37 posts categorized "Readers' Stories"

A TGB READER STORY: Widgie

By Sylvia Li

Dad never saw himself as a storyteller. He was a nuclear physicist, overlaid on a practical hands-on prairie farm boy who knew how to stook wheat and machine his own steel screws.

He didn't much believe in fiction, except when it was literature, which he respected. He wanted truth if he could get it. New truth about the deep nature of the universe thrilled him. Failing that, he didn't mind not knowing the answer to a question.

All the same, when his two adored preschool kids demanded, "Tell us a story, Daddy!" What could he do but try?

He spun us fantastic tales of adventure, making them up on the fly, desperately grasping fragments out of the air from anything he could remember. We were the most enthusiastically receptive audience anyone could hope for. The tiniest of hints painted whole shared worlds.

Widgie? He was a little boy who lived in Carleton Place, right on the edge of town with fields and woods just past his back gate where he could go to play every day. (When I was older I was disappointed to learn that Carleton Place is a real town just outside of Ottawa. What? It isn't a magical realm like the North Pole?)

Widgie stories were the best. Oh, the exciting adventures he had! He picked hazelnuts and wild strawberries. He ran a race across the fields with an old woman on a flying bicycle. And won.

In the woods he found a little house made of salt. There was a huge old tree he loved to climb. High in its branches he met friendly bears, and an elephant with an umbrella, and bees.

One afternoon in late October, Widgie fell asleep leaning against his tree. When he woke it was night. Stumbling around in the dark, he tumbled down a deep hole between two gnarly roots. Luckily he wasn't hurt.

After he dusted himself off, he discovered he was on a staircase leading down to a cave lit by a kerosene lamp. He was surprised to see chairs and tables and cupboards. In one cupboard was a wooden box and in the box there was a fine fur cape, the kind a very rich man would wear. He tried it on, just to see.

Right away, it wrapped around and became his skin. He turned into a wolf!

All night long he ran through the forest meeting ghosts and witches and skeletons. He was not even a little bit scared. After all, he was a wolf with very sharp teeth.

He wasn't scared, but we were. How was Widgie going to get back to being a boy? Dad didn't say. Years later he confessed that he himself didn't know. Maybe that's why I remember it best!

Mum put her foot down, though. Even if it was Halloween, she said, no more scary stories at bedtime.

* * *

["Stook" is a real verb, though almost nobody does it anymore. It means stacking bound sheafs of cut grain by threes to dry in the hot sun before threshing.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]




A TGB READER'S STORY: The First of May

By Mary R. Wise who blogs at Red Nose

A "First of May" is circus lingo for a new performer. It comes from the tradition of circuses beginning their seasons on May 1, so if it's your first season on the show, you're a First of May.

My First-of-May day was April 1, 1976 - April Fools' Day!

I arrived in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on a very damp, overcast day with my slightly-better-than-cardboard footlocker, my brand new circus clogs and a bad case of nerves. I'd accepted the job as a circus clown with George Matthews Great London Circus on the strength of a brief letter from the owner's son.

Things got off to a bad start when I told the cab driver to drop me off at Scott Field and he replied with, "Huh?"

One way or another, we found the lot. The big top looked fabulous - a four-pole, three-ring, orange-and-white striped tent in the middle of a beautiful, green field. We found the ringmaster's trailer and I knocked on the door.

First surprise. No one told the ringmaster that a girl clown was going to be on the show. When I told him I was to be on the show, he said, "Oh, aerial ballet?"

And I said, "No, clown."

And he said, "Oh. Well, you'll have to stay in the band bus with the other clowns."

And I said, "Okay," not because I especially wanted to share living space with a bunch of clowns, but mostly because I didn't know what else to say.

Second surprise. I wasn't prepared to find that the "room" in "room and board" consisted of a plank bunk. Why was it called the "band bus"? It used to house the band.

At least the clown's quarters were walled off from the prop crew's quarters. Lucky for me the other clowns were nice enough guys. Pogo and Zippo were already there; Ralf arrived shortly after I did.

Third surprise. No donnikers. Sorry, I mean bathrooms. None. Not even Porta-Potties. Walk to the gas station or just dump where you could as long as it wasn't too close to the big top or cookhouse. And some guys did. Nice!

Fourth surprise. Clowns were expected to help with tear down, hauling the quarter poles to the pole wagon. Clowns were also expected to sell Hershey bars during intermission - we got a dime a bar.

My first night was one of the best and simultaneously the worst night of my entire circus career. The show was wonderful but the weather was ugly. Cold rain pelted down throughout the show, turning the back yard into a sea of mud.

Tear down was excruciating for everyone, especially for naive girls who had to help haul 60-foot steel quarter poles and then lift them up to the guys on the pole wagon.

The mud was so deep that all of the seat wagons got stuck, all of the tractors got stuck, even the performers' trailers got stuck. Not even the elephants could pull them out of the quagmire.

Of course, all the extra help blew the show. Because of that, all the performers had to help fold up the big top. Let me just say that clogs are not the right footwear for folding slippery wet canvas. Indeed, I fell hard during one pull and watched the canvas close over top of me. Great - killed on my first night on the circus by getting rolled up in the big top.

But I didn't die and I didn't quit. The sun came out the next day. I learned how to take a shower at the water wagon and I bought a foam pad for my bunk and work boots for my feet.

And I had the time of my life for the next three years.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.




A READER'S STORY: The World Is Such A Noisy Place

By Fritzy Dean

I waited as long as I could - longer than I should have, truth be told. I was tired of constantly asking people to repeat. I knew they were tired of it, too.

The hearing loss is so insidious, though. At first you think your ears are “stopped up,” allergies perhaps. Then you notice everyone seems to mumble. Everyone? Customer help lines are the worst. Mostly, you are speaking to someone whose first language is NOT English. Then add the technical jargon and poor phone line connections - it was torture.

So recently, I surrendered and purchased pricey little hearing aids. I was told they are “state of the art” - the reason for the high price tag, no doubt.

The nice (young) audiologist gave me a lesson in how to insert the dainty little devices into my ears. In fact, he had me do it twice while he watched. He passed me with flying colors, so I was surprised the next morning when it took a big chunk of time to get them right.

He told me to point my index finger, then push it against the ear bud. I couldn’t remember if my finger was supposed to be inward towards me, or away from me. I tried both. I feel sure I looked as if I was trying to drill a hole through my head from ear to ear.

I can tell you with complete authority there is a learning curve to wearing the tiny little devices. He told me to pay attention to new sounds. I truly can’t avoid it.

The “new” sounds are often sounds I just haven’t heard in a long time. How loud and proud the birds sing in the morning! I discovered my doorbell has a long, long echo. I learned to brush my teeth before inserting the ear buds. Otherwise, it sounded like Niagara in the sink, And the brushing!! Like a road grader over gravel in my mouth – ouch.

