GROWING OLDER

Marilyn and I are watching a “NCIS” episode involving Gibbs and his dad. Mark Harmon and the late Ralph Waite. We’ve seen it before but it’s an especially poignant show because Waite died just a few months ago and the story deals with a difficult father son situation.

It also touches home on aging and health issues. Gibbs’ dad, his driving license just revoked, is desperate to find an old war buddy who is dying. Gibbs is preoccupied with a case and impatient with his dad. Conversation is awkward. It reminds me of another father and son.

My dad was never big on intimacy. We’d talk about sports and men’s clothing. Towards the end of his life, My dad talked a bit about frustration with his health. He was a big, strong man who was very handy for most of his years. Now, he mostly sat in the dark as his strength ebbed. Conversation was even more difficult. Even sports and men’s clothing drew little interest. The award-winning TV news journalist was having difficulty talking to his father. The image of my father, the younger man, kept flashing through my mind as we sat in silence. I made a silent vow that I would not become my father, wrapped in silence.

Almost 20 years later, that vow is still flashing through my mind. For one thing, I’m no longer the perennial young man whose pictures adorn our home. Mortality has made its presence known. Marilyn is fighting to regain some semblance of quality of life after complex heart valve surgery. She is a proud, fiercely independent woman who doesn’t like asking for help. It’s awkward for both of us. We make jokes about our so-called golden years but we don’t really laugh.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

It’s funny because we actually look younger than people our age a generation ago. But it doesn’t help when we hear our bones creaking. It’s certainly no joke to Marilyn who wonders if she’ll be able to do some very basic things to re-establish her independence.

Marilyn has had health issues most of her life so she is no stranger to pain. Fittingly, she sometimes looks at me wryly when I complain about aches. Who do I think I am? Well, I am that vain guy who burned through a lot of prime years with little regard about paying the piper.

The dues are coming in. But the reporter in me must acknowledge there are so many others who have more serious health issues. That’s probably an understatement if you just flip through today’s news stories. Still, growing older isn’t the picture perfect stuff of those old movies.

Print the legend!

HOW IT BEGAN, HOW IT CONTINUES

I was 18 when I got married the summer between the junior and senior years of college. I was working at the radio station. Jeff, my first husband, was Station Manager. Garry, my now and forever husband, was Program Director. The two were best friends.

We were having a great time. Young, creative, a radio station to play with, life felt like a party that would never end.

Gar and Mar in Dublin 2000

Honeymoon in Ireland

I married Jeff in 1965, finished my B.A., had the first surgery that put me on the D.L. for a few years. When I pulled myself together and got on with life, I promptly got pregnant. My son was born in May 1969. We named him Owen Garry, making Garry his godfather. I wanted to be sure Garry would stay part of the family and my life. I couldn’t see the future, but I knew I wanted Garry in it.

Thirteen years later, I walked away from that marriage. It wasn’t horrible. It was merely empty, a good friendship, but as a marriage, it was nothing much.

Off to Israel I went with my son. I married in Israel, a mistake that even today I find hard to accept. I know why, but my behavior baffles me. It’s as if my brain was off and something else ran my life. I was in Israel for just under 9 years and for all the years, Garry wrote me letters. Every week, two or three letters, always typed in capital letters and mailed special delivery arrived in my mail box. I began to think of them as my fan letters. I lived from letter to letter as the marriage which started as a mistake morphed into a disaster.

No one writes real letters anymore. Email has eliminated personal mail. But those letters were so wonderful. I carried one or two of them with me wherever I went. I read them over and over, until they fell apart. Garry kept telling me I was wonderful and it reminded that someone thought I was fantastic, an amazing woman. The rest of my life didn’t exactly support that.

I wrote letters to Garry too and when I got back to the States, I found he had saved every one of them. A drawer full of letters. Obviously something was going on. I’m sure we both knew. We just weren’t ready to deal with the implications.

75-GarryAboardNK-30_0225

I don’t think either Garry or I has written a letter to anyone else since.

August 1987.

I was back. Depressed. Poor. For the second time in my life, I’d abandoned everything and bolted. My aunt Kate had died and left me a little money, enough for a plane ticket to the states with a few hundred dollars left. I stayed in Jeff’s guest room a couple of weeks while I reconnoitered life.

With a little help from a friend, I got a job in the Boston area. Garry and I were an item. The previous decade hadn’t dealt kindly with either of us and we saw one another with new eyes. We’d always been a little in love, but there had been an endless number of reasons why it wasn’t the right time to do something about it.  Now, after my Israeli divorce — and Garry’s extraction of his live-in girlfriend from his apartment and life — we got married. About time, too.

Garry was 48 and had never been married, though he’d hardly been living the monk’s life. So how did I finally get him to propose? The truth is, it was all him. Really.

I’d been in California for a couple of weeks on business. I’d come back early because I came down with the flu. That turned out to be just as well, because the big earthquake — the one that stopped that year’s World Series — happened the day after I left. If I’d stayed, I’d have been crushed under a collapsed highway.

Garry was glad to see me … until I coughed. Then he wasn’t so glad. What is the definition of “mixed emotions?” A man in love who knows that first kiss is going to give him the flu. Definition of true love? He kissed me anyway. And got the flu.

After we stopped coughing, we went to dinner. Our favorite restaurant, Jimmy’s Harborside, was only a mile away on the harbor, but it took nearly an hour to get there. Garry was nervous and kept looping around Leverett Circle, missing the turn off. He was telling me how real estate prices were down and maybe we should buy a place. Live together. Forever. Would that be okay with me?

So I listened for a pretty long time because this was the most unexpected speech I’d ever heard. I never expected Garry to marry me. I never thought he’d marry anyone. Finally, I said: “So you want to buy a house. Move in and live together? As in get married?”

“All of that,” he said and looped around one more time.

“I definitely need a drink,” I said.

The following morning, I asked Garry if I could tell my friends. He said “Tell them what?”

“That we’re getting married,” I said.

“We are?”

“You said we should buy a house and live together forever.”

“Yes,” he agreed

“So we’re getting married. You proposed.”

“That’s a proposal?” he asked. “I didn’t think it was a proposal.”

“You want to buy a house with me and live together forever. If it’s not a proposal, what is it?”

“Just an idea,” he said.

“It’s a proposal,” I assured him. A couple of weeks later, I suggested a ring might be in order. And setting a date. He moved through these steps looking like a deer in headlights, but eventually, he realized all he had to do was show up in a tux and he’d be married. That he could do. We were living together anyway, so …

Marilyn againWe were wedded 6 months later having known each other a mere 26 years.

