62 posts categorized "Readers' Stories"

A TGB READER STORY: My Season of “Not Quite”

By Carole Leskin

There is something about late August that makes me uneasy. A kind of sadness mixed with a desire to just get it over with and move on to September.

When I was a little girl, I loved the summer. August meant wearing as few clothes as possible, riding my bike all day, swimming, fishing and crabbing with my father, boating on the bay, playing hide and seek at nightfall, the magic show of fireflies in the darkness and just being free!

Today, I stepped out on to my balcony and was almost overcome by the humidity and a sense of lethargy. The garden is beginning to close for the season. Many of the flowers and plants are limp and struggling to live just a bit longer. There are already rust and brown leaves on the ground, looking out of place in what is still predominantly green, but a reminder of things to come.

The birds have raised their young, the nests empty, the fighting for places at the feeders over. The sun casts its shadows earlier and displays a different color on the water - a yellowish green, an artist finding a way to convey the mixture of life and death.

I remember my childhood August and wonder. Is it me? Have I lost something somewhere along the way of growing old? Why do I struggle to just go with the flow - lazy, unhurried and content? Why do I want this month to end and September to begin?

I yearn for the clarity and crispness of autumn - warm sweaters and cozy blankets, mugs of hot chocolate, the colors of turning leaves, the harvest crops, scarecrows and a fire in the fireplace.

Perhaps this is what being 74 is about. Learning to live in the season of "not quite". Letting go of what was, beautiful as it might have been, and finding a way to embrace what is - undefined, different, yellowish green - with an end in sight. But not yet.

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[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 STORY: In the Vortex

By Ann Burack-Weiss

It is 1946 and I am 10 years old. The first night home after my tonsils come out, I begin to cough. Scabs and blood fill the yellow enamel pail with the green rim. Doctor and ambulance follow.

My nose is packed with cotton. Sirens scream. Outside the hospital are bright lights; nurses wearing big white hats hold out their arms to me.

I am flat on a table, more bright lights. I want to sleep but they keep slapping me awake, calling my name.

The next thing I remember must have been a day or two later. I am in bed and two young nurses enter. They carry scissors and speak in a soft Irish brogue. My hair is matted with dried blood. They must cut it all off.

I am a tall, skinny girl with a curved back. “What beautiful hair! ” is the only compliment on my looks I have ever received. My hair is long, thick, dark and carries a miraculous wave. With it you can shape corkscrew curls that rival those of Shirley Temple.

You cannot cut my hair! I cry and shout. Perhaps they take pity on me or fear that I will begin to cough again, but they soon agree.

They leave and return with a bottle of oil and thick-toothed combs. It is long, rough going. The oil needs time to soak in, it hurts as the comb is dragged through, the washing reveals missed areas, back to the oil, the combs, the washing. Finally, they are done.

I am handed a mirror. It is hard to take in who I am looking at. This chalk white face cannot be me. But, of course, it is. And when they leave, I go to sit by the window.

I am in the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston – recently re-established on land – and the window faces a deserted block by the harbor.

I look out at the dilapidated buildings (as clear in my mind’s eye today as the view I see each day from my bedroom window). And I say to myself in an adult voice that I don’t recognize, “You were going to die. Now you are going to live.“

* * *

I am seated in a small room, conducting an intake interview. I face a young, black woman who is telling me about her descent into crack addiction and the day she decided she had to quit. It is a harrowing story. I am listening hard. She has just said that she looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize herself. I am there with her.

Then - we are rising, rising, swept up and swirling in a vortex. I am no longer the social worker with the degrees. She is no longer the client with the problem. Our identities have been stripped away. We are pure spirits – disembodied beings passing each other in the same swirling pattern, tiny molecules up there in outer space.

Then - we are back in the office, returned to ourselves. She is talking, I am listening. She is still speaking of the mirror. How much time could have passed – not as long as a minute. Seconds, perhaps?

* * *

One transcendent experience in a long life does not a mystic make. And it is totally possible that the image of an unfamiliar face in a mirror performed some neurological voodoo.

Yet, whenever I think of the hereafter, I picture myself and my beloved dead as spirits whirling around in the vortex.

The vortex contains all the souls who ever lived – those blessed with the riches of life, those who had the hardest of fates, those who died at birth, those who lived on to a ripe old age – all now equal parts of the same whole: together awhirling, atwirling, aswirling in the vortex.

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[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 STORY: Sow’s Ear Guacamole

By Diane Darrow of Another Year in Recipes

The old saying has it that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but one day I thought I’d give it a try. My “sow’s ear” was a bag of three avocados I’d bought for the extremely low price of $2, intending to make guacamole. They were hard as rocks, so I left them out for a few days on a sideboard to ripen.

They didn’t. After a full week, they were still rock-hard and were developing some squishy dented and flattened spots. Grand! These bargain avocados were clearly never going to ripen. I’d just have to use them now, adjusting my recipe to cope with whatever would turn out to be edible on them.

Once I’d peeled the avocados and cut away all the ugly gray-brown parts, I was left with a small quantity of too, too solid flesh.

GuacamoleDianeDarrow1

First adjustment (actually decided earlier): Don’t buy a bunch of fresh cilantro when you’ll need only a few sprigs. Defrost a cube of the cilantro base you’d made to salvage some of the last big bunch of it that you’d bought.

Second adjustment: Don’t even try to mash the flesh with a spoon or chop it with a knife. Puree it by machine.

That done, I could proceed with my usual approach to guacamole: chopping onion, tomato, and a serrano pepper and mixing them, along with salt, into the puree and cilantro base. It came out looking pretty good, much like a proper guacamole.

Hoping for the best, I set a bowl of it next to a batch of tortilla chips and served it as our dinner appetizer.

GuacamoleDianeDarrow2

But alas, that guacamole was no silk purse. My gallant husband dipped one chip and said he tasted mold in it. It didn’t taste moldy to me but neither did it taste much of avocado. He stopped after the second chip.

Feeling an obligation, I ate more of it than that, but it was completely uninteresting. Maybe a plastic purse?

Regretfully, I discarded the rest. Let that be a lesson to me (which at my age, you’d think I would have learned already): Don’t buy avocados that you can’t pick up in your hand and feel at least the beginning of ripening!

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[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 READERS STORY: Not Your Father’s Old Geezer

By Jack Handley

I have a certain reputation at the Senior Center which I discovered by overhearing a conversation:

SPEAKER NO. 1: "You bring up any subject and Jack Handley has something to say about it."

SPEAKER NO. 2: "Yeah, too much."

Which stabbed me with a twinge of embarrassment until I recognized the truth of the matter, which is that I know a lot of things that have never come to the attention of less favored men.

For instance, my pocket knife, a version of which I have carried since I was eight (when I discovered with delight that it was called a Jack knife) contains three blades which are named the spey, the clip and the sheepsfoot.

