46 posts categorized "Readers' Stories"

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.

* * *

[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: Hot in Houston

By Fritzy Dean

Frank Billingsley, Channel 2’s weather man, is worried about me. Every afternoon he looks earnestly into the camera and tells me it’s hot. He adds that the elderly are especially vulnerable to the heat.

If I happen to check in with Channel 13 or Channel 11, they say the same thing. All of them think the hot weather is bad for me because I am old. They warn me to stay indoors where it is cooler.

The Mayor is also worried about me. He had a press conference to let me know it’s hot. He is so worried he has opened up “cooling centers” for me, in case my house is hot, too.

In addition, the Mayor hired a “Robo Telephone Guy” who calls me twice a day to tell me its hot and I am old and I need to stay inside. The Robo Call Guy even insists that I press ONE on my telephone to let The City of Houston know I got the message…..just in case I hadn’t realized its really hot.

He sounds like the male cousin of Siri:

“This is The City of Houston with a heat advisory. Houston is experiencing triple digit heat and you elderly should take precautions.”

Then today, just an hour ago, I got an email from TXU, my energy company, and they are saying how happy they are that I dialed it up a notch. They complimented me on the fact that I keep my house a little warmer than Siberia and, thus, I have helped control energy usage.

I am trying my elderly best to comply with the instructions from Frank and Tim and David and Mayor Turner and TXU. It’s really lovely of them, all of them, to be so concerned. I am grateful they want me to know it is hot in Houston.

* * *

[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: Singin’ All the Way

By Lyn Burnstine

We - my accompanist friend, her partner, and I - had been to a spectacular birthday party of a dear young friend whose request of the guests was to sing a song for her—preferably their own.

Almost every folk musician in the Hudson Valley who didn’t have a gig that afternoon was there. The music flowed for hours, with time out only for a fabulous meal, thoughtfully considerate of the needs of gluten free and vegetarian guests. It was a scorching hot day, but comfortable inside. We headed for home while still daylight.

A sudden flash of metal, of light coming toward us, caught our eyes just seconds before our windshield became something from a horror movie, as first we hit the car before us, in spite of valiant efforts on the part of our driver to avoid it, then CRASH!

The car coming toward us in the wrong lane at 100 miles an hour had come to a final stop up against our car after wiping out a truck and several cars, killing one mother of four and seriously injuring several others, himself included, between them and us.

I was sitting in the back - doctor’s orders since the pacemaker in my belly could be a killer if hit by the airbag. Fortunately, my friends in the front were saved by the airbags, with only minor burns on their hands. Not so, me.

The force of the crash and the pain in my chest were unlike anything I had ever experienced. My friend turned to ask, “Are you okay, Lyn?”

I could barely squeeze out a faint “no” with a shallow breath. I thought I was dying, then the real terror hit as the airbags deployed, releasing thick, chalky pink powder into the car’s interior.

We truly thought we were going to suffocate until finally my friends managed to open a door and window. It took all of my will power to breathe, even shallowly, with the injury to my chest, which I eventually realized was caused by my little three-wheeled walker flying over from the side seat and hitting me.

I had been bragging for some time that I was making it through my lifetime without any bone breaks other than toes. Now my record was broken, along with my sternum, and four other little bones in my neck and back that I never even felt, paling as they did to the pain in my breastbone.

In the three miserable weeks in the hospital and rehab, I was frequently reminded by my many visitors of how lucky I was. Who could ever have imagined that this “frail-elderly,” 84-year-old with bones weakened by 62 years of severe rheumatoid arthritis, with osteopenia, if not osteoporosis, could survive such a crash let alone recover so remarkably well and speedily that all of my friends are convinced I’m the Energizer Bunny.

I’m not a believer in heavenly intervention but I do know that I still have a job to do here. I’m often reminded of it by my younger cohorts at the open mics where I sing regularly.

They count on me to keep them knowledgeable about American traditional folk music, as, more and more, they turn to their own and others’ contemporary singer/songwriter music.

I am proud that many of them and the more-than-200 followers of my photography on Facebook tell me that I am their inspiration for “keeping on” despite multiple health issues and increasing fragility.

It was almost worth it to have my accompanist, a wonderful songcrafter, write a beautiful song about me called Singin’ All the Way, the title of my first book of memoir and audio cassette, as well as my mantra.

The ironic sequel to this story: when I had nearly recovered, after three months, I suffered injuries to my tailbone in a hard fall, ricocheting off a soft, squishy mattress onto a pile of hardcover books.

In the reading of the x-rays, the technician announced, “No breaks now, but I see you have an old break in your pubic bone.” DAMN! Four years ago I suffered another painful fall that put me in the hospital, where a near-sepsis infection, of which I was unaware, was discovered.

