Monday, December 28, 2015

My Husband Finally Got a Job


My husband is a carpenter by trade and his shop is on the same three acres as our home, so sawdust follows him into our house.  It is a fine powder and not big shavings, so I never see it or feel it until I sweep or vacuum. I have learned to never wash my things with his work clothes unless I want to break out in a rash afterwards. The chair where he sits at lunch has to be dusted once a week because it collects a fine film.

He found a new job last month and hired out as an “independent contractor.” His boss and fellow workers are in awe that a man who once managed twenty employees and grossed six figures in one year is now working alongside them.  Because for once he is not the boss, he jokes that he finally got a real job. He can choose his own schedule but so far he has worked a 40-hour week. Instead of the same sturdy school furniture he built for the last 30 years of his life, he is building cabinets for a local company and enjoying not being the boss and not filling out page after page of forms the government requires of small businesses.

This is all part of his big “Retirement Plan.” It is how he closes out one chapter of his life and moves on to another.  He is too young to collect Social Security, so he continues to work without the hassle of employees, tax lawyers, and a CPA on the payroll. He gets to transition responsibility onto someone else and uses his free time to work with wood to create something new for fun and profit instead of the same patterns he built for thirty years.  

I miss him being underfoot. I miss him walking over from his shop several times a day to freshen his drink and interrupt what I am doing. I miss him sneaking up on me while I am deep in thought and scaring me in the process.  

I had to stop what I was doing every day and make sure his lunch was ready at noon, but now I pack his lunch at night for the next day.  I set the coffee pot so he can take a full thermos with him to work in the morning. He leaves before I get up in the morning and my day is spent alone and uninterrupted until he gets home at dinner.


I miss him.  I miss our conversations. At lunch I sit and talk to his empty chair. I miss the sawdust. I noticed the other day his chair stays clean without him here.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas!


For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

- Isaiah 9:6

Monday, December 14, 2015

Getting Ready for Santa

HoneyBunch and I married when in our fifties.  By then we had a lifetime behind us as well as a moving van of stuff each that we wondered how we would merge into one home.
I moved into his house after the wedding and went through every nook, cranny, room, and closet, and totally rearranged it into “ours.” Organized is the better word. His bachelor pad was clean but kind of “disorganized.”  His ex had left him with all the odds and ends she did not want on her quest to a “better life,” so I replaced things a little at a time. It took me one year to fit all I wanted from the two houses into one and sold my old house.    
We compromised on a lot of things, but still we ended up with two china cabinets and two family-sized eating tables. I kept my “buffet” and he kept his “dry sink.” He kept his Christmas doll collection  and I kept all my nativity sets, but it took me several years to convince him we should limit our Christmas decorating to just the dining room.  It limits how much stuff we set out which is a difficult thing to do since together we own more than twenty bins of Christmas stuff.  Yes, twenty big bins.
I finally convinced him this fall we should merge our Christmas things into one, so we went through all the boxes and bins, and we got rid of a lot of “stuff.” We sold it all at a yard sale – old, beat up, metal Christmas signs one sees at roadside gas stations, homemade table top decorations made from garland, strings of blinking lights, or corn husks. Old Home Interior Christmas knick knacks and my collection of Santa salt and pepper shakers and ash trays (which I had to explain to several folks was an ash tray and not one of those plates you set on the stove top to set stirring spoons on while cooking).   
What did not go was the twenty-six year old artificial Christmas tree that I threaten to throw out every year or HoneyBunch’s fifteen-footer.  I dust my old tree off, “fluff” it up, and position it just right so no one sees the weak spots where the “limbs” no longer want to cooperate.  HoneyBunch threatens to set up the fifteen-footer up on the back patio, maybe on Christmas Eve, and give it one night of lights and glory.

I agree.  My raggedy old tree and his giant are remnants of other times.  It does not matter whether they were good or bad, they are reminders of who we are today, and for that we are grateful. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Christmas Cactus


My mother-in-law kept a Christmas cactus over her sink on the window sill that looked out into the back yard.  Someone had given it to her as a present and she cherished it all the years I knew her.  It had three, spindly stems and never grew others. It also never bloomed.
When the plant grew long and unwieldy, she would cut off some of its length and repot the cuttings.  These she offered to anyone who had shown interest in the plant.  I always deferred the offer, laughing at my inability to keep any house plant alive for more than a month.  But in all honesty, I found the plant ugly.
If this was what it was supposed to look like, I did not find it lovable.  It was unworthy of all the attention and care my sweet mother-in-law gave that barren, little plant. I would have ditched it and moved on to something else to overwater – like the African Violets or Venus Flytraps that my children gave me as presents. 
I wasn’t there when my mother-in-law passed away.  By then I was married to my second (and present) husband.  I wonder if her family fought over that old plant like they did over all her other possessions. 