Garry and I will celebrate our 24th anniversary next September. We have both mellowed. We know each other so well. We know each others faces. I know when he hurts. He knows if I’m upset. It doesn’t mean we don’t squabble, but it does mean we never stop caring and loving and being there for each other.

The man who was never going to get married has become as close to a perfect husband as any woman has a right to expect or hope for. I often think, with my endless health problems, he’s gotten himself a lemon and maybe should return me to the dealer and get a wife with a warranty. But he like this model, however decrepit.

It doesn’t seem like 24 years. I don’t know where the time has gone. Turns out, when you find the right one, time flies.

Daily Prompt: That’s Amore

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THE WORST DECISION

Daily Prompt: Let’s Go Crazy

Sometimes, we act on impulse: it could be something as small as ordering that special dessert on the menu, maybe asking out that cute boy or girl, or as large quitting your job and selling everything you own to become a shepherd in New Zealand. What’s the most crazy, outrageously impulsive thing you’ve ever done? If you’ve never succumbed to temptation, dream a little. If you gave yourself permission to go a little crazy, what would you do?

Between good marriages one and three, there was unspeakably awful marriage number two. To say that it seemed like a good idea at the time is not entirely true. I knew from the get-go it was a bad idea. Not only did I think it was, but everyone who knew me thought it was terrible idea, from my mother to my new friends in Israel , to my old friends back in the states. No one said “Follow your heart!” because it was clear whatever I was following, it wasn’t my heart or my brain, but some part rather lower down and significantly less rational.

So why did I marry someone so blatantly unsuitable and mismatched?

  • He spoke English. Never underestimate the power of communication when you are in a foreign land and have no one to talk to
  • I was on the rebound from a divorce
  • We were using lots of drugs
  • Sex
  • Insecurity, loneliness and being a stranger in a strange land.

All the aforementioned combined. Voila. A marriage easily entered into but not so easily escaped. I should have known when his mother took me aside and said “You know, Tony isn’t really stupid. He just seems stupid.” His mother?

He had an evil temper. He didn’t read books. He had no visible means of support. He was courting me while his first wife was dying of cancer (red light flashing, siren going off, why don’t I notice?). The levels of wrongness were too many to count.

very-very-bad-idea

So, how did it work out?

How do you think?

I went crazy and I paid. I paid big, long and hard. There are crazy risks that are fun. Go ahead and buy the lens you want. Take an extra ride on the roller coaster. Learn to sky dive.

Just make sure, before you take a mad plunge, the price you may pay for your wild decision isn’t beyond your means. If your heart and mind are screaming “NO, NO DON’T DO IT” whilst everyone in your life for whom you have an iota of respect agrees with that assessment … don’t do it. Admit you are wrong.

Because in the end, the real reason I went ahead with a marriage I knew was absolutely wrong? I was embarrassed to admit I’d made a mistake.

Ye olde sin of pride. It’ll nail your ass to the wall every time.

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YOU’LL NEVER OVERHEAR ANYTHING GOOD

Daily Prompt: Talking in Your Sleep

by Krista on March 5, 2014 – Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation you weren’t supposed to? Tell us about a time when it was impossible not to overhear a conversation between people who didn’t know you were there. What was the conversation about? How did it make you feel?

I dislike eavesdropping. It’s a major cause of serious misunderstanding and conflict. Consider the story of Heathcliff and Cathy. If Heathcliff hadn’t heard only half of what Cathy said, gotten angry and stormed off without waiting to hear the rest of the story (context, context!!), generations of literary misery could have been avoided. This is a tale that has been aggravating me for more than half a century both as a book and on film. I don’t care how romantic it is. It’s stupid.

If my plastic pals could talk, what tales they could tell!

If my plastic pals could talk, what tales they could tell!

You seen, that’s the fundamental problem with eavesdropping. You never hear the whole story. And you don’t hear it in context, just pieces which inevitably don’t mean what you think they do.

When I bump into someone else’s conversation, especially if it happens to concern me, I run. Literally. I do not want to hear it. Sure, they could be telling each other what an amazing human being I am and how much they admire me, but the odds don’t favor that. For reasons best known to the Fates, we will only overhear conversations that reflect poorly on us, that seem to show our friends as disloyal backstabbers … whether or not they really are. And having heard what we heard illicitly so to speak, we don’t feel we can confront someone about it.

Which mean they never get to explain the context or even apologize, if that’s appropriate. We keep those ugly, overheard words tucked in our souls. We burn with outrage, sometimes for a lifetime.

There’s no percentage in it. Eavesdropping can make you miserable, but I’ve never heard of it making anyone happier. Not ever. Remember Heathcliff. You could find yourself roaming the heaths forever calling in vain for your beloved because you couldn’t resist listening in to a bit of private conversation.

When you find yourself within earshot of someone else’s private communication, block your ears and run for the hills. You’ll be glad you did.

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SOUP AND SANDWICH

Everyone who knew Harold would agree; he was an orderly man.  Everything about his well-ordered existence was, well, “orderly.” That would perhaps be the only word to describe it.  He firmly believed in the adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”  That did not just include things, but it also included time.  Harold ran on a strict schedule and parceled out his time for maximum efficiency.  He was dependable, likable and predictable.

72-StPetePostcard-soft

Harold had been chief mechanical engineer at a plant that made small motors for big applications.

This work demanded designing a wide variety of parts for the many specialized applications.  Harold was up to every task.  He drew his special parts the old-fashioned way at his drafting table.

He kept copies of all his special drawings in a filing cabinet, organized by type of part.  His methodical brain could recall all the special requests to modify the little motors to power everything imaginable.  While you would have no idea all the appliances and machines and gadgets that required little motors, Harold could see them all in the depths of the storage places in his mind.

When Harold was approaching retirement, he knew instinctively that it was time to move on.  More work was being done by computer, and while Harold mastered the technique, he could not set aside his love of the drafting table itself.  A desk and computer were okay, but his computer-like mind held all the gigabytes he needed.  As for manufacturing the parts, that was now being farmed out to other places. He could no longer watch his creations made real in the machine shop.

The next phase of life brought retirement on the gulf coast of Florida.  This was not a retirement were you could just be lazy and do nothing.  Harold had imposed an orderly routine on his life.

There probably would have been no other path to happiness.  Harold’s road was clear and free from clutter.  His home was so neat and clean you would swear he had a helper.  There were few items out and on display as everything had a specific place to be put away and that is exactly what Harold did.  As for things that Harold did not think had a practical use, he threw them away, gave them away or recycled them.  He owned nothing that he could not imagine using in the near future.

