Tater’s Gift

by Chris Armentano

Sometimes you think you’re getting one thing, and in the end you get another, better thing than you could have ever imagined. It’s been like that with Tater, the little black rescue dog that came to us about six months ago. Though Tater had a  broad handsome face, a noble snout and warm chestnut-colored eyes, he was still an odd looking little guy with serious issues: mostly with his hind end which didn’t cooperate fully with the rest of him. His white-dappled front half was muscular and sturdy, while his back half, slender as a chihuahua’s, was cockeyed and bordering on feeble. When found on the streets of Ocala, Florida, he’d lost the full use of his tail end and was dragging two injured feet behind him. He was in sad shape, but his tail wagged and his worried and intelligent face seemed ready to engage a friendly human. The rescue lady said it was neurological problems that kept his hind end tilted to one side and tottering. Given his physical problems, I wasn’t eager to adopt him but my wife liked how well he got on with our other mutts, and saw something in him that told her to give the eighteen-pound critter a chance. I’m glad we did because over the past six months, as the little guy’s physical problems have lessened, he’s kick-started my growing wonder at the canine mind and spirit. Golf balls and sunsets figure in too.  

I don’t know what mix of breeds he is but there doesn’t seem to be a bit of retriever in his DNA, not by looking at him anyway. Those genes pop out when in the presence of balls, especially golf balls which, thankfully, are tough enough to resist immediate destruction by Tater’s rapid chomping, something he does about as quickly as a woodpecker drilling an insect-riddled tree trunk

Tater’s golf ball hobby is fine with me because I’m able to give my pitching wedge a workout without having to tramp around the horse pasture looking for balls in the tall grass. The game often starts in our fenced-in yard when Tater deposits one of his golf balls at my feet. Yes, he has his own paw-full of well-gnawed balls. While I set up for a chip shot, he dances excitedly while yelping encouragement, which he keeps up until I chip the ball a short distance in our yard. Often, he’ll pick up the ball and head straight for the gate that leads into the pasture where the real action takes place. He prefers the longer distances, say fifty to seventy feet, which gives him a chance to rocket his stout little body at full speed over the turf.

If he loses sight of the ball, he’ll dart back and forth with his nose to the ground defining larger and larger circles. I figure most dogs are near genius when it comes to odors, while their owners, me included, are severely challenged in this regard. Imagine trying to pick up the scent of a golf ball that’s recently landed in a tuft of grass. Your success depends on honing in on the few molecules that have become airborne since it landed. Once he’s picked up the scent, he’s quick to grab the ball and dash back to my feet, his frail back legs hopping and skipping at double time to keep up with his powerful front legs. Sometimes when his back end outpaces the front, his body becomes a “C” shaped torpedo. Back at my feet he’ll give the ball a half dozen rapid chomps before dropping it, which I imagine is how he puts his scent on the ball.  

I’m not thrilled with where he stands when pleading with me to give the ball another whack. Usually, it’s so close that I’ve got to maneuver the club-head to avoid hitting him with the ball. So, though he hasn’t figured out that by standing in front of me he risks a painful confrontation with a golf shot, he learned pretty quickly that the direction the ball takes when hit is determined by the angle of the club face, regardless of which way I’m facing. He knows that the club face turned to the left will send the ball in that direction. If turned to the right, it’ll head in that direction. I know adult golfers who still struggle with the concept. 

He also knows that golf takes place after dinner, something he doesn’t let me forget. I suppose I forgot to mention the little fellow’s sizable vocabulary. Not content with barks and growls that emerge from our other three rescue dogs, he states his case, makes demands and pleads with a collection of lively yips, snorts, squeaks, whines, whimpers, cries and a few sounds mankind has yet to name—for example, the sound “ermf.”  

Then there’s the toy for horses called a Jolly Ball, a durable ten-inch red rubber ball with a handle substantial enough for a horse to grab with his teeth and fling. Of course, Jolly Balls are tough. They have to be to survive horseplay. Although the balls are considered indestructible, Tater has proven otherwise. The other day, he was busy jawing and shaking the ball like a predator might do to snap the neck of his prey, when he decided to bring it into the house. About half way, I told him, “Not in the house,” which caused an immediate return to his favorite spot in the shade where he continued to tear at the ball. 

One of his lesser passions, not shared with any other dog we’ve had, is biting the stream of water that comes from the hose. His full body pursuit of the end of the stream is something to see whenever we’re filling buckets and watering plants. Unlike most dogs, he doesn’t skedaddle when the hose comes out. He attacks it with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get wetter if he jumped in a swimming pool. I can’t say we ever had a dog as excited about running water as Tater, though we did have a rescue that loved the sound of whipped cream whooshing out of the can’s nozzle. Don’t ask me how, but I discovered she’d snatch the cream out of the air mid-flight if I squirted some in her direction. 

Though Tater isn’t as handsome as our other three dogs, nor as good looking as any of the twelve or so rescued mutts we’ve had over the last twenty-five years, he has qualities the others lacked starting with his seemingly high I.Q. He catches on very quickly. I had to yell at him only once about trying to steal food from the other canines. “Outside” didn’t take him long to learn either. 

I have to say the best thing he’s done takes place when, at sunset, he gets me away from TV’s intellectual holding pattern to head outside to hit golf balls. Our place is dead flat with west facing views, perfect for the magic that fills the sky with deep cloud canyons, towering cloud mountains, ever-changing vaporous shapes and calligraphic streaks dashed spectacularly overhead. Everything painted the colors of emotion. Tempestuous reds, soothing purples, sentimental blues, audacious yellows: all children of the sinking fire. Afterward when the sky darkens and the air cools, and Tater and I head back to the house, I know I’ve seen some of the Creator’s best ideas—the spectacle of sunset and the four-legged intelligence that got me off the couch to see it. 

Copyright © 2021 by Chris Armentano

Marīa

By Sharona Welton

“Marīa, blow my love to me,” belts out Frankie Laine in those long ago 1950s.                                

I was a childhood fan of Westerns and the genre of lonely and forlorn lyrics sung powerfully. To me, Frankie Laine was a master of the spirited and virile style of delivery.  “Marīa,” as he sang it, became a clarion call for me to hear the high and low pitches of the wind, prairie or otherwise.

At that time of Western dramas and the wide-open prairies on film, cowboys rounded up the cattle for the drive to the markets. “Git along little dogie” was their mantra keeping the steers grouped and safe from rustlers and other mishaps along the way. Once settled for the night the cowboys sat around their campfires and felt the loneliness of the long drive, missing the girl back at the ranch, and hearing the whistling wind whipping across the mostly flat grassland.

“Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “500 Miles”, and “Tom Dooley” lent themselves to my search for melancholy sounds as I played the Hi-Fi in the family room. Flames danced in the fireplace (no, not at the campfires) as I sank further into the soothing hypnosis of the teen-age spirit.

Soon, in the 60s, “Blowin’ in the Wind” spoke of the power inherent in cannonballs, and in doves, as a counterpoint.  Dylan spoke to the tenor of the era, and I was with him in that time and space. Further, his mood-inducing lyrics made me an enthusiast for life. Vocals of Bob’s whined and wailed of the human condition.  Indeed, “Blowin’ in the Wind” would be a perfect accompaniment as one’s ashes are to be freed.