The reason I know a lot of wayward things is that I have experienced a lot of events in a wayward way.

I was born a Depression baby in the shadow of the 19th century, yet in the foreglow of World War II. My Grandpa Creore gave me six clay marbles which survived from his boyhood in 1870.

My father spoke of having witnessed the last fire horse team in southern Michigan eagerly clip-clop to their stations in front of the steaming engine and the thrill he felt when their harnesses dropped onto their shivering backs.

My first memory was being awakened to eat boiled new potatoes which my father had somehow foraged. It was dark outside but I had probably been fed oatmeal and put to bed early, then gotten up by my despairing parents to share their tiny joy.

I learned later that at the time he was being paid 25 cents a ton to break up frozen coal and shovel it out of a snow topped hopper car from a Pennsylvania coal train.

I made my first telephone call from a wood, wall-mounted Kellogg telephone, standing on a stool to reach the downward turned mouthpiece, holding the receiver in my left hand, and cranking the little handle with my right to send the magneto-generated ringing signal down the line.

Two years later, I clamped radio headphones against my ears to listen to Edward R. Murrow's broadcast from blitzed London and was transfixed when he opened the studio window to let in the chimes of Big Ben and noise of the sirens and the exploding bombs.

A year later, I and the other school kids enrolled in the “war effort” and roamed the countryside looking to fill our empty onion sacks with milkweed pods because of a shortage of Kapok for life vests.

During those war years of the 40s the antique past continued to intrude. I mowed hay with a modern hydraulic-drawbar Ford tractor pulling a 1913 horse-drawn McCormack mower. At the end of each windrow I had to raise the cutter bar by pulling rope connected to a cobbled up lever-pulley arrangement on the ancient machine, making travesty of Ford's farm implement engineering but building mighty biceps in my 12 year-old arms.

In the evening, after listening to the war news, I dribbled little solder balls onto the heads of sewing pins and painted them different colors to use as map pins, which were unavailable - as most everything was - because, as you constantly heard, "there was a war on."

Even after V-E Day and throughout my high school years, 19th century thrift and depression frugality ruled our rural household and those about. I salvaged lumber and extracted the forged nails, called "cut" nails, and pounded them straight for reuse in our house and barn which had been built with them.

After the war I took up radios again and went to the Big City of Detroit to take my ham radio license examination. I built a SW radio and transmitter largely from parts scrounged from the township dump which I had long visited as part of my childhood search for adventure.

My puny five-watt transmitter connected me to several ill-tempered veteran hams but impressed my father to such an extent that he allowed me to run an antenna from my bedroom window sill out to the barn, despite the threat of lightning.

Throughout my childhood and well into my college years, I continued to investigate farms and woods and barns and discover iron-age tools and old men who remembered seeing them used. Some I found in my father's old and forgotten musty wood tool boxes in the basement: draw shaves, horse shoe pliers, a Collins monkey wrench, augers, wood gouges.

A long time since, but 30 years back from now, my wife and I were visiting a small old-timey museum in California's gold country where a school bus had unloosed a horde of noisy but already bored middle schoolers, yet ungrouped.

As we walked by the exhibits I remarked on several I hadn't seen in 50 years, some of which I had used. Sensitive to mansplaining, and well aware of my wife's regard for my "rusty iron" crotchet, I kept in check my shock of recognition and the enthusiasm it engendered.

Still, who can point to and name a hand-operated grain fanning mill and not explain what it was, and how it was used? Or shingle maker's stool and vice?

A young man followed us, shyly listening. As my wife and I approached the exit, he introduced himself. He was a teacher, he had been assigned to lead a group of the youngsters through the exhibits, and wanted to know if I would accompany him and explain them to his students.

I proposed that, instead, I would take him on a whirlwind tour, brief him on names and uses, and give him “compare and contrasts” with modern successors which would provide him with the basis of teacherly authority.

So, I gave him what computer people at the time called a "core dump".

That experience taught me that colorful and lightly illustrated stories work better than an old man's fond and rambling recollection.

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[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 STORY: Carole's Debate

By Carole Leskin

"You are old", says the voice in my head.
"You have many years left", says my beating heart.

"You are slowing down - it's to be expected", says the voice in my head.
"You have so much left to see and do", says my beating heart.

"You must prepare for the limitations to come", says the voice in my head.
"You should be open to new opportunities and adventures", says my beating heart.

"You must act your age - let your hair grow gray", says the voice in my head.
"You should do as you please", says my beating heart.

"You must be strong and self-reliant", says the voice in my head.
"You should not hesitate to ask for help when you need it", says my beating heart.

"You must be ever vigilant for it is a dangerous world", says the voice in my head.
"You should welcome and be grateful for the kindness of strangers", says my beating heart.

"You must learn to live with loss", says the voice in my head.
"You should view each day as a new beginning", says my beating heart.

"You must come to terms with the Inevitability Of Death", says the voice in my head.
"You should find Purpose and Joy in Life", says my beating heart.

The debate is intense. When it concludes, who is the winner? My head or my heart?

Can both be right?

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[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 STORY: Framing My Story

By Carol Nadell

The delicate picture frame is almost as old as I am. It is made of real wood of a light gray tone perfectly suited to the muted shades of the formal portrait it once held.

That photo was taken more than 72 years ago, when I was not yet two years old. It is not really black and white, not really color, and not really sepia. Its hues are soft and soothing, just what must have been needed as the country emerged from the horrors of a long and brutal war.

The photo was part of a grouping, along with similar portraits of my older brother and sister, taken on the same day. They sat atop the piano in our living room for 20 years, until my mother, a widow at just 53, moved to a two-bedroom apartment.

The photos went with her and, perched on her dresser, I suspect they were a comfort to this still-young woman who found herself so unexpectedly alone. When two years later, she remarried and moved into her new husband’s house, the photos again found a prominent spot on her dresser.

A widow again 20 years later, my mother would eventually become a “snowbird,” dividing her time between an apartment in Massachusetts and another one in Florida.

And when she made the journey back and forth, she was always accompanied by those three photos in the soft grey frames. They became snowbirds too.

When she made her final move to a senior living facility at 89, she placed the photos on the credenza in her living room, along with those of the rest of the family, by that time including grandchildren and great grandchildren.

After my mother’s death, I took the old photo home with me. My husband had always loved that image of me – the profile with the turned-up nose and the soft curly hair. And, so, the photo moved from my mother’s credenza to my husband’s dresser, where it joined the smiling faces of his children and his long-deceased parents.

And after my husband’s death four years ago, that little girl with the turned-up nose continued to smile down on me, a reminder of the now-long arc of my own life.