For his weekly schedule, Harold chose Mondays for a walk on the beach.  A few moments admiring the Gulf was a retirement activity Harold felt worth scheduling.  If the weather was inclement, he drove into Sarasota for a little stroll through a shopping area.  He might look for items he previously recorded on a list.  Monday was the appointed day for picking up requirements, there would be no unplanned or hasty trips to the store.  Time was too valuable to spend wandering to and fro.  The only wandering of the week would be down the beach on the appropriate Monday morning hour for such things.

Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent in town at the local library.  Harold maintained a list of books he felt would be worth reading and set out to read as many as he could find.  If he did not finish the book at the library, he would check it out to make sure he had it on his next visit.  On a rare occasion he might continue reading at home when his schedule for the day was completed.  That only came when something he was reading really caught his fancy.  There certainly were a few good books on mechanical engineering and anything he discovered on the topic was a delightful find.

Fridays were for sports.  He read about the local high school and college sports in the morning.  He watched reports on the cable news channel, Sarasota Now.  In March, Harold carefully planned which Major League Baseball spring training games he should attend.  His love of sports was not quite the same as his love of mechanical engineering, but it came close.

lunch 2

While Harold might declare Sunday to be his day of rest, it was anything but that.  He cleaned the small townhouse on Sundays and checked many of the drawers and boxes to make sure everything was put away properly.  He reviewed the contents of the closets to determine if there was anything that no longer belonged.  Cleaning and inspecting everything could take Harold most of the day, but he did not mind.  It gave him a great deal of satisfaction.

Perhaps most special of all the scheduled activities was Harold’s trip to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports bar every Wednesday and Saturday for lunch.  When Harold arrived at 1 pm sharp, cane in hand and smile on his face, every one greeted him warmly.  “Hello Harold,” the manager on duty would shout with glee, calling attention to his arrival.  At that the waitresses, would call out his name and people would turn around to see who entered.

“Hello Harold,” the bartender would say loudly so her “hello” was heard with all the others.  The broad smile on Harold’s face got even wider at all the attention.  It seemed the entire crew felt a bit sorry for Harold.  He was always alone.  He moved deliberately, carefully placing his cane down with his left hand every time his right foot took a step forward. While they considered Harold a simple, maybe even dim-witted but likable old-timer and just wanted him to feel good, Harold was well aware that he got the added attention due to his apparent simple nature.

Once Harold found his table near the window, his usual waitress, Tiffany, came over to give him a hug.  “Would you like the soup and sandwich special?” Tiffany began.  “Yes, please, and I will have the chicken noodle soup.”  There was no need to ask Harold what he wanted.  It was ham and cheese sandwich with chicken noodle soup on Wednesday and vegetable beef on Saturday.

He enjoyed a bit of ESPN, a lot of attention and a good lunch. Then Tiffany brought the bill and wrote her name and put a big smiley face next to it.  So, twice each week Harold purchased attention and friendship for the price of the soup and sandwich special.

A MESSAGE FROM YOUR SPONSOR

Daily Prompt: Never Gonna Give You Up

You. We know *you* are vice-free, dear Daily Post reader. But, or perhaps we should say, “butt,” others around you and in your life are riddled with vices: they smoke; they eat too much celery; they hog the covers; they can’t keep their hands out of the office candy bowl. Which vice or bad habit can you simply not abide in others? Photographers, artists, poets: show us VICE.

- – - – -

When I gave up smoking, I got worried. I had just given up my last true vice. If I had to do any negotiating with God (“Hey, God? If you get me out of this mess I’ll give up … “) I had nothing to work with. I drink coffee, but that’s not a vice. That’s food. I don’t drink alcohol and I’m not addicted to drugs (dependency on blood pressure medication does not count).

Laundry

We’ve been living in a hive, three generations of family packed together. Not as tight as sardines, but tight enough. Each of us has learned to (1) Not sweat the small stuff, small being loosely defined as “not worth fighting about,” (2) To be extremely wary of casting stones, since they have a nasty habit of returning — boomerang-like — to whack you solidly on the skull

Just ONE little thing. Please, please don’t just leave your laundry in the washer and dryer. Finish your laundry and leave the machines clear for those others of us who need to cleanse our own washables. Thank you. We really appreciate your attention to this matter.

This has been a message from your sponsor. We now resume the regularly scheduled program, already in progress.

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THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY – JAMES ZERNDT – ENTER TO GET A FREE COPY!

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

CLICK TO ENTER THE DRAWING FOR
A FREE COPY OF “THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY
 !

A STRANGELY WONDERFUL ROMANCE

Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine?

This could be a very torrid post, but as Serendipity is G-rated, won’t go there. Instead, I’ll tell you a story. You are free to fill in any missing details using your own rich imagination.

I was 18 when I married the first time. I was in my senior year of college, working at the radio station and beginning to get the hang of writing for people other than myself.  Jeff ran the college radio station. He was the Station Manager. Garry, my once and future husband, was Jeff’s second-in-command — the Program Director. The two were coincidentally also best friends. Along with most of the people I count as friends all these long years later, we were having a great time doing weird and creative stuff … a permanent party, or so it seemed.

Gar and Mar in Dublin 2000

It wasn’t just the usual college hi-jinx. Aside from the stuff we did at the station, we were creative party givers. Our Fall of Sauron Day parties became the stuff of legend –scripted, costumed, with special effects. We were young and healthy and could party all night, yet still rise up and go the work the following morning — looking barely the worse for wear. Ah, youth.

I married Jeff in August 1965. I spent the next year finishing my B.A. and having my spine remodeled, so it was a few years before I got on with life. My son was born in May 1969. We named him Owen Garry, Garry being his godfather. Fast forward through a non-acrimonious divorce. I later realized if you just give up everything and walk away, it’s easy to be amicable. It’s also something you will probably regret — eventually.

Off to Israel I went with The Kid. Not too long thereafter, I married in Israel. The less said about this mistake, the better. In 1983, a state visit from the ex and (now) current husband (they rode together), showing up right in time for war in Lebanon. It ruined our plans to visit Mt. Hermon and the Galilee, but created great anecdotes which Garry and I tell after dinner around the fire. I have one (fuzzy) picture of me, sandwiched between Jeff and Garry, all arm-in-arm, the Dead Sea behind us. The picture was taken by husband number 2 (the one I don’t want to talk about).

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

August 1987.

I’m back! Garry and I are an item. Having been apart for so long brought us closer together than we’d imagined possible. The previous decade hadn’t dealt kindly with either of us and we saw one another with new eyes. I think we’d always been a little in love, but there were an endless number of reasons why it wasn’t the right time to do something about it.  Now, shortly after my Israeli divorce from husband number 2 was finished, Garry and I got married.

And here’s how it really happened.