I came to know and accept loneliness and listened for its plaintively blue and beautiful sound of the natural force of nature. The power of the howling wind initially frightens as the dust bowls and sandstorms throughout time are witness to this apprehension and fear.

We cannot see the Wind, only hear and feel its manifestation. Thus, the ghostliness and supernatural further scares us as we cannot see it.

Emanations over the years, the whisper and wheeze, the whine and wail, swoosh and swirl, whistle and warble, shriek and skirl along with the power and playfulness send the message of this year, 2021.

The third month in our calendar has allowed the whistling wind to find its way into my psyche again. Some complain of its volatility; I rejoice hearing its siren song.

Home to the harbingers of spring, the Ides of March and St. Paddy’s Day celebration firmly in its grip, I celebrate these times in the third month.  A spiritual connection with the Wind, Marīa, grows each spring.

Nights in this year of our Lord 2021, I hear the teasing and taunt to play with the Wind. I place the bedroom window in position to allow the Wind to play with me. Warm under the comforter, I smile as each eddy offers itself to me. I greet my friend.

The wind is powerful and tantalizing in its ability to eventually lull me to dream. Marīa comes to me in the otherwise silence of the night.

And I listen.

Copyright © 2021 by Sharon Welton

Uncorking Wonder

by Amy Nicholson

The Little Town Writers Guild is happy to welcome Guest Contributor Amy Nicholson to our site. Amy is a freelance writer who lives by a waterfall in northwest Connecticut. Finding grace in ordinary places, she hopes to encourage and inspire others through her work. She belongs to Word Weavers Berkshires and has been published in Ruminate Reader’s Notes, Country Woman, The Old Schoolhouse, and others. Visit her at www.amynicholson14.wordpress.com.

I substituted in a second grade class yesterday. They are studying non-fiction books. For a portion of the class, they were to read non-fiction books and write sticky notes on the new facts they learned. One little boy came up to me very excited to tell me about the Terribilis frog. Did you know this frog’s skin is so toxic it could kill twenty thousand mice?

My young friend was fascinated by this fact and, although diligent in his work to continue reading the book and writing out new facts, he kept coming up to me in amazement. “Can you believe it? Twenty thousand mice! I just can’t believe it!” His excitement about this tiny yellow frog in the rainforest got me excited.

“I’m glad they don’t live in Connecticut,” I said.

“Me, too!” he replied.

His curiosity was contagious. As we talked about the frog, I found myself wondering, too. If this amphibian is so toxic, what are its predators? Are they immune to the toxin? How did scientists learn this frog could kill twenty thousand mice? Did a brave and gritty group of them have that many mice to spare one week and say, “Hey, let’s give this a try?”

I went home and did a little research of my own. Sure enough, the Golden Poison Frogs (Phyllobates terribilis), even though they only measure about two inches,are the world’s most deadly frogs. They are indigenous to Columbia (so my young friend can rest assured he won’t find one in his backyard sandbox). The alkaloid toxin on their skin is toxic enough to kill two grown men. Again, how did they learn this? And is one grown man equal to ten thousand mice? In what way? Would it be the same for a woman? The native Embera of Columbia used this venom to tip their blowgun dart. Oh! That’s why they call them Poison Dart Frogs! How do they capture these frogs and use them without harming themselves? Would it be enough for them to just wash their hands afterwards? Where do they find soap in the rainforest? Because curiosity begets curiosity, one question led to another.

When I work with older kids, their fascination usually revolves around maybe sports and dance and then video games. The older they get, though, the more they seem to talk about other people. Their friends, who their best friends are, and then, unfortunately, how this person upset that person and this one’s not talking to that one. We never seem to get back to the topics of things like poison dart frogs and how no two snowflakes are alike.

My husband is a high school science teacher. He loves science, and he loves teaching, but it is disheartening for him that so few students take an interest in the subject matter. They are more interested in social media and what they’re doing after school.

This shift from wondering about the world and all the creatures in it to focus on people, social lives, and, later, finances, politics, policies, and systems is normal. It is to be expected that as we age we spend less time watching caterpillars transform into butterflies and more time pursuing gainful employment. Otherwise, no one would pay taxes to fix potholes. But I believe if we returned, at least partially, to wonder, we as adults would be a lot less stressed.

What if instead of logging onto Facebook for the umpteenth time today we went outside and took a walk? Looked up at the leaves. Watched a squirrel scurrying up a tree. Noticed that it descended upside down. What does the world look like to that upside down squirrel? Have you ever wondered why the leaves change color on the trees in New England? I always thought it was because the weather was getting colder. The real reason is there is less sunlight in the fall. I only learned that a couple years ago while subbing in preschool. Preschool. Wait, what? Let me see that book. Let me read that again.

I promise you, even as an adult, the world is still AMAZING!

I’m glad I work with young children so I can be reminded of that. My husband is a scientist. When he sets aside adult concerns like cleaning out the gutters, changing the oil, and repaying student loans, he marvels at the world. That joy bubbles over so he has to share it. One night he spent twenty minutes just talking about cork. We were at our friends’ house. They had opened a bottle of wine. My husband grabbed the cork from the counter and, although he had encountered corks on numerous occasions, he observed it as if for the first time.

“I wonder where cork comes from,” he said.

I was surprised he didn’t already know. He did, after all, major in Biology in college. When he looked it up, we were all astonished to learn that all cork stoppers come primarily from one tree species, the cork tree (Quercus suber). It grows in southwest Europe and northwest Africa. The cork is harvested every seven to ten years. The tree is not cut down, but workers have to be careful not to damage the inner bark and destroy the tree. The first cut is taken from a twenty-five-year-old tree. He went on and on telling us fascinating facts about this ordinary item we had no idea was so interesting. In fact, like my friend in second grade, he continued to think about it. He even shared what he’d learned with our kids around the dinner table the following night.

Perhaps our natural state is a state of wonder. We should be amazed at things like how ice is a solid and yet it floats on liquid water. Honeybees build the hexagonal cells of their comb at an angle so the honey doesn’t spill out. Our brain’s neuroplasticity enables it to change and grow throughout our lifetimes. We don’t have to remain stuck in a rut; we can forge new neural pathways, gaining new insight and hope.

As humans we are at our best when we stand in awe of the beauty and the goodness of the creatures and people in our midst, whether it’s the four-legged creatures that intrigue us or the child who reminds us to pause for miracles or the not-so-young one who heeds that wisdom. When we release our grasp of the to-do list for a moment and ask Why? and How?, we will most likely rediscover Wow! And remember the joy of discovery. That’s something we can enjoy at any age.

Copyright © 2021 by Amy Nicholson

Oscar Quest 2021–Pandemic Edition

by D. Margaret Hoffman

For someone who’s not in the movie business, I take the Oscars very seriously.

It began many years ago when I was tapped to teach a film class to high school students. It was a learn-as-you-go proposition for me as I had never taken such a course myself and had no formal training in the art, craft and business of film. But, as a member of an English department, one is expected to manage any course offered by said department, regardless of one’s area of expertise. So, when the film teacher retired and the orphaned course just happened to fill an empty block in my schedule, the challenge was on.

As it happened, film and I clicked. The course became a cornerstone of my schedule and a bright spot in my day for the rest of my teaching career. Over the years, I developed a practical understanding of film history and basic film techniques—not enough to be a filmmaker myself, but enough to be a teacher, an educated viewer and an enthusiastic cheerleader for the benefits of watching films and studying them as art.