I would have taken that plant. I would have cared for it as much as she did all those years. There was nothing in her house that I remember as well as I do that ugly little plant, but I remember her loyalty to it.  She knew that one day it would bloom.  One day, it would return her love. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Nativity Set


I didn’t get married until January of 1973, so while shopping for Christmas presents the months previous, I found a beautiful old-fashioned Nativity set on sale that I bought for my hope chest.  It is all wood and the figures, the people and the animals, are made of sturdy clay.  It has the look of old European artwork, so I fell in love with it the moment I saw it at the store.   
It has graced my Christmas tree every year for the last forty-two years. It is the first thing we set out before a single ornament is hung.  Each of my three children has played with the figures and I encourage each of my grandchildren to do the same. I like knowing that when they hold the baby in their hands, they are acknowledging who is the cause for all the celebration.
The “grass” has worn thin in some areas and some of the brittle wood has chipped off the ends, even the angel fell off its pegs years ago so we hitch her at an angle onto a plank that sticks out of the roof. 
It has seen several artificial trees, some tall and some short.  It has graced some magnificent real firs in some years.  It even towered over a small table-top tree the year I got divorced and I could not afford Christmas for my three children and myself.
There was the year that we could not find the box in which it was stored and I feared we had lost it altogether. It showed up, hidden in a back corner of the garage, behind a pile of plastic storage boxes filled with auto parts.

People buy me Nativity sets and I have quite a few.  They are expensive and more beautiful and definitely more glamorous, but they could never replace that one. It represents the dreams of a dreamy-eyed, twenty-two year old woman, but while my family and faith and future did not turn out how I thought it would, I am grateful that it turned out the way it did. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Thanksgiving Promise


When my youngest son told me I was going to be a grandmother, I had just turned 51.  I felt I was too young to be the oldest ranking person in the room, but I had no choice.  A baby was on the way and I was going to be a grandmother.
Memaw, Nana, Mimi, Oma – I tried them all on, and decided I wanted to be known as Grandma.  It was simple and descriptive.   
That little baby boy awakened in me a warm, strong, memory that I did not know I missed. He reminded me of a time when my own children were young, a time that slipped past too quickly because I was distracted with work and home and a difficult marriage.   
Being around this little boy allowed me to relive those moments; this time with a wisdom based on knowledge and appreciation.  
His little brother followed seven years later, and then we went through a baby boom. My daughter gifted me with two step-children and two more babies all within three years.  My youngest married a second time and I soon had another step-son and two more grandbabies.  Then last summer, my oldest had a precious baby girl. 
Ten beautiful grandbabies; all in a matter of fourteen years, and my husband’s two sons have not begun to add to their families yet, so there may be more.
People think I love my grandchildren more than my children.  No, that is not true. I love them each differently.  My children and my grandbabies are my legacy, my step into the future once I am gone.  
I have much to be grateful but my grandchildren are a blessing that fills my heart with joy.


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Greatest Table


Back in 1994, I discovered a wonderful children’s book called The Greatest Table: A Banquet to Fight Hunger.  Printed on one side of a continuous sheet of paper, it folds into itself like an accordion and creates an amazing book. 
Sixteen children’s book authors collaborated with the charitable group Share our Strength. The money raised by the sales of this book went to fight hunger in America. Each artist interpreted what “the greatest table” meant for them and the editor Michael J. Rosen arranged it into a unique treasure.
Because I could not presume that all of my middle school students would be celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner - nothing like those idealized and elaborate feasts one sees on television - I used this book to demonstrate that we each celebrate differently and to different degrees.
In the book people of all cultures and ethnicities sit around different tables; some are seated on mats or blankets.  Some are indoors; some are outdoors. Single souls or whole crowds, everyone is grateful for what they have. Some pages show two parents; others show several generations, but others have only one parent or none. On some pages groups of children sit together.  They might be siblings or they might be friends.
The food varies and not one page has the traditional American turkey and dressing menu.  Soups, fruits, and breads are served. Everything looks inviting.
There is no one definition for what makes “the greatest table,” except for one thing – the invitation to share.  Throughout the book, the message is clear.  The greatest table is one in which we share what we have with others.  

With Thanksgiving approaching soon, we are all reminded that the day is to show our gratitude, and what better way than to share our bounty with others.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Album


Born in the early light of day, the baby’s eyes are shut tight, so are his fists. Swaddled and lying in his crib, he wonders who this strange thing is that smiles at him, flashes lights in his eyes, and laughs so loudly.

One day he will understand why she props him up against the corner of the sofa and giggles when he teeters over and falls onto the soft cushions.  She tickles him, but he forgives her because she smells of milk and she is warm when she cuddles him. 

A crowd of people (for now he knows what these creatures are) gather around him.  Mommy dresses him in a scratchy outfit and there is laughter and jabber, things people do when there is more than one in the same room. They “ooh” and “aah” in one voice as one of them, he sounds like a daddy, pours water over his head and smears slippery stuff on his forehead. Doesn’t that usually go on the other end?

Pages turn. Birthdays and Christmases come and go. Some school day pictures capture smiles, others don’t. Only his family, his grandmother, or Farrah Fawcett gets a smile out him.  

He loves to swim, to eat potato chips, and to play outdoors. He doesn’t smile in soccer pictures.  He hates being a little teapot, and he hates the jerk who stole his bike when he was ten.

He dyes his hair purple and green, and the camera turns its attention on the baby sister and the little brother. Instead, Mother collects his stories, his poems, and his art in the album.  

The pages slow down, but that’s okay. Now a new face smiles on those pages. . . .  


