Zeroing in on the task before her, Ellie drew in her breath, opened her car door and swinging her 80-year-old legs around, planted her feet on the concrete.
“There,” she thought to herself. “The first step.”
At 8:00 a.m. the parking lot spaces closest to the storefront filled quickly as shoppers made their way to the front doors labeled “Seniors Only – 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m”. Armed with lists, shielded faces set in poker face mode, these proactive beings stood waiting. Battle lines drawn, the doors open, allowing the shoppers to spring into action. Each grabs a grocery cart as they follow their plan of attack.
Her cart before her, grocery list in hand, Ellie steers toward the fruits and vegetables, aiming for the green peppers. She spies an opening and checks her perimeter. Seeing only free space in front of her as well as around the peppers, she makes her move. As she grabs the vegetable of choice (having made her selection as she drew near) she discovers another shopper staring at their list and headed in her direction. Swiftly and deftly tossing the vegetables in the cart, she steers away from the shelves, doing a ‘180’ in the middle of the aisle as the other shopper glances up. A smile creases her mask as she moves toward her next target.
Halfway through, Ellie takes a breath while she glances around at her fellow store patrons. With purposeful stride, most of the masked souls focus solely on their goal, no lingering over the canned goods or yogurt, no requests for the attending staff. Only determined and artful cart maneuvers meet her eyes as she looks around.
A small, rail-thin woman stops, allowing the appropriate number of feet between her’s and Ellie’s cart, “Excuse me, do you know where I might find pesto?”
Ellie smiles, “I believe pesto is with the pasta. Try two aisles that direction.” She points to her left.
“Your hair is beautiful,” the woman says. “It’s so white.”
“Thank you,” Ellie replies as she touches her short bob. “It needs trimmed, but, well… you know.”
The woman laughs, “Boy, do I? Do you see this mess?” She points to her head. “The only saving grace is the fact that everybody needs a haircut right now, right?”
Ellie scans the store then looks back at the woman, “Yep. As it stands, we are all in this together.”
“I venture to say, at our age, that both of us have been through tough times before. We’ll win this war, too.”
“I hope you’re right. If everyone were on the same side, we just might win—this war, as you call it.”
The woman’s mask moves, indicating a smile beneath it, “We’re tough old birds. With us on the right side of this, doing our best to beat it, we have a fighting chance. Well, it was very nice talking with you—mask to mask, that is. Beats Facetime!”
“Same here. Take care and stay safe.”
“Plan on it. I’m going directly home. I only go out every two weeks right now—to do this.” She gestures toward her cart.
As Ellie moves on toward the dairy section, she turns around to wave at her new friend. Focused on her task, the woman doesn’t notice. Glad for the opportunity to conduct an actual conversation with a stranger, Ellie has to fight the urge to turn her cart around, find her friend, and suggest that they have coffee sometime in the store. A what-used-to-be normal reasonable request.
Ellie reasons to herself, “I’m at the grocery store. I’m shopping. When I go outside the sun will be shining and the weather pleasant. I’ll get in my car and drive home with my groceries. A normal day.” Then, for a brief moment, her thoughts darken, “Only the day isn’t normal. THIS isn’t normal.”
With a shrug, she starts moving again, “But this is what is. It just… is.”
Finished with her shopping, Ellie wheels the cart to her car, unloads her groceries, falls into the driver’s seat and pulls away.
At home, after unloading the groceries, wiping each item down with spray bleach, and putting them away, she wipes the counter and washes her hands as she sings the alphabet song.
Her cell phone rings at the same time a photo pops up on the screen. The picture is of a nice-looking young woman with shiny red hair, blue eyes, a soft smile. “Sophie,” Ellie says into the phone, “Are you already at work?”
“Yep, came in about three hours ago. Did you go to the store yet, Mom?”
“I did. I’ve followed protocol. Wiped everything down, put up the groceries and now I plan on relaxing with a cup of coffee. How has your morning gone?”
“We lost another patient.” Pause.
“But two were discharged yesterday. I’m glad your home. I don’t like you going to the store.”
“I realize that. But it’s nice every once in a while to see people face-to-face, or mask-to-mask I guess I should say. With your dad gone, it can be rather quiet around this place. Besides, I do use delivery services and I limit myself to going out only once or twice a month.”
“I know I can trust you to do what’s best. Hey, I have to get back to work. They’re admitting more patients.”
“Okay. Be—” Sophie hung up.
As Ellie puts her cell phone down on the side table, she glances at the photo resting there. She smiles as her eyes light on the women, both suited up in scrubs, arms around each other’s shoulders. The older woman wears a stethoscope around her neck. She is the taller of the two and sports short platinum white hair. The other woman is smiling brightly, her red hair held back in a ponytail. Inscribed below the photo, etched in gold, are the words: Because you were a doctor, I became a nurse. Love you mom, Sophie.
He started showing up on Halloween in the year 1955 when Pearl’s twin baby girls were only a year old and the house the little family shared was brand new. In deep anticipation for the first Halloween with babies and a new house, Pearl decorated the front porch − two jack-o-lanterns, a handmade miniature scarecrow along with a stalk of autumn corn hanging over the porch light. Then she waited impatiently for trick-or-treaters. As she sat she laughed to herself thinking this was about the first time she had relaxed for many months. She and her husband Jack had been quite busy, what with the babies and a new house. Why they hadn’t even kept up on what was going on in the world. We need to renew our newspaper subscription again, Pearl thought to herself. But first things first, Halloween is here!
She loved any holiday, parade, or party. Pearl lived life to the fullest as is often the case with someone that takes what should be serious – well, seriously − but pooh-poohs life’s lesser annoyances. She was a willing joiner in hilarity, celebrations, and feasts. Pearl was one to make merry and make sure everyone around her was making merry, too.