I’d been away for two weeks in California on business. I had come back early because I got sick, came down with the flu. Just as well, because an earthquake — the one that stopped the World Series — occurred the following day and if I’d stayed, I’d have been crushed under the collapsed highway.

Garry was glad to see me … until I coughed. Then he wasn’t so glad. If you want to know the definition of “mixed emotions,” it’s a man overwhelmed with joy to see the woman he loves — but knowing the first kiss will include influenza. The definition of true love? He kissed me anyway. And got the flu.

So after we both stopped coughing, Garry took me out to dinner. He was nervous. He was driving and we went around Leverett Circle at least half a dozen times. He kept missing the turn off. Meanwhile, he was explaining how he’d had a conversation with his pal about real estate, and how prices were down, and how maybe we should buy something. And live together. Like maybe … forever? Was forever okay with me?

So having listened for a pretty long time, I said: “So let me see if I’ve got this right. You want to buy a house? Move in and live together? Forever? As in married?”

“All of that,” he said, and drove around the loop one more time.

“I don’t know about you,” I said, “But I definitely need a drink.”

The following morning, I asked Garry if I could tell my friends. He said “Tell them what?”

“That we’re getting married,” I said.

“We are?”

“You said we should buy a house and live together forever.”

“Is that a proposal?”

“It is where I come from,” I assured him. Wouldn’t you think that was a proposal? I had to remind him about buying a ring, too but eventually, he got into the groove, realized all he had to do was tell me what he wanted and show up in a tux and he’d be a married guy. Piece of cake.

We got married 6 months later having known each other a mere 26 years.

I declined to have my first ex-husband as best man at my third wedding. We did, however, have the “real” reception at his house. There was the official one at the church, but the fun event, with all the friends, music, wine and sharing … that one was over at the old house where I used to live with Jeff.

Garry and I will celebrate our 24th anniversary next September. When you find the right one, time flies.

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MY FAIR LADY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine?

My Mother had a strange smile on her face as she spoke to me. It would be our last real conversation before dementia began closing the windows and doors on life as she knew it.

“Treat your wife decently”, Mom looked at me with her eyes growing larger for emphasis, “Marilyn is a good woman. Make sure you love her. Tell her you love her. SHOW your love!”. It was surprising because Mom never seemed to like Marilyn, never showed any real affection for the woman who’d married her oldest son 15 years earlier. Hey, I was 48 when I finally decided to try marriage for the first time. Mom wasn’t exactly losing her baby boy. But the divide was always there between my Mother and Marilyn until that last conversation. Too bad Marilyn couldn’t have heard Mom. Too bad because Marilyn has been part of my life for more than half a century.

Marilyn 1970

Marilyn and I first met as college students in 1964 when we and our world were young. We worked at the college radio station, seemingly a haven for shy, odd and eccentric people bound together by a passion for creativity.

I was shy. Very shy. I smoked a pipe and tried to look thoughtful. Marilyn didn’t seem shy. She was always talking, always full of life and laughter. She also wore her sweaters very well. I don’t know why but I found talking to Marilyn relatively comfortable. She put me at ease. I couldn’t do that with most of the other coeds I knew. But Marilyn was my best friend’s girl friend and very soon his wife. Somehow, our friendship continued and I became Godfather to Owen, Marilyn and best friend, Jeff’s son.

Matter of fact, the newborn son was named Owen Garry in my honor. Humbling stuff. Our relationships would soon change but remain in many ways. Marilyn would be the constant.

Fast forward across several decades. I pursued a career as a TV news reporter with a 31 year run in Boston. I was the free wheeling bachelor from central casting. The only constant was my relationship with Marilyn which had blossomed from friendship into something deeper. We had a frequent flier relationship between Boston and New York. The names and faces changed in my other relationships but there was always Marilyn.

Sometimes it got pretty complicated. Things got more interesting as Marilyn’s first marriage ended. She and Owen moved to Israel to find their roots which included marriage number two for Marilyn. Geography didn’t hamper my feelings for Marilyn. The friendship grew stronger through letters and phone calls. The names and faces kept changing in my life but Marilyn was my life line even if I didn’t realize it. As a regional “celebrity”, I popped up in tabloid gossip columns a lot. I was the carefree guy who would never settle down. Never say never.

I’m still not sure how it happened. (Editor’s Note: Yes you are. Liar, liar pants on fire!) Marilyn and Owen had returned to the States. Marriage number two was history for Marilyn. The revolving door in my bachelor apartment was slowing down. Marilyn was becoming my constant companion. There was a conversation one night about marriage. Apparently I said “yes”. It would be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!!

96-CoupleCasual007-1Marilyn and I are now a year away from our silver anniversary. It’s hard to believe. It’s difficult to believe because of all the life and death medical crises Marilyn has endured over the past dozen years. As I write, Marilyn is staring down yet another potentially life threatening medical crisis. It might be trite to say she is a trouper. But Marilyn really is a soldier even as she grapples with fear of how I and the rest of the family will survive while she yields to the specialists and surgeons.

Marilyn has always put everyone else ahead of herself. Now, it’s her turn!! Marilyn has seen me through some very difficult times that I’ll never be able to repay. As a guy who has had a life time love affair with classic movies, I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated the best leading lady one could ask for in real life.

This is not the end. I am hoping, wishing and praying that this latest chapter will end in relief, smiles and laughter for Marilyn, My Fair Lady.

Image

NED, THE BIKER WHO PLUMBED

When we moved to this town, Garry was the first person of color, and I was as far as I know, the first (only?) Jew. People said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before.” Garry just got stares. Hard to tell if they were staring because they’d seen him on TV or because he’s brown. Both?

Neighbor in winter

Our situation was complicated by our neighbor Ned. A big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then there are Harleys. This one was chopped and really loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed. Ned was massive. Tattooed. He hung with a bunch of skin-head friends. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited, nor did these seem to be our kind of party.

Ned flew a Confederate flag over his house. Prominently. We learned he’d always done this. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I think it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a more than a century ago. Time to get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t understand.

It was ironic that our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag. We were the only mixed-race couple in town. It made us twitch. We were a poster couple for hate groups — an ex-New Yorker man of color who worked in media, married to a white Jewish woman, also from New York.

black jockey racist statue

Garry is pragmatic. And feisty. He didn’t survive 40-years as a reporter without having grit. One fine summer’s day, music blaring from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured his fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”

He marched down the driveway, through the woods joining our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”

Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little help from friends, was willing to become.

Eventually Ned got into drugs or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going.

New folks live there now. They are neither friendly nor actively hostile. They object to our dogs barking so much. Hard to argue with that. I also wish they’d shut up. But hey, they’ve got big dogs who do their own share of barking.