The burgundy velvet backing of that soft gray frame became worn and discolored with age, but it still recalled an earlier time before everything was made of cardboard and manufactured in China. The tiny nails that attached the backing to the frame spoke of permanence: the frame would hold the photo intact forever.

But 70 plus years proved to be too much for the easel leg designed to hold the frame upright. It hung aimlessly, separated from the backing, and the frame only stayed erect when I leaned it against those on either side of it.

I kept telling myself that it would be too difficult to find a new frame that would accommodate the oddly-sized photo. But the truth is that I couldn’t imagine parting with that frame.

It was a link to my past, to that little girl with the pug nose and huge smile who had her whole life ahead of her.

And it was a link to my mother who had caused the photo to be taken and placed in that delicate frame and who had carried it with her to multiple homes for well over half a century.

And, finally, it was a connection to my husband whose smile I could still see as he looked lovingly at that little girl who would become his wife.

But when the frame toppled over several times in one day, I finally made my way to the local art supply store where I found a serviceable frame of just the right size.

It isn’t the soft gray of the original and it certainly does not have a velvet backing, but it stands upright on its own – still on top of my husband’s dresser, which is now filled with my clothes.

An hour or so after placing the old frame in the blue plastic bin in my apartment building’s trash room, I rushed to rescue it. Sending it to a recycling plant felt like abandonment or betrayal. Of my mother? Of my husband? Of the little girl in the photo?

I’m not sure, but for now the empty frame with the broken, detached backing sits unseen on a shelf behind a closed door in my living room cabinet. I am not yet ready to part with it.

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[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 STORY: Remembering Kathy

By Kathleen Morse Noble

I met Kathy at a Scrabble Club in Phoenix with a bunch of other nerdy word nuts. After talking with her and playing a few games, I knew we would be friends.

Kathy was feisty and super smart and – like me - had an informed opinion about EVERYTHING. Like me, she really liked to be right! Can you see where this is going?

We were very competitive playing Scrabble in person but particularly online. I looked at our stats yesterday and she beat me 3 times out of every four and we played 379 games. She didn’t cheat, either.

Kathy felt very comfortable making comments on my friends' Facebook pages. Sometimes her comments started what seemed to be the equivalent of a Facebook cat fight, often with my conservative relatives and childhood friends!

I usually agreed with what Kathy said, but tact was not her strong suit and I have too few relatives left on earth to afford to lose them so sometimes I asked her nicely to back off. She did.

Kathy was also a fabulous storyteller. One of the funniest involved a certain future son-in-law who sleepwalked when Kathy was visiting her daughter and who came out and lay down next to her on the sofa where she was sleeping, thus trapping her.

She was so tiny, he apparently didn’t notice her behind him. She had to call for help!

In addition to being feisty and funny, Kathy was truly a woman of faith. She loved to go to the Franciscan retreat center, especially after she got colon cancer. She didn’t talk very much about her faith but she lived it.

She valued generosity, and loved nature, goodness and justice. She did not put on any airs - what you see is what you got from Kathy.

We loved to go out for movies, especially after she got sick as it was one thing that she could do easily. Her stomach would growl so loudly in the movie theater and I know she hated it, but I laughed!

Even after she lost so much weight, she always looked gorgeous and dressed so colorfully and I totally was jealous of all her earrings, as I love them too.

I had colon cancer in 1998 when I was only 52. Because I had been through surgery and chemo, Kathy and I could talk about our experiences and all the tough side effects, sometimes even over lunch. I tried to help her find ways to be more comfortable, but her cancer had spread and just got worse.

I talked to her when she was in the hospital and she told me a lovely story about a young doctor who came in, sat down so she could see his face and chatted with her about living in St. Louis, where he also had lived. She told me that it was so nice to have him see her as a real person and not just a patient. I don’t know this doctor’s name, but I am so grateful to him.

Kathy loved her daughters and especially her granddaughter so very much. Her face would just light up when she told me about funny things that little Teegan said nearly every time we talked.

Her cat, Sunny, also was a huge source of comfort and entertainment for her, and me, too, when I visited her. I was startled to walk into her tiny kitchen after she moved in and suddenly see the cabinet open up and Sunny sauntering out!

The last time I saw Kathy was the day before she died. I drove to the nursing home and brought a card that had 3-D hummingbirds on it and that I thought she would love. I held her hand and she got upset with me when I asked her if she remembered that my husband, Dave, also had cancer (“Of course I do!”)

The nurse came in with her pain meds and she told her that she didn’t want them because she wasn’t in any pain. We held hands and said that we loved each other. She had wanted to return to her own little house but it was too late, she didn’t have enough time. We said goodbye and she said I could come back again. I didn’t get a chance.

Facebook has a way of gobsmacking me every so often with an old photo or message about Kathy. “You haven’t played Scrabble with Kathy for a while…” “You and Kathy became Facebook friends…”

This photo is of Kathy with her daughter and granddaughter. She died soon after:

KathyKathlreenNobleC




A TGB READER STORY: Why Amazon Will Rule the World

By Fritzy Dean

Dear Mr. Target,

Whatever happened to your express check-out lanes? I clearly remember a time when a shopper with fewer than 10 or 12 items could get in an express lane and in a reasonable amount of time, be on their way.

Today when I asked a red-shirted employee for the express lane, she first looked puzzled, then pointed me to the multiple self-check lanes.

I choose not to use self-check lanes for a few reasons. First, I am not an employee and don’t wish to contribute my labor to your corporation. Secondly, I know that every self-check lane allows the store to get rid of three employees.

I realize, of course, the scanner does not take shifts or coffee breaks or vacations or sick leave. They never get grumpy or need the bathroom like a human checker.

Still I prefer the human. So I will wait in a lane where an actual human is checking. I don’t need that job, but someone does.

However, I have a suggestion that should be implemented as soon a possible. Since you have done away with he express lane, I feel you need a designated slow lane. This lane will be for the shoppers who:

Have a cart full of items and EVERY single one of them requires special handling.

If you have a discount code and you have to scroll through 400 items on your cell phone to find it, go to the slow lane.

If you have a coupon in a printed ad and must flip thought the advertisement 15 times to find it, go to the slow lane.

If you buy an item that must be purchased in combination with another item to get a special price, make damn sure you have both items and get in the slow lane.

If you are oblivious to the world around you and don’t even notice the ever-growing line of people behind you, you NEED to be in the slow lane.

Mr. Target, I bet you could think of other shoppers who could benefit from a slow lane. But, Mr. Target, I have no confidence you will implement this sensible and reasonable suggestion.

That is only one reason, Mr. Target, that you and other retailers are losing ground every year to Amazon.

I truly wanted to do my part to avoid that scenario but, Mr. Target, I have seen the light. After 20 minutes behind one of those slow shoppers today, I finally asked the checker if I should move. She shrugged and said, “Well, she is almost half way done.”