Born in the early light of day, the baby’s eyes are shut tight, so are her fists. Swaddled and lying in her crib, she wonders who this strange thing is that smiles at her, flashes lights in her eyes, and laughs so loudly.  He tickles her but she forgives him because this person she calls Daddy is so warm and cuddly. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Thanksgiving


When the ex-husband decided he wanted a divorce, there was little I could do to stop him.  For almost thirty years, we danced to the same song: he left, he came back with promises, he broke the promises, and he left again.
My marriage and my patience were worn thin.
He swore he had never been happy with me and with his life. I could understand his displeasure with me, but what about his children, his home, his livelihood?  He said this was his one shot at happiness, and so we got divorced.
If you lost everyone and everything in your life, what would you miss most?  What would keep you going?
I tried to understand his motivation but I couldn’t. I liked my life.  I loved my children and my family.  I had friends who rallied around me. I liked my home, my career, and my things.  I had a bed, clothes, food, books.  I had a roof over my head, running water, and an alarm system that helped me feel safe at night.
Other than the divorce, little had changed in my life. I considered myself lucky and blessed.
When I expressed too much optimism to one of my friends one day, she gaped at me and asked why, after all that had happened?  I was surprised she didn’t know me better.  I had my health, my family and friends, my home, my job, my faith. The ex was the unhappy one.  Now that he was gone, I could shine again instead of constantly being blamed for his misery.   
And there is my answer.  I am grateful for my family and my faith. They keep me sane and hopeful. I have hope in my heart and determination in my soul. 

No one can make you happy; only you can find it within yourself. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cucuy in the Nighttime

                                                 
According to my grandmother, the cucuy (pronunciation: coo coo ēē) recognized a kindred lost soul when he saw one and would abduct the bad child at night.  He had eyes that gleamed in the dark and had fangs that tore through young flesh as if it were cake. No one would miss the bad child the next morning.  They would be too busy celebrating good times and lavishing all their love and attention on the good children the cucuy left behind.
On days when I was exceptionally bad, I slept with one eye open, knowing the cucuy was waiting for me to fall asleep.
I have used the cucuy on my own kids but not to the extent it robbed them of their dreams.   My children had their own bouts with night terrors.  As a little boy, my oldest tried to escape his by sleep walking.  I was always on the alert and followed him around the house until I could steer him back into his bed.  My youngest swung punches and kicked at his brother and sister in his dreams. We had countless family meetings about not bullying their little brother.
It was my daughter, the middle child, who suffered the worst dreams. A ghostly specter, she said, floated out of her closet every night and tried to steal her soul.  Similar in description to the Dementors in Harry Potter, her ghoul was all white – long white hair, gown, and fingers. The five-year-old begged to sleep with us but her father refused, so I sat guard in her room with the lights on every night. I promised her I would not leave her alone. At first she startled awake several times during the night, making sure I was still there, so it took her a while to believe me that I wasn’t going anywhere.  I slept sitting up in a rocking chair for over a month until she got over her fear.    
It doesn’t take a genius to see why we are afraid of the dark.  Humans are diurnal animals, not nocturnal. At night our vision and spacial acuity is limited.  It heightens our other senses and our imagination makes up what we cannot see. We feel out of control, defensive, and vulnerable. Emotions like loneliness, sadness, grief, stress, and depression double in weight, and the span of one night feels like a lifetime.
The moment we cycle back into the light, we regain our footing.  If we were to encounter the cucuy, we would take a club to it and finish that child-stealing sucker off.  If not, we would call 911 or raise a posse and hunt it down. In the daytime, we solve our problems, face our bullies, react with reason. We find hope in the sunlight and laugh at our insecurities.

We certainly would not drive into the spooky woods in a car that needs a new battery or is running low on gas.  We would not trek through the mud at night toward the creepy house that sits abandoned by the dilapidated cemetery.  And we certainly would not let something with a baby-sounding name like “cucuy” to scare the daylights out of us.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

What Scares You?


With Halloween just around the corner, everything around us screams Boo! I went with HoneyBunch the other day to Hobby Lobby and then to Lowe’s. There was a whole section of expensive, scary lawn decorations.  I am talking The Grim Reaper, a horrific witch who lunged at you as you passed in front, and a zombie who drooled and turned to follow you with its watery eye sockets.
Way to go!  Buy that trio and you make up what you spent on decorations by not having to buy Halloween candy.  The neighborhood kids and their parents would be too frightened to come near your abode.
What scares you besides opening your water bill every month or the price of beef?
I hate scary movies.  I do not like zombies or vampires, Chucky or the guy from Elm Street.  I like realistic endings.  Let me emphasize that again – endings. I want to know that when you kill something, it stays dead.  I realize that commercially successful movies will engender sequels and prequels, but I hate scary movies that make you cringe and your heart race for two hours and the “thing” is still alive. No, thank you.
I hate scary books more.  I have a very vivid imagination.  Whereas I can mute a movie and it lessens the fright factor, I cannot mute my imagination.  I have a difficult time with horror or realistic fiction novels where the suffering and the gore are graphically detailed.  Double no thank you.
I hate pranks, scary pranks where things jump out at you or fall on you and you cannot escape. I do not have quick instincts so the snake that pops out of the box or the furry thing that falls on my head or the mucousy thing someone left in the drawer for me to accidentally touch is NOT COOL.  Years are shaved from the few I have left.
I hate being alone, at night.  I hear noises and see shadows.  Things glow and slither and scamper into corners. I end up turning on all the lights, double checking all doors are locked, and sitting with my back to the wall where I can see all entrances and exits easily.
Probably the thing I hate the most is the one gift God gave me that makes me unique – my naiveté.  I am the trusting chick in the movies who answers the door or the phone or finds herself walking down the street at night alone.  
I once had a breather who called me on the phone every time I was alone in the house.  It was like the person was watching me. I was shocked to learn it was a person who I had befriended at work, a loner everyone else avoided. I was at a disadvantage until I realized the same background music played when both the breather and the co-worker called. When I confronted him and told our supervisor at work, I was able to get rid of him.
Another time a bunch of drunks followed me after I had dinner with some friends on the Riverwalk. I got to my car and locked the doors right when they reached for the door handles.  As I drove off I honked my horn to cause attention and scare them away. I should have let my friends drive me to my car when they offered.
I am not a coward but it is good to know one’s weaknesses.  It helps to make me stronger.  I can protect myself and guard my soul. Knowing this about myself, I would rather spend my money on candy or Charlie Brown holiday movies than buying ghouls for lawn decorations.