While she was hanging the cornstalk, Pearl’s husband Jack was inside hollering from the kitchen begging her to come on and eat her dinner. She told Jack to go ahead and eat – that she was going to be busy handing out candy to the goblins and witches outside. She also told him to listen for the babies’ cries just in case they woke, what with all the scurrying noises on the porch and shouts of trick-or-treat that she knew would soon prevail.
A few hours later, Pearl realized she must have passed out hundreds of pieces of candy and heard ‘trick or treat’ just as many times. She hadn’t even had much time to sit on the porch swing. Finally, the last of the costumed masses had come and gone making her think that she could probably call it a night. As she leaned over to blow out the candle in the second jack-o-lantern she heard footsteps approaching the porch from their sidewalk. Glancing up she became aware of a dark figure advancing toward her door.
With the porch light illuminating the figure she began to notice that the masked shape was much taller than her usual Halloween visitor. Her heart started beating faster. Squinting, she tried hard to figure out his costume. She realized that the figure was that of a young man. Looking further she saw that he wasn’t wearing a costume at all. The only item that would give him away as a trick-or-treater was the mask. He wore jeans that were popular for the time; Levi’s – yes that’s what they were – rolled at the cuff. She noted his white t-shirt and some type of heavy necklace that he wore under a black leather jacket, the epitome of taste for a young boy that year. His hair was dark and had that rolled jellied sleek shiny large curl at the top; – a pompadour? Is that what they call it?
Pearl almost laughed out loud at her questioning thoughts. She knew she should be slightly afraid, out on the porch alone in the dark with a stranger that was taller than she, but for some reason he didn’t scare her. It was the mask – a Howdy Doody mask that boasted a huge grin from ear to ear. To others the stranger might have looked down right eerie, but to her he looked comical and somehow endearing.
As she gathered herself and straightened up away from the jack-o-lantern, the stranger held out a white pillowcase and said trick-or-treat. She had run out of candy. As she ran into the house to find something to give him she glanced at the pecan bowl just inside the living room. Jack always had pecans to crack and eat as he watched television. She turned back to the screen door and hollered through it at the stranger to wait a minute, she would be right back. Pearl grabbed huge handfuls of pecans and carried them in her apron. Opening the screen door was difficult with her hands clutching the bounty held in her apron. As she walked out onto the porch she said out loud “here ya go!” to the night air. The stranger had left. She ran down into the front yard and looked both ways down the street, but he was gone.
Halloween passed that year as did Thanksgiving and Christmas. The babies grew and became those little monsters everyone describes as toddlers in the throes of the terrible twos. Summer months were spent at the town swimming pool. Pearl became acquainted with the other mothers and picked up bridge playing. Summer melted into fall and soon it was time to bring out the jack-o-lanterns onto the porch again.
Pearl hadn’t forgotten about her strange visitor of last Halloween. She had told Jack about him in great detail. So, as the leaves started turning she began to wonder if he might reappear. She really didn’t think he would, that he was probably now pretty busy with girls and sports and whatnot, but all the same she was hoping that he might just surprise her.
Again, Jack ate dinner without her as she was too engrossed in handing out Halloween candy. The babies were asleep after going earlier with their father to only a few of the neighbors’ houses. Pearl handed out even more candy than last year and was pretty tired when the last of the trick-or-treaters were gone. Two-year-old twins can wear a person down, she thought. She opened the door to take her candy bowl in and heard footsteps. Turning around she saw the boy. He was dressed the same as last year; jeans, white t-shirt with dangly large chain necklace, leather jacket. His hair still had that rolled pompadour. And he wore the Howdy Doody mask.
She smiled at him as he stuck his pillow case out at the same time he uttered ‘trick-or-treat.’ I have something for you – don’t go away, she told him. She ran in to get Jack. Relaxing in his recliner, his hand in a bowl of popcorn, he glanced up as Pearl rushed in blocking the lit scene on the television and casting a shadow across his face. She couldn’t believe it, she told him, but Howdy Doody is back. Come see. She grabbed the pecans she had stashed in the kitchen just for the occasion and ran out to the porch.
He wasn’t there, but she saw him heading down the house’s sidewalk towards the street. She pointed at him in a nervous fester while glancing back at Jack. Jack shrugged telling her he didn’t see anything. She ran down the porch steps looking again in either direction. But he was gone.
The next year she was prepared. Jack and the girls were tuckered, the girls in bed and Jack again in his recliner watching television. All the trick-or-treaters had gone home but she sat on the porch swing waiting. Just when she decided that it was getting too late she heard footsteps coming up the steps. There he was, Howdy Doody mask in place, pillow case stretched out in bidding hands. Trick-or-treat, he said. Here ya go, Pearl told him and gave him pecans that she had wrapped up in cellophane. I think you will like these, she told him. They are my husband’s favorite treat, and as a young man you might want a little more than chocolate. He thanked her and left, walking down their sidewalk and on to the street. She started to yell at Jack but knew that it would be hopeless. Her trick-or-treater would be gone by the time he woke up enough to come out on the porch and look.
The years rolled by. Jack’s hair thinned. Pearl found a part-time job at the local library. The twins became involved in school activities, went on dates, and volunteered at the local pet shelter. The children of the neighborhood were growing up. The sound of cars honking and car radios blaring replaced the sound of children playing. Pearl didn’t buy as much Halloween candy as she used to because of the small amount of trick-or-treaters. But Howdy Doody didn’t miss his annual visit. After the last of the trick-or-treaters had filled their plastic pumpkins up with candy he came.
