Holding On/Letting Go

By Chris Armentano

Now that I’m at the point in my life when age and golf score start to line up, I figure I ought to downsize. To do so means moving to a smaller house, jettisoning my little mountain of possessions and even whittling down my dreams and expectations. Sometimes, I think I ought to do the same with dysfunctional friendships, bad habits, grudges, or any one of a number of useless things that deserve the old heave ho. It won’t be easy.

There’re lots of reasons for unloading stuff such as, “I haven’t used the item since Season One of the Dick Van Dyke Show.” I don’t need it anymore. It’s taking up too much space. Somebody else could use it, or needs it more than I do. It’s in the way. I trip over it. I have to pick it up now and again to dust under it. My dogs pee on it. It’ll only get rusty if I leave it where it is. It’s turning yellow. 

Complicating matters is the equal number of competing reasons for holding on.  At the top of the list is “I might need it sometime.” How many times have I regretted throwing something out because I needed it a few days later? I don’t know for sure but it could be a lot. The truth, though, is hardly ever, maybe four or five times, but that seems like it ought to be enough to justify hanging onto just about anything and everything.

Case in point: I needed a piece of sheet rock to replace the one I ripped out to fix some rot under a window. Not a big piece: maybe four feet by two feet. Or about the size of the one I took to the dump last month. At the time I thought that if I ever needed a piece, it’d probably be a full four by eight sheet. Wrong. As I sit here typing, I’m still longing for the piece that I tossed without fanfare into the dumpster. Sad.

There’s a second reason I hold on to stuff: “It might be valuable someday.” Ten years ago, when my wife was de-cluttering our kitchen cabinets, I didn’t notice that she tossed out my Car Talk traveling coffee mug. Not until I got to the dump and emptied the trash barrel into the compactor. That’s when I saw it sitting forlornly on the top of the heap. Fish it out or not?  At the time, the mug was too big for the cup holder in whatever auto I was driving, so I just turned my back on it and went home. Big mistake when you consider how many times I’ve thought about that mug and how much it’ll bring at the Antiques Road Show in a few decades. I loved Tom and Ray, who were as close to me as any two guys I listened to regularly on Saturday mornings. Closer maybe, and my careless disregard for the Car Talk mug is a kind of insult to them. Or worse, a betrayal. And now that Tom has gone to the great auto-recycling center slash radio studio in the sky, it’s an insult to his memory. No wonder I’ve contemplated buying a replacement on Amazon, and pretending it’s the one I threw away.

When it comes to computers, reason one (“I might need it sometime”) applies. In this case what I might need is whatever files remain on the hard drive like digital photos, an abandoned short story or some forgotten but really important scanned documents. Needless to say I have several idle computers at my house. One lives in the basement where it’ll stay damp and dust-covered until it’s so hopelessly wrecked I’ll have no choice, save chucking it. When that day comes, I’ll drive it to the dump where I’ll load it into the trailer that’ll bring it someplace else to be loaded into another trailer, before it’s loaded into a shipping container that will end up in a resource-challenged country where slum dwellers will harvest what they can sell. When that day comes, I know I’ll wonder whether bits of my old computer wound up in a desperately poor Indian’s collection of stuff he can’t part with too. One more thing about the computer in the basement—somebody ripped out the hard drive. Even with its memory gone, I haven’t gotten around to sending it on its way.

Reason number three: “I might regret it” while similar, is not to be confused with “I might need it” and “It might be valuable.”  The other day, I threw out a bunch of papers my mom had saved from way, way back.  Some were from my grammar school and even though they’d been around for sixty years and weren’t bothering anybody, it still made sense to dump them. Others were from my college days when for a brief period I was an English major.  After giving them a quick once over, I decided that they were too painful to keep. There might have been a decent paper in there somewhere, but, because the search for it was bound to be depressing, I sent them packing. They’ve been gone just a few weeks, which is not long enough to regret having tossed them, but I’m already thinking, what if someday I get the urge to read a particularly lousy term paper?

Books fall into a couple of different categories, but “somebody, including me, might want them,” is at the top of the list. I have all kinds of books around that I might want to read for the first time or re-read. These days re-reading is pretty much the same as a first read, since I won’t recall much from the initial go round. Even if I didn’t entertain the fantasy of reading them, it’s not easy to find the somebody who may want them. There’s not much demand for books that aren’t perfect, so tossing them is about my only option. Certainly it’s the easiest, but I might feel guilty if I did, which is why my wife and I have developed a strategy for getting rid of books. You put them in a place, attic, basement or garage where something bad (flood, mold or bat guano) is bound to happen to them, and when it does, you just chuck ‘em. Guilt free. 