Monday, October 12, 2015

I Believe in Ghosts

We bought a house in the older area of the little town. The houses on that two-block neighborhood were on quarter-acre lots, made of brick on all four sides, and were spacious. The owner had passed away and the heir had inherited several houses and wanted to liquidate all the properties, so he sold the house to us at a ridiculously low price. 
The real estate agent knew the deceased and told us she had passed away within days after one of the neighbors found her ill inside the house.  Her husband had died several years previous and their one son had died in a war a long time ago, probably Vietnam.
My first husband and I divorced, the dog and cat died, and the three kids grew up and moved away in the fourteen years I lived in that house, but I never felt alone.
There were lots of times I felt, heard, or saw movement inside the house, but when I went to check, there was nothing or no one there.
One time I was standing at the sink washing dishes and saw movement out of the corner of my right eye. A person came out of the bedrooms, crossed the living room, and stood on my left as I scrubbed at a dish.  Thinking it was one of the kids, I turned to joke with them if they wanted to rinse or dry the dishes, but there was no one there when only a moment before I had seen and felt a real presence. 
There were many times, mostly in the evening or at night, when I saw a shadow move that I knew was my “ghost.”  The lady across the street complimented me one day as we both worked on our front yards that the owner would be pleased with the way I cared for her house, so after that I would talk to the empty rooms, letting my ghost know that I was taking care of our home and she could rest easy.
In a way, we had both ended up alike – lonely females in a lovely old house.
One evening I became so engrossed in a novel that I read far into the night. As I lay on my bed I noticed a flash of white in the darkened hallway.  I got up and followed it, thinking one of my kids had seen the bedroom lights on from the street and had come to visit.  Barely out of their teens, they sometimes would drop by and crash at my house, especially if they were troubled.   
In the dark, I could see the flash of white turn into the living room/kitchen area. By the time I got there, its luminescence was visible outside on the back patio.  I did not have time to turn on lights if I wanted to catch my child’s attention so I rushed to the back door.
It was then I noticed movement around the Morgan building in the back yard. Three shadows lurked back there.  I took a step away from the door when I noticed it was unlocked.  In my carelessness, I had not secured the house for the night before becoming engrossed in my novel.  I quickly latched the door, turned on the outside security lights, and raced to the alarm system that armed the perimeter. If the trespassers tried to get in, the alarm would blare, alerting the neighbors.
The three scurried away, one jumping the back fence, the two others ran toward the side of the house. I did not waste time and ran to the other outside doors making sure they were all locked. I stayed awake, alert the rest of the night until I saw the sun rise.
I never doubted afterwards who the flash of white was in my hallway.  My friendly ghost kept constant watch over her house and me.  She wanted me to know I was in danger.  She led me to the unlocked back door. She saved my life.  
I don’t remember any more apparitions after that, but on that last day when the house was empty and all my junk was ensconced in my new home far away, I said goodbye to her. I stood in the middle of that big kitchen/dining/living room and thanked her for sharing her home with me.  



Monday, October 5, 2015

Do you believe in ghosts? I do.

It’s not like I attend séances trying to visit past relatives or old loves.  I do not go chasing after them or watch TV shows about ghosts.  Mine are incidental encounters. 
I believe in ghosts because I believe in the hereafter.  And because I believe that there is better than the right here, I think the ghosts we do encounter have a reason to make themselves known in this realm.
I have no explanation why they want to visit with me but I wish they would do it in the daytime, but that is never the case.  My ghostly visits have always been at night.
Everyone in my family thinks I am afraid of the dark.  Not so.  I am fine with the dark.  It’s the night that scares me, and I have my grandmother and my dad to thank for that.
My grandmother raised us and she kept us in line with the whole array of Mexican folklore about the llorona (pronounced yorona), the Cucui (the boogieman), the Diablo, and an assortment of other scary stories.  When we got older (and properly scared straight), she confessed that Mexican moms tell those stories to help keep naughty kids in line without having to resort to punishment each time.
My two sisters and I loved when our father tucked us into bed each night.  To keep him near us for a while longer, we would beg him to tell us a story.  Some of the tales came from his mother and some he made up on the spot.  None of them ever ended happy.  After scaring us to pieces, he would tickle us, make us laugh, and bless us before planting another kiss on our foreheads.
By then I was afraid of the night and along with that, I was afraid of the dark.
In my grandmother and dad’s defense, their retelling of Mexican spooky stories was no different than how the original fairy tales were formed.  Almost all of the modern fairy tales once had scary and sad endings.  Their original versions were not necessarily for children.  They were not G-rated or the sanitized and Disney editions we learn today. They were intended to moralize or scare or scandalize the reader.  
Because I am afraid of the nighttime (ergo the dark), I totally understand my grandchildren’s need for a nightlight.  While everyone else dismisses their need to keep a night on in their bedrooms, I provide them with an excuse when they sleep over at my house.  I plug in “safety” lights or leave a closet door cracked open a bit with the light on, just in case they need to get up and use the bathroom.
They are in a new place and we don’t want them to stub a toe, do we?
(Whisper) Besides I have never encountered a ghost on nights I left a light on in my bedroom.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Three Novembers