My lovely wood floors I had put in several years ago? They are so squeaky. It sounds like a moose walking across the room. Who knew?

Now you are wondering if I am glad I did it. The answer is absolutely. I can now hear the soft little voices of the children at the school where I volunteer. I no longer blast the TV so the walls vibrate and disturb the neighbors. My family seems less annoyed with me - always a good thing.

And guess what? There’s an “app” for that. Yes, these fancy little ear assistants have their own app. I can direct the sound, muffle the sound, adjust the direction of the sound, all while pretending to be a millennial checking my phone. I am amazed it took an old people's appliance to drag me into the 21st century.

I do confess to welcoming my quiet house back every night when I take the loud speakers out and drop them in their cute little padded box.

Ah, there. That’s better.




A TGB READER'S STORY: The Question

By Carol Leskin

TheQuestionCaroleLeskin2

“What do you miss most from your old life?” she asked gently.

The woman was a stranger sitting next to me in the doctor's office. She looked to be about 50, pretty, with the body of an athlete - well muscled arms and legs.

She was in a wheelchair. I was holding my cane and back support. The question surprised me, but I was not offended. For some reason, I felt comfortable answering her. What did surprise me was how easily and quickly I was able to respond.

“Sailing”, I said.

“Oh, I think I can understand that. For me, it's running,” she said with a sigh.

We turned our chairs a bit so we could face one another. It seemed appropriate.

“What is it about sailing that you miss?”

I laughed. Everything, I thought to myself. “The smell of the salt water. The feeling of the wind. The colors of the sky. The sound of the sails as they capture the breeze. Or the ropes, when the wind subsides and they clang against the boat. The seagulls. The laughter of my mates as we flew over the waves. Or their grunts when a sudden storm required strength and skill to guide us safely back to port.”

I looked down at my hands, suddenly embarrassed by my flowery description.

She smiled. “For me, it's the silence. The only sound - my feet as they hit the ground. The feel of the earth beneath me. I used to run mostly on trails in the woods or mountains. Or on the beach. Usually alone. It's the only time I got to be truly me. To hear my thoughts. There are so many people most of the time - too many sometimes.” She sighed.

We grew quiet.

The nurse appeared from behind the door to the rooms where we would each face whatever news the doctor would have.

“I’m Linda, she said. It was nice talking to you”.

“Carole, “I replied. Same here”. And she was gone.

I've been thinking a lot about that chance encounter. I learned something surprising in those few minutes.

It isn't the many physical abilities or pain free life I led for so many years that I miss the most. I am learning to deal with their loss. Reluctantly. Sadly. Even angrily. Some days better than others. But determined.

What I miss is the feeling that there will always be more. More days of sailing, traveling, meeting new people, trying new things. Adventure. Freedom. Limitlessness.

Once again, I am reminded of time. The limits aging imposes in various ways. I hear the clock ticking, and I wonder, given my new health challenges, how can I make the most of the time I have left?

The ship is sailing, and I am not on board. But I'm still able to stand on the beach.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: We have worked our way through the initial batch of reader stories and beginning next week, I will start publishing second stories from some of the same writers.

So – you may send new stories whether you have published previously or not. Instructions are here. Only one story. Please.




A TGB READER STORY: The Raisin-y Bite

By Sylvia Li

Granny often told this story from her childhood. She didn't approve – she made it clear she felt it wasn't right. Yet it mattered, and she wanted us to know it.

Victorian values: "Children should be seen and not heard." At the family dinner table, young Eleanor and her many brothers and sisters were required to be presentable, to sit quietly and to eat their dinner without interrupting the adults.

Afterwards they would be shepherded off to bed, nursery or schoolwork depending on their age.

Children being children, this didn't always work out.

In those days sweets were "bad for a child's digestion." Servings of dessert were small and eagerly gobbled up in no time. One evening, though, her younger brother Edgar decided to do something different.

On his fork, he carefully speared all of the raisins from his wedge of raisin pie. After everyone else's pie was gone, he left his chair and paraded around triumphantly, waving the luscious forkful of raisins under the whole family's noses.

"Look at my raisin-y bite!" he crowed. "Look at my raisin-y bite!"

Until he got to their father. CHOMP! In one quick snap, Papa ate the raisin-y bite.

Oh, the wailing, then! But it was too late. Those raisins were gone forever.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: We have worked our way through the initial batch of reader stories and beginning next week, I will start publishing second stories from some of the same writers.

So – you may send new stories whether you have published previously or not. Instructions are here. Only one story. Please.




A TGB READER STORY: All the Lawn’s a Stage

By Diane Darrow who blogs at Another Year in Recipes

We think of birds as creatures of the air but they also spend time on the ground, and it’s interesting to see the different ways they behave there. A bench in my neighborhood’s public garden makes an entertaining theater for observing how birds move about.

House sparrows usually get around by hopping. With their short legs, a single step can cover only a few inches, but a two-legged hop takes them much farther and when they get up some momentum, they can bounce across the ground like wind-up mechanical toys.

Most of our other local birds walk though blue jays flying in for a landing sometimes take a few hops when they first touch down, like a taxiing airplane.

Robins on the hunt are businesslike. They take brief runs across the grass, then stop short and cock their heads, listening for worms and other underground insects. Then off again to another spot.

Mourning doves, by contrast, wander aimlessly, seeming confused – as if they’d lost something somewhere but can’t quite remember what.

Rock pigeons strut around like self-important dignitaries but the constant nodding of their heads back and forth with each step somewhat spoils the effect.

Starlings march across the grass with determination, like an old-time cop on the beat. Crows stride casually but aggressively, conveying a clear don’t-mess-with-me message.

Each in its own way, birds act out their roles on Nature’s stage.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: We have worked our way through the initial batch of reader stories and beginning next week, I will start publishing second stories from some of the same writers.

So – you may now start sending new stories whether you have published previously or not. Instructions are here. Only one story. Please.




A TGB READER STORY: "No" is Not Always a No

By Ann Parrilli

"Hello. Hello?" I could hear some shuffling on the other side of the door.

"This is the United States Census Bureau. I'm here to help you fill out your census form. It will only 10 minutes. Can you please open the door?"

I was about to graduate from college in Chicago and was determined to spend at least part of the summer of 1970 in Italy. When my roommate said she could get me a temporary job helping with the 1970 census I jumped at the chance.

After a scant three days of training, we were set loose upon the unsuspecting public to ask such unseemly questions as, "How many toilets do you have in the house?" and "Is there anyone living here who is not related to you?"

We could pretty much work our own hours as long as we didn't harass people too late at night. I'm sure I violated that rule more than once in order to launch a sneak attack on a household full of working people who weren't around during the day.