Pearl learned to always have some pecans at the ready on the porch for him so that he wouldn’t leave before he got his treat. To contain the pecans, she would use plastic wrap at first, then sandwich bags tied with orange ribbon. She didn’t dare go in the house or leave knowing that he would be gone. The seasons came and went and with them years of Halloween trick-or-treaters. Each year at the end of the night, after all the Spider Men, Wonder Women, and later vampires and zombies had gotten their fair share of candy, Howdy Doody would show up.
She grew accustomed to the fact that no one else saw him, not Jack or later, her daughters. A few times when he visited he would be right up on the porch standing right there next to Pearl but they couldn’t see him. She would drop the bag of pecans in his sack but the girls or Jack would tell her it only looked like she might have dropped them in her pockets for all they knew. She would pat her pockets and anywhere else she could have hidden them to demonstrate the treats couldn’t possibly be anywhere else but in the stranger’s sack. Jack or the girls never believed her. She even asked her bridge club (since they were also her neighbors) if they ever had a teenage boy sporting a Howdy Doody mask trick-or-treat at their houses. They always told her no as they glanced at her with questioning eyes.
She stopped speaking of him since her family would just stare at her like she was as nutty as the pecans. But with great anticipation she waited each Halloween for him to show and smiled with delight when she heard his steps mount her stairs. The routine was always the same – he would utter the words ‘trick or treat,’ stand leaning from one foot to the other as Pearl gave him the pecans, say thanks, then run down the steps. The first few years Pearl tried to get him to talk. She would ask him who he was or even desperately on one of his later visits she asked how he managed to always look the same even after ten years had passed. He would look at her through the mask and then dash down the porch stairs. Pearl tried to follow him more than once, but as he left her yard he would somehow disappear. She gave up on that, too.
As time passed the girls each married, one not soon after college, the other a little later. They both had babies and settled with their families in Pearl’s town. Pearl made sure that the grandbabies visited often. But on Halloween, she would ooh and aah over their costumes then shoo them on home after a while so that she could get her pecans ready for her visitor.
As the grandbabies grew and Jack retired Pearl decided the two of them would travel. Again, no matter how far from home they went, they were always back for Halloween. It wouldn’t seem right not to be there to hand out candy. Their neighborhood had changed again bringing young families and many trick-or-treaters. Pearl grew tired easier than in the past but that didn’t stop her from waiting for her visitor. And as always she had to wait until after the last trick-or-treater showed.
Jack passed away. Pearl couldn’t leave their house, it wouldn’t feel right. So, five times since Jack died she alone gave out candy on Halloween and five times she gave bags of pecans to Howdy Doody.
At 94 years old Pearl’s daughters became adamant that at her age she had to come live with them – they would take turns having her year by year – until I die, Pearl thought to herself staring at the ‘For Sale’ sign puncturing her yard outside. It was her last Halloween at the old house. Oh well, Pearl thought, the grandchildren are grown and have families of their own – maybe it will be good for all of us.
The doorbell rang and Pearl cautiously handed out candy from her bowl simultaneously leaning on her now dependent cane. She smiled at each tiny face as she doted and admired the costumes and the regalia. As the sunlight faded and darkness began, the trick-or-treaters started to dwindle until after many minutes she knew they were done.
She sat on her old porch swing holding the bag of pecans and peered out into the night. After what seemed like a long time she heard footsteps and saw the broad smile sitting perched at the top of a black leather jacketed figure. Howdy Doody climbed the stairs with his usual ease. He pocketed the bag of pecans as Pearl handed them to him smiling, tears in her eyes.
He took them saying his usual thank you then glanced out into the yard where the For Sale sign rocked gently in the light breeze. He turned back toward her fishing in his jean pocket. I have something to give you, he said as he slipped something in her worn gnarled hand. Happy Halloween he said then turned and walked down the stairs, out into the yard, and faded as he entered the street.
Over the next four years Pearl alternated between daughters’ houses, one year here the next year there. As her body began to decline and related aches and pains took over she would think about how grateful she was for all the years she had. Over and over she validated her life. She was grateful for the all the time she had with Jack, her daughters and her grandchildren, grateful for her friends, and grateful for her time in her not-so-big house with its welcoming front porch.
After Pearl died the girls gathered her things; jewelry, clothes, mementos – and for the most part either divided them between them or donated or sold them. They kept all the photos of course and her wedding ring. They kept the nutcracker Jack used for his pecans. And they kept another memento; a necklace. They had no idea why but their mother always wore it from the day she moved out of their childhood home.
A few years later the daughters decided to hold a joint Halloween party. One of them volunteered her house for the celebration so on Halloween night party voices, music, and laughter could be heard all over the block. Later, as the partiers began to settle down around the fireplace one of the guests started a ghost story. Before too long others were telling theirs; the usual campfire stories – creepy dolls, things heard in the night at their grandparents’ farm, séance tales.
When all tales were exhausted, the partiers sat in silence. Because it was so quiet and no one seemed to want to leave yet, one of the daughters decided to tell the story of Pearl and Howdy Doody to their guests. She told them that neither she nor her sister could see him (as her sister nodded her head in agreement). She told them that her mother would give the trick-or-treater a treat –always a bag of pecans.
After the daughter was finished with her story, one of the guests remarked that he remembered seeing an article a long time ago about a boy in a Howdy Doody mask. He quickly got out his phone and started searching. As he did the sister not telling the story (the one that lived in the house of the party) disappeared into the other room.
The guest found the article and started paraphrasing it out loud to the others. He related to them that the article was from the local newspaper, dated Halloween 1955. An entire family died in a car accident on Halloween night as they were coming home from a party. One of the sons and the daughter were asleep and never woke up.