Dishes fall into the “I might regret it” category too. I’ve got dishes that migrated to my house from my mother’s house over the years. I figure mom must have sent me home with something in the dish, and I never got it back to her. I’ve got dishes from when I was a little kid, that I recall mom buying from a local store in my hometown. She bought them at Stratfield Stationery, owned by Lee Hinckley, brother of Ray Hinckley, the weird seventh grade science teacher, who liked to sing and play the piano with his female students in the Junior High School’s basement. In other words, I know the dishes’ provenance. I figure if I get rid of them, I’ll be losing some appreciation of my childhood, which includes appreciation for mom and the thousands of meals, hugs, and loving moments she gave me. I’d toss them if I could, but I can’t. I’ll just hide them in the back of a cupboard.

Heck it’s tough to get rid of old computers, books and other items, it’s tougher still to chuck dysfunctional relationships, habits and grudges. If I ever get around to it, I’ll ask myself if I need a particular dysfunctional relationship, or if I’ll regret letting go of a bad habit, or that I’ll realize the true value of an old grudge after it’s gone. Chances are, I’ll think some of those useless things are too precious to let go. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Copyright © 2020 by Chris Armentano

Bringing Betty Home

By Gail H. Ouimet

“We have to bring Betty home,” Barb said with some urgency. Betty had been with us for the past fourteen years. It was time for her to go home. The problem was we didn’t know where home was. We couldn’t ask her, either. You see she is two hundred and eighty-eight years, six months and thirteen days old. 

Let me explain. Fourteen years ago, we bought our dream home from a sweet elderly couple. They were in their nineties when we met them. Over the course of the next year, we cleaned and cleared a patch of yard that contained a junk and wood pile. That is where and when we discovered Betty. That is to say, we discovered a headstone, quite old, with engravings on it. In memory of Betty Hide was etched in the stone.  The curved top held an angel face with wings.

 From the moment we discovered it, the stone became Betty for us.

We could only speculate, at that time, where Betty came from. We only used the internet for email. No big search engines in those days. No smart phones. We called the previous owners to get some answers. The answers were garbled and had something to do with a meeting of a women’s group at the home. Someone had brought Betty there and left her. Why the grave marker never went back, with the person who brought it, was not clear. The headstone sat around the yard for some time. At one point, while getting the property ready for sale, Bob wanted to pitch the stone into the pond behind the house. His wife wouldn’t let him. Thank God. Both he and his wife died within five years of selling the property to us, which closed the door on any further inquiries into the history of the Betty stone.

Fast forward. We cleared the section of land where we found the headstone and made a labyrinth there. We leaned the stone against a tree on the edge of the labyrinth and that was that. We were busy with our lives. Sad to admit, we didn’t give her much thought, but a “hello” as we passed the stone while walking the labyrinth.

Last Christmas two of Barb’s sisters visited us for the holidays. Walking around the property, they discovered Betty and got excited. “We need paper and pencils,” they declared, intent on making a rubbing of the stone. Back in Idaho, later that winter, one sister did an Internet search and found Joseph Hide, Betty’s husband. She called us with the information. We let it sit, until the spring of COVID 19.  With time on our hands and nowhere to go, we dug into what info we had, getting excited ourselves. 

The search revealed that Betty Hide was born on Feb. 14, 1732, in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Her parents were Samuel and Jane (Burr) Sherwood. You may be familiar with Sherwood Island, Sherwood State Park, in Westport, Connecticut. I’m sure there is more to Betty’s family story than what we have found so far. I got so excited, I even joined ancestry.com to research the family some more. Betty married Joseph Hide and had three children. Her stone declares that she “departed this life on June 13, 1785 at the age of 53 years, 3 months and 20 days.” 

We were struck by the exactness of that account. Yet, we don’t know much, if anything, of Betty’s life. Women’s names were not even recorded on the census of that time. What did she look like? What color were her eyes? Was she one of those stern-faced women, dedicated to husband and family, with little time for joyous endeavors? What talents did she possess? What hopes and dreams, cut short at fifty-three years? How did she die? So many questions with no answers. In my head I wanted a narrative of her life. 