A few days later: "Hello. It's your census worker again. I think I hear that you're home. This will only take a minute".

That was probably not true. This particular household was assigned a long form which took 15 to 20 minutes to complete. But for every completed long form I would be paid $2.50 instead of the $1.25 for a short form. I was not about to let this hefty fish get away.

Despite the turmoil of the late 60s, the average citizen was remarkably compliant and, I hoped, mindful of the penalty incurred for assaulting a census taker or refusing to provide information demand of them by the U.S. government.

A few days later: "Hello. It's your census worker again. Are you feeling better today? I'd like to talk to you if possible". I could hear someone close to the door.

Finally the frail, warbling voice of an elderly woman - "My son said not to open the door to anyone". The accent was eastern European.

"Oh, but I'm a government worker so you have nothing to worry about." And then, shamefully, I persisted. "It's against the law not to comply with the census."

One of my more memorable experiences was the family of 13 recently arrived from China. They smiled politely and lined up in family groups so I would know who belonged to whom because they all seemed to have the same name. But I'm afraid my luck ran out when I asked the Toilet Question.

I went to the bathroom, pointed to the porcelain vessel and asked if there was only one. They gently urged me inside and closed the door, stifling giggles, when they mistakenly assumed that what I needed was to use the lavatory.

And finally: "Hi. I'm back. Did you talk to your son? Can I come in and help you fill our your census form? I could hear her slippers scraping the floor as she approached the door.

"I'm not dressed." I sensed her guard softening.

"Oh, that's okay. I'm guessing you're in a nice warm robe. That's fine."

After a long, dry minute I heard series of locks slowly snapping open. The face that greeted me was older than I expected, apprehensive and kind. When she stepped aside, it was tentatively and a bit unsteadily. Her pink robe was stained here and there and not at all warm looking.

Mrs. Gershen was a frail 82-year-old who lived alone in her high rise apartment. She didn't go out anymore except when her son came to get her every Friday for the Shabbat meal at his house.

As we filled out the census form, she confessed that sometimes when she felt lonely at night she'd take the elevator down to the lobby and chat with the doorman.

Long after the prized form was completed, we were still drinking the tea she had insisted on preparing for me. She told me that she and her husband had left Russia with their three children, embarking on a 30-year odyssey that took them to China, on to Uruguay and finally to the U.S. because they wanted their children to grow up there.

It was dark by the time we washed the teacups. I think I had been there over two hours. She wanted me to stay for dinner but I had a study group in half an hour.

I visited her once more after that but thought better of returning again. She hadn't told her son about our visits and I was uneasy about having manipulated my way around his mandate.

Maybe I was just being selfish and doubted whether I could alleviate the loneliness that had turned an intractable "no" into a brave, if tentative request for friendship.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: Saturday Scenes

By Carol Nadell

LOIS’S APARTMENT
The long-awaited sun streams in the window, bouncing brightly off Lois’s silver hoop earrings. I see her first from the back as I’m coming in the door. I walk over to her and greet her with a kiss, carefully stroking her bony shoulder.

“You’re wearing the necklace,” I say, smiling with genuine pleasure, as I notice the string of pearl gray translucent beads I gave her – not knowing what else to do – when she was told the cancer had returned.

“I knew you were coming,” she croaks in a voice so faint that her hard-of-hearing husband has trouble understanding her.

Always my most well put-together friend – perfectly coiffed, dressed and manicured - she still insists on getting dressed, combed and lightly made-up, now all accomplished with the help of a home care aide provided by the Metropolitan Jewish Hospice Service from nine to 12 every weekday morning.

Through a small disc inserted in her chest, Lois receives pain medication by pushing a blue button on the remote control device she holds in her lap. She munches on ice chips to keep her lips and mouth moist. She hasn’t eaten solid food in weeks, this latest bout with cancer having robbed her of a functioning digestive system.

Her hands, skinny, weak and ice cold, are wrapped around a cup of hot water as she struggles to bring some feeling back to her fingertips. But constant vigilance is required as she nods off frequently, creating the risk of hot water spilling on her legs.

Later that day, I will go to a medical supply store and buy microwaveable gel packs to wrap around her hands. Her other visitors and I will smile at each other as we watch the color return to her hands. Even the smallest victories are celebrated when someone you love is dying.

I report that I have been to a wonderful matinee the day before and she, a theater lover like me, wants to hear all about it. The unspoken truth is that we will never again share a Broadway matinee, a movie at the JCC or long dinners talking about grandchildren, travel plans and the latest political travesties.

But she is still alert, still interested and still strong-willed. She is still Lois.

MADISON SQUARE PARK
The oldest person in the park seems to be about 32. Everyone is in shorts and t-shirts, visibly thrilled with what they mistakenly take to be the real arrival of spring.

I watch shapely young women as they delight in combing and styling each other’s hair. I see buff young men raising their toddlers aloft while diligently keeping a careful eye on the infant in the carriage. Balloons of bright primary colors float overhead.

Guitarists are perched on park benches, strumming contentedly, unconcerned whether anyone is listening to their tunes. The unmistakable aroma of char-grilled hamburgers and hot dogs slathered with mustard settles over the park like a familiar, comfortable blanket.

Uncomplaining young couples and singles stand in the serpentine line at Shake Shack waiting to place their orders. Cholesterol and carbs are far from their minds. They will live forever.

HOME
I make my way back to my apartment. My gait seems just a bit slower. My arthritic thumbs are not to be ignored. The woman who looks back at me from the mirror has grayer hair and saggier jowls than I remember.

I am not Lois. But I am not the frolicking young people in the park either.

I know where I am on this continuum.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: No. No. No.

By Regan Burke who blogs at BackStory Essays

A friend asked me if I’ve given my son a list of people to call when I die. And right then I felt the future running away with me so fast I could hardly catch my breath.

“No.”

“Why not?”

I told her he'd never do it. “He'd get mad if I even approached the subject.”

“How do you know?”

How do I know? He hardly talks to me as it is, much less about an uncomfortable subject.

“It’s a hard job—to call around to strangers and tell them their friend has died. Think of the responses—the oh-no’s! and the demand for details. No. He wouldn’t do it.”

“Well, how will I find out?” pleaded my friend.

There’s that future again, coaxing me to live in it, whispering that it’s my responsibility to inform my friends when I die.

I’m drawn to a passage in Pascal’s Pensees:

“We never keep to the present…we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up.” He writes about our failure to live in the present, “we think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control…”

So, no. I’m not going to try to control what happens to me after I die other than keeping my end-of-days papers in order. I’m happier owning this moment and this moment and this moment. I’ll let time future govern itself.

On the Sunday after All Saints Day, November 1, my church recites the names of those members who’ve died the past year. This year there were more people on the list I knew. I mean, I knew them. Not just their names. I knew them.