I will not weep when Amazon rules the retail world.

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[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 STORY: The Stairs

By Ann Burack-Weiss

This loft had stairs! We could come Down the stairs for breakfast in the morning! We could go Up the stairs to bed at night!

We had each grown up in cramped apartments on the outskirts of a major city. Roy’s apartment in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx where he slept in a kitchen alcove supposed to hold a dinette set.

Mine in Brighton, Massachusetts, where a rarely played baby grand piano - wedged tightly into the cell-sized foyer - forced a sideways slide into the small adjacent rooms.

Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, neither of us had even been inside a house with stairs. All we knew of them was from outside (windows on top of each other spoke of rooms upon rooms) and from books and movies.

So although we had since been guests in a variety of two-story houses, and knew that stairs could be mounted and descended in misery as well as in joy, to have stairs of one’s very own still seemed exotic and wonderful.

Decades passed and we never gave another thought to the stairs. We passed from one floor to another as unthinkingly as we walked room to room on level ground. It never occurred to us to count the stairs (there are 19) or to notice their unusual height or to even touch the bannister, a long flat piece of wood that made an attractive wall decoration.

Roy climbed the stairs for the last time on the evening of March 12, 2010. He came down on a stretcher six hours later, borne by two men sent by the funeral home, his body covered by a white cloth.

Stairs began to appear in my dreams. Stairs covered in pale green carpet like ours, stairs of bare wood. Some flights extending endlessly to the sky, others collapsing upon themselves like an accordion.

I began to fall. Bone bruises, pelvic fractures. Assaulted knees and hips responded with arthritic pain. A hip replacement and rehabilitation. Each episode requiring an altered relationship with the stairs.

I now approach the stairs as a military campaign, standard operating procedures in place with sufficient latitude for unforeseen changes of circumstance.

Things to be carried up or down are placed, at debarkation points awaiting the next floor-to-floor maneuver. Empty coffee cups and crumby plates that belong downstairs at the top, just purchased toiletries and books that belong upstairs at the bottom.

Sometimes a canvas carrying bag, to sling over my good shoulder lies alongside, sometimes a fanny pack or back pack to free my hands.

I have deliberately slid down the stairs backside first and crawled up on hands and knees. I have walked up one step at a time, intent as a toddler trying out a new skill. I have reached for the bannister as for the hand of a caregiver - grasp it a few feet above me to pull up, hang on at hip length to go down.

But then will come a lovely day – sometimes weeks, months of lovely daysb– when I can walk up and down almost as easily as I ever did. And it feels again like the time when 19 steps were as nothing, Roy would be waiting for me on the landing, and stairs were still magic.

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[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 STORY: The Lessons of Asymmetry

By Adele Frances

“There is little meaning in making a fuss. There is nothing else to do but say good-bye to the last body part and continue your life with what parts may be left.”

- Elderly Greenland native who lost two fingers to frostbite years ago. Smithsonian Magazine

I lost a breast three weeks ago. Well, I didn’t exactly lose it. The surgeon knows where it went, but it’s lost to me.

Can I function without it? Of course I can. Do I miss it? A little. But since it was harboring three cancerous tumors, the time had come to say goodbye. This breast did the same thing to me 22 years ago and I struggled to keep it with me despite its disloyalty.

Lumpectomy. Chemo. Radiation. It was not a fun time but I got thru it nicely and my life continued cancer-free with two boobs, one slightly smaller than the other, from the ravages of treatment. I even wrote bad poetry about it.

But now, at 74, I’ve had to part company with this valiant breast who hung in there for over two decades before going rogue again.

Instead, I have a 10-inch scar from my left armpit to the center of my chest, a gradually descending line with a few bumps and curves that has a character all of its own. And instead of holding my breast in my hand, I feel a flat plain and a steadily beating heart beneath it, now unprotected by the shelf of flesh that used to be there.

It is strange and wondrous to me. I don’t find it grotesque, but rather curious in its lack of symmetry. And the tiny bit of swelling at the bottom looks like a prepubescent breast getting ready to bloom, but — oops — no nipple! A strange appendage indeed.

Yes, it’s the lack of symmetry that causes me pause for thought. Since I don’t have the magic bra lady in my life yet who is going to even me up, I’ve been adjusting old bras to resemble my former look, but I’m not there yet.

I like asymmetry in my art; I do not favor it in my personal appearance. There is an alien look to a blouse that is gently rounded on one side and just FLAT on the other. Nature prefers harmony, balance. And so do I.

So I look forward to my meeting next week with the bra lady who will introduce me to the wonderful world of prosthetics and new bras I never imagined. She told me the insurance company will provide four bras and two prosthetics a year! I’ve never bought four bras in one year in my life. That would last me five years. I’m in for a bounty of riches.

Thus I have to agree with the Greenland elder. I can go on quite nicely with my life minus one boob. Its removal has prolonged my life a few more years and there is something to be said for that, though I’m not quite sure what, not being a proponent of longevity.

But a flat chest, even if only on one side, somehow takes me back to childhood before those long-awaited mounds which never seemed to arrive. There is an innocence there among the scarred landscape that reminds me of my 11-year-old granddaughter just beginning to sprout her own breasts and sporting her first bra.

Missing body parts. Asymmetry. All part of the mystery of my life. But the good part is that when I place my hand on my heart, it beats so much louder now.




Father Time and Me

By Carole Leskin

I saw him approaching. An ancient man, bent, dressed in black and carrying the symbolic scythe. I recognized him immediately. My heart pounded. It's too soon, I thought. I'm not ready.

He sat down on the bench beside me in the garden behind the house. I had fed the birds and was enjoying a few minutes outside - the winter day sunny and mild. There were so many, chirping and arguing over the sunflower seeds - their favorite. They flew away when he came into view.

He looked at me, but said nothing. After what seemed like forever, the silence deafening, I decided to speak. I turned, looked at him and began.

"Time passes so quickly
It's what we all say,
The good things don't last,
The hard things - they stay.

Every day, every week,
Each month and each year
Bring challenges and lessons,
Things I don't want to hear.

Now as I grow old
I want to stop Time.
No More! is my mantra,
Let Contentment be mine!

Let the things that I treasure
And the people I hold dear
Be with me, I pleaded
At least - for this year"!

Then - the sounds of his laughter.
"How foolish you are!
To think you can stop me,
Put Time in a jar"!

I sighed.

"How can I go on
Knowing what's likely in store?
I lack the strength
To handle any more!

Poor health, death of loved ones
And always the fear
That some night I'll see you
And your footsteps I'll hear.

You will whisper It's Time,
I won't have a choice.
In that moment so final
I won't have a voice"!

He looked at me, not unkindly.

"It's true, my dear Carole
You can't control me.
But the choice that you have
Is clear. Don't you see?