To add some perspective, when Betty was forty years old, Thomas Jefferson was newly married. That year the first naval attack of the Revolutionary War took place in Providence, Rhode Island.  The British and the colonies were at war.  I found her husband’s name on the roles of men who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Her father was Captain Samuel Sherwood. What did all that mean for their families?  At the same time, Willian Wordsworth and Ludwig von Beethoven were both two-year-old toddlers. For me, looking at the stone evokes feelings of being in touch with history. I touch the stone with a sense of reverence. Who else touched this stone? Did they feel a sense of loss and love?

Both Barb and I knew we had to get Betty back home.

Home for Betty Hide was what is now called Westport, Connecticut. Her stone belongs next to her husband’s in the Lower Greens Farms Cemetery, also called the Colonial Cemetery. Her grave is beside his. We made contact with Westport officials who pointed us to the Greens Farms Congregational Church. Church officials confirmed that Betty was missing from their Colonial Cemetery. 

On a beautiful Monday morning, September 21, 2020, we drove to Westport, Connecticut, with Betty tenderly wrapped in a blanket in the back of the car. We were bringing Betty home. 

One month later, we received this email :

Dear Barb and Gail, I thought you’d like to know that yesterday we put Betty Sherwood Hide’s headstone back in the cemetery, next to her husband. She is where she belongs now. You must come and visit her and Joseph in our lower cemetery one day. It’s a magical spot that makes it easy to imagine the Colonial era. Families used to come and picnic in the cemetery on a Sunday afternoon, to chat with their departed loved ones.

We can’t wait to go have a sit-down chat with Betty at her place!

Copyright © 2020 by Gail Ouimet

Eight Hundred Words

by Sharona Welton

Ironically, “800 Words” is the title of a public broadcasting TV show based in New Zealand. In this drama/comedy, George is a writer of essays sent to and published in Australia, his former home.

Handsome George and his two teen-aged children have moved from Australia to New Zealand after his wife and the kids’ mother was killed by a car as she walked home. The threesome is each working their way through grief very palpable and quite different. Of course, the teen-agers did not want to leave their home; their Mom’s parents are there, and their pals.

The story line possibilities are endless. The house bought sight unseen is uninhabitable—even in a warm climate a roof and outside walls are necessary if only to keep out critters. The kids are not readily accepted by most of their New Zealand peers. Of course, the two kids did not want to be uprooted after the death of their mom and show disdain for their father’s choice. George chose the small coastal town close to his 45-year-old teen-ager heart. He has spent summers riding the surf there. Then as now, the beach held few like-minded.

Populating the small town are characters quirky, friendly and otherwise. When George has worked through his situations and is ready, there are a bevy of lovely and accomplished women suitable for him to date.

The small-town sphere provides much of the fodder for his weekly essays. George’s editor, an old friend, holds him to eight hundred words to express his musings. He is learning as the family makes Spog their new home. Daughter, close enough to emancipation age, is her father’s toughest job. Son, four years younger, finds a friend, and is an ally for a while.

Based on his and his little family’s adventures, George wrote his eight-hundred-word essay. As the show wound down, he usually had learned something of value and passed it on to his appreciative audience.

I watched this show on a weekly basis, loving the family, and caring about George, and their new New Zealand friends.

George meandered his way into his stories using words wisely chosen to convey his meaning succinctly and well. As a writer I am on the same page as George, hopefully.

When I first began writing and listened to others read their work, I felt underdone with mine; I used fewer words. Strangely enough I also found that my eyes glazed over while reading or listening to a story of length. There goes my attention, and my enjoyment.

I wondered often why this was so felt by me. Well, either I have ADD or advances in technology have given us television, computer of ever-higher speed, and smart phones which do everything but brush your teeth for you when we used to read books, newspapers, and letters.

Dickensian tomes were popular, well-read, and very lengthy. Of course, long drawn out stories provided that day’s education and entertainment.

Still, I pondered the dichotomy of my ‘too little’ and some ‘too much.’ Could it have been my father’s intolerance when I would relate a happening in my day in high school? “Yes, yes, get to the point, will you, Sharon?” This man, my father, also George, had not experienced a healthy home life as a child or teen-ager. His father, my grandmother Rose’s second alcoholic husband, Francis Xavier, made life a living hell.