The fall saved my life but the price was high as I walked around in agony for weeks, insisting it had to be broken, despite what the x-rays showed. I wonder what future x-rays will say about my coccyx!

[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 Blockbuster Reader Story and Alex and Ronni Show

As author of yesterday's Reader Story, officerripley, certainly hit a chord with denizens of Time Goes. Lots of other readers joined in with related personal stories, useful information and no small amount of wisdom.

If you missed it, officerripley's story and the comments are all worthy of your time to read about finding our tribes in old age.

There was a consensus among some who commented that this blog is kind of a tribe of its own and some wondered how readers who get to know one another via those comments could be put in touch with one another in person or, at least, email.

We tried that a month or two ago when I explained how I would put one reader in touch with another if both agreed. After all the setup, I received only one request.

Due to how easily I tire these days because of my breathing difficulty, I can't take that on again right now, but remind me in a month or so and if enough people are interested, we might give it another try.

A long while ago, nearly 10 years, when I first moved to Oregon, I held an in-person meet-up at my home. About 10 or 12 local readers came and we had a lovely afternoon.

Yesterday, reader Charlotte Dahl left this note in response to reading about 25 comments before hers:

”Sounds like a family to me. Wouldn't it be great if we could all meet up and form our own tribe? Meanwhile we can still be pen pals.”

As I said, it is a decade later now and with my cancer, breathing, etc., maybe I don't have the energy for it now, but let's see in a month or six weeks. We're in the good-weather period of the year and maybe an in person get-together is something we would like to try - at least for people who are nearby - and perhaps other might be able to do it at the same time in their communities. We could Skype one another's meet-ups.

Now, here is today's episode of The Alex and Ronni Show - this one about a radio program we produced with John and Yoko just about 50 years ago. (The video starts in the middle and I don't know how to fix that. Just move the slider at the bottom to the left to start at the beginning.)




A TGB READER'S STORY: Aunt Vickie

By Janet

Today I’ve been thinking about a lady I used to know. It makes sense that I use the word lady, because it implies a gentle manner and is a word that seems to embody who and how she was.

I think we must have met long before my first recollection of her. Nevertheless, the first time she appears in my memory is on a summer afternoon. Her white-grey hair is carefully combed, as always, and she’s wearing one of her floral cotton summer dresses. The pink and white one, I think it was.

She’s standing in the doorway of her tidy little house, holding the door open for us, smiling and chattering cheerfully. We would come to repeat this ritual many times over several summers, but that first time and how she looked on that day has stayed with me for all these years.

She always seemed genuinely happy to see my mom (Patsy) and us. “Oh, Patsy, how are you? Come on in. Look at all these nice kids. Oh, and here’s my little Jeanne!”

My mom and I and some of my siblings had made the two or three mile walk to her house - an easy trek because it was all downhill (and because I didn’t have a toddler to pick up and carry every so often like my mom did).

After taking our shoes off at the door, we respectfully made our way into her house. It was a curious place to me, neat as a pin and simply decorated with old fashioned furniture and knickknacks.

I remember a figurine that sat on a small table by her green and gold lamp. It was of a woman with a fancy hat and gloves and a very glamorous smile painted across her porcelain face.

In the dining room was a corner shelf that held several elegant flowered teacups with matching saucers. I can still picture the bright colors and delicate handles of the teacups, and how strikingly they stood out against the dark ornate wood of the shelf.

I didn’t think about it then, but today I can imagine her placing each teacup in just the right spot, and how she must have dusted them one by one, carefully returning them to their proper place on the shelf.

Her windows were filled with plants. She was a prolific and gifted gardener; one of the many sweet things about her I didn’t truly appreciate until it no longer was. I’m lucky after all these years to have vivid memories of her flower garden, and of her walking gracefully in and out of the rows of beautiful flowers like a butterfly who didn’t want to miss out on a single one.

She was at home in the middle of all those flowers, chatting happily about which ones were doing well, which would bloom next and what colors they would be, stopping here and there to select just the right blossoms for a pretty and colorful bouquet to send home with my mom.

After a visit to her flower garden she would send us to the neighborhood store for vanilla ice cream. She would open the ice cream carton from the side and slice it like a loaf of bread. It was a special treat when raspberries were in season. She’d put them on our ice cream fresh from her garden. I’d be hard pressed to remember having a better treat before or since.

As I write this, I realize I have an overflow of memories about this sweet lady - too many and too fond to write about in one sitting. So just for now, I will remember her the way she was on those sunny summer afternoons, greeting us with a smile, making sure our visit was pleasant and special the way a gracious hostess does, and sending us off with more smiles, happy chatter, some homemade raspberry jam, and of course, a bouquet of beautiful flowers.

Here’s to you, Aunt Vickie.

* * *

[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: 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.