After the service, as I sat alone in my pew listening to the organ postlude, I popped open my iPhone. I read an account about two women who guarded the dead body of one of the synagogue victims in Pittsburgh so that, in keeping with Jewish custom, the person would never be alone.

I had descended into the grace of solitude, a still point, wondering if Jews believed the soul lives beyond the body when I heard someone call my name.

“Hi Regan,” came the voice of my pastor, Shannon Kershner. I looked up to see we were the only two people left in the church after the All Saints Service.

She had just delivered a sermon on John, 11:35: Jesus wept. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. Pastor Shannon reminded us Jesus cried over the death of his friend, Lazarus, joining in the collective grief of his community.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“No,” I answered, “the dead.”

“Yes.”

She knew.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: Around the Pond

By Karpagam “Jeeks” Rajagopal

I watch the avian life around the pond at work every day and I have decided that it's really a high-school class with wings.

The geese are the jocks - always daring each other to stupid stunts like bracing to land on the water and digging in with their heels to create maximum skid and backsplash in minimum space.

They are constantly eating and doing the follow-up bodily functions, strutting with that hip-swivel and radiating a "Wanna make something of it?" attitude.

The ducks are the regular kids - shy around everyone else but comfortable with each other, splashing their wings in each other's faces, diving to show off their underwater "holding my breath" duration to their brethren but mostly quiet and well-behaved - aspiring "Teacher's Pet" candidates.

The cattle egret is the loner Goth, his plume always groomed like a mohawk 'do' quietly pacing the edges, apparently harmless but playing his cards close to his chest. Taciturn and morose, he comes and goes at will, embracing his inner introvert with wings and beak.

The pelicans show up when the mood takes them, serenely confident in their size, fishing ability, beak capacity and wingspan. They are the bosses - too dignified to mingle, willing to grace the others with their aloof company. “Don’t envy me because I’m beautiful”, they seem to say coyly, knowing full well that they are the “in” crowd.

The gulls are the newcomersn- outsiders determined to make their mark, trying hard to look interested but really keeping an eye on the hierarchy in an effort to make a power play for top spot.

They look ready to play dirty if needed, their weapons carefully sheathed as they study all the angles with ulterior motive. Their beady eyes have that gleam of back alley shenanigans, and they look ready to say, “Wanna make something of it?”, and to take it out to the alley at the least provocation.

The ravens fix everyone else with a beady eye, content to flaunt their nerdy "intellectual superiority" card when needed, fully aware that this environment does not play to their strengths. They privately gag at the food choice the geese have made, much preferring to dumpster-dive for more calorific bounty. They would be the cafeteria lady’s nemesis.

And then there's the Cooper's hawk - terrorizing principal/hall monitor/crossing guard. He eyes them all with insolence, secure on his perch.

He watches them intently, occasionally swooping dangerously close to the noisy gaggle of geese, causing them all to harumph, settle their ruffled wings and look around in wide-eyed innocence as if to say "What? What'd we do, huh? We were just minding our own business."

All the other birds bustle about their own business - teachers, custodians and helpers. They don't have time for this flighty behavior, they say, even as they watch the fun. There's work to be done and somebody's got to do it.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: Building Bridges

By Michelle Collins

I am almost ashamed to admit it now but there was a time when one of my favorite sayings was “Build a bridge and get over it.” I quoted it to friends who were struggling with how to move on from difficult situations.

I meant well with those words. I thought it was good advice. Figuratively building a bridge to get from one place to another, and a way over difficult terrain. I haven’t thought about or used that phrase in a long time.

I was reminded of it today when I was in my driveway because I could hear the noise from the machines that are pounding the steel supports into the ground for the new bridge that is being built to replace the causeway between Moncton and Riverview.

What I realized is that there are many steps to building a bridge and now that I am older, I know that those steps are the same whether it is a bridge across water or across time.

Before the work started on the bridge between Moncton and Riverview, there needed to be a road built that would redirect traffic around the site. How often do we “skirt the issue” and try to avoid dealing with it?

Sometimes, like that road, it looks better than the way we have been doing things. It has a few twists and turns, a fresh base of asphalt and bright new lane markings. It also creates a new traffic pattern, and we all learn how to navigate this new path. It doesn’t really change things though, it just gives us a different route to get to the same place.

Once that road was built, the next step was excavating the site, and building up the land around the supports would go. Dirt was moved and piled up into hills which were then shaped into ramps. We do that too. We move things from one place to another, tearing down our stories and beliefs and rebuilding a new support.

Then came the steel supports that are being pounded into the ground. As I said, the sound travels, and we hear that steady beat daily. With all that pounding going on, you would think that you could see the progress of the pilings going into the ground. But when you drive past the site, it doesn’t look like anything is moving. Yet, there is a good base already in place, with more to come.

Life is like that too. Moving through challenges often requires us to do the same thing over, with only the smallest steps forward. Then one day, everything is in place.

There are a lot of people working on this bridge and all kinds of machinery. They are going to be at this for years and it could be that some of the people who started on this project will not be there at the end. Each person has their area of expertise, and each has a job to do.

That’s true of the people in our lives as well. Our support networks should be made up of a group of different “experts” and none should be expected to be someone that they are not. We should be grateful for the people who come our way and let them go, if they need to, without guilt or shame.

The bridge is nowhere near finished and for those of us not involved in the process, it’s not clear what is happening. Someone designed that bridge and they know exactly how it will look and what it will take to get it done.

We design our own bridges and even though it might not make sense to anyone else, we need to trust in our vision and how we will get there.

Once the bridge is complete, it will need regular maintenance. Our own bridges will need work as well, to maintain the integrity of the structure.

It’s not always easy to trust in our own abilities to carry us over hard times but with every bridge we build, we learn more about how strong and smart we are and we move on.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: Unusual Learning Experience

By Jo Ann of Along The Way

Along the way I’ve been enjoying sharing with interested others some of what I’ve learned. More importantly, or at least equally importantly, I’ve benefited from acquiring new information generously shared in many ways by others.

An actual experience, or a real-life event, is a basic concrete way I initially began to learn, as I recall one story my mother told me that occurred when I was only a toddler.

Sitting on a blanket under a peach tree’s shade where she had placed me while she went back inside the house for a moment, she heard me begin to loudly cry. Rushing to the kitchen door, she observed I was grasping in my little hands a fallen ripened peach.

Soon she noticed what was attracting me were cute little flying insects crawling around on the fruit’s juice-dripping bruised flesh. She saw that I was picking off between my thumb and forefinger what were bees that were angrily stinging me. That was one of my early concrete experiences from which I have learned to never pick up live bees.

My education became more advanced through different learning means as I became older. Observing others, listening to advice, reading are some of the ways in which I’ve accumulated information to help me adapt and survive in this topsy-turvy world in which we live.