As a way to tie our studies of film history to modern times, my students and I would use the annual Academy Award season to check the current pulse of the industry and to see how it compared to the periods and genres we were studying. We’d follow the nominees and winners of the awards that preceded the Oscars—the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts)—and use that information to temper our own preferences and make some educated guesses as to who might win the coveted golden statue.

It was this project that really got me going.

I obviously couldn’t assign kids to go out and see all of the nominated films in an awards season. It was time consuming and expensive and not all films were parent-approved. It was too much to ask.

But somebody had to do it. So the task fell to me and Oscar Quest was born.

I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve been doing this, trying to see ALL the nominees and making predictions before Oscar night. A lot. Some years I get on a tear early enough to weigh in on the Globes and the SAGs. Some years I get started so late that I think about just bagging it all together. But then I feel like a slug, like I’m letting the entire movie industry down or something, and I try at least to see the Best Picture nominees before the acceptance speeches start.  Some years I blog nominee film reviews as if I were the second coming of Roger Ebert. Other years, a few Facebook posts. Other years, like this one, radio silence.

But silence is not an indicator of inactivity, and, after a slow start, Oscar Quest 2021 found its stride.

This was one of those years when I was tempted to let it go. Pandemic inertia, I guess. I use that excuse for a lot of things these days.

The irony here is that, while COVID has upended so much our lives, the film industry’s response to it created the best conditions for Oscar viewing ever. First of all, COVID pushed Oscar Night from its February time slot until April 25. Two extra months to view! And, to make matters even more optimum for viewing (if not much else), COVID rendered theatrical releases out of the question, so most films were released directly onto cable networks. Imagine that! First run, Oscar-nominated films, right on my TV! With two extra months to watch all the films I wanted from the comforts of my own couch, all I had to do was to hunt down which films were on what networks and get the popcorn popping. Easy!

But tracking down, scheduling time for and justifying the cost of fifty-six films is wildly overwhelming. And if you, like me, stumble along in the ranks of the easily overwhelmed, then you also understand the common (albeit ill-conceived) remedy for this condition.

Procrastination.

So it was with the best of intentions that I printed the Oscar ballot, procured lists of Globe and SAG winners and started to compile a list of networks sometime in late March. Not an earth-shaking beginning, but at least an ice-breaking one. Hey, I did some research and even made a folder to hold it. Everything would fall into place, just like always—as soon as I could carve out the time.

Thing is, I’m retired. I have nothing but time. But managing it is not my forte and somehow weeks had gone by before I realized that weeks had gone by. There’s something about not having to leave home that makes it feel as though life is just one big long day punctuated with snacks and naps. So, imagine my surprise when the calendar leaped to mid-April and I realized that I had left myself less than two weeks to see all those movies.

Talk about overwhelmed.

I knew I blew it. So I decided to just let myself off the hook. It’s not like anything, anything at all, was riding on it. I could let it all drift by and pretend that I just got too busy this year. I could use COVID as an excuse in case anybody asked, though I knew no one would.

But then, a local community theater, shut down now for over a year because of the pandemic, made me think again. Their annual fundraising gala is a wonderful Oscar Party where everyone gets dressed up, eats fancy hors d’oeuvres and desserts, drinks a little, bids on silent auction and raffle items, watches the Oscar show on a giant screen with a roomful of like-minded enthusiasts and enters one’s predictions in the annual Oscar pool for a prize and bragging rights. Movie-geek heaven! Cancelled due to freakin’ COVID, the gala this year took a new direction. “Oscar Party in a Box” packaged up enough hors d’oeuvres, desserts, cocktails and party favors for two and took its show on the road. The auction went online. So did the pool.

Well, if they could adjust, then I could, too. The pool was on and I was energized. You can’t win if you don’t play.

So I made my contribution to the theater, ordered my “Oscar Party in a Box” for pick-up on the afternoon of April 25, cleared my calendar, lined up my TV remotes and got ready to roll ‘em.

Did I get through all fifty-six films? No. But not for lack of trying. By the end of the second week, thanks to Netflix, On Demand, Disney+, Hulu, Prime Video, Apple+ and YouTube, I was watching three feature films a day in an attempt to complete the best picture, acting, directing, cinematography, editing and screenplay categories. If I could check off at least the favorites in the other categories and then do a little Oscar buzz research, I would be in a decent position to make competitive predictions all around. The thing to remember here is that personal preferences don’t matter. You have to learn to think like the Academy if you want to put stars in the boxes instead of Xs on Oscar night. You have to get serious and do your homework if you want to be competitive.

And once I finally get myself started on this, I am nothing if not serious.

In the end, I watched twenty-nine films. On Oscar night, I was tied for first in the pool until the very end when I stumbled on both Lead Actor and Lead Actress categories. But so did the person with whom I was tied. (In our defense, the lead actress performances were all magnificent and the lead actor prize was a shock to everyone—including the winner.) So the two of us fell to a tie for second place as we hares got passed out at the last minute by a tortoise who trailed us all evening. I ended nineteen for twenty-three for the night (also missing original song and editing) and tied for second out of a field of fifty-three participants. Not bad for two weeks’ work.

Unfortunately, there was no prize for second place. But that’s not why I do this.

I could be fussy and say that I do it because movies, as an art form, are an important chronicle of our culture. While this is absolutely true, it’s not what makes me spend my money on them. I do it because I love the way that movies tell stories. I love the way they show me the world and open my mind to new points of view and stir my emotions. I love how the camera moves and how the frame defines and how a good editor juxtaposes clips of film to make a world. I marvel at the collaborative nature of the art form and how many working parts there are to even the dumbest of films. It’s amazing to me, given the number of people, decisions, concessions, dollars and technological aspects involved, that movies get made at all. It’s kind of a miracle, actually—and proof that some level of cooperation and compromise still exists among us.

I do this because, while not all good movies get nominated, the ones that do are always worth seeing. They tend to not be the blockbusters or the predictable genre films, but films that are nuanced and technical and thematic and sensory. They are not necessarily the most commercial of films and some are movies that I would not have sought out on my own. There are some that I wouldn’t have known existed if not for their nomination—films that don’t get wide releases or relentless marketing, like the international films, the documentaries or most of the shorts. I am always better for having seen them, even the ones I don’t like. Watching them carefully, thinking about them seriously in terms of content as well as form and technique, make me that much more discerning, that much more aware, that much more a part of something larger than myself.

When I was teaching that film class, my excuse for the time and effort and expense of Oscar Quest was that it was part of my job. For the kids. That was only partly true. I knew it even then.

I did it then and I do it now because I love movies. And because real life makes it easy to forget how much. Every year, Oscar reminds me.

And to think I almost missed it.

And to those who complain that the Oscar broadcast is elitist, self-involved and boring, let me just say that when you arrive prepared, it’s the most exciting broadcast on TV. Try it. You’ll see.

Oscar Quest 2021 is now in the can. It gave me permission to spend time parked on the couch, juggling remotes, trying to squeeze a year’s worth of movie viewing into a fortnight. It let me neglect the laundry, skip my walks, turn off the news, geek out and spoil myself a little. It was instructive, enlightening, inspiring—and fun.

And that’s worth taking seriously.

