens from a police car. Camille had called the police! They arrived just in time to catch the robbers.

“Thanks,” said Kia.

“Your welcome,” said Camille in reply. They answered a few questions from the police and walked home.

The End…For Now

See next time what happens to Kia and Camille as they unlock more mysteries of the ballerina slippers.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Library Card

It was 10:02 AM.

“Wonder what’s keeping Mr. Lake? He’s two minutes past the hour,” sardonically thought the librarian who was pulling her daily past due report.

Within seconds of the thought, Mr. Lake burst through the entrance of the library. Flashing a smile, he held his convenience-store coffee in one hand and waved with the other.

“Good morning, Miss Ptacek.” How he loved to pronounce her last name.

His daily greeting irritated her. She had told him on numerous occasions to call her by her first name, April.

“Good morning.” She never called him by any name.

He headed straight to the daily periodicals, grabbed the Wall Street Journal and took a seat in the worn-out orange plaid chair. Even though he received the subscription at the office, he preferred to come here. It wasn’t Starbucks, but it was away from the office. After glancing through the headlines, he specifically researched the price of his stocks and mutual funds, as he did every day. Most of his portfolio had been going down lately. At least he had a sizeable amount still held in the bank. While his return at the bank was ridiculously low, as he made known to his banker, the FDIC insurance gave him some peace of mind.

He sipped his coffee and casually perused the paper after recording his stock prices on the notebook he kept in his pocket. He had one eye on the paper and one eye on the librarian. She looked nothing like his wife. Mrs. Lake had long brunette hair, deep green eyes and a tall and lean build. She was one of the most beautiful creatures he had ever laid eyes on. He stared at her every morning as she slept, never waking before he left for the office.

April Ptacek was short and slightly overweight. She kept her hair cut short to keep her dry-ends from splitting. She had thick glasses and hardly ever applied cosmetics to her face. Everyday she wore a short-sleeve tight cotton t-shirt, in various colors, with either khaki pants or a denim skirt.

“Yes, this is April Ptacek from the library calling. You have three books overdue. Please bring them back as soon as possible. Your late fee is one dollar for each book and each day they're late. Please note that there is a waiting list for A Thousand Splendid Suns. Thank you.”

April hung up the phone and started to dial her next number on the list when she noticed Mr. Lake standing in front of her.

“So, do you have a lot of calls to make today?”

April looked up at the man. Don’t you have anything better to do? “Yes, there are quite a few today. It’s Monday. Everyone forgets to bring them back by the weekend.”

“I bet you get some real hotheads on the phone, huh?”

Why was this man talking to me? “Not really. People are generally nice.”

Mr. Lake nodded. April waited for him to say more. “Can I help you with anything, Mr. Lake?”

Trying to think of something to say, he asked, “Yes. Uh, just wondering if you had any recommendations for some summer reading?”

It was August. “Well, of course. I always post my summer picks on the board right over there.”

He glanced at the board, “Oh. Okay. Well, I guess I’ll take a look then. Thanks.”

She sighed. “What kind of books do you like to read?”

"About anything really. Mystery. Humor.” He hadn’t read anything but legal briefs in years, so he wasn’t sure what genre he liked anymore. What was the last book he even read? Perhaps it was The Sound and the Fury in college. He hadn’t really enjoyed it.

“Humor, huh?” Why did this man insist on visiting with her everyday. Aren’t lawyers supposed to be too busy to be messing around at a library? “Hold on.” She left her desk and retrieved a book from a nearby shelf. “Have you read any Bill Bryson?”

He hesitated, “Maybe. Not sure.”

“Here, check this one out. He’s a very witty writer. It might be a nice break from depositions, or whatever it is that you lawyers do.”

He took the book from her hand and read the insert. “The Life and Time of the Thunderbolt Kid, huh? Sounds intriguing!”

Intriguing? A non-fiction memoir of a kid growing up in Iowa sounds intriguing? “Well, it’s entertaining, at least.” She added in a pedantic tone.