That’s not to say I was always wise enough to learn from first-time experiences or followed advice, but I generally eventually learned, sooner or later. Those examples would be stories of a more complex nature, but following is one of those advanced variety, combining observation, and information from another, my mother.

This experience occurred during my highly anticipated first train ride. I was elementary school-age when my mother and I departed on a long overnight train trip through several states. We were traveling to a city to stay overnight with relatives we’d never met in the hope that my older brother would be granted a pass off his nearby U.S. Navy base to see us that Christmas holiday.

My brother was awaiting deployment to an undisclosed military location overseas during WWII – the unspoken concern we had was whether we would ever see him again. We learned of his Pacific Theater submarine service assignment in Australia when he returned home following discharge at the war’s conclusion.

Traveling at night, Mother had expected I would soon tire, then fall asleep in our coach seats – lulled by the repetitive numbing drum of train rail sounds, vibrations and the car’s rocking motion. The train stopped periodically to take on new passengers and allow others to exit.

One segment of the trip was somewhat eventful when a rather colorful woman boarded, whose behavior intrigued me more than sleeping did. She was lurching about from seat to seat, laughing, conversing and extending friendship somewhat loudly to numerous, primarily male passengers, before finally leaving the train at another stop.

The conductor, after toning her down a bit several times, eventually felt the need to reassure my mother that the woman made this trip regularly most weekends, so he knew of her and we shouldn’t feel alarmed.

The explanation for the woman’s erratic behavior my mother ultimately gave me was essentially words to the effect that this somewhat respectable-looking woman was a “lady of the night” seeking a companion. I don’t recall if anyone left the train with the woman.

Years later, especially after becoming a parent myself, recalling those years in the 1940’s when so many subjects were taboo for speaking about aloud, I chuckle to myself about the likelihood this was not a real-life teaching event opportunity every parent would aspire to explaining to their child. This was definitely a memorable entertaining learning experience for this little red-haired girl.

New experiences have presented me with prime learning events throughout my life. Everything was new to me when I was first born, but gradually became more familiar when encountered again. Anything new or different, contrasting with what I’ve subsequently come to know, has become more pronounced, attracting my attention.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: My Auntie Mame and Uncle Elvis

By Lyn Burnstine

I grew up with a plethora of uncles. On my mother's side, I had four half-uncles, two of whom I never knew since they lived far away on the west coast, and two half-uncles-in-law (my half-aunts' husbands). Have I lost you yet?

I was very close to the Illinois uncle who lived the nearest: in fact, he lived with us once for a few weeks and we eagerly awaited the Kansas uncle's visits, also.

My grandmother, their step-mother, had finished raising those two youngest ones and they loved her dearly. On my father's side there was one uncle-in-law and five uncles, who all looked just like my father. One had died as a young man, but the others I knew because they lived nearby.

Most of the socializing we did was with relatives: dinners back and forth from one home to another and reunions every summer at a park or churchyard.

But there was one whom I adored, unrelated but connected by something as strong as blood-ties.

My mother had grown up with few neighbors in her little rural community. She was so much younger than her step-brothers who left home while she was still a youngster. Fortunately just up the road a piece - as my grandmother would have said - was a handsome, charming couple with three little girls.

The youngest was named for my mother, so I assume she was born after the two families became close friends. The four girls were inseparable. Time went by, people grew up and scattered but Aunt Mame and Uncle Elvis moved into town, and so did my parents, my sister and I.

We must have gone to see them frequently, because often in my dreams I find myself walking on their street sure that I'll recognize their house when I see it, and knowing that it would be a safe haven from something that was threatening me in the dream.

But my most vivid memory comes from a time, a few years later, when I was envying my sister her flute and ability to play in the band. Our dinky school had no band activities for elementary-level students so I would not be eligible until I got to high school (I snuck in a few toots on my sister's flute when she wasn't around, though).

One day when we were visiting back in Flora from where we'd moved to follow my father's renewed teaching career, Uncle Elvis offered me a wooden piccolo and training in how to play it. It was the first time I had realized that this tall, kindly man, whom I picture always in a fedora and long overcoat towering over us all, was anything but my beloved Uncle Elvis: he was also the local band teacher!

I was thrilled and learned quickly; I already was a good pianist and a crackerjack sight reader. (I always said I could play something the first time as well as I'd ever play it again.)

I practiced for hours every day till my pinkies got used to the curled position and stopped cramping painfully. And that little wooden piccolo had the sweetest tone of any I ever played, bar none. Joy of joy, that very fall the high school band teacher instituted a training band in the seventh and eighth grades, and I got to play the piccolo as well as a wooden flute loaned to me.

Uncle Elvis became a hero in my eyes; sweet, little dumpling-faced Aunt Mame remained a shadowy figure in my memories. The connections lasted through my early-married years when their oldest daughter was living in the same town in Mississippi as my husband and I, and she and her unconventional husband became our friends and first babysitters.

Vesta, whom I always thought of as the vestal virgin since she was single till 49 had married Harry, a former rodeo clown and outrageous adventurer. What a strange mating that was.

In much more recent years, I was looking through old pictures and found one of Uncle Elvis and Aunt Mame as young newlyweds and was amazed at how gorgeous they were - her cute and tiny, him tall, dark-haired and full-lipped like the other Elvis.

There must have been lots of little girls who had crushes on that young Elvis, their band teacher but he was my Uncle Elvis.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: The Sunflower Meditation

By Judy Anderson

Hi, Ronni. Several months ago, you made a list that stuck with me. It did so because I’d recently done a meditation that evoked your desire to be surrounded by puppies and kittens who would tumble and play and make little kitten noises and generally entertain themselves by squirming in and out of the circle of your arms.

Here is that sunflower meditation:

The field is covered with millions of yellow sunflowers: some giant size, nearly two feet across, some as small as a quarter. I love these sunflowers, they are so cheerful that I yearn to bury myself in them.

Instead, I sit down, pulling them toward me, rubbing my face with their scratchy black seed heads.

Voices. I look up. Laugh. I’ve never seen such a sight. The sunflowers have all turned into yellow cats and kittens, millions of them. Some 10 or 20 of them have assigned themselves to me, leaving an overflowing basket of yellow kittens on my lap.

They’re crawling in and out of the basket, meowing in their sweet little kitten voices, looking up at me, hoping I’m Cat Mom with milk. Mom cats try to keep up with their babies. Some shy cats hide underneath cats not so shy.

More yellow cats than I’d ever seen. There are hundreds of them with jobs: a band of feisty yellow cats patrols the perimeter. Curious big cats at the Cat Border Inspection Station inquire of my provenance.

Jellicle cats, want tips on breaking into Broadway. Muscular tough yellow cats patrol the subway stations in New York, tiny mischievous cats put their cold noses in my ears, and Quizzical Cats call out to each other with the answers to Cat Jeopardy.