Copyright © 2021 by D. Margaret Hoffman

Courses in Cursive

by Jennie Nimtz

I’m in the far bedroom with my daughter doing a biennial paring-down of “stuff.” We hope I can purge enough of the things stored in here so half of this room can be made into a guest sleeping area for my two grandsons. There’s not much furniture; that was whittled down during the previous purge. No, what we are dealing with are the stacks and stacks of boxes.

“Look,” I tell my daughter who’s here to make sure I don’t get sentimental about every little thing. “More of my diaries and journals. You know, I haven’t decided yet whether or not to dispose of these before I die. I’m not sure if I want others reading all I’ve poured out on these pages. Some entries, taken out of context, could be very hurtful.”

“Mom, you have nothing to worry about! There will likely be very few people around who will be able to read these!”

“What do you mean?”

“Reading cursive! Even now, most people my age don’t understand words written in cursive; it was already an option, not a requirement, when I was in school. Do you know I’m one of the few at the ambulance service who can read this type of penmanship?! It’s actually scary because at a recent call, I was the only one of the emergency personnel who could read the list of medications on the fridge the patient was taking!”

I can’t stop thinking about this conversation. It’s disturbing. I do know that cursive writing is no longer taught in public schools. And hasn’t been for a number of years. But this never stopped me from writing in cursive–letters to college friends, notes on birthday cards, journal entries and grocery list items. However, this is the first time I’ve pondered about humans losing the knowledge of reading cursive. Of the current and long-terms effects. This is a grim state of things indeed and something needs to be done before it is too late.

It’s highly unlikely that teaching children cursive will ever return to schools. Since the conversation with my daughter, I’ve seen some half-hearted efforts put into producing “Learning to Write Cursive” activity workbooks. My daughter bought one for my eleven-year-old grandson. He completed one page then moved on to advanced dot-to-dot books. The cursive workbook is about as motivational as writing Latin was in my junior and senior years of high school.  

Latin class…. this gets me thinking. In Latin class, we weren’t taught to speak the language. The emphasis was on reading it–learning the meaning of words that are the tap roots of so much of what we write and speak today. Yes, we did conjugate verbs and write sentences, but mainly we worked on translating passages of historical writings. Religious writings had no place in public school so we were mainly stuck with boring accounts of military maneuvers and battles. But even today, my vocabulary benefits from having taken Latin.

What are the benefits of making sure generations to come can read cursive? Not everyone is going to inherit, from a parent or grandparent, journals or diaries written in cursive. However, I and many of my generation have saved special hand-written letters from friends and loved ones. Having a packrat tendency, I have every letter that my mother, father and grandmothers ever sent me. And others from aunts, cousins and best friends.  Nearly all these are written in cursive. What a loss it would be if my descendants threw these away because of not being able to read them. And what about other documents written in cursive? Land records and historical documents–do we want to get to the stage where we will have to pay interpreters to do cursive translations for us? 

So how do we right this? We need to bring courses in cursive back to our schools. I suggest starting with a course that is a requirement for all students, in fifth or sixth grade. And then through twelfth grade, mandatory refresher courses. Cursive is like typing. If you don’t use it, you start losing the skill. The initial class should be taught once or twice a week starting with the identification of upper- and lower-case letters. Then focus on how the words look strung together. After this is mastered, the students will advance to reading simple sentences. To keep the students motivated, each should be assigned a pen pal. An older relative writing a short letter to them every week in cursive. The pen pals will ask questions for the students to answer in print or type; letter-writing should always be a two-way effort. The cursive writers and students should be provided with notecards, stamps and pens. All letters going back and forth should be monitored by the teacher to make sure the subject matter is appropriate. If a student does not have an older person in their life who can be their pen pal, substitutions of approved residents at assisted living facilities can be arranged. 

There are additional fun things to do with younger students just starting out reading cursive words–scavenger hunts–the clues given in cursive. Cursive reading contests run like spelling bees. “What is it?” games with each clue written in cursive. Darn, how I wish Mr. Pullman used some of these techniques during Latin class! 

For older students, refresher classes once a week for a half of each school year would likely suffice.  Letters, journal entries and hand-written wills of public record, all can be used as samples of subjects to translate. The introduction of reading different individuals’ handwriting is also important at this level. For example, my mother had textbook-perfect, cursive handwriting. My husband’s handwriting…let’s just say our children had me write all the notes to their teachers. And Grandma Hugo added extra loops all over the place.

If there is resistance amongst the educators to stand-alone refresher courses, then work cursive reading into other classes. Have the history, English, science and fine art teachers include assignments where one needs to be able to read script. Imagine the thrill of being able to read a copy of a handwritten letter from Mark Twain to his daughter! Or diary entries from an ill-fated pioneer heading west with his family, the impact of their plight made more real by reading words that get shakier and shakier as the family’s food and water supply dwindles.   

In high school, there also should be the opportunity for an independent study option for learning to write script so that actually writing in cursive, what likely will be considered in the future as an endangered “art form,” will not be lost.

You can probably guess that by this time I’ve made the decision that I am not going to destroy or recycle my diaries and journals. Or toss even one of the hundreds of letters. If my children don’t want to be burdened with any of these, I will put in writing my wish that they be donated to cursive writing classes as samples for translating. And there is one more thing I am going to do as soon as I finish this piece.  Print my emergency contact information and list of medications and post them on my fridge. Just to be on the safe side…

Copyright © 2020 by Jennie Nimtz

Exercise in the Time of COVID

by Gail Ouimet

I don’t know about you, but this winter dragged on and on for me. My exercise routine of getting out walking on nature trails was severely limited by our heavy snowfalls. I’m no spring chicken. I’ve had a hip replacement, so walking on slippery surfaces just isn’t worth the risk for me. I was forced inside, where exercise can be a lonely business. I missed my weekly visits, as a volunteer, to a local youth prison. I missed the camaraderie of our group; their commitment to helping to make change, one young man at a time. I missed my library Friends group, planning a coffeehouse for local writers, and supporting other library programs with fundraising events. And I’m not even mentioning family and friends! Most of all I missed the faces of those near and dear.  So, on a winter’s morning, faced with inches of snow, still accumulated on the landscape, I got into sweats and headed anxiously to the basement. With a smile on my face. Why a smile? Here is what went before.

In 2007, the approach of my son’s wedding amplified my desire to get into better shape. There was one huge problem. I am not a “join the gym” kinda person. We have exercise equipment of our own that I can use. The problem? The dream house we’d bought several months before had a basement that could have passed for a dungeon. Cobwebs hung from the eleven-foot ceiling, sawdust from the previous owner’s wood shop clung to the grey cement walls, and the exposed insulation made my skin itch. It was dirty, drab, and in this uninviting place our treadmill and spinner bicycle sat unused.

I fantasized about a workout space that would call me like the Sirens called to Odysseus!

“Gail, come use the treadmill. Ride the bike. Stretch. Stretch. Stretch!”

Could I do it? It didn’t take long for an assessment of the situation. After all, I have a modicum of creative energy and am handy with tools. How hard could it be? This task had me written all over it. My project objectives were to create an area, warm, personal, bright and the renovation had to fit my limited decorating budget.  It began with a general cleaning of the whole area. I admit it; I’m not much help with housework like dusting and keeping the house presentable. My wife is a saint in that regard! This was too much to ask of her, and it was my project anyway. I put on gloves and tackled the job of wiping down the walls, getting them ready for paint or whatever would follow. Next came a trip to the local hardware store. Don’t let this scare you off! I’ve found that hardware store employees are often quite helpful with advice and product knowledge.  I was introduced to sealing and waterproofing masonry products, along with clear plastic. Once home I hauled out the ladder and stapled the clear plastic over the exposed insulation extending two feet above the foundation walls. So far, easy peasy.

