Redneck Road Kill

by Chris Armentano           

Carl, my eight-year-old grandson, skims around this place like a little redheaded water bug. Being he’s a McKinley he’s a curious little critter, interested in everything he sees, and I’m challenged to answer his questions about what something is, what it does, who made it, how’s it work. I was like that as a kid growing up on this farm, where I tortured my dad with questions about everything: whether it was a rusty piece of machinery left out behind the barn or the knife he used to nip horn buds on young steers. When he was about six, Carl asked me how some cows are steers and some are bulls. Some are going to be making more cows, I said, while some were going to end up slow roasting on the barbecue. I could see him wince when I told him about the process of slicing across a young bull’s scrotum, yanking out a pair of hot testicles and throwing them in a bucket. “Don’t it hurt?” he said.  I laughed and told him I never felt a thing. That old joke I probably heard on the farm when I was about his age.

Carl stays with us from time to time so my son and his wife can have a little alone time, which works out good for everybody, especially for me and Carl. You’re two peas in a pod, his grandma is likely to say, when she catches us up to something around this old place. We do seem to like most of the same things, even though we’re at opposite ends of the calendar. About the farm, I’d say there’s not much we don’t like, except maybe the hayseed that can torment a burning back when we’re dragging the hay rake around with the Massey Ferguson or loading bails on the wagon for the trip to the barn. I bet if you asked him, he’d tell you that even standing in the highest part of the hay loft, which under a tin roof in July and August must be the hottest place on earth, beats standing with your finger up your nose in the outfield at Little League. It don’t hurt neither that there’s nothing we like better than watching horses any time of day. Best time though is the golden time about a half hour before the sun slips behind the greenish black scuff of trees on our western flank; between here and tomorrow. When the light coming in at a low angle turns grass the jeweled green that all other green things wish they was. And ends with us struck silent by the molten copper that rims the silhouettes of our grazing chestnuts. I always wondered how poor other people might be for not getting to see such a thing and how rich we are to see it night after night.

One difference between us, though, is that Carl likes to make friends with everything, which is a problem when he’s taken to a steer that’s going to end up in our freezer. On the other side of things, I learned pretty early that where there’s live cows there’s going to be dead ones, and that’s the way it is.

When all’s said, I can’t say he’s happier than most kids; it just seems he’s wrapped life in a big grin, which, of course is a wonderful sight for someone like me, who knows a little about the pain and disappointments waiting for him up the road.

Then came the other day. Out of nowhere, while we’re driving home in the truck after I’d picked him up from school, he asked me about the new cross: the one that’s a smaller version of the cross of Jesus, standing against a fence post about twenty feet off State Route 31. It’s a cross like a lot of others around here that mark where car crashes took a life or two. This one though was close to home at the intersection of our road and the highway that runs straight south to Dunncannon. 

“Grandpa,” he says, “I dreamt about it.” More than once it turns out. Then he turns to me with a pleading look in his brown eyes and says, “That cross scares me.”  When I’m a bit slow to respond, he adds, “I don’t want to be scared no more.” Here we go, I thought.

The new cross was put up three days after a fatal crash that stunned us awake late one Saturday night. What I’d heard, dead in my sleep, was like a rolling thunder: tons of steel, that I knew right away was vehicles carrying people, being compressed and torn apart out on the main road. It was something that scared the hell out of me and probably every living thing in earshot, including Carl, who’s parents left him with us for the weekend while they did some adult things over in Jackson. He’d been asleep safe and sound in his dad’s old room when we heard what I knew was death coming near our doorstep.

In about no time after the crash, the sirens came bursting across the two miles of pasture and livestock fences between us and 31. First comes the screaming wup wup of the Sheriff’s car. Then the ambulance. Both barreling like hell down the eight miles of highway from the center of our little town. That set our horses running: four sets of hooves under tremendous weight pounding back and forth. Our handful of dogs, along with every hound and mutt in the neighborhood, announced the world’s on fire. I went outside to get closer to the sound. Carl came out too. Barefoot in his pajamas, and he’d grabbed hold of my wife’s hand. As I was figuring whether to drive up there to get a look, I noticed his eyes had gotten big as saucers. No doubt his fear hormones had taken charge so I moved over to drop my arm around his little shoulders to let him know that what ever was going on, nothing was going to hurt him. We wouldn’t let it.

I ended up staying with the family. No need I thought going up there. I was just curious; which wasn’t enough of a reason to leave them in the yard staring at the pulsing red glow off in the distance. Truth be told, I didn’t really want to see the bloody mess I knew was out there. So we went back inside. Marge tucked Carl in, and I got to bed knowing it was bad. I guess that’s why I didn’t get much sleep and swore a little at the eastern sky when dawn started to show her face, and I knew I had to get up. I don’t think Carl slept much the rest of the night since he was tough to rouse for his pancake breakfast. Later, I supposed we should have gotten him to sleep in our room because eight isn’t old enough to handle the fear from the terrible noise we heard.

That was a Saturday. The cross was put up on a Tuesday, by Tom Jr, the dead man’s son, who I figure carved “Tommy L. RIP” into the plain wooden cross, painted it the color of dirt, and planted some yellow flowers nearby. Plastic flowers, maybe. What I know about the accident is that Tommy was turning right onto Southwest Second Street when some redneck hit him. A drunk, I’d guess, too smashed to catch Tommy’s signal or see the brake lights flare when he slowed enough to make the turn.  He was almost home to Betty who like always was waiting up until he got home from playing cards at the VFW. It was something he did every Saturday night with a few Vietnam vets like himself. That damn drunk did Satan’s work.

I used to be part of the same card game at the VFW. Started in with those boys when I got back from Viet Nam at the tail end of the 60s. We were seven: Irish Mike, Will Cady, Tommy, me and a few farm boys whose names it hurts too much to mention. Cards wasn’t the point. Was never the point for us. Couldn’t be because cards was a normal thing to do and none of us was normal. How could we be coming back from where what passed for normal was as thin as cigarette paper? There was nothing normal in what we saw, what we did, or who we were. Nobody except those vets understood that.  

I got out of my drinking career at the VFW when the Lord, or somebody less important, told me my life in this little town was only about to change if I did something about my sorry state. If I didn’t, that bar stool was going to be a permanent part of my ass and end up being what I was known for. When Dad took me aside one time to say God intended me to do better, I looked at him dumb struck, but I knew he was right. That woke me up some, and it wasn’t but a minute later Marge came along. More accurate to say I came around. That little red head’d been in my life the whole time. I’d see her at church and around town but I was too busy trying to undress girls with racing stripes on their jeans to pay her any mind. When the time was right I asked her out. She said “no.” But would I mind sitting with her at coffee after church?  We dated a handful of times, and when I saw how good she was with the old timers, and how she and the farm got on so well, I started thinking of possibilities. It took a while before one thing led to another and now, after almost five decades, I’m still grateful she ended my tour at the VFW by wrangling me off the junk heap where I’d been stewing in my own rust water. That’s about true, but I’d been getting ready for it for some time. I just needed a push or some suction. Not sure which. 

If you ask Marge, she’ll say we lasted this long because we love each other. I’d say the key was adjusting our expectations about money, passion and whether or not I was listening.  