I got this idea recently when I discovered all my old journals that I kept for years and years.  What if I wrote a novel in three parts?  Each one about the same person but in different years. Each showing how much her life has changed in a short span of time. Here is a sample of what her journal entries would look like.
*     *     *     *     *
He told her the management was sacrificing their holiday so the hourly workers could spend Thanksgiving with their families. Knowing her husband well, she demanded to know who else had volunteered for this assignment.  
He ticked off four names on his hand.  A familiar one was couched in between the second and the fourth.
Here was the real reason he was “working” on a holiday.
When she asked why a single female would give up precious time with her three children when there were so many others who could take her place, he snarled at his wife, accusing her of always thinking the worst. She had only asked a simple question, yet he had responded with guilt.
Just like your mother, he added, jealous and needy. She retreated.  He always knew how to make her cower.  
*     *     *     *     *
She walked out of the medical building and tried to get to her car before breaking down but the moment she breathed in the crisp autumn air, the wall she had built around herself crumbled. Her keening cries scared a young boy and his mother who walked passed her in the parking lot. After two months of numerous invasive tests, she was cancer free. 
She wiped her face, located her car, and rushed to it before she cried again. She sighed deeply and smiled.  There was a bounce to her step.
She was not the weakling her ex-husband had once made her believe. She had faced the judge alone when it came to the divorce and she had done the same when she discovered her illness.   
Tomorrow was Thanksgiving Day, and she had a casserole to make before she visited with her family.  Now that she had only good news to share, she would tell them her story.

*     *     *     *     *
Little work would be done in the office for the rest of the afternoon so everyone stood around and talked about the upcoming four-day holiday.    
Some would entertain in their homes and others were traveling across the country to visit family or to enjoy a short vacation.    
I’m heading over to my parents, said a recently divorced single.  My mother makes the best prime rib. 
A couple of my buds are coming over to my apartment, said another, bragging in a loud voice.  We’re going to eat Chinese and watch one football game after another.
No one asked her plans. She had been divorced now for several years, and her kids would be spending Thanksgiving with their father and his girlfriend.  When the kids hesitated, she reminded them they would be back on Saturday.  They would be gone only three days.
That was one good thing about the divorce – it forced her ex-husband to spend time with his children whether it fit into his and his girlfriend’s plans or not.  If he tried to weasel out of it, the onus was on him.
What are your plans? Her friend’s breath caressed her ear and she turned to smile up at him.  She told him about spending Thanksgiving dinner with her crazy family.
Take me with you, he said. My kids are with their mother and I have nowhere else I want to be.

Her smile widened. She could already picture her sisters’ faces when she drove up with her famous yam casserole, and a tall, good-looking date for Thanksgiving Dinner.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

My P.E. Course from Hell


In college I took two dance classes and a swimming course for my P.E. requirements, but for my final class one of my girlfriends decided our group should take a camping class together. Our final was a three-day camping “survival” course on the banks of the Guadalupe River; it would be a free, idyllic vacation.
During the semester we learned how to start a fire with only two sticks.  We waxed and waterproofed our tents.  We learned basic first aid and sanitary practices.  We prepared for “living in the wild” in the back lot of the campus by an open field.
On our survival weekend it down poured and stormed for three days straight.  Since it was our “final,” we could not postpone it for later.
Once we got to our destination, we unloaded our cars and no one was allowed to go back for anything.  The first thing we did was to scout an area, clear it of debris, and hunt for dry wood.  We covered the wood with plastic tarps to shelter it from the storm, then we set up our tents.  By then, most everything and everyone was sopping wet.
We ate hot dogs and hamburgers in bread so soggy it disintegrated in our hands. Our hair hung on our shoulders like rags, and the girls who never went anywhere without full makeup, gave up trying by the end of the first day.  Contacts were discarded for bifocals and Cher-like hairdos went up into pony tails.  
Probably the worst was getting used to the outdoor potty we rigged in a secluded copse of trees.  We laughed about it during class, but this was the real deal. We tried to do our business during daylight hours because no one wanted to go in the woods at night with only a flashlight for protection.
Everyone was assigned duties and mine was to take a two-hour watch at night. We were to keep the camp fire lit and to make sure no one or thing invaded our campsite while the others slept. My watch was from 2 am until four am, so for three nights I sat out in the rain while lightning danced all around me.  I could not shelter under a tree because of the lightning and I was supposed to stay alert and move among the tents.  On all three nights, I saw movement in the trees but when I reported it to our teacher leaders, they said it was just my imagination.
On our last day as we broke camp, an older man and a group of boy dressed in scout uniforms visited our camp. We learned that this group of boys were part of a troupe camped nearby.  They had been sneaking over to spy on us at night, hoping an unsuspecting college girl would need to use the bathroom. Their scout leader said they would all be reprimanded once they got home, and then he dragged them out in front of us and made them apologize.
We all passed the class with A’s, and my girlfriends and I laughed at our three-day “vacation,” except for two friends who never forgave the rest of us for forcing them into this class. In retrospect I think it was because one had to give up her makeup and we saw what she looked like without it, and the other one used the camp potty at night and was probably one of the few who exposed her backside to naughty boy scouts.
Me? I don’t remember many of the classes I took in college, but I certainly remember that one