I also came home from the hardware store with a white, sealer primer coat, which paid off in brightness dividends immediately. I followed that with a coating of soft yellow latex paint. The natural lines and bumps of the foundation walls vexed me. The paint, although a much-needed upgrade, couldn’t hide the wall’s rough texture. We didn’t have the money for a complete foundation resurfacing, so I considered less expensive options. My first thought was to find a wall hanging. A pretty rug, large enough to cover most of the wall. That was moving away from Odysseus towards King Arthur’s castle! I was picturing in my mind, old European castles with large rugs covering bare walls, holding in heat and beautifying stone walls. That could be sweet. Until I thought of my allergies. To be fair, and not sound like a jerk, I don’t help with dusting/vacuuming because of my wheezing reaction to the vexatious particles.  Was I setting a trap for myself, via a gorgeous, but dust collecting, wall rug?  Besides, if we were going to invest in a beautiful rug, why not put it upstairs where we, and guests, would see it all the time? So I vetoed the rug idea. Soon, another thought took its place.

While working on the basement walls, we were also unpacking boxes and dealing with smaller pieces of furniture that didn’t quite fit in the new house. One such piece was a six foot + high room divider. Then there were the stacks of prized photos. I hated leaving them in boxes, stored away and forgotten. Could I fix both problems with one solution? The answer was in the room divider. It was 69 inches tall and had three vertical panels, each with cut outs for five 8×10 pictures. I got out my tools. The three wooden foldable panels were easy to take apart, making each a stand-alone photo gallery.

That took care of fifteen photos and about a third of one wall. I wanted more. If fifteen photos were good, why not thirty, or forty-five? I felt I was on to something. Not remembering where the original room divider came from, I hit the internet. I found more dividers in the same style after a brief search. Thank you, Ebay! Soon I had three more room dividers in hand and embraced the exciting task of choosing more photos to frame.

Trips to the basement now are a chance to say “Hello” to family and friends. Our beloved malamute, Beau, is there. My son, Allen, holding our cat, Raven, greets me. The sandstone formations of Canyonlands are there. The photo triggers a memory of spending a worrisome night lost out there. My dad in his Navy uniform shines here, along with Barb’s in his Air Force uniform.  Glacier National Park, in all its grandeur is here too. The photos send me on journeys down memory lane. So what if I can’t travel outside my neighborhood right now! The time on the treadmill doesn’t seem quite so daunting. Who knew, that thirteen years later, I would reap the benefits of that project when the pandemic forced all of us to spend so much more time at home. Although not the same as in person, I can actually hang out with friends and family daily. These photos on the walls remind me of all the connections that are important to me.

And for as long as this pandemic lasts, or in a non-pandemic world, when I awake to snow, or a rainy, spring day, I can exercise among familiar, beloved people, pets, and places. It’s a fun project that anyone can do. It’s more than a fixer upper. All the faces and places make it priceless!

Copyright © 2021 by Gail Ouimet

A Peaceful Transfer of Affection

by Chris Armentano

We called the new dog Tater. The reason? We’re in a part of Florida that resembles Georgia and Alabama more than Miami and Palm Beach so we wanted him to have a name fit for the local culture. In this neck of the woods there’s a lot of hunting and fishing. Our neighbor hunts doves by the dozens, then eats their walnut-sized breasts. Others hunt pigs and it’s not unusual to see their pickup trucks with a few dogs in the back eyeballing you through the grates of portable kennels. Snakes and gators get hunted too. Then there is the collection of annoying critters like jumping spiders, copperheads and rattlers. Thank the Lord pythons have yet to make it up here from the Everglades where they’ve squeezed nearly every native animal to the brink of eradication. Needless to say, when looking for a name, we rejected Dove, Snake, Hog, Copperhead, Rattler and Python as too redneck. We didn’t consider calling him Gator, but it’s a swell name.

Down here the cooking is definitely Southern: barbecue chicken and ribs for example and fried stuff of every sort from okra to pickles. Sometimes when too lazy to cook, we’ll get fried chicken from the local Winn-Dixie, along with sides of cole slaw and tater salad. And that’s where the new dog’s name originated.

As I type this, Tater is lying on his belly looking intently at me with what the dachshund rescue and rehab lady called “eyes like a person.” Or he was. Now he’s burying his little body in the blanket we use to keep dog excesses from destroying our leather couch. 

His little eighteen-pound body is a thing to behold. The front half of this mostly black fellow is dappled, stout and strong, while the all-black rear looks like it belonged to a skinny breed, maybe a chihuahua. It’s as if a Dr. Frankenstein joined two entirely different canines that he’d been keeping around for spare parts. Worse still for Tater is that there’s something neurological going on with his back half. When he runs, his rear legs trail askew which forces him to skip forward on every third step to catch up with the rest of his body. When standing still, he struggles a bit to stay upright as his back legs wobble and hips swivel loosely like a slinky.

Up front of this comical body is a handsome little face with a long snout like a dachshund’s with a small bump on the top that’s common to the breed. 

He came to us about a month ago when, on a bright Sunday morning, the dachshund rescue lady drove him up to our place for a meet and greet. She called him Donny, short for Don Juan, which didn’t quite fit the frightened little fellow that clung close to her. We sat in green plastic Adirondack chairs on the grass in a three-spoke circle as he nervously checked out the smells, sights and sounds of our cottage and fenced-in yard. One by one my wife brought out our three pooches starting with Peanut, our little red dachshund, who must have recognized Donny as one of his own kind, as he approached him with tail wagging to beat the band. 

Next came Barney, our big yellow rescue from the Caribbean, who could have cared less, followed by Gooch, the bouncing ten-pound mound of black and white fur, who was only momentarily curious before settling in at my wife’s feet. 

Sonja, the rescue lady praised the little fellow who she said came from the streets of Ocala where he was found dragging two damaged rear paws behind him. Her careful rehab had healed his feet but his back end remained shaky, loose at the hips as if some nuts had come loose that needed to be tightened.

At the end of the meet and greet, we decided to give Donny a trial run for ten days. I was ambivalent because I’d been hoping for a dog that looked like a dachshund, not like a doggy imposter. What I didn’t know at the time was my wife had already made up her mind. We would adopt this funny looking little fellow with the gait of a drunken sailor. 

Why we got Tater when we already had three other dogs is another story. It begins about ten years before in a motel parking lot in Roanoke, Virginia, a city in the Blue Ridge Mountains that is about mid-point between a dachshund rescue north of Memphis and our place in Bethlehem, Connecticut. We were picking up a bonded pair of little red heads: males named Theo and Peanut. The rescue lady had a third dog with her: a tiny dappled girl named Shelby who was completely adorable. Peanut and Theo were pretty cute too. Peanut was as little and round as the name implies, while Theo, slightly larger, had a broad, handsome face that resembled a golden retriever as much as it did a dachshund. 