When I was about Carl’s age, back in the 50s, I heard my Dad explain the crosses on the side of the road: how they’re mostly monuments for the dumb, drunk unfortunates of our dirt-in-your-ears town. That’s when I first heard him say they were markers for red-neck road kill. No offense meant by it. Dad said we were proud red-necks, which was what we were: church regulars who was rough working, patriotic farm folks since the day in the 1880s when great grand pa found this place.

I figured with crosses about as common as the telephone poles lining 31 that sooner or later I had to see the aftermath of a crash. I did too. One time out on the four lane we were about the first to come upon two bodies thrown from a rolled over convertible. In the middle of the black top we saw two rag dolls, still as posts that had been crushed in blood. The car, still running, had tumbled a few hundred feet up the road and was resting bottom up like a dead cockroach. Mom told us to look away. I did as fast as I could, but not before my stomach lurched and my head started buzzing like a summer’s worth of cicadas at vespers.

Afterwards, in my dark bedroom I feared dead people were coming to get me. Maybe I’d hear them on the stairs or when I got up to pee or get a drink of water I’d see their smashed and bloody faces looking in the window.  I was living in a horror movie that just kept playing.

In those days the crosses scared me stupid. Dad said I’d get used to seeing them, but the more I saw, the more I thought about the crashes and the more dangerous the world seemed to be. Sometimes I’d see the crosses in my sleep. Stuck in the ground but swaying and bent over like frost kill, with arms and faces made of smoke coming up out of them. Then the smoke would chase our car and I’d be hunkered on the floor in the back seat afraid to look out the window. Dad would just keep driving. Always too slow to get away. Then I’d be fighting the door handle, fearing the smoke would pull me out and fling me on the road where I’d tumble every which way like so much trash. I’d always wake up shaking– afraid and cold from having kicked off the covers while I was trying to run.

Those nightmares shamed and terrified me for a good part of my childhood until I was almost twelve. I was about too old to be such a scaredy cat and felt real ashamed for it. It was then, when I couldn’t take the fear anymore, that I told myself I wouldn’t dream those dreams ever again and I never did. God must have helped me.

Now my eight-year-old grandson says he’s having nightmares the way I did, and he’s come up with the idea that the man, Tommy, will never leave the site of the crash that killed him. The cross, he says, marks about where the man’s soul left his body, which could’ve been in the nearby woods where his car ended up, or where the two roads come together. No son, I tell him. That can’t be.

I’m sad to know he’s so sure about this that he puts his little body in a twist and won’t look at the cross as we drive by. I guess he’s scared he might see Tommy’s ghost and it breaks my heart that I’m so helpless, other than to say what my folks told me, how there’s no such thing as ghosts. I can’t tell him what they said made me less afraid. It didn’t. So I wonder if I should tell him that all of us who live on this green earth are frightened deep down. All of us are, because, with good reason, we think this place can’t be fully trusted: that something like what happened to Tommy could happen any minute to any of us. That somebody else could be startled awake in the middle of the night by some awful thing that was happening to us out on the highway. I could tell him that but I think that’d hurt more than help. So I tell him that ghosts is useful: how imagining ghosts is something people do all the time; cause pinning one fear on a spirit helps us face other things that scare us. Which is how for a while, at least, those ghosts, even Tommy’s, can help us get by.

When I’m done I see his face pinched up, mouth puckered, like he’s trying to keep what I said from slipping away before he’s done thinking about it. A few minutes pass and he doesn’t say anything but I can tell from how his eyes are moving side to side, that he’s looking for anything in what I said that rings true. After a little while, when he’s done thinking, he sits back in the seat and lets his shoulders drop like mine do when I relax.  “Grandpa,” he says, “maybe you’re right.”

Maybe I am. But tell me, after all these years how good’s the chance I’ve learned to tame anybody’s terrors: either an old man’s or an eight-year-old boy’s?  If you asked me, I’d say hardly better than a hole in the floor casting a shadow. In my heart I hope it’s more than that, but we’ll see.

Grands

by Sharona Welton

 The difference between loving one’s children and loving your grandchildren is the freedom which comes from being able to focus on the child, without the concerns inherent in keeping body and soul together for yourself and them.

At times I felt that the love you experience with your children is of the highest order one can experience and still be on this planet.  

I recall writing in my first child’s baby book “she’s all that and more.” Obviously, I made this disclosure before I honed my writing skill, and used minimal vocabulary to describe my girl. With her I felt awe; she was the best of me. This feeling persisted for the first 35 years of her life.

During those years I watched as she grew into herself, becoming a teen, young woman, nurse, wife and mother. In each role I saw her as a great kid, of whom I felt proud. She loved her family and savored connection with any and all on the proverbial tree of ancestry.

As a nurse she was caring and competent. While she worked at Gaylord Rehabilitation Hospital she went well above and beyond her position. She, tireless and empathetic, took young men on outings in her free time. Paraplegic they were, but enthusiastic and strong was their caregiver, my daughter.

When she had her first child she was patient and tireless. Her first was also my first…grandchild. I took care of Oriana every other week-end in those first months of her life; I fell in love!

Surely no one else had ever experienced depths of feeling like this. How could they, and live? When I was away from her she was still on my mind and I relished the moments spent bathing, soothing, and rocking her as she cried. And she did cry much as her mother had as a baby, the difference being I was not totally responsible for the little sweetheart as her parents would be home in the evening.

Meanwhile, I saw how my daughter reacted after she had worked a 12 hour day. I felt chastened that when she had cried as an infant I did not have enough patience. I wasn’t thinking of the difference in maturity or life situation between the two of us. If I had, perhaps I would have forgiven myself.

After moving to Delaware, Oriana grew, and her brother Keegan came along it seemed that Oriana needed her Nana more. Consequently, I went to visit when I was invited and could take the time off from work.

For sure, I loved each and every one of those visits. I can yet feel those nimble little fingers taking out an earring of mine while we sat together in the back seat. The ‘earring fief’ struck again and again and loved the game.

One year, as I healed from a broken ankle, I spent several weeks at the home in Delaware with my little family. By this time, Keegan had come along. My first girl was still moving with the ‘speed of light’ through her days. However, her OCD was rearing its ugly countenance more and more.

Oriana and I had a wheelchair routine we played …Taxi. She would ride behind me and I would drop her off at her stop, which she called. Baby Keegan was nursing and very much Mama’s fella, of course.

Those years I felt a pull between my Connecticut family and my Delaware family. My son Douglas had a son, also named Douglas whom I had held not long after his birth. I fell in love again. These children, being with them, consumed me and the time I spent with them was simply wonderful. Nana was IT.

When Douglas was 2 years old Maggie arrived. I continued to focus on him. Since he was so little, I did not want him feeling displaced by his sister. Here I was, the oldest in my family, looking out for the first born, again. My earliest memory is of being in the kitchen on Merriam Lane with Nanna Touponse down at the end of that long room. I was by the door when it opened and my mother and father were framed in the opening; she held a pink blanketed bundle, my brother George. It was November, he having arrived exactly two weeks before my third birthday. The scene is yet vivid in my mind; I feel the cold blast of air as they came in.

Little Douglas and I spent lots of time together. He wanted to go wherever I was going. It did not matter where. Post University Pool was a place we spent hours, both for lessons and just for fun. He achieved Level 6 (the highest) by the time he was 7 yrs. old.