Monday, September 14, 2015

Move Over Clark Kent


I love how Superman rips off his Clark Kent duds and shows off his mighty chest, not even bothering to hide his identity, and doing it in plain view of all Metropolis.  In the old movies he had to find a phone booth; in modern day he just moves at the speed of light and no one notices him change from one moment to the next. They are too busy looking at their cell phones.
That’s us. Clark Kent’s.  Heroes, you and me.  
We all have an inner persona that few people ever suspect. On the outside, we slouch around in our yoga pants, bargain bifocals, and worn out gym shoes, but come the moment of need and we all have that special something hidden inside of us that no one else can offer the world.
Why edify a superhero when we are the real deal?
We are single parents working hard to raise well balanced children, and I do not mean just single moms making do but single dads as well.  We are two-parent families raising kids in a modern society that laughs at our attempts to discipline and educate our kids.  We are those who jump into action when action, no matter how horrendous, has to be taken.  We are those who overcome our dysfunctional upbringings to change the course of our lives despite the circumstances. 
Heroism is everywhere but it is never easy.  We all have our Kryptonite, but we beat the odds every, single day.  We don’t need to rip off our Clark Kent duds to do what needs to be done and we do not expect any accolades.

          We don’t have to be more powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, or be able to leap tall buildings.  We just have to do what has to get done and do it honorably and with integrity.  We need to look inside ourselves and find that special something that makes each of us a superhero.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fifty-Word Contest Entries



Several years ago, I entered several “stories” in a fast fiction contest.  They had to tell a story but could only be fifty words long. Here are two of my favorites.  

“He cried because I dumped him; said he lost everything because of me. “  The woman laughed into her drink, stood up, and staggered toward the exit before falling dead to the floor.
The female bartender washed the poison from the woman’s glass. “That’s for my ex-husband and my kids.”  


High school, junior year, I sat between two, very handsome, senior football players while we watched the 16 mm film on the male reproductive system.  Our Biology II teacher walked around the darkened classroom, monitoring our attention.  Meanwhile we all laughed that he hadn’t noticed his front fly was unzipped.





Monday, August 31, 2015

The Lighthouse


The lighthouse tosses her silver mane.
She turns her back for a moment
but then returns for one more look
into the dark,
into the distance of yesterdays.

She stares into the vast ocean,
into that faraway place
she cannot see,
that place she can never reach.

With the cruel passing of time,
seasons fade into each other.
Blame and promises wash away.

Her constancy wears away anger
and pardons
expectations and regrets.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Downsizing


Every time my ex-husband and I moved, I learned to clean house and sell or give away things I did not want to pack and move to the next house.
The two times I got divorced it was easy to get rid of the ex’s junk. Without his clothes, his collections, and his tools out in the garage, it left lots of room for my stuff.  It also gave me permission to replace all his man cave junk with nice decorations.
When I married HoneyBunch and we had to combine two households, I cut all my possessions in half by offering things to my three kids.  They were just starting their own homes, so some took furniture; others took household items. I had a monster of a garage sale and called the Disabled Vets to come get the rest. Even like that HB and I had doubles of too many things and so the downsizing continued for a year after we married.
We still have two dining tables, two sets of “grandma’s china,” and two truckloads of Christmas decorations that neither one of us will surrender.
As an educator for thirty-seven years, I had boxes and boxes of books and teaching materials, stuff I carted home every summer and stored until the beginning of school the next fall.  Stuff I needed for reference or to decorate sterile classrooms year after year.  When I retired I gave away twenty boxes jammed with expensive books to the school district in which we live and I threw away/recycled bins and bins of paper, but here I am, seven years later and still trying to use up the dozens of pencils and pens, sticky notes and glue, folders and reams of paper I bought on sale way back then.
The same thing happened when I decided to reduce the number of books in my house by half.  I gave books away, sold some, and then donated the rest to our local library, but still here we go again.  Time to downsize again. 
HoneyBunch and I have decided that as we grow older, we need to have some say about what happens to our “treasures.” We shouldn’t wait until we have to downsize and have no options because of time restraints. We don’t want to leave too much of a mess for our kids after we are gone. We know that most of what we consider valuable will be thrown away or given away, so we might as well and try to do some of that ourselves.   
I hate dusting so the knickknacks will be the first to go.  I am only going to keep the most valuable, those I cannot do without. I guess the piggy bank I had since college and the Buddha I bought when I was a hippy will have to go. I own more sets of dishes than I will ever wear out in the time I have left so they too will be history.  And I really, really do not need two blenders, two mixers, and two punch bowls.
It might be time to throw away all the plastic containers without lids or give away my collection of Wilton cake pans to the granddaughter who aspires to be a chef.  Maybe I can toss the bag of squashed bows I keep in the closet for emergency gift wrapping.
Both my ex-grandmother-in-law and my ex-mother-in-law gave me their Jewel T dishes for safekeeping. I have never used them except for display, so now may be the time to pass those on to my daughter.
I pray (fervently) that my kids think twice before buying me a knickknack for Christmas.  I like chocolate and cash. A gift card would be nice.  
Downsizing will be difficult for HB and me, but it makes us realize that things are just that – things. They might have memories attached to them, reminders of the person who gave the gift, mementos of places and times in our lives, but it would be wonderful to be unencumbered.  It would be nice to own things and not let them own us.