When dad was seventeen, he had to physically put his father out of the house. Eventually, Francis died after falling outside during a frigid night, freezing to death in the snow covering the ground outside his little shack.

My father’s mother called him Brother, not George. He had been the second child, the oldest son, bearing the weight of his mother, and three siblings. Saddest of all for me to know was that he had turned down a chance to attend Notre Dame University, tuition paid. Dad was highly intelligent, and his only outlet was reading, especially the dictionary. We never discussed any of these happenings since Dad was a private person, bar none.

So, what was I doing as I wrote my pieces, tying up loose ends before hand? Even thinking about a story to escribe I feel impatient and throw out of my mind points which may be salient, useful or plain fun to the coming text. George, my father, my earliest editor, would then approve. Privacy would be preserved.

I am now writing as clearly as I can, putting in the ‘salient points’ easier and with less impatience for detail…some is good, more may even be the absolute best….

You see, I am holding my position on eight hundred words but I’m willing to inflate my stories a bit for understanding and entertaining you, my audience. OK?

Copyright © 2020 by Sharon Welton

Why I Support Black Lives Matter

By Chris Armentano

(This essay previously appeared in The Hartford Courant, The Tampa Bay Times, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, The Press of Atlantic City and The Lynchburg News and Advance.)

Recently, as I stood with BLM supporters on Southbury’s Main Street trading shouts with Trump supporters, I was struck by the futility of our exchange.

No explanations were offered about why each of us had taken our respective stands. Later, in a calmer moment, I asked myself: Why do I support the Black Lives Matter movement?

I support BLM because half the year I live in a part of Northern Florida where the N-word is still used with malice and where a third-generation Klansman told me that the Klan no longer kills black men accused of assaulting white women. “We make sure they get long prison sentences.”

I support BLM because Dr. Luther Ivory, in his office at Rhodes College in Memphis, told me about seeing the body of “Big Boy,” a Korean War veteran and family friend, hanging from a tree in his backyard. Big Boy’s “crime?” Not stepping off the sidewalk to let a white couple pass. As an eleven year old, he found the sight was so traumatizing that even a few years ago, as Dr. Ivory recalled these events, he seemed on the verge of panic.

I support BLM because of Judge Helen Shores Lee, the daughter of a civil rights lawyer whose home in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed twice during the turbulent 1960s. A few years ago her ten-year-old granddaughter was told by a classmate that she couldn’t sit with her at lunch. “Can’t you see I’m white?” the little girl told her.  As the judge told me, “You can change laws but you can’t change people’s hearts.”

I support BLM because Sherry Dupree, a retired university librarian, told me in her Florida living room how her grandfather’s farm was taken by armed Klansmen. Her grandfather, who fled North Carolina for his life, did not return for several years. To do so, he first had to ask permission of his town’s white establishment. These were the same people who took his farm, and whose descendants still own the land. Years later, the Klan came again, this time to kill her father and take his property. Only the intervention of a white judge, brandishing a shotgun, kept the Klan from completing their crime.

Most of these events happened years ago but still, during my lifetime. In the memories of the victims, they live on, as does the enduring psychological damage. In the case of Sherry Dupree’s grandfather, he lost valuable land that could have been passed down to successive generations, just as it has been in the families of the men who stole it.

I support BLM because every time black people proclaim “enough” there has been a white backlash. Every time, whether it concerned lunch counters, schools, public transportation, the right to vote or join a union, the white response has been quick and predictable: that the protestors hate America, hate white people, are to be feared and are controlled by communists or what were once called “outside agitators.”  When bad actors crash peaceful protests, violence and looting become the central issue in the minds of many, who then brush aside the legitimacy of Black grievances.

Non-violent protests are no different. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee in a gesture that asked the people who love the flag to help America live up to the ideals of our founding documents, the backlash was the same.

Racism has been part of this nation’s DNA since 1619 when a group of Virginia colonists became enslavers. It is the river in which we all swim. For this reason, it strikes me as counter productive to call each other “racists.”  To some extent, we all are, because as a nation we have swum in that river and drunk deeply from it.

In spite of all this, the current moment seems more hopeful. Committed people of all colors are demonstrating in large numbers, despite fear mongering that overstates the violence in places like Portland, Oregon.