You must live every moment
As if it's your last.
Savor your Time!
Don't live in the past!

You have to be brave!
You need to believe
That Time still has value -
Not just to grieve

But to love and to wonder.
To seek beauty and peace.
To be useful and caring.
Life doesn't just cease

Until your last breath
Take in all that remains.
The pleasures and joys.
The heartaches and pains.

After all, that is Life!
Surely you know
The purpose of living
Is to continue to grow"!

And then...

He was gone.

I sighed with relief.
I had to make haste.
For I suddenly knew
I had no Time to waste!




“Here’s Looking at You!”: The Amazing Eyes of Birds

By Diane Darrow

As a big-city dweller, I often like to sit on a bench in my local community garden appreciating nature – the clean, fragrant air; the trees, plants, and flowers; and the many visitors that pass by on the paths and lawn.

I particularly enjoy looking at the avian visitors because the garden attracts many kinds of birds.

One day I was struck by the differences in eyes between people and birds. People have basically almond-shaped eyes, with a colored circle, the iris, in the center and whites tapering to the ends.

Most of the birds I see – such as sparrows, robins, blue jays, and doves – have tiny, round, all-black “boot-button” eyes. I wondered about that difference, so I did a bit of research.

Boy, did I learn a lot! For one thing, it seems that birds actually have very big eyes. They do have whites, but in most species, we can’t see them: Everything but the iris is covered by feathers. And birds’ eyeballs are huge in proportion to the size of their heads. If human eyes were in the same proportion, our eyes would be as big as tennis balls.

Next, birds’ eyes are positioned on their heads differently from the way ours are. Human eyes are set forward on the face, so we can see straight ahead with 3-D binocular vision. That’s true of only a few bird species (owls, for instance.)

Most birds have eyes that angle out to the sides of their heads, so their brains have to reconcile two separate, overlapping fields of vision to see what’s directly in front of them. Oh – so that’s why I often see a robin tilting its head sideways to focus its “good eye” on something on the ground!

Birds’ eyesight is also much sharper than ours. We think we’re doing great if we come close to 20-20 vision. Most birds would score at least 20-10 on our scale. That means, if I’m squinting to see an object lying some distance along a garden path, the blue jay on a branch above my head can see it as clearly as I could if it were only half that far away.

If it’s edible, he’ll grab it.

Moreover, birds’ eyes have at least twice as many light-sensitive cells as human eyes, letting them see much better than us in low light conditions. And beyond the top of our visible color spectrum (red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet), birds can see ultraviolet light, which makes colors appear far more brilliant and differentiated.

So now whenever I see plain, dull brown or gray birds in the garden, I try to imagine what they might look like to each other – or what I must look like to them!




A TGB READER STORY: Poutine to Padre, Day 7

A road trip from Montreal to San Padre Island, Texas, by Brenda Henry

Bus number 50 goes straight into the heart of Memphis.

It was on this day we observed one random act of kindness after another.

We board the bus, pay and sit.

Three stops later, a senior man climbs aboard. He has no money but the driver welcomes him. The man takes a side seat. His hair is half matted, half sticking up like he slept rough.

Call him Mister.

His bottom lip protrudes and trembles. He's wearing a faded red sweater with a hole in one elbow, baggy tan pants and worn down work boots without laces.

Mister doesn't look at anyone. He's in his own world.

He mumbles to himself, straightens his body on the seat, looks around.

The bus stops, more passengers enter.

There is something arresting about Mister. I quietly observe him and wonder who he is and what stories he could tell me.

He digs deep into his pocket, pulls out a small stick of deodorant, removes the top and meticulously rolls the deodorant all over the outside of his clothing- arms, chest, armpits and the full length of his pants.

He puts the cap back on the deodorant, places it back in the same pants pocket, removes a tiny tube of toothpaste, uncaps it, squeezes out a blob and uses his index finger to rub it all over the inside of his mouth.

Mister smiles at nobody, stands up, takes a plastic comb out of his other pant pocket, rakes it back and forth through his tangled hair, smiles and moves to a different seat up front as if he's alone.

The bus stops. A well-dressed senior woman climbs in carrying two shopping bags and her large purse. She sits, arranges her bags and looks around.

Call her The Angel.

Her eyes land on Mister.

The Angel doesn't seem to know him but perhaps she sees something in him - a reminder of her own life.

She leans forward and speaks.

"Hey, hey."

She's talking to Mister.

He doesn't hear her.

She tries again.

"Hey, hey."

Mister hears something, turns his head, looks in The Angel's direction. Is she talking to him?

His face says, "Who would even want to acknowledge me?"

That's when The Angel reaches into her purse, takes out some dollar bills, folds them, gets up, walks over to Mister and hands him the money.

Do they know each other?

We are certain they do not.

Mister takes the money as if he can't believe this is happening.

He thanks The Angel.

She goes "uh huh" and walks back to her seat.

Three stops later, he disembarks.

The driver lets us off in the Memphis bus terminal.

We walk the streets.

We walk the streets.

We listen to the blues.

I write.

MEMPHIS
Memphis is the grandmother of the blues
Her life story transcends time
Her fingers are bent, her playing hands hardened

Every line in her face is a testament
She sings the truth about life
She can make you laugh until you cry

She can make you wail like a baby

Her words force you to take a cold hard look at yourself
She reads your soul like an angel

You can't bull shoot her

She will sit near you on a public bus in Memphis
And hand you her last dollar

And you will take it

Because she knows you better than you know yourself.

* * *

[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 STORY: Sexist Behavior in the Elderly Male

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The backlog of stories is getting short. If you are inclined to submit one, check the note at the bottom of this story.]

By Jack Handley

A while back, another old guy in my complex and I sat on my porch and drank a can of Rainier Ale, and wondered why we ever liked the stuff. He’s not a buddy but occasionally we sit and talk, but we tell each other tales because there’s not much we have in common.

He’s a good looking old fart. He’s bigger than me. And he’s a football nut while I hold that an NFL game is just a 200-minute advertisement interrupted by 60 minutes of football.

He can stay up late enough to watch Late Nite whatever, which surely demonstrates that we run on tracks of different gauge.

This time we talked, I got us both into a cranky mood by mentioning that the only televised sport I could watch, and one I don’t even like very much, was soccer.

He tried to be agreeable and admitted that hockey was gone for him because he couldn’t any longer follow the puck. And I said that wasn’t the fault of the TV producer but that, for instance, unwatchable baseball was.

See, the whole screen is full of the pitcher, who glares, scratches, spits, winds up and throws, and then you see another closeup of the batter swinging, then a far shot of the fly ball in the lights, and then a closeup traveling shot of the fielder running - and not a single view of the runner who was leading off second base, edging back ready to tap the base and run, or whatever the shortstop was doing according to his assessment of the play, which is how you get yours, as the viewer.