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like Ned and he always gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a pretty good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.

Daily Prompt: Good Fences?

WRAPPED IN PAPER

Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words - Contemplation

contemplation

I am not by nature contemplative. All my ideas become pictures or stories … even this one. Yet the other day, I got to contemplating how I express love. Why so many people don’t understand my way of showing it. Why my granddaughter has a zillion dolls and too many cameras, my husband has a ton of stuff he doesn’t need and my best friend has half an antique pottery collection (I have the other half).

Blame it on my upbringing, the odd traditions of my mother’s family. Basically, we say “I love you” by giving each other stuff. All kinds of stuff. Art, furniture, gadgets, clothing, books, whatnots. We were never a touchy, feely, huggy family nor verbally effusive. We rarely said “I love you.” I’ve had to learn to say the words. I’d still rather buy you a present.

Over the course of life with my family, I got clothing (used and new), pottery (ugly and uglier), jewelry (not nearly enough), carpets, paintings (“No, really, it’s okay … you keep it … please!”) and whatever else came to hand. If someone had a sudden unplanned attack of the warm fuzzies, they might give you the nearest small object — ashtray, silver cigarette holder (from my mother, who never smoked), old souvenirs from Coney Island, empty cigar boxes (Uncle Abe). No wrappings or bows. Spontaneity precluded amenities. It was my family’s version of a hug.

One time, my dearest favorite-est aunt gave me the coat off her back while crossing 6th Avenue in Manhattan. It was mid-winter in New York and definitely not a good time to be coat-less, but I had said I liked it and she needed to express her love right then and there.

“Please, Aunt Kate,” I cried, hoping the people swirling around us didn’t call the cops, likely thinking I was mugging my elderly aunt. “I am wearing a coat. You gave me this coat years ago. I wear it all the time. I love it.”

Which only made it worse. “That old thing,” she cried. “You need a new coat.”

“When we get home,” I promised. “You can give me the coat at home.” And she did. And I wore it. For many years until it fell apart. I knew I was wearing her love and it kept me very warm.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I bought a box of odds and ends from a little shop on Bethlehem Road. They had been cleaning out their back room. They said “We don’t know what’s in here, but you can have it for five dollars.”

I took the box home and began to sort through it. I found tiny carved ivory elephants, amber beads, buttons from dress shirts, old agora and a green, crusted thing I was going to throw out until a friend said “Hey, that’s an old coin.”

I stopped. Looked at it. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“That’s what old coins look like,” she said. “Soak it in lemon juice for a few days and see what happens.”

I soaked it for two weeks and it still looked like a piece of green crusty metal. Finally, using a toothbrush and copper cleaner, I extracted an ancient bronze coin, circa 77, the second year of the First Jewish War Against the Romans. The date was on the coin in old Hebrew script.

I had the coin appraised at the Rockefeller Museum. It was the real deal, but not worth a fortune – maybe a couple of hundred dollars, if I could find a buyer. So I turned it into pendant and wore it on a ribbon. When my mother came to visit, she admired it. Of course I gave it to her. When my mother died, my father gave it back to me, but it disappeared. I suppose it will turn up someday in another box of odds and ends and become someone else’s treasure.

You had to be careful in my family. If you admired something you were going to own it. There was a hideous pottery owl that looked like its eyes were bleeding. Chartreuse with scarlet eye sockets. I was caught staring –and had to say something. It was a masterpiece of sculpting, but the overall effect was gruesome. So I said: “It’s … really interesting.” It was, in a ghastly way.

“It’s yours!” cried my mother. I detected a note of triumph. I still harbor a suspicion she had gotten it from some other family member and was just waiting for the chance to move it along. Tag, I was it.

The ultimate example of family love en passant were the dishes. It was my fault. I started it. I bought them from a barn on a back road in Connecticut in the early 1970s. I was poking around a room full of pottery and turned one over. It was Spode. The markings looked to be late 19th century. Eighty-six pieces, including a chipped sugar bowl and eight demitasse cups minus saucers … and a set of saucers without cups. In pretty good condition, all for $30.

They were old and delicate, so I never used them fearing they’d get broken. They stayed in the closet and gathered dust. Years passed.

One day, my mother admired them. Faster than you can say “Here, they’re yours,” I had those dishes packed and in her car. She loved them, but they were old and, it turned out, valuable. So she put them away and never used them. One day, my Aunt Kate admired them, so Mom gave them to her. Kate then gave my mother her set of bone china for 12 which she didn’t need any more, the days of big dinner parties being long over.

My mother didn’t need such a large set either, so she gave Aunt Kate’s set of 12 to my brother, who gave my mother his china for six. My mother gave my brother’s dishes to me while Aunt Kate traded my Spode for Aunt Pearl’s old china. Aunt Pearl packed the Spode away in a safe place, because they were old and valuable and she didn’t want to break them.

Twenty years later, Garry and I went to visit Aunt Pearl. She had the Spode, carefully wrapped and boxed. She gave it back to me and we took it home. She had saved them all those years. Of course, I never used them. I eventually gave them to Owen and Sandy who had the sense to sell them. They knew they would never use them and neither would anyone else.

Love can be wrapped in paper and carefully protected. There is love. There are dishes. And there are memories of my family, carefully stored, ready to be given away as a sign of love.

THE CALL – RICHARD PASCHALL

By Richard Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Sunday was the day to stay near the telephone, the computer too for that matter.  Robert was not about to go anywhere before receiving his phone call.  He always stayed where he could hear the phone.  The computer was also a possibility for calls but in truth Robert only received one call on it and that was more in the way of a test.  His son, Corey, set him up with Skype and then called him when he got home just so they could test it out.  That was the only time Corey called him via Skype in the six months since their brief trial run.  Now he either called on the landline or not at all.

96-PhoneAndComputer-1

Robert tried diligently to be a good father to Corey after his divorce from Corey’s mom.  Corey was in his mid teens then and the boy seemed to follow the divorce with making his own plans and avoiding family obligations.  Robert could never figure out whether this was a teenage thing or a reaction to the divorce, but either way Robert did his best to be a dad whenever Corey needed him.  Corey needed him less and less as time went on.

Now that Corey was in his twenties, Robert and Corey had hatched a plan to keep in touch.  This was more Robert’s doing, of course.  If they did not get together on the weekend, then they would at least share a call on Sunday afternoon.  The problem with this plan was Corey rarely called and he preferred that dear old dad not call him as he was usually “busy.”  So Robert waited patiently in his small four room apartment for a call that was not likely to come. Perhaps if Robert had been more outspoken, even demanding, maybe Corey would be more dependable.  At least that is what Robert thought.  But it was not in Robert’s demeanor to be pushy so he waited patiently every Sunday for the call.