Then he looked into her eyes and gratefully remarked, “Thank you very much, April. I really appreciate the recommendation.”

His heartfelt thanks caught her off guard. Suddenly she felt guilty about all of the harsh thoughts she aimed toward him. She smiled, sincerely. “You’re very welcome, Mr. Lake. Anytime.”

“George. Please just call me George.”

“Okay, then, George. Can I see your library card?”

George Lake had come in every day for well over ten years but had never obtained a library card. April recognized the anxiety in his eyes. Yesterday she would have made him suffer through an explanation as to why he didn't carry a card. But not today.

“Lost it, didn’t you? No problem. Let me type you a new one.”

He gently took the card from the librarian, held it in his hands a moment and carefully placed it in his wallet. This man was accustomed to receiving high-end gifts. Plasma TVs. The I-Pod phone. A trip to the Caribbean. Even a new Gator for his vacation home in Colorado. But none of those gifts gave him the feeling this new library card did.

“Two weeks.”

“What?” he asked in somewhat of a daze.

“Return the books in two weeks. Or, I’ll be calling you!” April joked with him.

“Right! Two weeks.” He picked up his coffee and newly checked-out book. “See you tomorrow. April.”

He walked out of the library with a particular hop in his step. April watched him leave.

“See you tomorrow. George.”

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Unwelcome Visitor

You came by in the middle of the night and decided to stay awhile. It's been a long time since I've heard from you, and I had no bribes to make you go away. So you stayed and made your presence well-known.

You suck the life out of me. When you're here I can't read, write, talk. I can't even sleep. It's impossible to get comfortable when you're here. Sometimes I'm not sure if it's really you. You hurt so badly, could it really be you? Or is it something worse? Am I dying?

What in the world brings you here? Lord knows I've researched you to death. Is it hormones? Dairy? Nuts? Weather-fronts? Allergies? Nuts? Cheese? Stress? All of the above?

Today, I'm better after my husband delivered the medicine. Three doses of migraine medicine makes me somewhat functional, but your effects still linger. I'm tired, as if I've been beat up. You're not completely gone, so I worry about your return. But I pray you go away. Please go away, so I can be a person again.

I want to be that person that listens to my family with enthusiasm. That person who is ready to take on the world and get stuff done! But I can't when you're here. So please, once again, go away so that I can live.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Freedom

I asked my son,Cole, why we celebrated the 4th of July. His response:

"Because we like to do fireworks, picnics and play on rides."

An appropriate response for a six-year old, I think. Then I asked my daughter, Alex, to tell me what freedom meant to her. An aspiring writer herself, she wrote the following:

"Freedom to me means not being controlled, because we shouldn’t have to be. Anyone who thinks that he or she should be given more freedom than another is not recognizing another human being’s freedom. Slavery was a time when almost all African-Americans were given very little freedom or power. So freedom to me is not being controlled, it’s being free to choose what you want to do."

Alex, age 11

I hope my children never take their freedom for granted, as it can be an easy thing to do.

As I worked on my garden this morning, I made a list of the freedoms I'm thankful for. Here's what I came up with:

1) To go outside and feel safe.
2) To get into my car and drive anywhere I choose.
3) To talk to whoever I want.
4) To express my opinion.
5) To learn, especially to read.
6) To marry the person I fell in love with and still love.
7) To work in a pleasant environment.
8) To appreciate diversity.
9) To protect my children and raise them in a safe surrounding.
10)To create my own life.

Obviously not everyone in America enjoys these freedoms. But I pray everyone can enjoy at least some of these, someday.

What does freedom mean to my husband? I'd ask, but he's on his motorcycle, enjoying the freedom of the road.

Have a joyous weekend and God Bless America.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Thanks Erin Smith!

Erin Smith was the first to review Goodbye Def Leppard on Amazon! My sales are well-exceeding my expectations. Thanks for all your support and look for my next novel to be published soon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Naomi

He was so angry. Still so angry. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Maybe it was everything. He rolled over and coaxed himself out of bed. Shouldn’t he be happy that it’s Saturday? And he had the day off to spend with her?