A big floppy avuncular cat crawls onto my chest and stares me down, looking for a serious tete a tete. I pretend to understand him and respond in my version of Cat Talk.

He nudges me, commanding my attention. Full of advice, he nods his head sagely, pats my cheek with his big soft paw, and says, “It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay.”

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: What Will You Share in Your Last Lecture?

By Brent Green who blogs at Boomers

The sad news finally arrived in July 2008. Millions had been watching and waiting. Professor Randy Pausch succumbed to the ravages of pancreatic cancer after a noble fight and a noteworthy battle to make the world aware of the disease that killed him.

As he wisely observed, pancreatic cancer does not have a celebrity spokesperson because its victims do not live long enough. So, during the final ten months of his life in 2007 and 2008, he had become an accidental national celebrity for an engaging "last lecture" and as an intrepid crusader to fight this disease, even though his demise was inevitable.

Dr. Pausch finished his career as Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegie Mellon University. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2006, and he undertook aggressive chemotherapies and radiation treatments, but a year later his cancer had metastasized to his liver and spleen.

According to his doctors then, he had merely three to six months of functional health remaining.

Carnegie Mellon, as well as some other universities, has a tradition called “The Last Lecture.” The context is simple but inspiring: What if you have but one last chance to share your experiences and wisdom with others in the form of a lecture? What enduring values, lessons and ideas would you communicate if this is your final chance?

Professor Pausch, who I will refer to as Randy, gave his last lecture in September 2007, but of course, it was not a hypothetical lecture framework in his case. It was reality; he was dying.

But the lecture recorded that day is not about dying; it is about achieving childhood dreams. Randy presented his lecture with enthusiasm, humor, humility, and clarity.

A video recording of this lecture ended up on YouTube, and millions have watched it (approaching 19 million as of this writing). Randy appeared on Oprah's daytime television show and gave a condensed version of the lecture. Jeffrey Zaslow, a journalist with The Wall Street Journal, who had attended the live lecture, worked with Randy to write and publish a small book of wisdom and motivational encouragement entitled, The Last Lecture.

The book topped bestseller lists for weeks following its release in April 2008.

Defying the odds against him, Randy nevertheless lived long enough to see his lecture become a worldwide phenomenon, to watch his book soar to heights of publishing success, to appear on ABC network in an hour-long special with Diane Sawyer, to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show with eleven precious minutes to communicate his powerful messages, to testify before Congress about the need for research into preventing and curing this horrific disease, to fulfill one of his dreams through a cameo acting role in J. J. Abrams’ 2009 cinematic release of Star Trek, to give an address in May 2008 for the Carnegie Mellon graduating class, and, finally, to keep his growing list of admirers informed about his journey through a personal website and blog.

Randy wasn’t just a dedicated professor, a father of three small children, a husband very much in love with his wife, Jai, and a valiant crusader for those afflicted by fatal diseases. At 47 in 2007, he was also a young Boomer man who gave members of his generational cohort a glimpse of how an optimistic generation may tackle the final challenges of mortality and eventual dying.

Through his brave journey, he demonstrated the many ways that this next generation of aging mortals will confront the inevitable: by communicating new narratives about the value of human life, by showing how one’s final months can be dedicated to sharing timeless wisdom with children and young people, and by not going quietly into that dark night.

Randy spent his last days under hospice care, a charitable organization that gives the truest context for reconciliation, remembrance, communication, acceptance, and dignity.

When pondering how the Baby Boomer generation will change dying in the most constructive ways, I realized that those Boomers who address the challenges of a slow dying process would likely choose to die the way they’ve lived: idealistically, intensely and intently focused on creating a legacy for those who survive.

Some will follow in Randy’s footsteps. They will give new meaning to the end of our mortal journeys, leaving behind a wiser nation.

Maybe they will help our fragile species finally understand and accept that human life is precious and each person, given the proper context, can contribute meaningfully to our collective journey, even during the final days of life.

* * *

[RONNI HERE: Here is Randy Pausch's Final Lecture. It has received close to 20 million views and that's on only one of the posted videos. Others of the same lecture have been collecting viewers too.

The lecture runs one hour and 16 minutes and it's worth your time. Here it is:]

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




Reasons to Visit Australia

By Peter Tibbles, the TGB Elder Music Columnist

In this country we don't have any mammals that'll do you any damage. Okay, none that'll eat you, at least. No lions or tigers or leopards or bobcats. No bears. Nothing like that. Although, I wouldn't want to take on a big red kangaroo in a fair fight, or any fight if it comes to that.

There are some birds, though. Well, a bird. The cassowary. It's related to the emu, but it has a 6-foot long spike on each foot it uses to disembowel anyone it doesn't like. Mainly dogs and feral pigs, but people have been known to be attacked.

Then there are the snakes. This is probably what we're most famous for.

There are the prosaically named black snake and brown snake (but don't let their boring names fool you), the brown snake is especially venomous. Or the wonderfully (and appropriately) named death adder.

These all pale next to the tiger snake. People always say about animals that they won't attack you if you leave them alone. Not so with this bugger. They're just naturally aggressive.

They are also the most dangerous snake on the planet (talking about the venom), although some say the Taipan (another one of ours).

In the interest of this missive I looked up my book on dangerous things. It said there are more than 85 varieties of venomous snakes in the country (and 27 known venomous sea snakes). It's a wise thing to treat any snake as dangerous (even if you encounter one of the rare ones that isn't) as most of them are.

Okay, a topic I like to avoid – spiders. There's the red-backed spider and the funnel web spider that have both caused fatalities. And there's the white-tailed spider, which, although it doesn't cause fatalities, I believe those bitten by it wish it had.

There are others but I don't want to dwell on them.

There are many species of box jelly fish. They're all very nasty (and virtually invisible). Some can cause cardiac arrest in about 15 minutes. They've recently found another jelly fish that doesn't take anywhere near that amount of time to do the same.

Fortunately, for us folks down south, these only occur in northern waters, off the coast of Queensland, Northern Territory and the north part of Western Australia. It means you can't go swimming there between about November and April. Well, you can but you'd be pretty stupid.

We folks down south don't have that problem. Okay, there are sharks (and sting rays) down here, but they don't attack too many people so it's all right (apart from the people they gobble up, of course).

Let's not forget the stone-fish. These are found all around the coast and, as their name suggests, look like stones. They like shallow areas of the sea and remain stationary on the bottom until someone steps on them.

I defer to the book again. It says

"The stone-fish is the most venomous fish known. It immediately causes fearful pain and a person can become almost demented and thrash around in agony. A number die."

It also says that they can live out of the water for surprising lengths of time.