In Robert’s own mind he had convinced himself that waiting on Sunday’s was a good thing.  It would keep him at home to take care of the often neglected chores.  He did the dishes, made the bed, swept the floor, looked at all that junk mail he tossed aside all week, but he never took out the garbage.  That would mean leaving the apartment for a few minutes and Robert certainly did not want to do that.  What if the phone should ring and he did not hear it?

Finally in late afternoon on this super cold, super Sunday the phone rang.  Robert was on it like a shot.  “Hello,” Robert announced in his cheeriest voice.

“Robert, it’s Bill.  How about we go somewhere to watch the game?  You know, wings and beer!”

“Uh, OK,” Robert said reluctantly.

“Good, I can be there in a half an hour.”

“No,” Robert said quickly, “I am in the middle of something.  Give me at least an hour.”

“Fine,” Bill replied.  “I will be there in about an hour.”

In truth, Robert was not in the middle of anything.  He just wanted to leave extra time for Corey to call.  He never gave a thought to the possibility that Corey had already gotten together with his friends to watch the big game.  He just figured that if he left too soon, he would miss his Sunday call.  So he placed his coat, scarf and hat on a chair near the door and sat down to wait for Corey.  Robert worried about missing the call and not having enough time to talk.  He thought of the most important things he should say if they only had a short time.  He thought of nice questions to ask, without prying too much into Corey’s personal life.  After all, Corey was all grown up now and he needed to be treated like an adult.  At least, that was thought running through Robert’s head.

When just over an hour had elapsed, the phone finally rang again.  “Hello?” Robert said tentatively, fearing it was not Corey but actually Bill again.  “It’s Bill.  I’m out front.  Are you ready?”  “That darn Bill,” Robert thought.  “He’s always rushing me.”

“Yes,” Robert said.  “I will be out in a minute.”  “Poor Corey,” Robert mumbled.  “If he calls I won’t be here.”  Although he felt a little guilty, Robert threw on his outer wear and headed out the door.

When Robert got in Bill’s car, Bill immediately started talking about the game.  “This should be a great game this year.  The teams seem evenly matched.  Whoever has the hot hand will win.  It could be either one.  What do you think?”

“Yes,” Robert replied.  “I think so too.”  He obviously was not listening to Robert, his mind was on Corey.

As they drove away, Robert did not hear the phone ring in his apartment.  It rang seven times before it went silent.  Robert never even knew there was a call as the caller did not leave a message.

SNOWBOUND, RICH PASCHALL

By Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

As far as Ralph was concerned this was the worst winter ever.  There were years with more snow, that’s for sure.  There were years that brought colder days.  There was never a winter that brought one snow after another followed by one arctic blast after another. Memory had no recollection of this many days below zero.  There were several days pipes were frozen at Ralph’s house, leaving him without water to the kitchen.  After that, every sub-zero day meant water would be left running to prevent from freezing.  Towels and throw rugs were tossed against the bottoms of exterior doors to prevent drafts.  Humidifiers were used to make the house more comfortable and the gas bill…  Well, Ralph did not want to think about that.

75-BigSnowHPCR-7While he hated every day of it, the neighbors might have thought otherwise.  Ralph was always out shoveling the snow that fell or that drifted across the sidewalk in high winds.  Even when the temperature fell below zero, he was out doing something for a little while.  For some years, there were teenagers to be bribed, but this year there were none around so Ralph was resigned to doing the work himself.  When he finished the walks, he would shovel around his car and brush the snow from the windows.  Sometimes a snow plow would push a ridge of snow against the car and then it was time to dig some more.  This winter, Ralph was a busy man.

After he finished the work by his house, he frequently walked down the street about 5 houses and shoveled around an old brown Pontiac.  Some days, he could not do it due to subzero temperature, but when he could he went down there.  No one else on the block seemed to know whose car it was that got so much attention.  Now and then it was moved and parked back in the same area, but when the brutal weather hit, it just stayed put.

And yet, Ralph walked down and cleaned it off, just in case.  It was not Ralph’s car.  He never drove it in his life.  A few on the block might have wondered why he shoveled around the car and cleaned it with great regularity.  It was just something that Ralph felt inside he had to do.

Certainly there were some that felt that a man of Ralph’s age should not be out shoveling snow in such extreme weather.  It was winters like this that made Ralph understand why people retired and moved to Florida or Arizona.  As a matter of fact, Ralph might have retired and moved to Florida on his last birthday when he turned 62, but the pension he paid into for decades lost most of its value 6 years earlier.  It was reduced to 25 per cent of what he had.  He knew he would never make that up in the short time left before he would have to retire.  He just hoped when he did, the meager pension and meager social security would be enough to live on.  It certainly would not be enough to send him to Florida.

One particularly frosty day, Ralph arrived home to some fresh snow on the ground, took his usual parking spot and went right to work. When he finished his walkways and parking area, he was tempted to go in, but decided to walk down to the brown Pontiac anyway.  It was weeks since the car last moved and no one had seen the driver.  Nevertheless, Ralph was on the job, cleaning off the car and all around it.  By the time he was satisfied with his work, his fingers and toes were numb and almost in pain.  As he started to walk away he noticed an old man come carefully down the stairs of a brick 2 flat house and walk toward the Pontiac.  He had a decidedly puzzled look upon his face.  Ralph tossed his brush and shovel aside.

“Hello, Mr. Schuman,” Ralph called out.  “How are you today?”

“Cold,” Mr. Schuman replied with an odd smile that he had acquired whenever he was unsure of what was going on.  “And who are you again, young man?”

“It’s Ralphie, sir.  Ralphie Combs.  I had you for Economics in Senior Year at the high school.”

“Oh,” Schuman said.  “What year was that?”

“I guess it was quite a few years ago, but I remember it well,” Ralphie beamed, as he recalled his senior year.

“Were you one of those boys that I put in the front of the class so I could keep an eye on you?  You look like one of those boys,” Mr. Schuman said with a suspicious glance.

Ralphie laughed.  “Yes, sir.  That was me, sir”  At that Mr. Schuman laughed too.

“Well I was expecting a lot of work on the car today, but all the snow is gone.  I am certain it was piled on there earlier when I looked out the window.”

“It must have been the winds, Mr. Schuman, sir.  The wind was very strong this afternoon and has blown a lot of it down the street.”

“It’s a good thing, because I have to run some errands and shoveling snow is too much for me.  I guess I was pretty lucky with that wind.”

“Yes, sir, I think you were.”