Did I mention how much I HATE dusting? 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Verbal Abuse


She cooked his favorite supper and waited for him to get home from work. Six o’clock turned into seven, so she called to see what kept him.  When he didn’t answer she left a voice mail.
Are you working late?  Are you on your way home?
After a half hour, she tried again, tamping down her suspicions, quieting her imagination. She schooled her voice to cover her concern.
I made your favorite supper.  Should I go ahead and eat without you?
At nine o’clock, she put away the food, her hunger replaced with anger and disappointment.
The cycle was starting again. She knew what to expect next.
He started coming home later and later each day.  At first, he blamed work, and instead of six, the norm became ten or eleven at night. She stopped asking for an explanation, because when she did, he yelled at her; he accused her of nagging.
Her silence gave him license to do whatever he pleased, but even when she dared to utter a protest, he turned the blame on her.   
Are you gaining weight again? Look how you dress.  Can’t you do something with your hair?
He never hit her but his words felt like fists, pounding away at her insecurities and shielding his infidelities.
          She stopped liking him long before she stopped loving him, so when there was nothing left between them, she demanded he leave.
          Insulted, he packed the tiny bit of him that remained in the house and left. 
          She changed the locks and the bank accounts.  She called a lawyer and got divorced. His love affairs never lasted long, so she knew he would call wanting a “home” again.  He listed all the same lame promises she had heard before many times, but when he started naming what she needed to change, she hung up on him.
          He was nothing to her.  He had no right to insult her any more.
When his voice mails got fewer and fewer, she knew his nonsense lived elsewhere. He had found someone else to own.  

She, on the other hand, lived wonderfully, ecstatically, happily ever after.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Three Hundred Romance Novels


Thirty-something years ago, a lady who worked across the hall from me, handed me a well-worn paperback.  “It reminded me of you,” she said.  I didn’t know what that meant so I just took it and thanked her.  “I want it back when you finish.” I promised her that I would.
It must have been a Friday because I remember reading it straight through and returning it right away.  We didn’t discuss the book’s plot since it was about a haggard, single mother of three who falls in love with the cutie-pie next door.  He turns out to be the husband and father she and her children deserve.  I was a haggard mother of three, married to a man who acted single. There was no cutie-pie next door willing to rescue me.  On the contrary, the neighbors next door rented a room to a weirdo who waited for me to go outside so he could peek at me from behind the ligustrums.  
But one could wish.
My experience with romance novels was limited. It dated back to when I was an adolescent and I read my mother’s copy of Gone with the Wind and a risqué novel she kept hidden from us kids in her bedside table, so when my coworker asked if I liked the book, I told her I was thoroughly delighted by the genre. She rattled off the names of three authors she thought I would like and I wrote them down, promising to read more. 
That was thirty-something years ago and three hundred romance novels. I wish I could remember the title or the author of that first book.  I would love to have a copy of it for my library.
I wish I was still in touch with the coworker. I would like to thank her for introducing me to world of women’s fiction. It has been my companion all these years.  

As for the cutie-pie next door, I married someone very much like him.  He turned out to be the husband and step-father me and my children deserve. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ode to the Odious School Supply List


Back to school.
Haircuts
School clothes
Uniforms
Shoes
Backpacks
Physicals, vaccines, new bifocals
The list is just beginning - There is also the (cue music) 

SCHOOL SUPPLY LIST

One for each child of school age. 

8-count watercolors, 16-count watercolors
Ten-packs of Ticonderogas # 2, red pens, blue pens
Eight-count colored markers
Map colors, scissors, ruler
Glue sticks, glue bottle, AND a roll of cellophane tape
College-ruled, wide-ruled, and primary-ruled reams of paper. 

TWO boxes of facial tissue

Pocket folders, binders, composition books
Highlighters
Sticky notes

 and the ever-intriguing PROTRACTOR. 

Crayons, rubber erasers, scissors
Baby wipes and hand sanitizer. . .

Will the list ever end?


No.