Out of duty, he went to the other bedroom to check on his six-month old daughter.

“Now you sleep.”

He wanted to feel love. He was supposed to feel love. Caressing her head and studying her petite little face, fair skin and curly blonde hair, he thought, “You look so much like your mother.”

The silence in the house was welcome from last night. By the fifth bout of blood-curling screams, he covered his head with a pillow and let her cry herself to sleep. He refused to bring the baby into his bed. He resolved never to do that.

He sifted through the newspaper, barely digesting the headlines. Then a combination of anger, desire and resolution ran through his entire being. He picked up his cell phone.

“Mary? Can you watch Naomi today? I need to do some things.”

His sister, along with his two nieces, always took Naomi without question.

Naomi.

He chose the name, almost out of spite. When the nurse told him he needed to pick out a name, he looked at the nurse’s nametag and said, “Fine. It’s Naomi then.”

“And the middle name?”

“Does she need a middle name?”

“I guess not.”

His wife wanted the name Grace Maria. She shouldn’t have left him then.

After a quick shower and a few swallows of a Mountain Dew, he walked into the nursery. Naomi lay on her back, breathing rhythmically.

“Okay, Baby. Let’s start the routine.”

Gently picking her up, she awoke with a start. When she started to whimper, he cut her off.

“Don’t start with me already.” The baby sensed the impatience and watched her father.

He changed her dirty diaper, a task he abhorred, and dressed her in a Harley Davidson sleeper.

“Today, I ride. Let’s get you fed so I can get the hell out of here.”

He drove to his sister’s house and dropped off Naomi.

“Not sure when I’ll be back.”

”No problem. We’re not doing anything today.”

He drove back home, parked his truck and rolled his motorcycle out of the garage.

Finally, he was free.

It was probably a little too windy to be riding today, but he didn’t care. He was going to ride. Maybe even get drunk. Maybe find a woman. He needed to forget the mother of his child.

Fighting the wind matched his mood. “Bring it on,” he thought. He never felt fear. Not now.

By the afternoon, he found himself in a small town a few hours away from home. It was time to quench his thirst.

He pulled up a barstool and ordered a beer. The bartender was young and very pretty. She had a dark complexion with short, dark hair. Her snug t-shirt and tight jeans accentuated her nearly perfect figure. It was the first time he had noticed a woman in six months.

“What are you ridin?” She asked, smacking her gum.

“A Harley.”

“What kind of Harley?”

The girl seemed to know a fair bit about motorcycles. And that’s how the conversation started. With the few other customers in the bar, her interest in him grew apparent as her face inched closer to his. He enjoyed the attention And the attraction.

“How old are you anyway?” He asked, but he didn’t really care.

“21. I’m still going to college.”

That was good enough for him.

“How late do you work?”

She smiled, “Why? Are you inviting me on a date?”

He wasn’t thinking date, so much. “Maybe.”

“Well. I need to ask you something first. You’re not, like married or anything like that, are you? I’m just asking because I’ve gotten into trouble for that before.”

The question made his heart stop. He looked at the girl in front of him, who now suddenly looked like a twelve-year old girl. What would her father think?

Suddenly, he stood up. “I’m sorry. I need to go.”

The bartender stood smacking her gum and watched the rider go. “Yep. He’s married.”

He jumped on his Harley and sped home. When he reached his hometown, he drove to the cemetery. To apologize.

Kneeling beside the headstone with the freshly dug earth, he wiped his forehead.

“I’m sorry, Hon. This is just so hard. Raising this baby by myself. I don’t know if I can do it.”

He didn’t cry when she died. He didn’t cry at the funeral. He didn’t cry after the funeral. Until now.

“I was mad at you. Mad you left me alone to raise her. People don’t die in childbirth anymore. Don’t you know that?”

He cried again.

“I’m worried that I’ll never love this baby the way I’m supposed to. I look at her and it reminds me that you’re not here. It’s wrong to think that way, I know.”