“Well, I have to go young man, it is too cold to stand and chat.  Now you be good.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Schuman.  I will be good.”

The old teacher got in the old car and drove away.  That few minutes of conversation was the warmest Ralphie felt all winter.

THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY

By Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

A few thoughts on YOUR story

For the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to post a few small works of fiction.  They were just little stories that I hoped would make a point.  While they are no one’s story in particular, they all contain elements that are familiar to me.  I filled in the details with characters and descriptions that would make a story.  That was the fun part of telling a tale that in some ways I know well.  If you read any of them these on past Sundays, I hope you found some enjoyment.  I would like to recommend to you now a more important story.  It is one that only you can fill in the details and it is imperative that you do it soon, before the chance slips away.  That story is your story.

1930s Country-Road

How often have you wondered about the details of your ancestry?  How often did you wish to know more about your parents’ lives or your grandparents’ lives?  Where did they come from? How did they meet?  How did they fall in love?  What did they do before you were around?  Perhaps you have parents who were around at pivotal points in history.  What do they recall?  Did you wait until it was too late to ask these questions or is there still time?

It is not that my brother and I did not think to ask our parents about their earlier lives, we just did not get good answers.  Of course, we did not press them on anything, especially when we were young.  My mother lived through the Great Depression and the family was so poor that a wealthy relative offered to raise my mother since my grandmother had so many kids she could not properly feed.  Apparently my grandfather was not a good provider.  Details of his bad habits are sketchy.  My mother was not given away as they struggled through the thirties.  As for the war years, I have no idea.

My father was born into rural American farm life.  He joined the war effort as soon as he was old enough.  Like many of our “greatest generation” he said little about it.  “What did you do in the war, dad?” we might ask.  “I learned to peel potatoes”, he would usually respond.  Even if that were true, it does not tell the story.  My father was a member of the army air corp. 509 Composite.  That is the group that was on Tinian Island.  There the secret mission was to assemble the team and enough support personnel to drop the atom bomb on Japan.  Did my father know any of that?  Probably not as records indicate he was trained in first aid and medical support.  Some of what is left is a matter of contradictions.  Some of the record may have been untrue to cover what was the actual story.  It is hard to imagine he left the war in Europe or Africa where he had medals, for “agricultural training” here.  He was raised on a farm.  More likely, he trained as support staff before going to a small island in the South Pacific.

Late in dad’s life it was futile to recover any details.  My brother tried to get some information and did a lot of research that allowed us to only confirm a few things.  We have medals, his discharge paper and the 509 Composite book with some pictures as the only definite facts.  The rest of the story was my father’s joke or dismissive answers.  Of course, we have heard that many who came back from the war, did not want to talk about it.  In my father’s later life we did attend some family reunions and travelled to the rural community where he was born.  My grandparents are buried there.  We learned some of his past, nothing about the war.

Ellis-Island-passengers-on-ship

I tell you all this to remind you that you may want to learn as much of your ancestry as you can.  It is part of your story.  You may have heard of ancestry.com or the PBS television series that traces the ancestry of famous people.  These have become popular because of our desires to know who we are and where we came from.  If your parents and grandparents are alive, ask them your questions now, before it is too late.

When my grandmother was still alive and in her 90′s, there was a picture take with her holding her great-great grand-daughter with her daughter, grand-daughter and great grand-daughter behind her.  I wonder if there is a copy of that photo for the infant in the picture.  More importantly, can anyone recount the stories of those in the picture?  Save your priceless photos too.  There may be no telling how valuable these pictures will be to future generations.

What about the most important story of all?  That would be your story, of course.  You may not think it now, but your story may be important to the future.  Consider what your friends and offspring may wish to know.  Tell the stories as honestly as you can.  That does not mean you have to tell everything.  Some things are best if they are not passed along.  Tell the things the next generations will want to know about you and who and what came before you as far as you know.  You will be honoring the future generations in this way.  What you wanted to know about your past may be what your offspring will want to know about you.  Toss the dirt out the window and save the good stuff for future generations to know.

National Public Radio has featured stories from Story Corps.  Over 90,000 people have recorded their stories there, some more than once, years apart.  Some are absolutely moving accounts of where some people have been in their lives.  I heard one on the radio of an elderly couple who told their story on-line and then updated 10 years later before the husband’s death.  Then he recounted how he wrote love letters to his wife every day for over 40 years and their love had never died.  Did following generations know this?  They know it now.  Do not leave your story untold and unwritten.  It is your legacy.  It is the most important story you know.

STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

I was 46 when my homemade strawberry preserves jelled for the first time, probably because I finally caved and used enough sugar. I was sure I could get around using the huge amount of sugar the recipe called for, but I was wrong. Alternatively, I could have used tapioca starch or pectin, but  I was stubbornly determined to make them the old-fashioned way.

The day the preserves came out perfectly was the day my first husband finally died. He had been dying for a long time. It was Friday, a rare brilliant spring day in New England. Jeff had been effectively dead for the better part of a year, but effectively is not dead. A body who clings to a semblance of life is still alive. Now he was truly gone. I had not come to terms with it though I’d certainly had plenty of time. Probably no amount of time would have been enough.

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Other than Jeff’s dying, it was a good time for us. Garry and I were happy. We were good together. Busy with careers and active socially. Yet there was that underlying sadness that could not be avoided, the expectation that death was near. Happiness and sadness don’t cancel one another. Good things are not a balance against pain; feelings aren’t an equation. You can’t add columns of positive and negatives in your life and come up with a number in the middle. In the real world, joy and misery cohabit. Emotions are messy.

My head was a wheel of memories, a slide show carousel. Faces, places, good years, bad. Bittersweet, sad, joyous, funny. Strawberry jam that never jelled.

I married Jeffrey at 18 and thought myself very mature. He was almost 30, but he thought me very mature too. Both of us were wrong. Yet we muddled through. We were hard try-ers. When we had no idea what to do, we faked it. Eventually, we became the people we had long pretended to be and it turned out, not the people we needed to be for each other.

Though we went in different directions, we stayed friends. No matter where on Earth I was, I knew Jeffrey was there for me. We had a better divorce than most marriages. Decades passed. Jeff’s health deteriorated. He survived things that should have killed him, so it was a shock he should die of a thing which was supposed to extend his life. The valve replacement surgery should have given him years. Decades. When the call came late one August evening, reality upended and everything screeched to a halt. No, his body wasn’t dead, but his brain was. The future would be without Jeff. I would never again call to tell him about something funny  and hear his sarcastic, drawling response.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Someone rewrote the script when our backs were turned.