As the story unfolded, their older brother had decided to drive home. He realized that his mom and dad were just a little too tipsy and although he hadn’t been driving long he was probably the most equipped to operate a vehicle in that particular situation. As they rounded the curve that brought them to their own street a car heading the opposite direction swerved only for a moment. The young driver panicked and ran off the road into a long ravine. Rolling several times the car landed upright. The ambulance driver and police officer on the scene later described the vehicle’s occupants as the car was pulled from the cavernous ditch, ‘It looked as if they were on a nice car ride, all sitting upright and dead.”
The partiers grew quiet. The other sister came into the room. She was holding something in her hand. This was our mother’s, the sister said. She wore it all the time for the last few years before she died. She started wearing it about the time she moved from our childhood home. She said they moved her the day after Halloween and both she and her sister always wondered if her wearing it had something to do with her Halloween visitor. The sister dangled a necklace from her hand. The necklace had an Irish Celtic cross on it – attached above the cross was a large bead of amethyst.
As everyone examined the necklace the original guest searched his phone again and said there’s a picture of the accident here. If I zoom in I can see the driver of the car, his mask, his hair…and there… can you see it? He asked the guest sitting next to him who first put on her glasses then gasped. What is it? The sisters asked as everyone waited. The phone was passed to the sisters as they grabbed it and looked. They saw a photo of the wreck with the caption below quoting the officer “all sitting upright and dead.” Behind the steering wheel sat a figure in a Howdy Doody mask, wearing a t-shirt, jacket, and a necklace – a necklace with an Irish Celtic cross on it – a large amethyst bead gleaming from above.
As the narrator of this Halloween tale I have the privilege of insight. I can tell you, thoughtful reader, for instance, that the young boy’s favorite holiday was Halloween. I can tell you that he loved trick-or-treating but his parents had told him that for this one year they were all going to a party instead. They told him that he was too old to go trick-or-treating, that his sister and brother didn’t like going as much as he did and they wanted to go to the party.
The boy wanted to tell his parents he was sick of growing up. He wanted to tell them that growing up meant he had to do all kinds of things that he didn’t feel ready for – like getting a job and preparing for college and a career, then picking the right girl, having a family. Geez – can’t he have this one night to go back to being a kid before he has to grow up and figure everything out on his own? But his parents were not going to waiver – not this time.
So, getting into the car after the party he decided he should drive. His mom and dad had quite a bit to drink and although it was the 50’s and everybody drove sh-wasted he didn’t want to be that one asshole that so totally had his driver’s license and didn’t go full adult on his parents preventing the precious Plymouth from becoming involved in some kind of fender bender.
After he explained this to his parents everyone situated themselves in the car. They drove off, his hands on the steering wheel, his dad beside him, mom in the back with his two siblings. Although he decided to keep his mask on for just a little while longer, he was proud of himself. Maybe this was the day that he started acting adult. Maybe he didn’t need to trick-or-treat any longer. Man up – isn’t that what his dad kept telling him? So, okay – I drove the family home, he thought as he came upon the bend in the road. Time to grow up.
And as for Pearl? How did she see Howdy Doody when no one else did? You see, thoughtful reader, that Pearl and Howdy Doody shared an enviable attribute. Few people know what it’s like to have a purely uncontaminated view of the world. Oh, people like Pearl and Howdy Doody can see the horror humankind has brought about – they know injustice and inequality. But they also know clean optimism and unadulterated joy at life. They see things we cynics and skeptics will never visualize. They can see it in a young kid in a Howdy Doody mask just wanting a special indulgence – if only for one night out of the year. Pearl could see it because she lived life that way. Howdy Doody? Well, because he never got the chance.
My last name is Freeland. I was born and raised in Independence, Missouri – recently moved but lived there my first 64 years. President Harry S Truman lived in Independence for 64 years as well, up to the day he died. Independence also boasts the start of the three trails to the west; the Oregon, California, and the Santa Fe Trails. My hometown is only 22 minutes by car away from Liberty, Missouri. This is the Midwest, the proclaimed ‘Heart of America.’
My dad served in the Navy during WWII on the USS North Carolina. He was then employed at the Independence Allis-Chalmers facility for many years, an assembly plant that built thousands of Gleaner tractor-combines during its 70 years of operation in Independence. Combines that were sold to thousands of farmers across the country.
You can’t get too much more American than that.
I love my country. I love it for what I believe it is capable of being. I love it for what it has been capable of. And I love it right now. I don’t wear flag t-shirts except on Independence Day. I don’t believe we need to make America great again because I believe it’s already great. And I don’t call French fries by the name American fries. Having said that, I believe I’m pretty damn patriotic.
However, at this point I’m scared for America. Let’s just say, for a visual picture I’ll explain by using the opening scene of one my favorite movies, “Jaws.” The girl, Chrissie, is playfully running to the water from the beach. She’s with a boy who apparently is a little inebriated as he can’t even make it into the water without passing out. But Chrissie continues on without him. She dives in, splashing and having a great time until something jerks her downward into the depths of the water. At first we as viewers don’t have a clue as to what is pulling her down into a watery grave but the slow and terrifying conclusion is that a shark unlike any that has ever came within miles of this particular beach, will begin to terrorize everyone. This includes vacationers, townspeople, the politicians, and the authorities.
That’s how I view my country now. It seems like the largest creature we could ever imagine is eating away our very souls while it feeds on our freedoms, our integrity, our character. This creature loves to feast on its prey bit by bit, so like Chrissie, we don’t even know what the hell is going on, until we are consumed.