There’s the blue-ringed octopus which is very pretty. Its bite is painless and may seem harmless. However, the neurotoxins begin working immediately causing muscular weakness, numbness, cessation of breathing and death. This happens in minutes. There is no antidote.

Then there are the irukandji, sometimes known as “killer jellyfish”. There’s a good reason for that nickname. The problem with these is that they are tiny and essentially invisible. According to reports, irukandji jellyfish's stings are so severe they can cause fatal brain haemorrhages.

I won’t dwell further, you can look them up if you’re so inspired.

There are crocodiles, of course. Again, only in the north. It's only the salt water crocodiles that are a problem. They are protected, so they're having a fine old time breeding like mad.

They've been known to turn up in swimming pools in Darwin. That'd rather startle you, I imagine: wandering out of the house, diving into the pool and half way down thinking, "Oh shit".

The fresh water ones are vegetarians (okay, not really, and smaller – the salties are BIG buggers) and won't attack unless you annoy them, unlike the salties. Now, of course, who in their right mind would think "Lordy, I'm bored, I think I'll go out and annoy a crocodile"?

Ah, let's consider the plant kingdom. Not those poisonous berries and the like that every country has. No, we'll travel north (yet again) to FNQ (far north Queensland), somewhere around Cairns. I didn't know about these until about 20 years ago when I was up there.

We went for a trek through a national park. This had to be with a ranger. She pointed to a plant and said "Take a good look at this and don't touch it. I mean it. DON'T TOUCH IT".

It seems that it's an interesting evolutionary product. Its leaves are covered in tiny silicon barbs and you only have to touch them and they stick into your skin. They are apparently extremely painful. As they are silicon based rather than carbon they don't rot away and over time some people have been known to have them stuck in their skin for years, driving them crazy with the pain.

It's been said that it's a wonder that any Australians manage to live to adulthood.

After all this, I can see you packing your bags, ringing Qantas and winging off to try the wonderful adventures in the land of Oz.




A TGB READER STORY: After Hours

By Mary

My husband turned 78 in the spring and as the weather warmed and the garden burst into bloom he got weaker and weaker. He was a man of great accomplishment.

He was illegitimate, born to a poor orphan who often couldn't take care of him and so would leave him with her older sister. Then she married an angry alcoholic who beat her and her children.

My husband longed for his real father to come save him from his poverty, from his loving but incompetent mother, from his shame at being a bastard, but to this day we don't know if his father even knew he was born.

So my husband battled his circumstances and used his sharp intelligence and his strength of character to drive himself through college and graduate school and into the Senior Executive Service of the Federal government.

But his family history took its toll, and he was a heavy smoker and at times a compulsive eater. After two sons and a divorce, he decided to take a diet drug that ended up damaging one of his heart valves. And so began over 20 years of surgeries and worsening health.

Almost 10 major and minor surgeries and steadily worsening COPD and heart symptoms led to many hospitalizations and even more trips to the emergency department over the years. He started using oxygen all the time. His judgment showed some deterioration.

He refused home health care. He refused to discuss hospice. He hid worsening symptoms from me and his doctors. He developed occasional incontinence. Then he began to fall.

He wouldn't use a cane, much less a walker. "I don't want to look like some poor old guy", he said.

"But you ARE a poor old guy", I replied. He was not amused.

So he fell, and fell, and never hurt himself much until one night he hit his back on a wall on his way down. He had dreadful pain, but wouldn't go to urgent care until over 24 hours later when he just couldn't stand it any more.

We were the last ones in urgent care when they took him to be x-rayed and by then all the offices were closed. I sat in that huge waiting area watching a housekeeper empty trash and wipe off tables in front of the various departments. And I thought about what was coming.

I try not to cry in public. But I put my face in my hands and wept in that empty, echoing room. I tried not to make much noise so the housekeeper wouldn't know, but when she got close to me she said, "Señora, you ok?".

I answered her, saying for the first time, "My husband is dying". A few minutes later a man came by and asked if he could help me. I told him no, my husband was going to die a miserable death from COPD. He said that I was probably right.

My husband and I went home that evening and I tried to help him get comfortable in bed. The doctors would not give him any opiates for the pain of his broken vertebrae because they might adversely affect his breathing.

And so he suffered, and I suffered, and after two more ER visits he ended up in a nursing home, terrified that he would be neglected. But they took very good care of him there, fortunately. And I went to see him twice a day. He never wanted me to stay long.

He had another ER and ICU stay while he was in the nursing home, and then went back. In less than a week he called me saying he had begun to bleed rectally. I told him I would meet him at the ER.

As I stood outside the entrance waiting for him, I heard sirens as they drove up with him. They had never used them on any of his other ambulance trips. I stood aside as they unloaded him and told him I would see him inside.

Ten hours later he was dead.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: Market Dynamics

By Jack Handley - Diplomate, Curmudgeonology

I live in a small town facing a big river. Until the middle of the last century it had been a busy river port for timber schooners and barges carrying hay, grain, fruit and produce downriver from Sacramento to the big cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

It has escaped total dereliction only by also being the county seat. It's a fine, old American small town with alleys, vacant lots, an operating train station and barking backyard dogs.

It is also graced with a farmers' market held on blocked-off Main Street every Sunday (year-round, this being the West Coast).

I walk the town nearly every day and one Sunday several weeks ago while zigzagging between the double rows of market booths, I witnessed this interaction at a fruit stand. I suppose it was an exchange, of sorts. But not nearly a transaction, of sorts:

Old man: “I'd like a pound of the sweet peaches, please.”

Booth lady: “You choose them.” She points to the tray, and ducks down below the market scale to attend to something beneath it.

Old man stares at where she'd been standing. Looks at market scale. Looks at peaches, then walks off.

The booth lady rises into view, looks after retreating old man, then turns to her booth partner and mouthed, “Crazy old geezer.”

Me: “I suppose he wanted to buy some peaches.”

Booth lady: “Well, why didn't he, then?”

Me: “I mean, I suppose he wanted you to sell him some peaches.”

She stares at me. “Say what?”

Me: “Sell, sell. He was expecting you to sell him a pound of peaches. Like weigh out a pound of peaches and exchange them for his money.”

Booth lady: “This is a booth. You pick what you want — it's your choice, that's the idea — and put them in a plastic bag. I weigh the bag to find out how much, you pay, I hand you the bag, done, yes?” (pause) “I guess he was confused.”

Me: “I think he was just trying to simplify things. He wanted a pound of peaches, perhaps he only had two dollars, anyway the scale's on your side, so he can't weigh out a pound, he doesn't know how many peaches to a pound. So he thinks that, rather than put a bunch of peaches in a bag and hand them to you, and you weigh it and take out some, and then hand him the bag and take his two dollars, he'll just give you the bills and ask you to put two dollars-worth in the bag. Done.”