Soon, Maggie joined us for lessons. I recall her sitting atop a surfboard paddling herself the whole length of the pool. She loved it.

Now some of the best times of my life revolved around the youngest people in my life.

The little Delaware family soon included a third child, Fiona. A ‘free spirit!’ A few more years and Patrick joined us in Plymouth.

Prosperous am I with six grandchildren; three girls and three boys.

When the Delaware three joined Plymouth’s three at Nana’s abode in August or at holiday time, I felt the richness of life. Wild and crazy were those times, but I absorbed them gratefully.

The past few years have been marked by my daughter’s estrangement. Yes, and it is strange!

I hear from Oriana, Keegan, and Fiona when I send a card or present, but it is rather perfunctory. I miss knowing each as they achieve adulthood and can only hope they will reach out to me as they begin their own lives.

Here in Plymouth, Douglas is now in the Marine Corps Reserve and attending college. He’s always been there for his Nan, helping me when I need it. One year as a mouse had its way in my abode, Douglas made a mouse trap for me. It was complete with a full pail of water, peanut butter bait, and a ladder for the creature to gain access to the bait. It would then either drown, or do the backstroke.

 Maggie is entering her senior year at St. Paul High School and is a fashion guru for me on shopping trips. She cares deeply for people in her life, paying attention to their details.

 Patrick will be in seventh grade and exhibits considerable intellect and personality. I’ll always remember when he informed me that his mother had named him Patrick because she knew him to be Irish; he was not yet four years old. His mother, Holly, comes from a mostly Italian heritage. This was Patrick, being himself!

So we here in Connecticut are continuing on our paths. Holidays spent together, theatre plays attended, celebrations enjoyed and every day doings keeping every one occupied.

Douglas and I have seen three concerts of Bob Dylan; the first when he was four. We continued on these adventures with the three of them, Douglas, Maggie, and Paddy, in New Britain nine years ago.  Other excursions included train trips to Delaware with one or all of these kiddies. Atka, the white wolf, was a newly made friend on a jaunt to an Indian museum.

As Nan I know the good fortune in having these youngsters in my universe with their wonder of the world. Of course, there are the downsides to contend with…and try to make sense of in that moment. But, I am here and we’ll work on it together. It’s a sacred trust this grandparent business, and I am honored to be ‘Nan.’

Copyright © 2020 By Sharon Welton

Thunderstruck

by Jennie Nimtz

Dad was a great teacher. He taught high school English for the majority of his career in an affluent Connecticut school district. Former students who contacted Dad years after they graduated sang his praises. “You made such a positive difference in our lives,” they gushed in their thank you letters. “We don’t think we’d be teachers, editors, writers, etc. if we hadn’t had you for English.” 

I was proud people thought Dad was great but I also resented the positive impact he made on others’ lives. And such a negative impact on mine. Dad put so much effort into being a top-notch educator, very little effort was spent on trying to be a great father. In fact, for a good part of my childhood, it was easier to hate him than it was to love him. Dad didn’t encourage or ask for love from me. Instead, he demanded obedience, quiet in the house when he was home and allegiance to the Red Sox. But love….never when I was a child did he say, “I love you.” So in return, I never uttered those three powerful words to him.

“Why did you and Daddy have us girls?” I asked Mom more than once. “Daddy doesn’t like children.”

“Don’t say that,” my mother replied giving me a hug. “Your father is a very caring person.  I wish you could see that. Believe me; he loves you very, very much. He just finds it difficult letting strong emotions show.” 

I didn’t buy this excuse. Dad’s strong emotions were to be feared. Like when he let loose eruptions of anger when bedtime tickle fights with my sister Rebecca got out of control.   Or the time I interrupted his grading essays with retching noises due to nausea. “Stop that Goddamn noise!” he roared. “You’re perfectly fine—your feeling sick is all in your head!”

“No, it is not!” I cried. “It’s all over my floor!”

I never said out loud that I hated Dad. But at times, when I felt I was unjustly punished, like having to stay in my room for crying loudly after a bee stung me, my dislike of him was so strong it had to be voiced somewhere or I would burst. That somewhere was in my diary. Between ages nine, when I got my first blank book, until I was nearly thirteen, there I devoted a great many pages spewing out heated words describing how much I disliked my father. I remember one evening when I was particularly angry, I took Rashly Red nail polish from my sister’s make-up kit and wrote “I HATE DAD” diagonally across the day’s lined page. 

As I neared my teens, I envied my friends and the relationships they had with their dads. Most of them had fathers that ended their jobs at 5 p.m. and then gave their kids most of their attention when they walked in the door just before dinner. Or played catch or board games with them after supper. Dad’s job really never ended. After dinner on school nights he spent until bedtime holed up in his bedroom working on lesson plans for his Honors English class. Grading papers usually put him in a foul mood, especially if they were from the lower level classes he taught. Dad demanded the best from his students but the majority of the football team were content with just making the C requirement to stay on the team. That was a particularly rough year for my home life.

When I was twelve, I came to the conclusion I was never going to have a loving dad like Pa in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. By then, I avoided behaviors that set Dad off, though once in a while I took the blame for things Rebecca did. I played my records using a high volume only when dad wasn’t home. Dinner and weekend breakfasts, the meals our family shared together, were contests with Rebecca to see who would be excused first. This backfired in a sense because Dad usually was the first one done. It was also the year that I finally began noticing some signs that I was more to him than a pesky housemate. This confused me. Like on the day after I had my tonsils out.

 “Your father had to be escorted out of the hospital last night,” Mom told me. “He wanted to make sure your recovery is going smoothly. He feels badly he can’t be here with you today.” I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe this. I didn’t remember seeing Dad. But to my knowledge Mom never ever lied.

That summer when I rode down our street for the first time on my new Raleigh bicycle, Bruno, a new neighbor’s Doberman Pinscher, ran right out into the road and bit me on the leg. When I entered the house bloodied and crying, Mom cleaned me up and bandaged my limb. Dad came out of the bedroom to yell at me for the howling. But when he saw my leg and heard what happened, instead of hollering at me, he marched out of the house. I thought he left because I was making too much noise.   

“Your Dad talked to the Hensons,” Mom later told me. “He said to tell you Bruno will be kept tied up from now on so you don’t have to worry about riding your bike by their place.”   

My friend Lisle lived next door to the Hensons. Lisle reported, “My mother was home when your Dad was at the Hensons. She heard him tell Mr. Henson if their mutt ever harmed his daughter again he would sue them for all they had. Mom said she’d never seen a person as red in the face as your Dad. He meant business.” Bruno was heard but never seen after that.

The defining incident that convinced me that maybe I meant more to Dad than he let on happened on a Sunday at the end of that summer. Sunday mornings were one the time Dad did not do schoolwork. He drove us all to Danbury, stopped and picked up a New York Times, then parked on Deer Hill Avenue so we could walk down the sidewalk to the First Congregational Church. After the service, we went across the city to McDonald’s for a take-out lunch. If the weather was nice, Dad drove us to Roger’s Park to eat outside. If it rained, we ate in the car and then he drove us back to our Bethel home. 