We used to cling to our beliefs and principles as Americans like Chrissie did the ringing buoy. But we have been pulled away just like her, by the creature, which is another primitive force lurking in the dark. It’s tearing us apart, slowly but just the same, it’s happening.
So, yeah, I’m afraid for my country. I know it still stands for all the values that I hold dear. As Americans, we still believe in fairness, justice, welfare, freedom, and choice – words found in our Constitution. I’m just not sure we are representing those words that well right now.
I’m American. My father was American. Chief Brody was a fictional American. Chrissie was, I’m pretty sure, a fictional American. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez , Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib are all real Americans. As Americans, all are accountable but if we don’t get it together we don’t stand a chance. And sorry, Chief Brody, we don’t need a bigger boat this time, we need to take the wheel, so that we can turn this boat around.
I am ready for warm weather. I’m ready for fried zucchini and grilled hamburgers. Eating cookie dough ice cream outside and drinking Pinot Grigio (outside or inside, doesn’t matter).
I’m usually one of those crazy people that enjoy the seasons. I like summer and winter. I love fall and spring. For instance, on any given day during winter months when it’s cloudy and dismal for others, I envelop myself in a warm sweater covering up with a blanket if at all possible and either write or I read a good book. I don’t discount the fact that I have the privilege of just reading or working at my computer at home. I used to be one of that larger percent that spent their days at work. I enjoyed dark and cloudy days even then. I know. Crazy.
But when it was time for spring and then summer I was ready for that, too. Spring means renewal. Spring means second chances. How could you not enjoy new growth? Daffodils? Lightweight jackets versus heavy coats? And then, shorts!
But I am convinced that spring has decided to take a leave of absence. Because, I’ll tell ya, this winter has gone on way too long. It seems as if there is an ever-present weight in the air having nothing and everything to do with sleet and ice. Everyone in the Midwest is experiencing this heaviness. Our friends, family, and anyone we happen to converse with, be it restaurant servers, cashiers, passers-by, just seem, well, kind of lethargic and non-committal – about anything!
I understand. And I am getting tired of this winter myself. There’s only so many days that even those that enjoy snow and cloudy days can endure. But in the general scheme of things, what can we do? I know the long-range remedies that pertain to climate change. Doing our part is very important. But right now, on gloomy, cloudy, snowy days how do we keep from eating stale, frozen old Christmas cookies while looping “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” on TV over and over again?
Here’s some suggestions:
Watch “Baywatch” instead. Seriously. Not the recent “Baywatch” movie, but the original TV series. You know, with David Hasselhoff? You will wish you were on a beach at the same time you are glad it is winter 2019 and not anytime ever in the 1990’s.
Make ‘Baked Alaska.’ That’s right. For those people born after 1990 that are familiar with “Baywatch,” but not Baked Alaska, this is a dessert that is frozen at the same time it is hot. Google it. It’s ice cream in the oven. Which is like Vin Diesel with a toupee or shooting golf balls through a basketball hoop, inconceivable and wonderful.
Paint a scene like the one we in the Midwest have been looking at all winter. This will require only a canvas. No paint, paint brush or other medium. Believe me, if the canvas is white – that is all you need. Hang the canvas in an appropriate place while you enjoy watching “Baywatch.”
Follow friends on Facebook that are in sunny, beachy “Baywatch” places. Constantly check their status and then look up the locations. Find a live webcam of the place and put a blanket over you and your computer while watching so there is no way for you to acknowledge that you are not there yourself. If that doesn’t work start commenting on your beachy friends posts telling them that you prefer the cold. Let them know that warm air and sand are no longer trendy. As evidenced by the availability of “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” and “The Revenant.” Smilla or Hugh Glass wouldn’t be caught dead in warm sand and sun. No, they would rather be snuggled in a warm parka or inside a dead horse carcass. They wouldn’t be caught dead in swim trunks and flip flops either. That is so last year!
And last of all, my best suggestion is to sit and read “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. While drinking a glass of red wine. You will be so glad that you don’t have to use twisted hay for fuel and eat stale wheat cakes that you will make a toast to winter weather with all its snow and cloud-filled days. And then make another toast to the fact that summer is inevitably on its way, believe it or not. Before too long we will all be wishing for cold weather again. And watching another 1990’s treasure, “Northern Exposure.”
I guess you could say I broke up with Facebook, or as I refer to my longtime companion, FB. But, to be completely honest, I’m not sure how long this break-up will last.
Let me just say that it all started about three weeks ago when my husband and I went on a trip. We began in Boston, spending about four days there. Having never seen this city, we walked the Freedom Trail – Paul Revere’s house – Old North Church – intriguing old cemeteries. We toured Samuel Adams Brewery (go if can – the tour is great – the samples are way too generous). Then we cruised out of Boston up the coast for seven days.
A standard rule for me is to leave all social media behind when I’m on vacation. So, I left FB behind for eleven days. Taking in gorgeous scenery – lighthouses- old fishing villages – beautiful shorelines and eating delicious seafood everywhere, I didn’t miss FB at all. I felt more guilty about the couple of pounds I gained then I did about leaving Facebook.
The next morning after we got home, as is my routine, I checked my email, checked the news and then proceeded to open FB. I paused. I thought about it for a nanosecond and then I shut my I-Pad. I realized I didn’t miss FB. I left like that and I didn’t look back.
Yep, I ghosted Facebook. Without so much as a word I left my steady partner of probably about a decade. I disappeared off the Facebook planet. No long good-byes, no tears, no post-its. I just left.
They say ‘ghosted’ also means that the relationship buster is trying to avoid conflict. Yeah, that also fits. Totally. I definitely don’t want to be on FB’s bad side.