He let out a tolerant grunt and changed the topic to ladies. (We are too old to talk of women.) You know Peg? he asked.

That plump lady, who putters in the community garden? Lives in Chateau 3, I think?

Yes. It seems I offended her, she won’t even nod to me - hell, she looks the other way when we pass on the way to the trash bin.

Do you know what you did? Hah! I bet you said something insensitive.

I think I wrote something that offended her.

You wrote something? Hoo boy.

Well, couple weeks ago I stopped at the garden to pass the time of day with her and she asked could I carry some potted plants up to her balcony. So I did.

We chatted, perfectly normal. Did you know she is a teacher - she still works. I told her the old chestnut that you can’t misspell correctly and she laughed.

Then, a few days later my phone died and since I had been sick, I knew my daughter would think the worst if I didn’t answer the phone. So I went over to Peg’s and asked her if she would phone Susan and tell her I had to get a new phone.

So, she read the number off my phone and and called my daughter who didn’t answer and so Peg left a voice message and explained the situation and then gave her her number as my temporary emergency number.

Nice of her. Sounds okay, so far, I said.

Yeah. Well, then she said, let me put your number in my phone. I was going to put her number in mine, but I’m all thumbs with those little keys, and I sure didn’t want to stand there and do the old mumble, fumble, stumble, and spill.

Besides, I was sure Susan was sending a ‘Dad! call me!’ email so I told Peg that, and said I would come back later with my new phone and get her number.

I’m waiting for the interesting part.

Yeah. So, I went back a week or so later; it took me that long to get a new phone, and the number transferred - all that rigmarole - but she wasn’t there, so I left a note.

Ah.

All I wrote was, ‘hey, babe, can I have your number?’

You actually wrote “babe”?

Well, yes, I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I thought it was kind of humorous, you know - an old man who’s forgotten what it’s for, writing a simple note to lady old enough to be in senior housing. I didn’t write, hey babe let’s get together and get skinny, for Christ’s sake.

Perhaps that’s what she read, though.

Sheesh. You think?

Well, you said she’s a teacher. You’re old enough; remember parsing, diagramming sentences and such?

Doubt she is. That must’a been way before her time; she’s not our age.

Women always look way into things, you know: Husband: “Honey, when did you get that new blouse?” Wife: “Why, what’s wrong with it?”

Really?

I dunno. I don’t know anything about women, the ladies, the fair sex, whatever. If I did, do you think I’d be sitting here by myself?

He crushed his can. “Got anything a man can drink?”

* * *

[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 STORY: Minding My Own Business

By Fritzy Dean

I was meeting a friend for lunch and I was early so I decided to stop for a cup of coffee. The McDonald’s was crowded but it was on my way and I did find a place to sit - a small booth near the front door.

I was reading on my Kindle, minding my own business when a voice said, “Want some company?” Before I could say, “Not really”, a tiny neatly dressed woman sat down across from me.

She started by telling me that this was her regular seat. I understand that feeling of ownership. We humans love to claim our territory, so I smiled. I may have asked her if she lived nearby but I don’t remember saying much after that. This lady was a prolific talker.

Here are some of the things I learned:

She was 90 years old. (I was surprised. at that.)

She intended to go back home and iron. She HAD to iron because she could only wear cotton, everything else made her skin break out.

She did not like the “new fangled” clothes with a hem dipping down on one side and “hiking up on the other. OOPs, she will have an opinion when I stand up.)

She had to buy her clothes at thrift shops because cotton things are hard to find, and she had to iron because cotton wrinkles real bad.

She knows she is almost the last ironer left.

But she has to look presentable because she is a volunteer. (I tried to murmur “Good for you”, but I don’t think she heard.)

She has met all THE BIG SHOTS because of her volunteering.

She mentioned a local business man who does TV commercials, and that woman who used to be our mayor, (we have had two women mayors, but I never learned which one she met), the business man again and “ALL them big shots.”

She volunteers at “a place over on Fulton,” and teaches crocheting - mostly Mexican ladies, but they can learn. They catch on real quick, because she is a good teacher.

Then she goes to a senior center and volunteers to teach crafts. And she’s member of The Eagles, but she doesn’t attend very often any more 'cause all they want is her money. They money her to death.

Just like the ambulance people. She had to call the ambulance to take her to the hospital; she felt she was dying, but the doctors said it was bronchitis. When she got the bill for the ambulance ride it was $1,000!

She told them she could not pay that; she is on fixed income. They said she could pay $30.00 a month and she said, “no, she couldn’t” and they can harass her all they want to but you can’t get blood from a turnip.

And besides, she has called the City of Houston many times to tell them they need to get rid of the standing water on Heights Boulevard, right where she gets off the bus and that water is still there.

She rides the bus anywhere she wants to go; it’s free, you know, because she is 90 years old. One of the perks of getting old.

I had finished my coffee and I got up to leave. As I did, she got up, too, and moved to the other side of the table. Seems like I was sitting in her place, all along.

I kept thinking about the woman and the experience all that day. I had a mixed bag of impressions. I was really aware that at 90 she is sharp, lives alone, takes care of herself, seems to keep herself active.

I also felt she is lonely (she captured a total stranger to talk to), she worries about money and she has no one to call when she needs help - except 911.

I see her as an example of the best and the worst aspects of aging in America in the 21st century. Parts of me are inspired by her and want to emulate her. Parts of me are profoundly grateful I don’t have to. Getting old sure ain’t for sissies.

* * *

[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 STORY: Aaah, the Good Old Days

By Melissa Martin

I think that’s why some people like antique stores, flea markets, auctions, yard sales and eBay. Items from the past are attached to memories. We remember happy holidays along with what food was served, hairstyles and clothes of the era, television programs and music. Some hanker for the good old days.

The good old days had bad old days as well. Some memories are probably not accurate and are based on how each person remembers it.

But individual perception becomes our reality. It seems easy to remember only the good parts of the past and forget about the challenges and struggles. Just like the times we live in now, good days and bad days and in-between days. Each generation looks back on their good old days.

Some like to look back and reminisce about the good old days and others do not. “I don't do nostalgia. The phrase 'the good old days' never passes my lips,” writes Nicholas Haslam.

Maybe it’s an aging thing - the older I get the more I like to listen to and tell stories about yesteryears; the funny, cheery, and goofy memories. Stories are able to transport our mind back to another time and another place.

Philip Pullman declared, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Aaah, the good old days. And the good old stories.

I met with my aunt and cousin for lunch recently. And of course, we got around to reminiscing about some of the humorous happenings during the good old days of childhood and beyond.

We laughed over grocery store stories. My mom and aunt piled the cousins into one vehicle and drove to town to stock up on food. The grocery carts would be crammed full of bargains.