That August Sunday we all felt the weather was going to be bad before the visual confirmation appeared. An eerie stillness to the air made even Rebecca uneasy as we sat at McDonald’s. Greenish gray clouds claimed the sky by the time Dad brought our lunch order back to the car. We ate quickly, quietly praying the storm would bypass us so the trip home would not be difficult. “Drink up your milkshakes, girls,” Mom told me and Rebecca. “Fred, I think we should start home. I’ll hold your shake” 

“I’m going to take the back roads–it’ll be quicker.” Dad started up the car. As we left the parking lot, the storm decided it was time to start up as well.

I didn’t like those back roads. I found the mountainous Danbury dump menacing enough on sunny days but with the storm letting loose as we drove past it, I was petrified. There was an old army wool blanket in the back seat of the car and, despite the heat in the closed-up vehicle, Rebecca and I pulled the blanket over our heads. We knew we were not, under any circumstances, to cry out. Being the more outwardly emotional daughter, I stuffed part of the blanket in my mouth to keep from making any sounds. 

“Fred, watch out, you are close to the ditch along the side of the road! Is there somewhere you can pull off?” 

“I can hardly see the road. The painted lines along the sides are so faded, I can’t see them with so much water on the surface. Dell’s Auto Wrecking is just ahead,” Dad’s voice tensed.  “Keep an eye on your side until I can pull over in front of their gate.”

I wanted to tell Dad to keep going. Although I had never seen a really scary movie, Dell’s Auto Wrecking was, in my mind, the perfect setting for one. The high chain link fence with rolled barbed wire on the top gave it the appearance of keeping people out but my imagination told me it was actually for keeping things in. As we sat there with the storm raging all around us, I was sure I heard a dog barking and something or someone rattling the metal fence from the other side.

I jumped as something thick and wet ran down my arm. “I spilled my milkshake,” Rebecca whimpered. 

“It’s OK.” I pulled the blanket out of my mouth to reply. 

We kept the shake from getting on the car seat by wiping it up with the blanket. But this meant no more blanket cover for us.    

“I think it’s slowing down,” Dad said and pulled the car back on the road. Seconds later there was a flash so bright the light blinded all of us.

“Fred, steer to the left!” Mom cried out. “Light pole!”

“I have to pee,” Rebecca started to cry as the car jerked toward the center of the road.

“Shhhhh! Don’t think about it!” I told her. 

“I have to pee!” she kept repeating. 

“Honey, we are almost half way there. I have to go too but we can’t get out of the car right now… Fred, watch out for that branch sticking out!”

Even squeezing my eyes tightly and putting my fingers in my ears, I couldn’t block out the flashes of light or the resounding booms of thunder.  Somehow, Dad managed to get us safely back home. He pulled into the driveway and parked the car up onto the ramp close to the garage door. 

Our garage was not attached to the house. Dad kept the engine going. “I should pull the car into the garage,” he told Mom. “And then I’ll get out and unlock the back door and return with an umbrella.”

BOOM! FLASH! FLASH! BOOM!

“You shouldn’t get your new suit wet,” I heard fear in my mother’s voice. “Maybe it would be best just to sit here until the storm passes.”

“I HAVE TO PEE!” Rebecca wailed. 

“Jennie, Rebecca, climb into the front seat with your mother. Ernestine, can you fold my suit jacket?” Dad handed it off to her as we tumbled into the front of our roomy Impala.

Dad took off his dress shoes then managed to climb into the back seat. “Face forward,” he barked. 

After a clap of thunder shook the vehicle, the back door of the car opened.  And my father, stripped down to his undershirt and boxer shorts ran in the pummeling rain to open garage door. He hesitated in the garage as another flash of lightening lit the sky.  “Stay in the garage, Daddy!” I found myself calling out. But he could not hear me. Then he was back in the driver’s seat and with all of us still in the front, he pulled the car in, out of the storm. We were all quiet for a few seconds after he shut the engine off. The storm lashed out at the building but we were safely inside.  All together in the front seat.

Dad got out and pulled the overhead door down behind us. Then he disappeared out the back door to open up the house. 

“What’s taking Daddy so long?”  I worried.

My father was back in the garage with an umbrella by the time Mom had us out of the car.  “Jennie,” he looked at me.  “I only have room for your mother and sister under the umbrella. Do you think you can stay here until I come back and get you?  You can wait in the car if you want.”

“Do you promise to come back and get me?” I trembled.

Dad held my gaze and said, “As fast as I can.”

I wanted to cry when my family went out the back door of the garage but I didn’t. Dad said he would come back and I knew Dad never lied.  The garage was very dark. I could hear the rain and muffled thunder while sitting in the car. “Please, please, please don’t forget me,” I mumbled out loud over and over. 

Dad didn’t forget me. Soon he was back in the garage with the large black umbrella.  He helped me out of the car and we walked to the door.

“I’m scared,” I whispered. “I don’t want to go out there!”

Dad took my hand. “You can do this Pal. On the count of three, we are going to make a run for it. It’s not that far. Don’t look out at the storm, just look down at your feet. I think there are sixty steps to get to house. Ready to count? One…two…three…”

I clutched my dad’s hand tightly and we ran outside, over to and up the concrete porch steps and through the back door. Just after making it inside, there was a flash of lightning followed immediately by the loudest thunderclap yet. We stood on the mat and I realized I was still holding on tightly to Dad’s hand. And my dripping wet dad was still holding on tightly to mine. 

“Are you OK, Pal? You were very brave.”

“So were you,” my voice warbled. “Thank you, Daddy.”

Awkwardly Dad gave my hand a squeeze then he let go. “You’d better see if the bathroom is free now so you can dry off,” he said.

As I walked out of the kitchen towards the bathroom my hand still felt warm. It was then that I knew Dad really cared for me. Deeply. And equally as important, I also realized I cared very much for him.  And that, in that awful storm, not only did I see flashes of lightning; I also caught a flash of a very great man.  

Copyright © 2020 by Jennie Nimtz

Ode to a First Face

                        by Susan W. Meister                                                     

Came to Earth

from the ethers,

a pink baby girl.

Fresh from the Multi-verse.

All unknowing,

a divine being,

 to have a human experience.

She walked many trails.

Experiences over-layered her body,

She the pearl formed within a crusty oyster.

Her many trials along the trails

Chipped,

Hammered,

Pounded,

Cracked away

crusts of ignorance and

conditioning.

Sitting in silence,

Her essence sparked within her;

A flint struck

on a moonless night.

She remembered her first face.

Before she was “Susan”

her face was

Stardust.

Drifting in Space.

Her sisters were the Pleiades.

In the Night Sky.

Her left eye,

The North Star.

She floated

Time out of mind in the stuff of space

Listening to the music of the spheres.

She remembered

“I was, I am, I will always be,

In and the multi-verse.”

This knowledge of her being,

Brought her pure peace.

Implanted with the seeds of the Cosmos she

Plummeted down to Earth.

Her face, mirrored in

waters of a highland spring,

Reflected

Wind-blown clouds,

cerulean sky,

leaves of brown and slime.

Voracious dragonfly nymphs

stalked through her weedy hair.

Hers was now the Face of the Earth.

On this face

rain fell

moon shone

thunder shook.

Her first face was

Lightning lit,

rent with quakes.

She exhaled fire.

Diamond eyes sparkled.

Her teeth, quartzy points,

Gnashed  deep roots.

Her first exhale blew through

the four directions.