It’s been exactly three weeks since I last checked in. Currently, the indicator next to the FB app displays 28 notifications. Really, I guess that’s not that many. I’m sure lots of people have more. But, because I have 28 I have received emails from FB notifying me of well, my notifications. FB keeps trying to get back together. As of today, I’m still not ready.
To explain how this relationship drain started, I guess you could say it may have began with the Russians. And the Hillary bashing. Consequently, FB had some explaining to do. And, it wasn’t done well. FB tried to tell me the Russian shenanigans didn’t mean anything. That it was over. I’m not so sure. And Hillary? Can we say a jealous control freak? FB not Hillary.
You see, I guess I’m just over it for now. I’m tired of FB’s constant neediness. I’m tired of the whining, too. There is always someone posting about this politician or that celebrity. And not always in a good way. Well, most of the time, not in a good way. At all.
So, FB can be mean. There is a constant rush to judgment. With someone calling out a situation or person, then going into a gigantic rant. FB can be quite resentful and requires constant attention. That can get tiresome. Sometimes I just want to be left alone. FB wouldn’t allow that. It constantly called. It got quite annoying. At what point does a person finally get fed up with videos of dancing turtles and posts that state “That was just awful!” and then leave it at that. FB can be a drama queen.
And then there are the posts that I am supposed to like. And the sad thing is that I enjoy most posts about my friends, their babies and grandbabies, dogs, trips, foods they eat, friends they’re with, so geez, why do I have to ‘like’ this stuff, too! I do! Hitting a thumbs-up icon doesn’t make me like it any more. It shouldn’t make any difference to the poster either. But it does. FB is needy. And whiney.
So, I’m done. As I stated earlier, I’m done at least for now. I haven’t severed my relationship by deleting the app nor have I deleted my account. That would be too harsh. Our relationship meant too much for way too long.
I come from a long line of independent women. My Grandma Berry had my mom. My mom had me. I had two daughters, most definitely independent. Depending upon that moment in time, all of us were or are strong women.
My Grandma Cherry was also a strong woman. Her husband was an alcoholic and to hear stories, a pretty mean one when he was drinking. I think she put up with a lot. Quite a lot. More than I probably will ever know. Through it all she kept a clean house, cooked many a meal, and yet remained a very kindhearted and quietly courageous woman. And she raised two children that respected her; my dad being one of them. My Grandma Cherry believed in equality, gentleness, and affability. My Grandma Cherry stood for what she believed in.
My Grandma Berry raised her three children alone. That is, she raised them alone after her husband left her to ‘see the world.’ She took in laundry, babysat, and cleaned houses. This was during the depression in a small town in southern Missouri. And she raised three children that respected her. My Grandma Berry believed in hard work, most definitely equal pay, and impartiality. My Grandma Berry stood for what she believed in.
My mom was outspoken and stubborn, sometimes too much so. Or so I believed. I don’t recall her ever complimenting my outward appearance. Instead she would say “pretty is as pretty does.” She valued truth, sincerity, and didn’t suffer fools. She worked outside the home before any of my friends’ mothers did. She worked long hours at a stressful job. Oftentimes, she would come home irritable and annoyed at the least little thing because she was just plain tired. But as a teenager I didn’t really care. We had terrible arguments and harsh disagreements. There were times I even thought I hated her. But, I always respected her. My mom believed in truth, ability, and candidness. And most undoubtedly, my mom stood for what she believed in.
I’m not quite sure that I could measure up to those that came before me; my grandmas, my mom. I didn’t have to raise my daughters on my own nor with an abusive, alcoholic husband. I worked outside the home but for the most part really enjoyed the jobs I had. In addition, my husband is a very caring man that worked very hard and helped out a lot around the house while our daughters were small. All that notwithstanding I could still be a tyrant, a dictator, and hardcore. But I am sure of one thing, my daughters respect me. And I immensely respect them. I believe in equality, honesty, and openness as do my daughters. And we stand for what we believe in.
The Women’s March was a year ago. When my friends and I first started planning on going to the March we planned on going by car. We didn’t know what to expect nor were we certain what we would find when we got there. We weren’t sure how many others there would be, would there be only a couple of hundred or so or would there be thousands?
Not too long after we started planning, we found out that plans were underway in our community to take a bus…then two buses. On the Friday before the March as we traveled through Illinois, then Indiana, then Ohio to D.C. many more buses started appearing. Close in to D.C. as we pulled in to a rest stop to freshen up buses were stacked three deep in the parking lot. In D.C. as we disembarked from the bus we saw throngs of people not only getting off buses but getting out of cars and walking. Bands of people became crowds then as we got closer to the center of the March; the crowds became throngs, then just a sea of pink hats, signs, and people.
I felt an overpowering sense of unity. My friends and I weren’t alone. My bus full of new friends from my community weren’t alone. We were half a million strong. We gathered for the same purpose. To march against prejudice, racism, and gender based violence and abuse. To march against oppression, divisiveness, and disrespect for those that deserve our respect.
To march for something we believed in.
Later, during the days after I got home I discussed that day with my husband and my daughters. I packed away my Women’s March I.D. sign, my armband, my ‘be kind’ button, and my bus information pamphlet in a keepsake box. I added duties of calling my legislators and participating in political groups. I went back to my part-time job, my friends, and my committee work. In other words, including a few additional tasks, I went about my life.
During this last year I have thought about the March quite often. I think about the friendships I have made. The speeches I heard that day. The huge throngs of people. And then sometimes when I think about the March I can’t help but imagine my mom and my grandmas there marching with me. I know they would have been there if they could have. Because they stood for what they believed in. As my daughters and I stand for what we believe in. As over five millions people, on that day, a year ago, around the world stood for what they believed in. And we will continue to stand for what we believe in. And we will march to prove it.