As a friend living there told me that even considering his city’s turmoil, the core of the of the movement is resolute and peaceful, adding, “There are beautiful, determined protests and gatherings happening all over the U.S.”

That alone should give us hope.

Copyright © 2020 by Chris Armentano

Adventures in the Land of Hubris

  by Maire Greene                                    

I just got done writing “I will not correct Sister in class,” 500 times. For once Mom didn’t make the boys write a third of it with me. That’s how we usually write these stupid punishment time wasters. Splitting the load makes the time fly and prevents resentments. Our handwriting all looks the same ’cuz Mom showed us how to forge writing. She makes us all share since she knows that we probably all shoot spitballs, or fly paper airplanes, or shoot elastics in class. And she’s right. It’s just luck of the draw whether Brendan or Dec or I get caught on any given day. We’re all guilty.

500 times is really a lot—usually it’s only 100 or 200. But I really burnt Sister so crispy today you could smell the ashes down the hall. So she’s getting even.  Mom’s making me write alone ‘cuz she says I’m the only one fool enough to actually interrupt a lesson to correct the teacher.

She’s right again, of course. Brendan would swallow his own tongue before he’d correct Sister and Declan couldn’t care less if she’s wrong. That’s the right way to say that by the way. Most people say “Could care less” but that makes no sense. Just listen to yourselves, people!

(It’s a good thing mom can’t hear my actual thoughts or she’d tack on an extra 200 times just for insolence.)

I can hear her now. “Brigid get over yerself, you example you!”

To her that’s the worst thing you can be, an example. To me it just means you’re so good at it that other people have to copy you. Look at it this way: when you have to fight to be heard or seen, being an example, especially for knowing your stuff, is the way to go.

That’s what ticks me off about this whole rolled-in-dog-doo-and-covered-with-bird-puke episode—I really do know my stuff. If it was suppertime and Dad was giving us one of his pop quizzes. I’d get the butter for knowing the difference between Keats and Shelley.

I guess I should explain a few things. See, we get pop quizzes every night at suppertime. It’s usually knowing a poem, or the author, or the next line. But it could just as easily be questions about art, or current affairs, or architecture for Chrissakes. If you get the right answer first you get the butter which is a real treat. Dad is the only one who gets real butter. We all eat margarine—Blechh!. He always takes a way bigger pat of butter than he needs and if you win the quiz, he flips you the rest of his butter, after he’s done anointing his corn and potatoes. Getting the butter means melting into the creamy, golden deliciousness of pure heaven. It’s not unusual for me to have to be called down from the ceiling when I’m savoring real butter. Can’t help it—I just float right up out of my body on that glorious, magical stuff. Even if we don’t get the butter we get our poetry, art, myths and history drilled into us.

So when Sister Philly Cream Cheese said to the class, “As Shelley wrote ‘Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty…’” she didn’t have a chance to get out another word before my hand shot up and I blurted out, “No, Sister. That was Keats, not Shelley.”

Holy Cripes! You’d think I shot the Pope! There wasn’t a sound in the room. I swear the whole class stopped breathing. We all sat frozen as Sister turned pink, then red, then deep purple like a rotting beet. I thought she was gonna pop a stroke right in front of us.

When she finally caught her breath, she pointed one bony talon at me and screeched, “Cloakroom! Now!” and out I marched to my usual cell in the wire cage where we hang our coats—the perfect little jail—small, smelly and nothing to do but look at other peoples’ coats. Boredom! I just sit on the floor and go away in my head.

It’s not like I miss anything. Most everything we study I already know. It’s not like Dad ever gives us a pass on knowing our history or geography. We even have to know our architecture for cryin’ out loud. I bet I’m the only kid in 6th grade who’s ever even heard of Bauhaus. So, when Sister mistakes Keats for Shelley, it just drives me batshit loony. I mean, that’s just sloppy. Or lazy. Or stupid. I vote stupid. In the race for best and brightest, Bag of Hammers and Box of Rocks are in a tight finish leaving Sister Dumb Cluck spinning in the dust.

Man, I’m getting tired of listening to myself. I really am an insufferable little know-it-all, just like Aunt Ginny says. Dec says that’s why he taught me how to pick locks, start fires and throw a knife. At least I’ll have ways to escape if the bastards ever catch up with me. Then he laughs to show me I’m O.K. with him, but only ‘cuz we both know he’s ten times smarter than me.

Copyright © 2020 by Maire Greene

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.