Her first expression heaved hills high.

She rushed and tumbled down

spangling mountain streams

until she lay deep

Beneath salty azure waters.

Her eyes glittered,

Stared, unblinking.

Neon fish darted

amid her flowing locks of spring-green;

filaments of seaweed.

Her bones formed beneath the sand.

A rib poked through.

Her jaw bones mugged

A barnacle-grin.

Laughter bubbled

from her volcanic belly.

Circular Golden Energy spin-drifted sun-wise.

Within that circle

a sylvan band spun counter-wise.

In the center of the two outer bands of energy

Her spirit, a lotus flower, spun Sun-Wise.

She inter-was.

Her first face, her essence,

part of the Great Everything.

Copyright © 2020 by Susan W. Meister

Change of Plan

by Sharona Welton

Coronavirus is changing our direction in this life.

I had to change my plans and my pitiful hopes the moment that the Governor replaced May 20 with June 1. The hair salons, and their sad-looking, limp-haired, color-challenged patrons would have to wait for their make-over. How to do this, and remain sane?

Damnation, I was ready.  I had an appointment with Stacie. She, I now recognize is a wizard of a high order–Mistress of Shears and Colorations. Her absence over weeks and weeks brought this message home to me.

Help me, please. I send this plea out to the well-groomed gods and goddesses in the universe.

Meanwhile, I catch a glimpse of an old woman with lank hair hanging down reflecting in the hallway mirror of my home.  I am thinking, “How did She get in here?” Gods help me, She lives here, and She is me.

2020 and I am alone in my condo. It feels as though it is the “land that time forgot.” There are no lunches with friends, no encounters at the grocery or the coffee shop. Embracing amid greeting dear friends and family, grandchildren’s kisses and the soul-satisfying hugs from my Palmer cousins are usually some of the grand moments in life. For the foreseeable future these connections are on hold. No hugs unless I self-hug. Not very satisfying!

Currently, it behooves us to use much thought before we act. It seems every movement, before it is made, must be evaluated. Going to the drive-thru for a dark roast hot coffee takes spires of thought. Shall I use cash, or my Visa debit? Cash involves change (where has it been?), or the debit card that must be sanitized once back in my hands. Hands and the washing often are easy, except after you have accepted the paper cup from the barista. Sure, they wear gloves but do not change them each time or with each customer.

Which sanitizer did I use after I paid; was it the spritz one or the foamy longer lasting (3hour) one from a shopping network? At any rate ignore the itch on my cheek, whatever else I choose to do.

Imagine what more is involved when a trip inside is necessary for groceries. Six-foot distancing, face masks at least to protect oneself from droplets, utmost awareness of what one is touching, and oh for gosh sakes, do not forget anything, and hurry up! Oh, watch your floor directional arrows!

Fortunately, or not, six feet of distance will not be necessary when returning to the hair stylist. A challenge awaits us to try and keep on a dry face mask while having our tresses washed and rinsed. We will see when it happens.

Days, weeks, and now months of quarantine-like behavior is wearing us down. We humans are meant to interact with each other. Oh, not all our 24-hour allotment but enough for us to still feel connected with another in our human ‘race.’ As a writer I need to self-isolate at times, but this pandemic has caused me to see alone time in a more negative light.

Having stated the minus points at this time in history we are aware and grateful for the growth of spirit and creativity inherent in us. When push comes to shove, most of us rally to the challenge, rising and reaching up, finding the best in ourselves.

Months are passing, boredom proliferates, politics get uglier (how is that possible?); are we gaining on Covid19? For myself, I must believe in my fellow travelers to go the distance and all else necessary.

Dr. William Mayo, co-founder of the renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, held a strict dictum for healing. He strongly felt faith, hope, and science to be the foundation of health. Life-affirming hugs and haircuts will help brighten our way to a future free of coronavirus.

Buddy Up!

by Gail H. Ouimet

You may not have realized it, but you have surrounded yourself with some of your best resources. I’m talking about FRIENDS. You chose them because they listen to you, validate you, support your ideas, may have common interests and, with honesty, will give you a heads up when you are getting off track.

One has only to look at our entertainment world to find examples of buddy pairs. Batman and Robin, Thelma and Louise, Lucy and Ethel, Bullwinkle and Rocky, Tom and Jerry, Bert and Ernie, Abbott and Costello are a few that come to mind. It works–bouncing ideas off each other, having an amigo for adventures or, simply, doing things together.

Many of us rely on our spouses to be our buddy. We know each other so well. But that package can come with some excess baggage, like making assumptions that fit us into boxes. “But, honey,” he said, “You don’t like to travel.” Or, “You know that’s not my thing!”

This pandemic has thrust us into new territory. Our tried and true routines are getting old, or disrupted completely. It’s time to buddy up.

I recently heard from a white friend who buddied up with a woman of color. She wanted to support Black Lives Matter, but participating in marches and protests was just not possible for this woman in her late seventies. So she contacted a woman of color, whom she knew in her community, and they are now communicating as buddies.

That’s what buddying up can do. It bridges gaps of understanding.

Then there’s the story of Mark, which left me teary eyed.

Mark is a precocious twelve-year-old who has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair bound. He is nonverbal, but communicates via an iPad app that converts text to speech. The process is laborious for him; searching through page after page for a word, then the next word, until he has a sentence. Yet, he has declared that he will write a book someday. Mark was introduced to a buddy last week. She is a young woman in her early twenties, who is also nonverbal. She uses augmentative communication by directing her eyes and a joystick. Quite adept, she now gives speeches and is working on an advanced degree, with concrete plans for a book in the works.

Mark’s eyes lit up to see someone facing the same challenges he faces. Someone like him. Someone successful. After she shared her story with him, this was his response.

“From baby to child, to woman, she has made her mom and dad say, ‘Wow.’” 

That’s what buddying up can do. It inspires.

My own stories strike a more common thread. Over the winter I made two new friends. In early March, we decided to walk together once a week at a local nature preserve. Covid-19 ended that idea before we even got started. We decided to buddy up by texting each other a gratitude list every day, naming three things we are grateful for. It’s working and has helped me to deal with my own pandemic anxiety. From what they have shared, it’s helping them too. We have expanded to comment about our daily doings and even frustrations that arise. I have nicknamed us the Three Musketeers.

That’s what buddying up can do. It forges and strengthens friendships.

Artistically, I have buddied up with another writer. We write to prompts, share feedback and whatever writing projects we are each working on. Of course, there are Zoom groups galore right now. They work great to keep you connected but, they lack the intimacy and individual feedback that having a buddy provides.That’s what buddying up does. It stirs the creative juices.Even a longstanding group of friends can benefit from buddying up. My spiritual circle has met once a month for thirty years. Through moving, deaths and illnesses, we have become a small group of seven people. Although we are like family to each other, like in families, we don’t always spend time with each member of the circle outside of our monthly meetings. Since March, we have buddied up. Each month, we set individual goals for spiritual growth and have a partner to check in with each week. Friendships are becoming deeper. It is now June and everyone loves the process.

That’s what buddying up does. It supports spiritual growth.

Some tips for buddying up:

  1. Choose an area of common interest for you and your buddy.
  2. Have a regular check-in time. Weekly works well, more if that suits you.
  3. Be a great, not just a good, listener.
  4. Ask how the other person wants to be supported. Avoid telling them what to do, rather, offer suggestions framed as “I have an idea, if you’d like to consider other options.”
  5. Bring laughter into the collaboration. Lucy and Ethel were on to something.