Before being squashed into the car to go home, the moms opened a loaf of bread and slapped a slice of trail bologna on it (without condiments) and we ate lunch in the parking lot.

Then the two hurry-scurry sisters squeezed the kids in the car and packed grocery bags into the trunk and every crevice. Each kid held a bag of something with bags at their feet, over their heads and in-between each other.

“Don’t mash the bread!” yelled one mom. “Don’t you dare open that bag of cookies!” yelled the other mom.

“I don’t have enough room!” yelled one kid. “Move over!” yelled another one. And you hoped nobody passed gas, burped or picked their nose.

We rushed home before the frozen food had a chance to melt. And then the boxes, cans and cartons had to be separated. And again we heard, “Don’t mash that bread!” How many times did I hear that phrase growing up? Hundreds.

Aaah, the good old days.

My mom and aunt shopped at the secondhand shoe store in the downtown area. Pairs were different sizes - that’s why they were so cheap. The right shoe would be size 6 and the matching left shoe would be size 6 1/2 or 7. And searching through the boxes and bins of shoes was comical.

Buying shoes for a bunch of kids can be expensive. Nonetheless, our feet survived. And this story is one of my favorite narratives.

We tell stories about the times of yore with affectionate ears and eyes. And with chuckles. Any embarrassment has long since faded.

Every generation has their own hometown memories. Every family abounds with tall tales and embellished anecdotes. Homemade humor - that’s how some people made it through the good old days during the not so good times.

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days,” writes Doug Larson.


* * *

[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 STORY: My Comfort Zone

By Ann Burack-Weiss

You’d think they’d let up by the time you reach your 80s. That all you need do to keep yourself going is to keep yourself going. But no; everything you hear or read pushes you toward new horizons.

That thrill of completion that I feel when finishing the Sunday crossword puzzle (well, all but three small words) is meaningless. It does not spark those neurons or create new pathways in the brain; all it does is deepen familiar ruts.

Worse, it is a solitary pursuit. Surely dementia and social isolation are brewing in the toxic waters of my comfort zone.

Old folks are repeatedly told to heed the siren call of the untried that, from the beginning of time, has lured humans from their caves into the sun of enhanced existence.

Learning Chinese in the company of elderly peers would be just the thing.

Or I could put aside the knitting of one color, one pattern scarves that I’ve enjoyed since the age of 18 – an activity that is especially pleasant on long winter evenings cuddled on the couch listening to the classical music I’ve enjoyed just as long.

Better to join a class in needlepoint. It takes lots of different colored threads to construct a tapestry – you must keep your wits about you in order to keep them sorted, threaded and hitting just the right spot all the while chatting with others engaged in the same task.

They mean well, the young dears. It is just that they are afraid of their own senescence. Neuroscience offers hope. And yes, I’ve seen the graphs, read the papers. I know enough about research to agree that the findings are statistically significant.

But it’s a long way from statistical significance to my apartment, to my life, where I have to say that the findings are not significant at all.

* * *

You see, we are often afraid. The unknown is only filled with wonder if you feel power within you to grab out to it and turn it to your uses.

We are afraid as young children are afraid – so much in life they don’t understand, can’t control. The things that hide out in the shadows and can pounce at any time are particularly scary when they are alone in the dark. So they ask for glass after glass of water, ask to hear the same story the same way over and over. Skip a page in the book, change a few words and they get upset.

Ours is not a second childhood – for we know full well the names and workings of what is hiding in the shadows. We do not imagine animals escaped from the zoo to hide out under our beds (as I remember doing at the age of four) but the bed itself springing steel sides pulled up high over which tubes ferry fluids in and out of our bodies.

We do not imagine that our screams won’t be loud enough to reach powerful adults who can come to our aid. We know the limits of the powerful adults no matter how caring they might be.

So like children, we cannot see change as a learning opportunity, a chance to face our fears and triumph over them. Instead, change strips us of all sense of certainty, of control, leaving us quaking in its wake; strips us of our memories and the sense of self that they reinforce within us.

The Sunday crossword puzzle I am working on today holds vestiges of every puzzle of my life, everyone who was around me on those long ago Sundays – the places I carried it with me during the week to fill in a clue or two; the people – so many no longer here – with whom I exchanged passing references to its difficulty or ease or cleverness of theme.

The long scarf on which I rip and redo as often as I move ahead, and the music that accompanies it, go all the way back – first, my room at home, then a college dormitory room filled with smokers and bridge players where, doing neither, I found my place and many happy hours with the knitters.

Those last months of pregnancy with each of my now middle-aged children when I surprised myself by branching out to blanket, sweater, and bootie sets – enough even to gift to others.

So I’ll stay right here. Comforted by the familiar, buoyed by memories. Relaxing? Lolling? No, wallowing – that’s the word I’m looking for, wallowing, in my comfort zone.

* * *

[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 STORY: Furry Manipulation

By Karpagam “Jeeks” Rajagopal

It is a near-perfect day, with a benevolent sun and a gentle breeze riffling the surface of the pond. A couple of hundred geese mill about on the shore, perforating the ground with their beaks.

A tattooed young man carries a Frisbee as he walks his dogs off-leash. He seems torn between tossing the frisbee for the dogs and finding someone with whom he can play. One of the dogs is a rambunctious golden retriever, the great weather a catalyst that kicks his natural exuberance into high gear.

He does his business on the grass, and earns a “Good boy” from his dad who bends down to scoop it with a plastic bag. He is fit to explode with pride at his accomplishment and a gleam appears in his eye.

While his dad is distracted, he spots the geese and the progression of his thoughts is evident. He charges down the gentle slope towards the smallest gaggle of geese, convinced that even the landscape has every intention of enabling his escapade.

Warned by their lookout, the geese take flight in an explosion of feathers and squawks, indignantly levitating and splashing down in the water. I hear his dad telling him, “Don’t go in the water”, and he reins himself in, braking hard on the verge, caught on the wings of this dilemma.

The gears are clicking fast as he assesses his distance from his dad and the expanse that separates him from the remaining scores of geese. He sees a shining opportunity and seizes it. He runs headlong towards them, euphoric, his fur flying, his tongue a pink flag declaring his exultance. Almost as one, they take off en masse as he chases them into the pond.

This time around, he doesn’t even pretend to stop. He splashes in with abandon, paddling after the geese. Heedless of his dad’s whistles, he tries to herd them to the center of the pond. Now that the geese have quieted down, he can clearly hear his name and the command to return to shore.

Reluctantly, he turns around and it is clear that his heart is not in it. Or maybe he is using the time to strategize. Even though there is no current to battle against, he slowly makes his way back to shore, sodden and chagrined.

As he emerges from the water, it is clear that he knows what to do. He skulks out, tail drooping, the very image of abject chagrin, regret and apology. To see him you would think he had been forced into the pond under duress. He shuffles towards his dad, trying to ingratiate himself by crawling on his belly.