Then he stood up. The wind swept through him. A bird landed on the her gravestone.He watched the bird that seemed to be watching him.

"OK. I need to change. I need to do more than take care of her, don't I?"

Suddenly, he desired nothing but to be holding Naomi.

When he went to his sister's house, the baby was crying.

“She just started getting fussy, but doesn’t seem to want a bottle.”

"She likes her head rubbed.” He took the baby and sat in a rocking chair. Caressing her head stopped the crying. She smiled at her father.

“That’s my Naomi.”

And he smiled. Love had finally filled his heart again.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Lion Kings of our Lives by Stefanie E Kramer


“I was scared today.” Mufasa tells his son Simba after sharply reprimanding him for visiting the forbidden elephant graveyard. Even though I’ve seen the animated version of The Lion King at least 520 times with my two children, the live production, and this scene in particular, cast my mind into a thoughtful deliberation of father and son relationships.

Immediately to my left, seats my husband, Douglas Mark, whom at the age of 38 still looks handsome and becomes more distinguished-looking with each gray hair he sprouts. On his lap sits our five-year old, blue-eyed, blonde son, Cole Douglas who, of course, is completely irresistible. Despite his preference for a Star Wars reenactment of a light-saber fight; his near-constant smile indicates he’s deeply engaged in the beautiful lion story. The scene beside me is as touching as the tale being told on stage. It especially moves me since I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying that Doug is too harsh on Cole.

Immediately to my right is the open seat which was previously occupied by Cole. Then is seated my dad, who at age 61 maintains a youthful and bright-eyed appearance. His age is given away only at the moment you realize he can’t hear what you’re saying. (My daughter and my mother are seated next in the row, but they are atypically excluded from this particular reflection.) Dad, or Ronnie Ray, as he was named by his mother, also shares his father’s name, Ray. My grandfather died at the young age of 44 in a trucking accident. Dad was sixteen at the time. What I know about my grandpa is that he was handsome (my own assessment from photographs), an ingenious mechanic (as mentioned by anyone who knew him), and particularly tough on his only son. Dad never recounts a story to glorify my grandfather. As a matter of fact, my Dad’s anecdotes usually underscore his father’s foolish wisdom, such as “I remember complaining to my Dad about the same old vacation we took to Wisconsin every year. He told me I’d be lucky to travel outside of the Midwest. Wonder what he’d think now.” (Dad has traveled to almost every state in the U.S. and to several countries abroad.) Dad also told me when he was young, his father made him take a job as a “substitute” paperboy. The regular paperboy paid my dad a nickel per route, while he himself still got to keep 25 cents. Upon complaining to his father about the injustice of the pay, my grandpa simply said, “You shouldn’t be so greedy! You should be grateful for the opportunity!” Despite the austere descriptions my dad created of his own father, he deeply missed him at various times of his life, especially when I was born -- the only child he would ever have.

Doug, who coincidentally shares his middle name with my father-in-law, Mark, often relates snippets of his past which are very foreign to my own upbringing. Instead of being bombarded with accolades from a very young age, probably beyond merit, as I was, Doug doesn’t remember receiving one compliment from his Dad. My father-in-law (God rest his soul), was an extremely generous and well-respected citizen of the community. But, he didn’t attend Doug’s math bee when he was young. He never patted Doug on the back when he made an all-tournament baseball team. He was quick to point out any unworthy performance. “Good job, Son” wasn’t a part of his script for raising a child. Nevertheless, my Mark was always the one who ensured Doug, along with his brother, Dave, were safe during the harvest or the planting seasons. Mark always showed up to help his sons. Sometime actions speak louder than praise.

What intrigues me amidst this quandary of love and life lessons is the friendship that has developed between my husband and my dad. It began with Doug’s mild interest in my dad’s passion – the restoration of antique motorcycles. (Doug’s interest in motors was abruptly squashed at a young age when his dad scolded him for subscribing to American Hotrod.) This repressed interest transformed into a partnership with my dad – which was supposed to become a money-making scheme. Thus far, the purchasing of inventory has far exceeded the sales. But that’s okay.