Some things just go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Rum and Coke. Ham and eggs. Why not find a buddy to discover the wealth of resources they bring; to bridge gaps of understanding, to get inspired, to forge friendships, to stir the creative juices and to support your spiritual growth?

Reach out. You won’t be sorry. I promise.

Copyright © 2020 by Gail Ouimet

April is the Cruelest Month

By D. Margaret Hoffman

T. S. Eliot and I do not exist on the same literary plane. Still, we agree on one crucial fact. April is, indeed, the cruelest month.

I have written about April several times before. She is to me an annual provocation. Warm weather coaxes us out of our winter cocoons for one day only to reverse course and send us running back to our hearth sides for the next week. Undaunted, we throw our untoned, out-of-shape, northeastern bodies into the yard work on the next nice day and, once our lawns are raked and our annuals are (we think) safely in the ground, we are rewarded with sore muscles, torrential rains and a 95% chance of frost.

It’s like this every year. We are Charlie Brown and April is Lucy promising to hold the football while we run to kick it, only to yank it out from under us at the last second. You’d think we’d be onto this bitch by now.

But then, as if a normal pain-in-the-ass April wasn’t bad enough, April 2020 showed up to the party dressed as a pandemic. 

To be fair, COVID-19 was lurking in these parts long before April—it’s just that no one wanted to hear it. By March people started listening, but we all assumed that this would be a fast-mover—like an Alberta Clipper, that speedy 3-6” snowstorm so common in the northeast—where we sit tight for a bit, then shovel out and hit the road.  For our “COVID-clipper,” we’d close schools for a couple of weeks, work from home for a few days while our offices were being deep-cleaned (whatever that means), and do our dining take-out style for a while—no biggie. The virus that was ravaging Asia and Europe would be little more than a temporary inconvenience for us. After all, this is America.

Then, all of the optimism of March came crashing down on us. In April. Of course. When else?

For me, April 2020 marked the disappointing end of all the plans and projects that I had been working on for months. Weeks of practicing Schubert’s Mass in G, Mozart’s “Sancta Maria, Mater Dei” and Bach’s Cantata No. 4, all wildly difficult for me, were shot to hell when our chorale’s rehearsals were suspended in mid-March and our April concert was “postponed.” I use quotes here because, in March, “postponed” meant that this little Covidian nuisance would be dealt with like any flu outbreak and we would be rockin’ the Bach again in no time. But by April, even the thought of eighty of us standing shoulder-to-shoulder on risers and spewing potentially infected droplets all over each other was irrational, unthinkable, absurd. Maybe next year.

And then there was our vacation set for the end of March and the beginning of April—a house rental in Florida followed by a visit with our kids in South Carolina. Since we were driving, our plans were flexible and we were still going—right up until we weren’t. On Friday, we were packing. On Saturday, we were wondering if we should “postpone.” By Sunday we were negotiating a new plan with the owners of the rental house, but still planning the drive to South Carolina. By Wednesday, the day we were to leave, COVID numbers were up, businesses were closing and the trip was off.  Since this was still March, we naively thought that we’d just leave a week or two later. But then it was April and we all know what that means.

March’s “Postponed” became April’s “What Were We Thinking?”

But April wasn’t through with me yet. Way back in November, I agreed to give an April talk about Charlotte Perkins Gilman at a nearby library. At the time, I actually knew very little about her—just that she was local, she was a turn-of the-20th-century suffragist and she was the author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story that became a rallying cry for the Women’s Rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. That’s all I had, but I love to nose around in other people’s lives, so how hard a research job could it be?

As it turned out, pretty hard. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from what I can tell, never had an unexpressed thought. While we know her today for just one short story, she actually wrote thousands and thousands of pages—novels, treatises, poems, lectures, letters, stories. And from November until March, I plowed through a ton of them, trying to understand why more of her work wasn’t in demand today. Could it have been her xenophobia? Her racist tendencies perhaps? Or could it have something to do with her advocacy of eugenics? Pretty juicy stuff. What would the library’s audience think of all this?

After all that work, I never got the chance to find out. Why? April.

And, finally, my beloved Little Town Writers Guild Spring Workshops, despite all my preparation and highest hopes, were pared back and conducted through email instead of in person. It got the job done (sort of), but it was no substitute for us tucking ourselves in around the table at the library, writing, sharing, laughing, eating cookies and enjoying each other’s company.

You know what, April? You suck.

In March, we innocently believed that all of our activities would be possible any minute now if we just sat tight. COVID was a minor setback, a bump in the road, a nuisance, an annoyance.  But what April 2020 did to us was worse than anything we could have imagined.  She surprised us not with her usual, survivable slap in the face, but with a life-altering roundhouse kick to the head. She brought upheaval to our daily lives. She brought isolation and illness. She brought death. And she opened our eyes to the most frightening thing of all—certainty of the utter uncertainty that stretched out ahead.

Naively, I look forward to April every year. I meet her with high hopes of more daylight, less snow, green stuff, sunshine that means something.  Almost always, like Lucy, she throws me down just when I start to trust her.  But then I get up and April and I hobble on together (because, really, what choice do we have) taking two steps forward and one step back, while I set my sites on May.

But this year, with inexplicable brutality, April brought more than just disappointment, more than just cancelations, more than just work wasted. She handed to each of us the undeniable and terrifying realization that we share the planet with pestilence (yes, even in America), that at least for now we are defenseless against it, and that the way we live our lives may be forever changed because of it.

She paraded our weaknesses, proved our vulnerability, demonstrated our mortality.

She really gave it to us good.

So now it’s almost summer. In March we were sure that everything would be “normal” by now. And while some businesses have reopened (with plexiglass spit shields, floor tape markings at six-foot intervals, mask requirements and other COVID modifications in place), schools, theaters and many office buildings are still closed. People continue to work from home if they can. Graduations have been reimagined as have birthday parties, weddings, funerals and church services. The jury is still out as to what public school will look like in the fall.

It took us most of May to get over the shock of April and find ways to cope. Now, in June, resigned to the new reality, we are adapting and moving forward as best we can. We don’t like it, but we are doing it.

We can’t blame April for the COVID-19 virus. It was here long before she was. But she was the one who ripped off the blinders, ready or not, and burned our retinas with the awful truth. I swear to God she doesn’t care who she hurts. She is the cruelest month that ever was.

Copyright © 2020 by D. Margaret Hoffman

Green and Go

by Sharona Welton

The long, pale green Naugahyde sofa sat in the family room of our home on Sharon Lane. There it stayed until the night before the house was sold.

This brand-new behemoth was unusual in our family of four kids and two parents. Most of our furniture were antiques.

Through the growing-up years I bemoaned the fact that our furniture didn’t match. Classmates of mine at St. John Grammar School had matching sofa, chairs and end tables. In other words, predictable and normal.

The first clues that my home was quite beautiful came as my friends visited. “Wow,” they said as they came through the kitchen and examined the sunken living room seen through the dining room’s circular table settings. If a fire was burning in the old-brick fireplace and the Saturday cleaning had been done by me, the effect inspired either, “Gosh, you’re rich,” or a reverent silence of the 11-year-old kid visiting.