A few feet along, he can sense forgiveness and the change in his posture is so marked as to be unrecognizable. He has realized that apology is far better than permission, and that he does not need to sacrifice fun for good behavior.

The tail springs back up, redemption is at hand, and life is good once again as he goes tearing off through the park, unbridled joy in his every muscle. Through the rest of my walk, I have a smile in my heart and a spring in my step.




A TGB READER STORY: My Mother’s Funniest Hour

By Jack Handley

My mother had a sense of humor but she mostly didn’t get the point of jokes. She liked wordplay but rarely saw the humor in the punch line of jokes which puzzled me.

Some people don’t see humor because they take things literally and find exaggeration irritating, not amusing. In contrast to such people, my mother could see the humor in situations and appreciated Spoonerisms, such as the deacon saying, “Mardon me padam, but you are occupewing my pie.”

But, in general, my mother and jokes don’t mix.

On one holiday visit I carelessly mentioned the type of joke termed the Shaggy Dog Story, which piqued her interest. So, by way of example, I related the tale of the Tragedy of the Tribal Chief, which goes like this:

In the first years of the last century, in deepest Africa, an English missionary had penetrated far into the interior of the continent, past any railroads, or roads, or even trails, and found a larger than usual village of dozens of thatched huts surrounding a central larger, and taller hut, whose doorway was being guarded by two warriors.

The missionary determined that his mission was to start here; that he would enlighten this village with the ideas of Civilization and the blessings of Religion.

The chief agreed to allow the missionary to build a church and to preach to the villagers if he first provided the chief with a pair of thrones equal in magnificence to the great, gilded, thrones of the king and queen of England, a picture of which he had seen in one of the missionary’s magazines.

Here, in the tradition the Shaggy Dog Story, would begin a long and excruciatingly detailed description of the travel saga of the messenger carrying the order for the thrones back to England, and the journey of the cumbrous articles across the oceans and deserts and jungles to the village via steamship, coastwise packet ship, camel train, dugout, and so on-- which we will skip over to pick up the story upon the tumultuous arrival of the great thrones.

As the jubilation died down, problems arose. The first was just getting a Royal British Throne through the grass and bamboo doorway. If you have ever tried to squeeze a La-Z-Boy through a 34-inch doorway, you can see the problem.

The second, was where to put the two of them. The Royal Bedstead occupied most of the hut’s central dais, which in turn, occupied most of the floor space. (I really am trying to cut out the Shaggy stuff.)

The counselors and viziers and shamans finally contrived a scheme to rig a suspension harness to the overhead cross beams and to hoist the thrones up at night, and to lower them upon the bed during the day.

You immediately guess the outcome: one night the rope breaks, the thrones drop down and squash the royal couple and Civilization comes to an end in the village.

Of course, the moral is: People who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.

My mother emitted her hesitant laugh and said she enjoyed the shaggy dog part, which I skipped for you, perhaps as much she did the joke itself.

A few days later the whole family gathered for a holiday dinner. After the long and happy meal, my very merry mother announced she had a joke to tell. The room went quiet, most faces went blank, my aunts looked stricken. I writhed with sympathetic dread but tried to keep a welcoming, expectant look on my own face.

She then launched into the Tragedy of the Tribal Chief.

Of course, she embroidered the shaggy parts. People fidgeted, but she cast her sweet matriarchal gaze on them and disciplined into auditors who otherwise would have been a mob of noisy relatives. She went on and on, shining with the glow of performance. I admired her gall and fearlessness. And then came the end, the moral, which she announced as such:

“And the moral is: People who live in grass huts shouldn’t store thrones.”

Crushing silence. An embarrassed titter. People’s faces flicker, searching for an expression.

A church cough.

My mother’s face droops, her lips tremble. I am ready to sob. Then, another titter. An uncle lets loose a flatulent guffaw.

The youngest aunt begins to laugh. Tears stream from her eyes. Faces begin to light-up in recognition. Others laugh. Everyone laughs. Real, helpless, har-har laughs.

My mother beams. Everyone beams back. She shifts and turns to me.

“See, son. I can too tell jokes.”




A Change Of Scene

By Carole Leskin

"What you really need is a change of scene", I said aloud to myself.

There was nothing new in those words. I have said them many times over the years. For the most part, during tough times. Divorce, an unhappy relationship, business difficulties, failures of one type or another. Occasionally, out of boredom - that feeling of being stuck.

And usually, it meant taking a trip. A weekend or sometimes much longer. Always someplace different. A chance to see a new view. Meet new people. Eat new food. Try new activities. There was always a sense of adventure. No real plan. Letting life unfold in whatever way.

For the most part, it worked. It was, after all, my adult version of a child running away from home.

But this time it was different.

This time, wherever I went I took "me" with me. There was no escape.

The reality is I am a 73 year old woman who recently had a stroke. My degenerative disc disease and neurological disorder have progressed and become more serious. My physical being is entirely different. My personal freedom significantly limited.

Adventure? My bucket list - zip lining, more hiking, travel to far away destinations, going cross-country in an RV and more - not going to happen.

How can I change my scene?

I am tired and annoyed, sometimes even angry at people, often well-meaning, who hardly know me and send me inspirational posters and quotes.

They remind me that it is all a question of "attitude". "Never say never! Buck up! Stop wallowing in self-pity. So many people have it much worse."

There is a lot of truth in what they say. I count my blessings every day. I have good medical care, a cozy apartment, access to classes and special events. Friends. I love to write and take photographs.

But here's what they don't understand. Sometimes, actually often, it takes a strong will just to get out of bed. Daily chores, things I used to do in a few minutes, take hours and are exhausting. Pain is a constant companion. Doctor appointments, tests, medications, complications.

And what is worse is FEAR. What if I have another stroke? What will I do when I can no longer walk? How will I manage? I have no family and live alone without a support system.

Suddenly, I realized what will change my scene.

A lot of people won't like it.

I will grant myself time to be dark for a bit. I will not feel as if I always have to smile. I will not feel I have to pretend to be optimistic when I get bad news. If I am grouchy - so be it! If I am sad - I can cry. If I am scared - it's okay. In other words, I will allow myself to be me - in all my dimensions.

Most important, I will reach out for help. Something I never do. My whole life has been one of independence and pride. I have to let that go.

I will continue to love writing and photography, nature, animals, learning new things, and meeting new people. I will love my friends and treasure their support. I will be grateful every day.

I will do all of this and more. But I will do it without pretending my declining health and related issues will all go away. I will look at my life from a different perspective and plan accordingly. I will make necessary changes and adjustments.

I will take all the pleasure I can from my change of scene. I will be me. Good, bad, happy, sad.

It's all part of my new view.

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