Dad calls Doug much more than he calls his daughter. Doug is amazed by my father’s patience as he learns the art of restoration. I’ve watched my husband’s self-esteem grow to a healthy, functional level. I’ve seen an enthusiasm grow in Dad’s spirit. It’s a father and son paradigm created out of respect, and possibly some missing pieces founded in their own personal experiences. The bond between Doug and Dad comforts me, but will I continue to worry about the relationship between my husband and our son?

Probably.

But I’m learning to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of father-son relationships. Case in point:

Doug and Cole were light-saber fighting in the living room, while I was in the kitchen. Amidst the grunts and “Oh, Yeahs!” I heard a large smack. Upon my husband’s gasp and the, “Oh, Buddy! Are you okay?” I ran to the living room. Mortified to see Doug bent down, investigating the welt on our son’s face, my speech was stopped by the expression on Cole’s face. Wearing a proud smile, he told his father, “Good one, Dad.” Doug, of course, replied, “Sorry, Bud. I didn’t mean to do that.” He couldn’t help but chuckle at Cole’s tough-guy reaction. And they picked up their sabers to begin round two.

Yes, I’ll worry that Doug is too hard on his son. But despite my inability to fully understand their actions and their dialogue, I am comforted by something intangible – something beyond words and actions. It’s the unspoken language between a father and son – the unspoken language of love.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Purple Handkerchief, a short story by Stef Kramer

“Do you think it’s a good idea to take our sixteen year old daughter to a place full of criminal men?” Dad asks Mom.

My parents and I are on our annual visit to Phoenix, where my Aunt Connie and her son Trent live. Trent, a recently appointed correctional officer, works at a branch of the Maricopa County Jail and really wants to give us a tour.

“They’re locked up for God’s Sake.” Mom pulls Dad aside and whispers something. I hear the words “for Trent” and “so proud”.

So now, we’re enjoying our fieldtrip at the Maricopa County Jail. Trent leads us into a sterile-looking room labeled, “For Authorized Personnel Only”. Our newly acquired security badges allow us this new, respectable status.

“In a few minutes, five new inmates will be brought in. We’ll wait here until they pass,” Trent explains.

“Should we be standing here?” Aunt Connie asks with the some anxiety.

“We’ll be fine, Mom. They’ll be shackled and restrained by two highly-trained escorts.” Trent sounds impatient, like he always does with his mom.

While the badge gives me authority, I’m a little nervous. I edge closer to my Dad.

The security doors open with a loud clank. Immediately, our small-talk is suspended. A parade of orange-clad men, surrounded by the keepers of our peace march to their place of restitution. I look at the first prisoner. My gaze temporarily locks with the eyes of the Latino man with a shaved head. I drop my eyes first. With my head hanging low, I focus on my shirt that is unnervingly sporting a big, yellow smiley face.

The parade continues, and with arms crossed to hide “Smiley”, I edge even closer to Dad and watch with my peripheral vision. The tense energy seems to devour me.

As the last inmate is brought through, I notice Mom moving closer to Dad. But apparently, her change in position isn’t for protective assurances. She wears a big smile and looks at each inmate as if she were the hostess for the Maricopa Criminal Gala.

Trent proceeds to take us to the center of the jailhouse where the officers stand guard amidst glass-celled cages stacked two stories high. As we approach the guards, the inmates in their cells arise to their “windows” to catch a glimpse of the new guests. Their faces reveal curiosity, longing, revenge, sexual prowess and despair. Their pathetic situation is consuming me when I notice the woman in front of me, my mother, returning waves to each and every prisoner as we pass. Dad takes action.

“This isn’t the place to show our Iowa diplomacy.” He gently grabs Mom around the waist and stifles her happy waves with his arms. Mom’s smile fades. Luckily this part of the tour is almost over and soon Trent will be showing us only logistics about the facility.