Standing in the kitchen doorway the polished round dining table held a fruit or flower bowl. At dinner time placemats were set around with plenty of room for guests.

Our living room dropped down a step. Its length was heightened by the fireplace built by my grandfather, Ed Coon. On either side were bookshelves filled with a hodge-podge of reputable and disreputable volumes.

One of the latter I used for a Latin II project as a sophomore at Sacred Heart High School. The paper was returned to me by Mr. Rice. He noted that my reference book was banned by the Catholic Church. Indeed, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE made the list of forbidden reads for a practicing Catholic. No, I didn’t get excommunicated, but I was embarrassed.

The year I became fourteen we added on to our home. A family room with a fireplace, bathroom, hallway and two-car garage.

Grampa built this fireplace even though he had long since retired from masonry. He laid out the bricks for the family room and a fireplace in the basement.

In 1959 The Rubber Company in Naugatuck produced a product touted as being better than leather for covering furniture. Well, discussion completed over this, Mom went shopping–in Naugatuck.

Soon we possessed an extra-long sofa bed couch, covered in the very desirable Naugahyde covering, etched with a raised design, and green–sage green. The shade was used in colonial style homes; it was also a favorite color of my father’s.

From that time on, the green sofa served as a back- drop for most activities we engaged in. After all, when something spilled, we wiped it off, unlike most upholstered furniture. This was much better than plastic. Stylized, and practical, appealed to our mother.

Graduations, birthdays, rainy Memorial Days, were now held in the new addition sporting the green Naugahyde sofa serving as back drop. Sturdy, immovable, and wipe cleanable; no matter how many little (or big) kids had made sticky messes on its surfaces.

Teen-age necking and “rocking around the clock” were now happening on the watch of the green Naugahyde sofa. ‘Course that was probably me at sixteen years of age.

Sisters Alison and Kathleen had parties for their girlfriends aged ten or so.

The life of our family seemed to revolve around the family room, fireplace, and the green Naugahyde sofa. My mother relaxed; most of her antiques were elsewhere in the house. She did not worry over the fate of the sofa. It kept its place, and demeanor, no matter how many kids piled on it, or spilled food or drink on its sage green countenance.

Another of its attributes welcomed overnight guests. If weather turned to snow and ice and roads were tough to navigate, friends stayed over on the sofa-bed.

Not until a few years later, as a constantly vomiting pregnant daughter, did I sleep on the huge sofa- turned-bed. As cutting edge it as was purported to be, with its simple classic lines, and touted as the latest innovation of the Rubber Co., it was the devil to sleep on. The company’s work hadn’t looked at the innards of its black knife-like springs or the too thin mattress.

I stayed at my parents’ home for three months then, and again four years later in the first trimester of the pregnancy with my son, as I was too sick to stay in our apartment. The family room did not have central heat, only the fireplace. Chilly, and quite uncomfortable as the bed gave rude jabs on my increasingly skeletal body. Fifty pounds came off my frame in three months of pregnancy, not fun.

Gestations and births over and now time for more parties. Grandchildren of my parents had baptisms, birthdays, assorted get-togethers held in the family room, with the ever-present green Naugahyde sofa holding it all together.

Years went on with occasional rained-out picnics held in the family room, or a holiday overflow of guests. Sometimes I simply wanted a quiet place to sit and listen to “Tom Dooley” or Gale Garnett singing of her “sunshine” while my gaze was on mesmerizing flame in the stone and brick raised fireplace.

An especially poignant day was September 2, 1966, the day we memorialized my cousin Douglas; he died aboard ship in the south China sea. Later that same day, being Cousin Gretta’s 8th birthday, we quietly celebrated her young self. She was the youngest of Aunt Peg’s brood of five–the only girl. Her parents were reeling on that hot, humid, and sorrowful day. We put together a little party. Family surrounded our little strawberry blonde girl with attention, cake, and presents for her. Lower Sharon Lane, and the green Naugahyde sofa, along with family loving her, gave Gretta, and all of us, a lovely closure to that wrenching day.

A few days before this, on the day that Douglas died, I sought relief from the grief on the green Naugahyde sofa. My youngest sister, my mother, Aunt Peg and I had just learned of the tragedy when we came back from a long day in New York City. Picking up the baby and making our way to Sharon Lane we came into a home full of quiet sadness. My parents latched onto “the Baby” in their room. Where my husband went I have no idea. Kathleen and I sat on the green Naugahyde sofa, deriving no comfort from the stiff couch, only from each other’s attempts to cry away the sorrow raining down our cheeks.

Through the years, the sofa held laundry piles from the nearby clothes dryer in the bathroom. My mother was not a housekeeping type at any time that I knew her. When she began working at Timex in her fifties this became more pronounced. We kids were gone but she had Grampa and Dad home all      day.  Neither of them  in good health but they gathered enough strength to argue ‘til the cows or Mom came home, but not to do any keeping of the house. One day Mom asked me to go up and see that they each ate something for breakfast.

Found my very private Dad walking around in boxer shorts and a t-shirt looking woebegone and full of general anxiety. I had seen my father and his extreme anxieties many times, but never had I seen him in such a state of undress.

Once my shock wore down, I looked for Grampa. Where the heck was he? In his room? No, I moved all the blankets on his bed. He was not on a chair or sofa in the living room. I even searched upstairs in the large bedroom space there. No, and no.

In years past he would walk the three miles into town. At this point his legs couldn’t carry him. His heart rate had slowed considerably, and he refused to get a pacemaker.

Searching outside and in the garage, I could not locate him. Shouting his name could not help, he was stone deaf since I knew him. Going outside was a stretch since it was late in the fall and Grampa did not like being cold.

On my path back from the outside, passing through the family room, the laundry pile on the green Naugahyde sofa seemed to move.

Apparently, Grampa had gotten up earlier and gone into the kitchen. Wearing his year-round long underwear, he looked for his breakfast. Grampa then ambled into the family room. He laid down on the mountain of clean laundry and nestled in for warmth.

Having witnessed both father and grandfather in their bare necessities, I made breakfast, having decided that true adulthood had arrived for me. Grampa ate his gratefully, while Dad refused all but coffee.

Grampa died in that November of ’76. Dad lasted until early in ’79.

Mom carried on with work and trying to keep her home. So much time, skill, and care had gone into the house on Sharon Lane, she was wont to leave.

When she passed away in 1987, the four of us kids put the house on the market. Either none of us wanted it, or else couldn’t afford it. I was barely keeping a much smaller home on Edward Avenue while raising my two children. Working for the state of Connecticut, going after degrees; I worked as much overtime as possible.

Finally, the house sold. We three girls spent lots of time splitting up the contents. But the night before the signing and move-in came, we four frantically went through what was left. The house was to be broom-clean!

Mom didn’t throw things away. Consequently, Nanny and Grampa’s belongings were also stored everywhere. Have I mentioned the house had lots of storage area? Finally, we looked around and were pleased with the emptiness.

Oh, God, there it sat. Impervious to our chagrin, the green Naugahyde sofa held itself regally, and large. None of us wanted it; it was huge and looking every bit its age and use. Through hard wear, dirt had built up again. As we viewed the green elephant in the room, it just looked disreputable.