Booth lady: “Are you pulling my chain?”

Me: “No. Look. You go to France. You visit a local market square. You see a pile of nice peaches in a stall and decide to get a few to taste, not too many. You don't know French, you don't know a Euro from a franc, so you point to the peaches and hand the seller a one Euro note.

“He weighs out a Euro's worth, puts them in a plastic bag and hands it to you. See? Easy. No hassle.”

She rolls her eyes and makes a face to her partner. She turns back to me. “This ain't France.”

I walk away. I feel foolish. I sense her mouthing, “Crazy old geezer!”

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: You Want Me to Do What?

By Patricia Kelly

Years ago I had my vehicle in the shop for repairs and the only loaner available was a humongous van with several rows of bench seats and side opening doors.

I was not used to such a large vehicle and was a bit nervous about driving it. However, I did need to pick up my dry cleaning so I illegally parked in the fire lane to protect the loaner from crashing grocery carts and quickly ran into the cleaners.

I had the side doors open looking for a place to hang my cleaner bags when someone gently pushed me aside. Startled, I watched a little old lady climb into the van and sit down wearily.

Need to state here that at my age then, anyone around 60 was OLD. Today I look on 60 is a still a youngster. Back to the story.

My mouth was still hanging open when the next wave hit. One by one, five other seniors climbed into the van, using my shoulder as a hand rail.

"We missed the bus." an elderly gentleman informed me as he squeezed beside two ladies and looked for a place to put his cane. "You will take us home?" he partially questioned, but mostly stated.

I looked at my little group of passengers and tried to push thoughts of law suit out of my mind as I asked, "Uh, where do you live?

They were from Century Village which is a huge retirement village in Palm Beach County. The Village supplied bus service to grocery stores and shopping complexes.

This group had stayed too long and had been left on the curb. The last bus of the day was history.

Against my better judgment but not knowing how I could possibly throw six seniors back on the curb and still sleep at night, I made sure there were no more stragglers. I then told them to buckle up and headed for the Village which was several miles away.

I was curious why they had no shopping bags. Man-with-cane explained that they went a couple of times a week to the book store/coffee shop that was part of the strip mall, to read and sip while the rest of the bus load grocery shopped.

I asked where their books were and he explained that they never bought a book except as a gift. They just read inside the store while sipping coffee. They would then write down the stopping page on a piece of paper so they could pick up where they left off next time.

Being a book and coffee person myself, I could see where that might be the perfect day out for seniors. The price for their entertainment certainly fit into a retirement income.

Now Century Village has more than 2000 condos. It would have been nice if they all lived in the same unit but each one lived in a separate building. Kind of wondered how they all got together. Perhaps they met at Bingo.

At each stop, I got out to open the doors for the departing senior and was rewarded with a quarter and a sweet smile or nod for my efforts.

I tried to refuse the change but they almost got ugly insisting. I quickly learned that little old ladies will not hesitate to slap your arm with their bony hands if you don't agree with them. So I just took the money and shut up.

I was really getting tickled at the absurdity of the situation. However with each successful unload, I breathed a new sigh of relief. I was beginning to think that this might work out after all.

Man-with-cane was the last to depart. He demanded my name and address. He did NOT offer a quarter. I was tempted to give a false name but I wrote my real name and address on the piece of paper he offered.

Ah, I thought, here comes the law suit. Perhaps I had taken a turn to quickly and caused a whiplash. I was living by the creed at that time that no good deed goes unpunished.

I was delighted though in a few days for I got a lovely card from Man-with-cane. He thanked me very nicely and there were TWO quarters scotch taped to the card. No lawyers ever called.

Still today, 38 years later, that ranks as the strangest, scariest, yet coolest buck seventy five I ever earned.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.




A TGB READER STORY: The Sunbonnet Crown

By Jannette Mountzouris

Our grandparents, known as Mim-Mim and Daddy Harry, lived on a ranch in Kerr County along Turtle Creek. Their modest home sat on a high bluff above the creek. Inside Mim-Mim focused on meals to be fixed, bread to be baked, firewood to be split for the cook stove, clothes to be washed and ironed and other somewhat mundane tasks.

However, outside she reigned as queen, wearing a sunbonnet as her crown while she cared for her flowers, maintained a garden, milked the cow and gathered eggs laid by her free range hens.

This was no ordinary jeweled crown for it was made of recycled feed sacks whose once vibrant colors were faded from many washings. Although our grandmother died more than 50 years ago, I can clearly see her in my mind’s eye – faded dress, old apron, and the sunbonnet on her head.

Her hoe became her scepter as she gently ruled her empire of flowers, garden, the barn, and all the nooks where the chickens laid their eggs. She carried the hoe not only to chop weeds but to address snakes that might cross her path. In the summer as she gathered eggs, Mim-Mim always had several visiting grandchildren in her entourage.

From the first frost-free mornings in early spring to the last golden days of autumn, Mim-Mim donned her crown and nurtured all things growing in her outside domain. I do believe she was happiest wearing her sunbonnet as she planted, weeded, and watered her flowers and the garden.

She loved flowers and it was evident they were happy in her hands with the green thumbs. They were pleased to show off along the fence or in any cranny where they were planted. There were no brightly colored fertilizer bags with instructions about where and how the plants were to be placed in the soil. Yet the zinnias, bachelor buttons, and shrimp plants along with others grew taller than any I have ever seen.

She always seemed to choose flowers that ethereal creatures like hummingbirds and butterflies loved. To my delight one summer morning, she pointed out a hummingbird nest in a huge oak tree which served as a canopy over a portion of the yard.

While I certainly don’t remember the names of all that she planted, I am sometimes amazed when I realize I know something about a particular plant I could only have learned from Mim-Mim.

Besides the flowers, there were the staples of the garden: squash, beans, onions, and of course, tomatoes and pole beans. At one end were little hills of cucumbers which would become crisp pickles during canning season. A spot was always saved for dill which released a piquant fragrance in the heat.

While others might complain about getting up at sunrise, Mim-Mim seemed to relish going out to water the flowers and vegetables before the sun advanced too far in its ascent.

Even after they moved to town for Daddy Harry’s failing health, Mim-Mim continued to don her crown as she cultivated a much smaller bounty of flowers and vegetables. It must have felt unnatural to be outside without the sunbonnet.

Our Aunt Dorothy told me that her memories of the sunbonnet centered on her mother always heavily starching the bonnet and ironing it. I was curious about why Mim-Mim took such meticulous care of it. Aunt Dorothy said the starching and ironing were done so that the brim would not sag over Mim-Mim’s eyes – the pragmatic memory of her daughter versus the sublime memory of her granddaughter.

Today when I hoe the good earth, recollections of Mim-Mim in her sunbonnet always come to mind – sacred recollections of the mind and heart.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.