On the first day of school the kids will come home with even more stuff you have to buy. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Bully


The teacher was over six feet tall.  He walked around with a scowl on his face and was always angry with everyone. One year he was assigned a classroom down the hall from me.  By then I knew him well.  Suffice it to say I was not one of his favorite ethnic groups.  It didn’t bother me, but that dislike included the majority of the students that made up our middle school.
His hate targeted the young men who looked and acted like street gangsters.  Most of those kids were just that – kids.  Some did have more street smarts than they had school smarts, but their attitude almost always was a front to cover their inability to do the class work and the homework.
He picked on those boys in the privacy of his classroom, but when they fought back and sassed him, it spilled out into the hallway.  The teacher would yell close to their faces, goading them to hit him. Once they took a jab at him the teacher then had a “legal right to defend himself.” His anger toward these boys was so intense he relished getting them into trouble. Most of the boys would walk (or run) away and turn themselves into the principal’s office; a few would throw a jab and the man (twice, sometimes three times their size) would then hit them in return.  The boy would get expelled for assaulting a teacher when the administration, the faculty, and the students knew that the teacher was to blame.
I have never understood why people go into professions or jobs where they hate the client or the customer.  I have known doctors who do not like their patients.  I have witnessed many a salesclerk with an attitude.  This man hated kids, so why was he “teaching?”  
Though we closed our doors during class time, we could hear the teacher berating someone every day out in the hallway. 
It got really bad one day.  The man was out of hand.  He was yelling obscenities and racial slurs at a young man.  No one could teach over the fracas, and I knew what was going to happen next, so I walked toward the classroom door and started outside.
My students, all Latinos themselves, begged me not to go outside.  “Don’t go, Miss.  Don’t go.  He’ll hurt you too.”
I smiled at them and told them that if he did, they were to go get the nurse. Pronto.
I stepped out into the hall and in my best teacher voice, I yelled, “Mr. X, do you need help?  Should I send for the principal?” 
He snarled something sotto voce at me but I repeated my offer again.  Other doors opened and other teachers came out.  With so many witnesses, the bully backed off the skinny young teen. 
I turned to my classroom and yelled for one boy to go chop-chop and get the principal.  I clapped my hands at him to go fast.  One of my own lovable thugs took off in a sprint.  I yelled down the hallway to Mr. X that help was on the way.
Within minutes, the student and a vice-principal returned; both were running. The boy was escorted to the office, and the mean old bully snarled at me and went back into his classroom.
From then on, I made it a habit to step outside every time the teacher yelled at a student. He hated me more than ever but I didn’t care.  I thanked the teachers who had come to my rescue and knowing it would happen again, asked them to continue backing me. The man was twice my size, and did I mention, he hated me? When I asked the principal and vice-principal why they allowed that man to bully his students like that, they gave me some spineless answer.

In the years that followed, while I still worked on that campus, we never taught in the same hallway again. I was told “he calmed down a little.” I have no idea why, but maybe he knew that too many of us were on to him.  He might bully the kids and the administration, but some of us (like the kids who took a jab at him) weren’t afraid to try and stand up to him.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Day I Ran Away


I was eleven and tired of being the middle child, the one who had to help my older brother with his chores after doing my own, the one who had to look after my younger sister and make sure she didn’t cry.
I decided to run away that summer because I felt no one ever noticed me unless someone needed to be blamed for something.  If I ran away, I doubted anyone would even notice.
I stayed awake for several nights in a row to listen for Dad’s snores and my mother’s and grandmother’s deep breathing. It signaled they were fast asleep.
During the day, I counted the steps between my bed and the front door, and I practiced opening the lock with a minimum of noise.  Since I would be running at night and the house would be dark, I tried doing it with my eyes closed.  My grandmother scolded me for my pantomime, and my mom yelled at me to go outside and see about my sister.  
I made a hobo pack out of an old scarf and hid it under my pillow every night when I went to bed. Inside was a full set of clothes, a flashlight, and a box of matches I stole from my grandmother’s smoking supplies.  I tied up my life savings ($1.83) inside a handkerchief, and I took a map of Texas from the junk drawer in the kitchen. I had no idea where I was headed, but any place was better than here.  
The night of my great escape, I took my bath and went to bed early.  When my grandmother asked, I told her I was tired.  Instead of pajamas, I wore a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and covered myself up to my chin with the bed sheet.  I told my grandmother I was afraid of the mosquitoes.  My tennis waited under the bed and my hobo pack was under my pillow. 
All I had to do was wait for the cover of night.
Several hours later, I started out of bed when I heard my father snore, but my mother scolded him and their bed jiggled, and the house was silent again. I counted to one hundred, then quietly grabbed my things.  I tiptoed into the hallway and on the tenth step, the floor squeaked.
“Who’s there?”  My mother asked from her bedroom, her voice groggy from sleep. 
I didn’t answer, so she asked again, but this time louder and more demanding.
“Me.”  I whispered.
“What are you doing?”  Her voice sounded more assured now that she knew it was me and not a burglar.  If she got up, how would I explain the clothes and the hobo pack?
“I was going to the bathroom.”  I answered.
“Well, go then,” she scolded, “and then get back into bed.”
 I could hear snuffles and movement coming from the bedrooms. Others were waking because of our noise.  Shoulders sagging, I marched into the bathroom and forced myself to pee, then I trudged back into my bedroom and into bed.
I thought about trying again at a later time, but the idea of it all had lost its drama.  If Mom caught me a second time, she would have tortured the truth out of me then topped it off with a spanking.   If I was really serious about running away, I could have just walked out the front door, right under their noses. 
But I stayed.  I stayed because in those few minutes as I tiptoed my way in the dark down the hall, I realized that if I succeeded, I would prove myself right – no one cared that I existed.  I had been planning this in front of all my family for weeks and no one cared to ask what I was doing.  
That night, I prayed someone would stop me, yell at me for trying such a thing, spank me for even thinking it.

Thank goodness, my mother came through.