George opined that “the trash pick-up won’t take it now. What the heck do we do with it?”  Various people had been asked if they want it already, no takers.

George left to get some equipment, a bucket loader. He drove it down to the “swamp,” a wetland on the property, and dug down to China. Coming back up, we got the sofa out of the family room. He lifted it and carried it to its new station. Down in the “swamp” he lifted the green Naugahyde sofa in and covered it well.

But was this the right way to send off a member of one’s family? Of course, that feeling was in hindsight.

Brian, son of my cousin Marty is the latest owner of the property.

Currently, he, like my father George, runs a tree service business from the Lane. Brian’s business trucks find their way to the “swamp” on a regular basis. Someday, someone may have the notion to dig a little here or there. Who knows?

Resurrection may yet cometh one day.

Rats Bite

by Maire Greene                                                         

                        “You girls settle down in there,” Daddy bellows at us from the living room, just across the hall from our bedroom.  We have the door closed but despite trying hard to whisper, it’s hard to fend off the rats and mice without shrieking or giggling.  There’s not real rats. Or mice. See, what we do is sneak up on someone and get in a vicious pinch with our fingernails and hiss, “Rats bite!”

Then the other kid can strike back and yell, “Mice bite!” But until they do the rat can just keep going sneaking in bites. Sort of like being “It” in tag. The pinches hurt like hell. If you’re good at it you can actually take a tiny “bite” out of the other kid, just like a real mouse. Or rat.  Whoever starts the game is Rats and the other kid has to be Mice. So far, I got Rosie good twice and she still hasn’t bitten me once.

The problem is Rosie always screams and sometimes even whines, “You’re not fair!”

It’s all in how you look at it. True, I am almost five years older with longer arms. But she’s wicked fast and it’s hard to get hold of her. Plus her strategy stinks. She always pinches back instantly. She doesn’t get it that I will be on guard right after I attack. She needs to wait and try to be sneaky instead of launching herself on top of me and playing octopus—arms and legs everywhere.

You only get one chance to strike back before the turn to bite switches to the other kid.

She gives protest another tack. “You have to give me another try Brigid. I’m littler.”

She’s right. I am bigger and stronger. But mostly I win because I distract her, or even pretend like I’ve quit. She’s a real sucker for me pretending to be asleep. I sneak in another pinch.

“Rats bite,” I smile.

“Arrgh! I’m Mighty Mouse,” she yells and comes flying at me over the covers.

“Shhh!” I hiss. “Daddy’s right out there.”

But once Rosie’s wound up she’s hard to quiet.

“I’m warning you girls. I want you quiet in there! One more peep and I’m taking my belt off.”

Daddy’s starting to sound mad but we both know he never hits us girls. Mostly he just yells. That’s scary enough ‘cuz he’ll get right in your face and roar. I swear he’d out roar a lion if they were in a face off. I’d put my money on him even against a grizzly bear. Once he gets going with his belt he’ll smack you to death unless someone pulls him off. But he really just never hits us girls. So we feel sort of safe, like we’re off limits somehow.

Rosie and I look at each other and burst out laughing. Which leads to tickling each other and pretty soon we’re rolling around the bed laughing and shrieking and trying to pinch each other.

“That’s it! I’ve had it!” Daddy yells. Rosie and I look at each other. Something in his tone tells us he’s serious.

“Quick Rosie, hide!” I whisper.

She goes to hide under the covers but I spy the space between the wall and the bed. It’s too small for me but perfect for Rosie. She’s only six and tiny.

“Rosie! Down here, hurry!”

She dives into the crack and I roll over to the middle of the bed. I cover over two pillows with the blankets. It looks like Rosie under the covers. Then I pretend to be a sleepyhead, nestled on my pillow, just as the bedroom door flies open. Dad is silhouetted by the hall light, belt in hand. Something about the way he lurks there makes my mind flash to the Trolls in fairy tales. He’s not big but he’s 5 feet 7 inches of coiled nerves and bulging muscles. I can’t see his face. If I could catch his eye I could probably get him to calm down. We talk with our eyes a lot in this family. I’m pretty good at it with Daddy but it’s no go with Mom.

To my shock I see Daddy raise his arm. His belt is swinging through the air before he’s through the door. Two quick side sliding steps and he’s at the bed and the belt comes slapping down right on the bump of my butt under the covers. It’s startling for sure. It’s the first time Daddy’s ever hit me. But it doesn’t really hurt because the belt mostly catches me on my hip which is covered in blankets. Most of the belt lands on “pillow Rosie.” If you ask me he was aiming for her in the first place.

His second swing is definitely meant for her but when it lands he’s momentarily stopped in his tracks.

“Hummpf!” he grunts.  He’s on to our trick. He’s leaning right over me and pulling the covers down to reveal the pillows. Now his face is turning practically purple. Boy is he hopping mad. He’s gonna kill us for sure. Quick as a snake his hand shoots over the covers and down between the bed and the wall. He’s roaring as he hauls Rosie up onto the bed.

“How dare you try to hide from your father!” He’s yelling and Rosie’s crying.

“Brigid made me do it,” Rosie pleads but Daddy’s not hearing a word of it.

The belt is singing over and over—whoosh…smack, whoosh…smack. Rosie’s crying and I’m pleading:

“Daddy, stop. We’ll be good!”

But the belt keeps flying over me and hitting Rosie over and over. She’s really getting a walloping. Me, I’m just getting an up close view of Daddy’s armpit. It’s funny how my mind just wanders away when this kinda stuff happens. I’m lost in the smell of Tussy anti-perspirant, and sweat and All laundry detergent. 

Rosie kicks me and yells, “Brigid, help!”

I snap back. Dad’s still hitting but his face is just frozen in a mask of rage. Suddenly I understand why Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. Rosie needs me and I don’t know what to do. Instinctively I sit bolt upright. This blocks Daddy’s swing and I grab his arm and hang onto it.

“We’ll be good.”

Rosie and I blurt this out together. And amazingly he stops dead in his tracks. For a second he looks confused, staring at his two girls, both sobbing and pleading.

“When I say settle down, I mean it,” he mutters but there’s not much conviction. “Now go to sleep.”

His voice sounds almost like an apology. He turns and stalks out, slamming the door behind him. Rosie and I fall into each other’s arms. She’s crying and hiccupping softly. I’m whispering apologies and trying to make up. She’s incensed that Daddy didn’t beat me when I was the one who made her hide in the crack. I can’t explain why it went down like that. But we both know that I’m Daddy’s favorite. None of us kids talk about it  but we all agree that Declan is Daddy’s whipping boy and Mom’s jewel. For me it’s the opposite. Mom does her best to hide it but she’s just not fond of me. She coddles Rosie. Brendan is like the Holy Ghost. He’s there but nobody notices him. Certainly he’s not one to count on when the chips are down. Mainly because he’s slipped out of sight.

Rosie really holds her beating against me but I remind her that even though we’re 1 and 0 on beatings from Daddy, when it comes to beatings from Mom Rosie is 0 and I’m about 1000.

We settle down and finally I start to drift off. I’m just in that gauzy, floaty space, sinking down when a sharp pain in my butt startles me awake.

“Mice bite!” Rosie squeaks. Then she turns butt to butt, closes her eyes and sails into sleep.

Copyright © 2020 by Maire Greene