I’m not much on nature. I don’t camp. I don’t float (well, I didn’t float until this year and I’m sixty-two years old), and I’m not crazy about certain vegetables. But I do love the sun. It seems to me that the sun connects us all. It gives us light, creates shadows that you can use to dance in, and in most instances the sun when shining guarantees the absence of rain.
And I love the moon. Probably equal to if not more than the sun. I think it has something to do with the dark, which I am partial to. The dark is where you can make stuff up. Creativity begins in the dark – beginnings come oftentimes during the blackest hours. And besides, the moon is ours. It belongs to our earth. Whereas the sun has to be shared with a lot of others; planets, atmospheres, and fellow stars.
So when our moon takes on such an admirable and respecting move like going for blocking the largest star in our solar system (a star that’s heat can reach 17 million degrees Fahrenheit by the way), you have to agree, our moon has major nerve. Yeah, sure, the sun is basically a gazillion miles away, but just as I wouldn’t go close to one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, I know I wouldn’t take on the sun, no matter how far away I was. Dragon fire or huge burning orbs, take your pick, I choose to stay away.
Far away from both the sun and moon, I stood in my backyard as millions of others did yesterday to witness a showdown of sorts. A miraculous confrontation. The moon did what it does best. It gave us an exhilarating glance into darkness. I stood there watching as every fiber of my being was telling me it wasn’t time for darkness, yet it descended anyway. And it was glorious!
In that minute and forty seconds the moon prevailed proving that darkness can’t be avoided. There are times when it comes as a night sky with a shining orb giving off enough light to give direction. Or as in the eclipse, it comes during the brightest of times, giving us the opportunity to dance in its shadow.
As mentioned earlier, I don’t like a lot of things about nature, but I do like the knowledge that she brings, and along with it sometimes the organized upside-downs. The moon is brave enough to initiate night on a sunlit day allowing us a different perspective. It gives us pause, a fresh outlook and a common cause, if only for a brief minute and forty seconds.
I haven’t written a post for awhile. There are a lot of reasons. Been busy. Traveled a bit. Oh, and then there’s this – we have a new president. From the get-go please allow me to tell you, I have never been a fan of our new president. I didn’t like him from the minute he started making news – way back in the good ol’ days before he REALLY started making news.
This guy really scares me and a lot of people, as he should. He hasn’t a clue about running a hotel business, university, whatnot – let alone a country. He’s impulsive, manipulative, narcissistic, and really not very bright. If he is presidential material then I am in charge of the entire universe as I consider myself of very slightly above average intelligence thus defined as a brilliant genius in Trump terms.
So,to give you an idea of my daily life now versus my daily life before November 8, 2016 I have below a comparison of the two. If you see even a glimpse of a comparison to your life now, please let me know. I believe we are in good company. Ingood company, and lots of it.
My daily routine before President Trump:
6:30 am – Wake up to birds chirping outside.
6:40 am – Workout on elliptical while watching Bloodline on Netflix.
7:10 am – Stretching and firming exercises while listening to “Shut Up and Dance”.
8:30 am – Drink coffee and read the comics in the newspaper for my morning laugh.
10:00 am – Work outside in the yard among my flowers and lush green lawn.
Noon – Eat lunch on my patio.
2:00 pm – Write and work on my stories.
5:30 pm – Hubby and I meeting friends for dinner.
7:30 pm – Settle in and watch a few tv shows like Big Bang Theory and Fixer Upper.
10:00 pm – Watch The Daily Show for my political laughs and updates.
11:00 pm – Drift off to sleep dreaming of travel to distant lands.
My daily routine now:
6:30 am – Wake up from a nightmare about big orange birds tweeting (not chirping) maniacally while eating fat juicy earthworms.
6:40 am – Workout on elliptical while crying and watching Bloodline – I mean yesterday’s White House Press Conference.
7:10 am – Stretching and firming exercises while listening to CNN’s broadcast of Trump’s speech “Shut Up America, I Know What’s Best”.
8:30 am – Drink coffee and read the comics in the newspaper. Comics being every single thing said and done by Trump. Only I don’t laugh as hard. Sometimes these comics just aren’t funny.
10:00 am – Stay in. Afraid to go outside. The big orange birds are tweeting like crazy and have started to attack random people.
Noon – Eat lunch inside. The birds are building little hotel nests in my trees and giving their fat juicy worms to some vultures I’ve never seen before.
2:00 pm – Sit inside at my computer. Can’t stop reading news stories about new Trump shenanigans. Or go to a protest rally.
5:30 pm – Hubby and I eat at home alone. Either our friends have left the country or they are at a protest rally.
7:30 pm – Watch CNN and cry.
10:00 pm – Watch The Daily Show and cry.
11:00 pm – Take a Valium so that I can sleep. Drift off to a nightmare about big orange birds tweeting (not chirping) maniacally while eating fat juicy earthworms.
Well, that’s about it. They say things can change in a heartbeat. I guess I understand that. I know things have changed a lot lately. I guess it’s time for lunch. And time to see what the big orange bird is tweeting about – and what he is having for his lunch – he’s running out of worms.
I have a ghost story book that is very dear to my heart. It’s called “The Fireside Book of Ghost Stories” and is edited by Edward Wagenknecht and published by Grosset & Dunlap, New York in 1947. I believe this book is the partner book to “The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories.” Most of the stories are based in England and on the habitats therein.