In the lot, after she put the two boys on leashes, I started off with Theo for some green grass and a good pee. Theo wouldn’t have it. After we’d walked about twenty feet Theo slipped his collar and headed back toward his pal Peanut. When I caught him, he turned and snapped at my hand before running back to join his friend. It wasn’t going well, so we decided to let Peanut and Theo stay with the rescue lady overnight while we took the ever-cute Shelby to our room. I kept thinking we’d made a mistake and would have been better off with the little girl than with these two. 

On the way home, the two boys slept in the back seat, intertwined like a doggy pretzel. Clearly bonded, Peanut and Theo were spooning.

The rescue lady who had the boys for four months, mentioned that Peanut was the more loveable of the two, though he wasn’t as handsome as big brother Theo.

And that was true. Peanut was the more endearing, more affectionate of the two, while Theo seemed more aloof, independent and stubborn. At obedience class, the instructor, who was quite annoyed with our lack of progress, decided to show me how it’s done. When he found that Theo wouldn’t respond to tugs on the nylon collar that tightens uncomfortably as the dog resists, he replaced it with a choke chain. When that didn’t work, he tried a more aggressive chain collar: one I imagine designed to cause sufficient pain to get most any dog’s attention. From that experience we learned that Theo is made of stouter stuff than most canines. No way a collar that induced a gag response when it constricted his airway could cause him to obey the simple commands “sit” and “stay.” Theo was having none of it, and in ten minutes the instructor, seething in defeat, passed back the leash of his most difficult student. So much for obedience class.

And so life went on for eight or nine years. Mr. Independent Theo never coming when called and always looking for a way to head down the driveway to check for leftovers in the food bowl of our neighbor’s Jack Russell terrier. Worry about his escapades was a daily experience. As far as being affectionate, he and Peanut had different styles. Peanut was always ready for a belly rub, or to sit in your lap, or offer a generous kiss. Theo couldn’t be bothered until the morning last September when he skipped breakfast for the first time, had trouble jumping onto the couch and grimaced in pain when I went to help him up.

Within an hour we were at the vets. He’s a very sick dog she told me. How could that be, I wondered, when he was himself as recently as last evening when he and Peanut, after the last pee of the day, squirmed excitedly in anticipation of their evening milkbone?

An ultrasound showed a growth on his spleen and blood in his abdominal cavity. 

She gave me the options: euthanasia at the office, taking him home to die, or letting them keep him overnight in hope a little treatment would get him strong enough for surgery. The shock was too much. Euthanize a pup that had been fine twelve hours ago? Let him die at home? No thanks. We had to try. Overnight the bleeding in his abdomen stopped and he responded well to the infusion of fluids. $2500 later I brought him home. Though sore and frail after surgery, he bounced back quickly. The vet was surprised just how far he’d come when I brought him in after ten days for the removal of the staples that closed the surgeon’s cut. Surprised too that he hadn’t reacted when she pulled out the staples and how within five minutes he greeted me with a wagging tail. The biopsy confirmed that the tumor was cancerous: an aggressive, fast-growing kind that usually finishes the job in a few months.

“It could be two months,” the vet told me, or up to a year she said, given how well he was doing post-surgery. I hoped for the best. Some days he was his old enthusiastic self, and some days he moved so slowly it was as if he was a candle in the sun, sinking with agonizing slowness. Twice I brought him back to the vet for fluids and twice he bounced back.

Then, ten weeks out from surgery, he became quite ill and died in my arms at four in the morning. Earlier that evening when his breathing became labored he’d look up at me as I held him in my lap, as if asking for an explanation.  “Dad’s here,” I’d tell him. After he died, I wrapped him in a white towel, to keep the dirt off his face. It seemed like he deserved better than the indignity of dirt shoveled over his eyes. My wife and I cried as we placed him in the grave we’d dug at the base of a huge live oak, a fortress of a tree that would keep him safe and from which his spirit could observe us as we went on with our lives.

It worried me that Peanut might not do well without his constant companion; that he’d be stressed and unhappy, which is why within eight days after Theo’s passing we found Tater. The two dogs have bonded, spoon on the dog bed, eat together and journey outside as a pair. Though the adjustment is better than I expected, Peanut has changed.  He’s not as energetic, doesn’t search me out as Theo and he had always done. He seems more timid.

The inseparable duo of Peanut and Theo has gone the way that all things eventually go. Theo’s been replaced by a splayed legged hobo: a funny looking, funny acting fellow that has adjusted well to his new role in his new home. One thing though. Tater leaks. Every little excitement gets him sprinkling, which stinks because there always seems to be a little excitement in his life. Fortunately, the wet is easily cleaned off the concrete floor in our Florida house. Unfortunately, he leaks out the back end too. Usually the rear leakage comes anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour after eating when, without warning, he’ll squat like a peeing female dog, to let chunks of pooh of a size you’d associate with a much larger dog plop from his butt. The result is a long trail of five or six very large acorn-sized bon bons spaced every couple of feet. Like the business with his hind quarter, I figure this too is “neurological.”  God willing, we’ll figure out how to reduce the number of poop trails that he leaves in the house, and increase the number of outside droppings; hopefully in a place where I won’t step. I’ll let you know how it ends. 

Copyright © 2021 by Chris Armentano

The Blizzard

By Maire Greene

The blizzard is raging throughout New England. It’s fifteen below zero and the wind is whipping at fifty miles an hour. We’re climbing over the snowplow pile that stands six feet high over Farmington Avenue. I’m thinking about our chances when we slide down onto Farmington Avenue. I know if I fall, I might not get up in time to get out of the path of the cars careening down the street like pinballs.

Declan yells, “Geronimo,” and leaps. He lands in a crouch that sends him sliding halfway across the street. I’m not surprised. At twelve Dec is a natural athlete. But I’ve been hard on his heels all of my eleven years.

He knows I can match him dare for dare. I get into a power crouch and launch myself into the white-out. I land with a thud, still on my feet and glide with a whoop across the frozen street. Brendan is crying and chickens out at the last minute. He slides down the bank on his back and lands like an overturned turtle.

Declan is cursing and I’m racing back to grab Bren upright and drag him out of the path of the cars we can barely see. Brendan is nine and not able to keep up. We’ve been dragging and bullying him through the snow for the last half hour.

We’ve been at this for the last two hours, battling our way through the storm to get a hundred and forty newspapers delivered. It’s full dark now and we can’t see more than a few feet in front of us. We’ve just delivered the last paper and have turned for home.

The problem is none of us can feel our feet and Brendan is barely able to walk. With Declan pulling him from in front and me pushing him from behind we’ve climbed over the last snow pile. We’re only about a half a mile from home.

But now we have to leave the lighted street and cut through the fields and a patch of woods before we hit the hill overlooking our house. On a good day I could do this walk in my sleep. These fields and woods are our playground, our plunder ground and our shelter from neighborhood bullies. The fields are full of fruit trees, grape vines and vegetable gardens. They are our lunch counter and our snack shop.

Now they have turned into an evil white waste land. I feel like the Snow Queen has us in her grasp and we don’t have any magic reindeer to carry us away. Dec and I have been taking turns at being in the lead, plowing through the snow, but now Brendan has fallen and he won’t get up. No amount of yelling or kicking is working to make him. Declan and I shout back and forth trying to think out a plan.

The truth is we are both beginning to panic—exactly what Mom always warns us against. We can see it in each other’s eyes. We both agree we have a crisis.