Fall passed and winter too. Jeff remained in a vegetative state. Someone who looked just like him was wearing his body. The shell remained alive through the seasons. We visited. I stayed for weeks to help care for him. Finally, as spring was nearly summer, the piper played and the ashes were scattered.

Just the other day, Garry caught a glimpse of someone in a crowd who looked just like Jeff.

RICH PASCHALL – A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE: ORIGINAL FICTION

Rich Paschall of SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG has graciously agreed to collaborate with me on Sundays. You will get a taste of his rich and beautiful prose, some of which you have already seen here because I love his work and have reblogged quite a bit of it over the past year. But it will also give me a much-needed day off. I’ve been writing every day for almost a year and I admit, I could use a day to recharge my aging batteries. It’s a win-win. You get some great new fiction — or whatever Rich is in the mood to offer you — and I get to enjoy a little breather.

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A Christmas Surprise

A family plus one holiday tale

by Richard Paschall

Tree Lights 14

Kyle was coming home for Christmas. He was bringing with him his college roommate. The boys met during freshmen year and became fast friends. Somehow they maneuvered the dorm manager into assigning them to be roommates for sophomore year. There was no one on earth Kyle would rather spend time with than Michael. So he was glad Michael agreed to come to dinner on Christmas Eve. This was in exchange for Kyle agreeing to go to Michael’s parents’ house on Christmas day for dinner. Michael was going to make a big announcement to his parents and of course Kyle just had to be there.

Kyle’s father had slipped into a den on the east side of the house. All of the family noise was a bit more than his reserved nature could take. Kyle’s sister, Mary, who was 8 years younger than Kyle, was louder than usual and no matter how many times grandma told Mary to “quiet down,” things did not get any quieter. The threat of Christmas carols by Mary and Uncle Roy was enough to drive dad into the den. There he immediately made haste to the bar where a glass of sherry seemed to be in order. Dad only drank a sherry on special occasions and this certainly was one of them.

It was dark now and the neighbors across the street had turned on their Christmas lights. Almost everyone on the block had a nice display so the street was well-lit. Kyle’s dad was drawn to the window to see the lights, look at the gentle snow flurries and enjoy a moment of peace. As he stood there sipping his sherry and waiting for Kyle to appear, he finally spotted his only son walking quickly down the street with another young man right behind. As they got to the walkway that led up to the house they stopped to exchange a few words. Then a sight took dad’s wondering eyes totally by surprise. Kyle kissed the other boy. It was not a short kiss, but long and passionate which they both seemed to enjoy.

Soon Kyle rang the doorbell just to announce their arrival before he put his key in the lock and opened the door. Off the entrance way on the left was a door to the den. Kyle’s father was standing in the doorway just staring at the two. Kyle’s mom came through a big archway on the right that led to the living room. Mary was close behind and eager to see her brother and his friend. Uncle Roy and grandma did not vacate their seats. They knew the rest would join them soon.

First Kyle walked over to his father and said, “Dad this is my room-mate, Michael.” The roommate held out his hand and the father shook it. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Kyle says such wonderful things about the family.” Kyle’s dad just sort of nodded at that, while studying this stranger in his home. The silence was out of character for the head of the household and a bit of a surprise to everyone except Michael, and that is only because Michael did not know him.

Then Kyle introduced Michael to his mother and his “little brat sister” Mary. Michael held out his hand to each in turn but the little brat held out her hand instead as if he was supposed to take it and kiss it, so he did and she squealed and ran from the room. At that Kyle’s mom offered to introduce Michael to the others. Kyle’s father then announced to all, “We will join you in a moment.” With a more serious tone, father said, “Kyle, would you step in here for a moment, please?” This was not a question but rather a command of the type Kyle knew was not good. As the father retreated into the room Kyle followed. Before turning around dad said, “Close the door.”

Kyle only took a few short steps in before his father turned around. He looked at him as if he had never seen him before. It was the strangest look Kyle had ever seen from his father. “Kyle, is there something you should be telling me?” the “official business” dad said in an odd businesslike tone. Kyle figured it was some sort of trick question but knew he should answer it anyway.

“No, dad. I don’t think so.” This clearly was the wrong answer. His dad did not say a thing but his body language spoke volumes and Kyle became as nervous as a first grader who has been caught stealing Oreos from the kitchen. Now the master of the den, the commander of the car keys and the payer of his tuition walked slowly to the window, looked around the outside and turned to Kyle.

“You know, son, that there is a great view of the neighborhood from this window. You can see all of the beautiful Christmas displays across the street. You can see a nice Christmas snow flurry. You can see everyone walking down the sidewalk and turning up the walkway toward the house.” At that Kyle’s father fixed his sights squarely on Kyle and said, “So now is there anything you should tell me?”

Kyle stood motionless as his dad threw a stare at him that went right through and hit the door behind. It took Kyle almost an entire minute before he realized what his father had seen from the window of the den. All the while, that whole long minute of time, Kyle’s father stood there waiting. Kyle wanted to begin “I’m sorry dad…,” but nothing came out of his mouth. He was so nervous and so afraid of his father’s reaction that he could say nothing. It is not that he wanted to be silent, he just couldn’t speak. Fear of saying the wrong thing paralyzed his tongue for the moment. Finally Kyle’s father just nodded that same nod he gave Michael when he was introduced, walked around Kyle, opened the door and walked across the foyer to the living room.

Kyle was knocked off his spot when his mother’s voice came floating into the room. “Kyle, don’t be rude. Come join your guest.” Kyle shuffled across the hall and searched around the room for Michael. He did not look at anyone else as his eyes avoided everyone but Michael. At that moment, with a room full of family, he had no way of telling his mate that he needed a hug and he thought he might need to cry. After a little small talk by grandma and Uncle Roy, Kyle’s mom asked them all to go to the dining room. Christmas Eve dinner was ready.

“Michael, you sit right there next to Kyle and Kyle will sit next to me. I have this end of the table and Kyle’s father will carve things up at that end of the table. Uncle Roy will be there next to you and grandma and Mary will be on the other side.” At that the little brat sister ran around the table and dropped herself on the chair opposite Kyle. She looked at him with a smirk as if she knew his little secret and was going to blurt it out if he did not stop calling her a brat.

Everyone sat in silence until Kyle’s mother looked down the length of the table and said to her husband. “Sweetheart, will you say grace for us?” There was a long, awkward pause before he said, “No. Tonight Kyle will lead the prayer.” At that instant Kyle prayed that something, anything that made sense would come out of his mouth. All eyes were on him as he began, “Bless us, oh Lord…” The words that fell out of Kyle’s mouth were for blessing and thanksgiving, but in his heart he was praying for acceptance. That became the only gift he truly wanted for Christmas this year.