The drive back to Aunt Connie’s house is more quiet than normal. Conversation is polite and civil, in the worst way. I sit in the back of the van with my mom, knowing she still feels badly. While I don’t understand her need to be friendly to rapists, thieves and murderers, it pains me to see the hurt look on her face.

“Dad wasn’t trying to be mean, Mom. He was just concerned,” I try to comfort her.

My words break her gaze and she turns to me.

“Oh, I know. I’m not upset with your dad.”

“What’s bothering you then?”

She becomes quiet again. I don’t press.

A few minutes later, she asks me, “Did I ever tell you the story about the purple handkerchief?”

I nod no.

“Well, when I was in the 2nd grade, I had a teacher by the name of Miss Grant. She was young, beautiful, and well, not very nice. But she was my teacher and I had to respect her.

“Anyhow, you know how poor I was growing up. We had nothing. The only clothes I had were hand-me-downs from our neighbors, Leta and Leo Jensen. The dresses (we always wore dresses back then) were very nice, but always way too big. Mom never had the time, or ability, to alter them. So, I typically looked ridiculous -- a poor, skinny girl, playing dress-up in chunky girls’ clothes. I was an easy target for Miss Grant who often made me an example of how “not to dress”.

“One day I was so excited to go to school.” Mom spoke with a smile, still remembering her excitement. “You see, Mrs. Jensen had given me a beautiful, purple handkerchief among a group of dresses. It had the most remarkable lace detail. Now, in the 50’s, after we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, everyone was to place their handkerchiefs beside their outstretched hands to be inspected by the teacher. Hygiene was of utmost importance. Most of my hankies were drab, or torn, or frayed. But not that day. I finally had something nice – something beautiful!

“The moment came. The Pledge of Allegiance was over and I could see the other girls admiring my new accessory as I laid it out. Never had I felt so proud.

“Miss Grant approached my desk and stopped abruptly. I knew she would be impressed.

“Sandra, where did you get that?”

“I smiled and told her that Mrs. Jensen, our neighbor, gave it to me.
She then lowered herself to my eye-level and asked again, in a deeper tone, “Sandra, where did you get this?”

“I told her again, knowing by the tone of her voice that Miss Grant was mad and about to make me a spectacle.

“She told me to go in front of the class and proceeded to ask me the same question over and over again, until I cried. She then screamed at me and said, “Admit it! You stole it, didn’t you?” So, I finally lied and told her what she insisted on hearing.

“She took away my handkerchief, and one of the few moments in my childhood when I felt a sense of pride.”

Feeling more than perturbed with my mother’s childhood teacher, I interject, “What kind of person could be so cruel? Especially to a little girl?”

Mom goes on, “Well, she wasn’t very nice, like I said before. The worst part was going home to tell my mother I had lost it.”

“Why didn’t you tell her the truth? And tell her Miss Grant had taken it away? Grandma would have been furious!”

“I was in 2nd grade. I couldn’t possibly have gone home and told her I was in trouble with a teacher. To a seven-year old, getting in trouble with a teacher was worse than losing the handkerchief.”

Feeling upset by the injustice my seven-year old mother endured, she brings me back to the point of her story.

“Anyway, I promised myself, way back in 1951, that I would never, ever, make anyone feel like a criminal.”

“But some people are criminals, Mom.”

My mother grabs my hand and says softly, “That’s not for us to judge.”

I look at my mother’s kind face, smile at her, and put my head on her shoulder. I avoided as many faces as I could in the jail.

Thank God Mom was there today.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Good-bye Def Leppard, I'll Miss Those Jeans

For anyone from Generation X who wants to reminisce about the fall of the "Hair Bands" amidst the rise of Seattle Grunge! This books explores the journey of Amy Gaer -- a recent graduate who must move back to her small hometown for the summer before starting grad school. Using her humorous self-deprecation, Amy finds herself making important decisions about her life. Is she ready to take the responsibility for her future? It might be easier if she hadn't unexpectedly fallen in love.

This humorous love story from the 1990's is available now!