This is good because we have lots of practice dealing with crisis.

There was the time the tent blew over with all of us in it—my fault—I didn’t set the stakes deep enough. Or the time the Christmas tree toppled, soaking all the presents—Declan’s fault for not tying it to the window latch. Yep. We know how to behave in a crisis.

O.K. So the first rule in a crisis is to assign blame. That way you don’t waste time arguing and can get down to business.

O.K. We all agree Brendan is to blame for our predicament. Even he agrees because he knows we have shifted into crisis mode and a plan is sure to follow.

We try dragging Brendan in the strong canvas paper bag with its reinforced strap. But the bag just fills up with snow and becomes impossible to pull. Dec and I agree that Bren will have to be carried. But since none of us can feel our hands, Bren won’t be able to grab Dec’s coat to stay piggy back. We need another plan. We decide Brendan will stand in Dec’s paper bag and Dec will sling it across his chest and around his shoulders just like a horse in harness. Then Brendan’s arms can go around Declan’s neck and be tucked under the strap in front. When Declan stands up, we discover the plan is genius and we all whoop and crow.

I put my hands inside my own paper bag to protect them, stretch out my arms and get out front to plow the path. Declan will follow me.

We can barely see and are keeping a lookout for the first marker—the old bandstand in the field. I’m keeping my head down so the stinging ice pellets aren’t drilling my face. But I have to look up every few steps to make sure we aren’t going in circles. I almost weep when I crash into the edge of the platform. I don’t even care that I’m sure to have a black eye because now, for the first time in over an hour, I really believe I might survive. We briefly discuss trying to break in to get out of the storm but we all know we would just freeze to death in the abandoned building. So we plow on.

The next marker is the grape trellises. There are eleven rows of trellises and when I bump square into one I give a shout. Of course no one can hear me over the howling wind but Dec is right on my tail. I know I have to feel my way to the end of the row and turn left. The thing I don’t know is what row I bumped into—was it the first, or the fourth, or more? Nothing to do but plunge on.

My paper bag drags uselessly at my side. I have one hand on the grape vines and the other stretched back to Declan. 

I’m plowing with my chest and legs now. At the end of the row I turn and start counting off the rows. After only five rows I stumble forward and can’t feel another row.

A quick conference. We use my paper bag over all our heads to cut the wind so we can hear each other.

This is the most dangerous part. Now we have to turn right and walk until we hit the barbed wire fence. Then we have to feel along it for the hole in the fence. Declan insists on taking the lead and honest to God I’m grateful. I’m working on sheer nerve at this point and it’s giving out fast. So I put Bren in the bag over my head and chest and follow Declan. 

It isn’t long before Dec falls forward through the hole and I fall right on top of him. Bren tumbles out of the paper bag into the snow on top of Declan’s head. And here we are a pig pile of frozen kids, whooping and hollering because from here it is all downhill, straight into our own yard.

And there are the lights of the kitchen window and back door. And we’re laughing and crying and plowing through the snow yelling and screaming.

After eternity, here’s Mom opening the door, gathering us in, stripping our clothes off, and wrapping us up in blankets she’s warmed. She scolding, and laughing, and a few tears are leaking out, but she turns so we won’t see them.

And before we know it, we’re bundled into warm sheets and blankets all in the bed like a pile of puppies. Puppy icicles.

Mom leaves us for a few minutes and comes back with cups of steaming tea laced with honey and a healthy wallop of whiskey. Clutching it in my frost-bitten paws, I gulp it all down and find myself drifting off to a cozy dreamland where a magic reindeer sails me through the snow and up into the stars.

Copyright © 2021 by Maire Greene

Oh! It Was Heaven!

by Carmen Neale

Today, the LTWG welcomes guest contributor Carmen Neale of the Litchfield Writers Guild. Her story about growing up in Colombia, South America, proves that teenagers worry about the same things no matter where they live. We know that you’ll enjoy this lovely piece.

In retrospect, growing up in the 1960’s in my hometown, tucked in the Colombian Andes, was probably not much fun. The American music and culture that resounded throughout the world in that decade filtered through the mountains, weak, and without flavor. For example, the first time I heard “The House of the Rising Sun,” a friend of mine had me listen to it, with such special delight and in such secretive manner, that for a moment I thought he was going to introduce me to communist propaganda. But it was just music from “The Animals.” The truth is that today I am as ignorant about the words of that song as the day I heard them for the first time. But I still like its “cool” sound. Of the Rolling Stones I knew “Satisfaction” because it had easy words to understand and pronounce. And as to The Beatles, I shared the view of my parents and aunts. They were a bunch of crazy guys who screamed instead of singing and had very long hair. I didn’t know better.

About politics, I had heard of John F. Kennedy because, I guess, his name was everywhere. But only after he was assassinated did I learn that he was the one to thank for the powdered milk and other items given to poor children in Colombian public schools. I never knew about hippies and all the revolution of ideas that was taking place in the United States.

In the early 60s I was a thirteen-year-old learning about the opposite sex. I learned from school friends what I would now call “cruising” on foot. It was the exhilarating walking up and down Third Street, the main street in town, with the basic intention of flirting, although I didn’t realize that was what I was doing, at the time. Third Street was the place where everyone gathered. Men of all ages stood casually alongside the street, by the cafes or the shop entrances, to discuss business or simply to watch the rest of the town go by. Third Street was the place to go if you wanted to see and be seen.

Walking aimlessly for the sake of walking was not proper for a girl my age, however. It was not our business to act like men. If we were on Third Street, we were on our way somewhere. And, of course, I began to find excuses to go “cruising” on Third Street.  And I began to volunteer to be sent on errands by my mother. Even if the errand was far away from that street, I always managed to detour one or two blocks in that direction.  Once there, I would wiggle my hips trying to look both elegant and attractive at the same time. I made sure that my lips were shiny, and my hair was in perfect order. And all that preparation just to flirt with guys, familiar by sight, and yet total strangers. They would smile and whisper silly nonsensical phrases when I passed by. I felt in heaven!  To me, all of those silly and insincere compliments were as necessary to feel good about myself as it is necessary for a plant to have water to grow and feel beautiful.

But the thrill of the walk through the busy street intimidated me too much to do it alone.  I always made sure that one of my sisters or cousins was with me, competing for compliments with me with the swinging of her hips. Together we had the courage to giggle after every compliment, hoping to make the source of the words feel equally uncomfortable. None of the walks, ever amounted to more than just that, however—innocent walks. But one day, unexpectedly, I had to do it alone.

It was during Easter vacation. I was tremendously bored at home, listening to the mandatory classical music and the sermons, which were the only thing we were allowed to listen to on the radio during those special days. Suddenly, my mother asked me to buy a dozen eggs at a specialty store that happened to be exactly on Third and Twelfth streets, the busiest corner in town. I was to go alone, she said. My sisters had been caught listening to rock ‘n roll songs on their transistor radio and were being punished. No one else was available to go.

I made sure that my hair was perfect, and the make-up in place, though barely visible to avoid my mother’s and aunt’s disapproval for my lack of respect to the sacredness of the day. I felt very excited and a bit anxious. My mother gave me the exact amount of money, as she had verified the price over the phone.