Each October as tradition would have it I take the time to read as many stories as time will allow. I begin the first day of the month and end on Halloween. I then put the book back on my book shelf until next year. There is no possible way I would think of reading it any other time and yet I always hate putting it back up. It’s like I am saying good-bye to a very dear friend knowing I won’t see them again for a very long time.
The stories are written by well-known and established authors such as Daphne Du Maurier, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. There is also a story by the book’s editor and also a story from the First Book of Samuel in the Bible. The stories are distributed into ten sections. For instance, there is a section called “Missioned Spirits”. According to the text, missioned spirits are those that “may be trying to right a wrong, or “bring some benefit to the living.” The story, The Corner Shop by Cynthia Asquith gives us a story dealing about a man that accidentally comes across a “curiosity shop”, a shop that deals in antiques, collections, and all kinds of used items.
The customer makes a transaction with the shopkeeper only to come back to the store a few days later to find out that the shopkeeper had died several years ago. His son tells the customer that his father, although deceased, has been reported to occasionally come back to sell items or make a deal with those that venture in. The son tells the customer that transactions with the deceased shopkeeper always went well for the customer, financially speaking, as in the case of this particular customer. This was because the shopkeeper was paying pittance for what he considered crimes he had committed many years ago.
“The Green Scarf” by A.M. Barrage is one of my favorites. It has to do with an old country house and it’s past. Apparently a long ago owner of the house was a Royalist after the fact (his side lost). He had to leave his house and stay in hiding most of the time occasionally returning if his servants sent words deeming safety at home.
However, one of his servants betrayed him. This servant through prior words with the now in favor troops waved a green scarf at an upstairs bedroom window indicating his master was home. Consequently, the troops stormed the house, captured the Royalist and executed him.
The present day owner and his visitor found the old worn out green scarf inside a long closed window seat. Upon retrieving the scarf the two began to come down with a serious illness, chills – fever – the gamut. Then they started to hallucinate or so the story goes, seeing men dressed in very old military garb carrying muskets and lanterns lit up all around the property. In their delirious state they crawled up into the attic of the old house staying there all night, scared out of their wits and feverish.
The next day they retrieved the scarf putting it back in its place. They instantly felt better physically and never witnessed those terrifying images of musket fire and ghostly lanterns coming at them again. It’s a story that is fun to read at night sitting in my comfortable present day living room, especially if the fireplace is lit.
I’m not entirely sure what draws me to this book each year. I believe it may have something to do with the fact that most of the stories are about people living in peaceful picturesque villages in the English countryside and what awaits them. Or it is possibly the way that most of the stories are told, slowly building in suspense and yet sharing some type of thought provoking message. Many of the stories seem to question what is real, what is important, and although about the dead, what gives us the strength to face future dilemmas and problems.
So, if you get a chance to find a copy of the book and you enjoy ghost stories, particularly philosophical and whimsical ones, I guarantee you will enjoy this book. Don’t pass it up, buy it. And if it is sold to you by an old kind gentleman with an English accent, don’t question and don’t try to go back to speak with him about the stories. He may not be available.
I had an Uncle Bill. I didn’t really know him that well. I only knew that he scared the crap out of me.
My uncle lived in California. Los Angeles to be exact. Of all the relatives coming from my maternal grandmother’s family tree, Uncle Bill was the most glamourous to those of us back in southern Missouri, at least while I was growing up. In the 1960’s California was still that elusive, mystical place you only knew of from the movies and television. No one went there. It seemed that no one left here at all.
Oh, I guess my parents left for Kansas City. But that was still in the state. A few relatives went to join the Army or Navy, but they came back eventually, to farm or run the family store.
But Bill left. He did join a military branch, the Army. He was stationed in California. And he didn’t come back . Given, he did come back for the bi-yearly visits to see hismother and occasionally my mom and aunt. But he never stayed. He always went back. He had a wife and a daughter. That was home, for him.
He became a California Highway Patrolman. Then later, he achieved the position of a State Highway Patrol Inspector, one of four in the state. When he came back into town my mom, his sister, would always say, “the prodigal son is back.” “Billie.” That was his name to my grandma and to all that knew him back when. After he left for California, my grandma was the only one that still got away with calling him that.
He didn’t say much. But when he spoke he had a deep voice and it seemed as if his conversation was always in a certain tone. He wasn’t much of a talker. If he asked how you were doing you responded truthfully, not by just saying fine.
As a teenager, when we visited my grandma I would be the designated point person to pick up dinner from our favorite hamburger joint. If Uncle Bill was in town and involved in the order, I made sure I got it right. The funny thing now when I think about it is that I’m sure he would have just laughed if I forgot the onions or his burger had mustard not mayonnaise. But at the time I would have been devastated. Huh.
He died at the age of seventy-nine about ten years ago. After he lost both his wife and daughter within months of each other. My mom had passed away a couple of years earlier so I made the trip to the funeral with my husband, to the same small town that he left.
There were several people there and many accompanied us to the graveside ceremony. As an Army veteran, the family requested full military honors. The honor guard ceremonial folding of the flag, the sound of Taps playing as we sat, and the photo depicting him as a family man – wife and daughter in happier days on a small table, all these are deeply felt memories for me of that day. Memories involving a complicated, complex man that I never really did get to know.
I believe in not knowing him I made him into a mythical creature. Something we are all prone to do with those we don’t know but are somehow connected to. I suppose in some sense it brings us closer together.
I’m really sorry I only had the myth. I am pretty sure that if I knew the real Uncle Bill I would have really liked him.
Makes you wonder how many people are out there that we build myths around? How much better off would we be if we just got to know those people? I’m sure most of us, like me, can say we may never know.