Being alone on the street made me feel too self-conscious. I caught myself trying to walk the way I had practiced so many times. I avoided going on Third Street until it was inevitable. Then I turned and walked the one block to the store feeling every pair of eyes on me—on my legs, on my body. My movements were awkward rather than rhythmic. I felt my face burning. 

I went inside the store. I bought a dozen of the freshest eggs, as I had been asked. The attendant handed them to me piled up in a thick brown paper bag folded at the top, since there were no special cartons made for eggs at that time, and I left.

As I crossed the entrance door, I brushed my arm against somebody trying to go in.  The bag of eggs plopped on the ground. Instinctively, I lifted the bag carefully, hoping that they were unharmed. But the bag felt different, as if it had suddenly inflated like a balloon, perhaps from the broken eggs. 

What could I do? I had no money to replace the eggs. Besides, I wanted to believe that some of them had survived the fall. I didn’t dare look inside the bag either. I raised my head high, drawing upon the pride my mother had instilled in me about our family, and started walking up Third Street with my overblown bag. A few minutes later I began to feel the bag sagging and slowly, dripping. I ignored all of that and kept on walking. I just prayed that the bag wouldn’t rip. The usual compliments of the idle men standing in groups sounded full of pity. Two blocks with broken eggs and broken pride lasted an eternity. I finally arrived at the closest safe place, my aunt’s office. There, I felt better, even though people who knew me were staring at me with my bag dripping eggs all over the elevator and up to the seventh floor.

I never thought of throwing away the eggs. I felt that I needed proof that I was a responsible young woman. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone believing that I had used the money for something else and created the broken egg story. But to my surprise, my aunt threw away the eggs, gave me money to buy another dozen and, by the way she treated me, I understood that no one would have doubted my word if I had just told the truth.

I went back down Third Street to buy the eggs again. I felt people recognizing me as the girl with the bag of broken eggs. I thought I saw it in their eyes. I passed by them humbly, without swinging my hips. I was a woman with a real purpose for being there. 

On my way home with my freshly purchased bag of eggs held very tightly, a neighbor I had admired in silence spoke to me for the first time and, carrying the bag of eggs for me, walked me home. It was the first time that a boy had walked beside me. This was the real heaven! He was sweet and naïve. I bet he had never heard of The Animals or “The House of the Rising Sun.”

(Aerial photo of Ibagué, Colombia, where my story takes place)

Copyright © 2020 by Carmen Neale

14-Day Perspective

By Sharona Welton

I watched the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. This day was set aside for the Congress to accept the Electoral College designation of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as winners of the 2020 presidential election.

Witnessing the break into the Capitol building by a group of anarchists was not what I would ever have expected to see in Washington, D. C.

The four years leading up to this mayhem have been filled with vitriol and untruths from the administration. The 45th president claimed the press gave us “fake news” and took every avenue to prove the election had been stolen through conspiracy and nefarious behavior. It was upheld to be a fair and honest outcome.

On January 6, the President is heard inciting his followers to riot, thus thwarting the necessary work of the Congress. For this, he has been impeached, again.

My perspective is that at this profoundly serious time in our fight against the Coronavirus, we need to focus on getting the numbers vaccinated that are needed for herd immunity to work. Thus, the kids will be back in school and the economy will be up and running.

Much has transpired in the past four years of a questionable nature. Asking foreign powers to help him win the election, and separating South American children from their parents are only two of many issues. For me, the 30,000 untruths told, and believed, by his followers, are most egregious, such as stating that the virus was being dealt with and would soon go away. The numbers of extremely sick Americans have stressed the health care community beyond their capacity. The number of dead is well over 400,000 as of January 25, 2021.

The coronavirus is not in our realm to control, except to use our positive behavior to limit the rate of positivity, illness, and death. Masks are part of this positive living.

For these same years we have been contending with and trying to understand the mind set of this unfit leader who has taken us to the precipice of the canyon and left us to our own devices.

Unfortunately, too many have decided to drink the Kool-Aid, as Jim Jones’ followers did. Such is the charismatic hold of the President. We humans will try to deal with our lives by investing ourselves behind such larger-than-life people.

Some of us humans are motivated by hopes for spiritual growth while others are spurred on by greed–greed for power, money, or both. The thrill of revolution for its own sake is another.

The insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 seemed to embody these tenets, along with some Christians seeking who-knows-what by extremely un-Christian and un-American acts of terror and mayhem. 

As I watched, many times watched, the animalistic visages of the mob breaking into the Capitol building frightened me. They were assaulting their fellow Americans and several people died due to this carnage.

Our duly elected leader had again used his “might makes right” routine to gather his cult-like troops. For over four years, we the people, have been subjected to this philosophy of, “If you want it, grab it. It’s yours.” It doesn’t matter that the cost is in human currency.

Some of this fall out are 611 South American children seeking the parents they knew. I realize they all were illegal, but human beings. They may be orphaned forever. Well, that is the cost of doing business.

Denying the pandemic and then its severity put all Americans at risk, severe risk. The number of deceased in this country exceeds 400,000 souls. Family structures will change forever. “It’s nothing” was the hue and cry of the leader as the scientific community tried to tell us the truth.

We have been endeavoring to live our lives with the clear and present[SW1]  danger of this double-edged sword seeking out the soft spots in our bodies, minds and hearts, by the 45th president.

Watching the news coverage live from D.C. I kept shouting “to no one there,” this is America, not a banana republic.

Okay, so no close contact, no hugs, or reaching out to quell the loneliness within. This is our sacred mantra. Phone a friend, ZOOM a meeting, Gmail a group, text a remark—the atmosphere is vibrating with no-touch validation. For most of us it is a half-assed remedy!

In the week leading up to the inauguration I wanted a peaceful transfer of power in D.C. I also wished for the health and safety of my fellow Americans; yes, even those rioters looking too mean for even COVID to break in, and I wanted hope for my psyche to play with—hope coming out of hiding and reiterating our commitment to ourselves and our democracy. We must, we will.

Between January 6 and January 20 most of us were aware of the possibilities of some further destruction by the election loser. “The football,” the access to nuclear power, was in his pocket. Fortunately, some pardons were issued, as was his prerogative.

The FBI, the D.C. Capitol police, and the National Guard (25,000 strong), worked tirelessly to address any possible threat which might be coming.

History will lay out the last four years for good or not. Perhaps it will be acknowledged that the 45th president did some things which may have been of benefit.

Yet, it is difficult for me, a fiscally responsible moderate, to see and hear past the 30,000 untruths told by 45 to advance his agenda. Added to this was his refusal to accept blame for the proliferation of COVID. Indeed, his failures in his life were never his fault. According to in-depth reporting (not fake news) 45 will leave office deeply in debt. By refusing to acknowledge his loss of the election he keeps his avid followers believing and contributing to him.

January 20th dawned on our nation’s capital with sunshine, portending much hope for the future. Not perfect, but upbeat. The arrival of dignitaries outside were met with smiling eyes (all wore masks) and elbow bumps. Party did not seem to matter as greetings were exchanged in the chill but calm sphere. I watched with hungry eyes and my appetite for peace was satisfied.

Lovely lights memorialized 400,000 souls, U.S. flags flew for absent spectators, and homage was paid to the Unknown Soldier by presidents, past and present.

We made it–united–as Joe wants it. We need each other to keep our hard-won democracy intact and thriving. We are in it together.

Copyright © 2021 by Sharon Welton