Friday, September 24, 2010

All in the Family

My oldest brother put his hand on my shoulder.  “Want my paper route?  Since I leave for college in August?”

I nibbled a fingernail.  Regular spending money ("The tips are great!")?  Something to do besides watch Gilligan’s Island every afternoon, Monday through Friday?

I grinned.  “Sure.”

“Fold the left side over two to three inches,” he said.  “Crease it.  Then roll the right side toward it and tuck it inside.”

My brother, Mike, stood at the curb and tossed the paper roll onto Mr. Waugh’s porch.  I whistled in admiration.

He gave me a thumb’s up.  “Rubber bands and plastic bags are for sissies.”

He took the big canvas bag with the wide, bright orange strap off his shoulder and held it out to me. 

“You carry it.  So you get used to it.”

Two weeks later he left. For Concord College. 

“Can I talk to Mike?” I asked Dad when he made the usual Sunday night phone call.

Dad handed me the phone.

“How often do you miss Ms. Thorn’s paper box?”  I said.

Mrs. Thorn lived on North Queens Court.  She had at least eight dogs.  Eight dogs and their poo piles.  And the reek of their poo piles.  There was a chain link fence all around her yard.  You had to throw the paper into a two foot by two foot box on her porch, so the dogs wouldn’t shred it.  If you missed, you had to go into the yard and fetch it.  The dogs weren’t mean, you just had to navigate your way through the poo pile landmines and the gauntlet of wagging tails.  I’d pet the pups with one hand and pinch my nose with the other.

“Can I talk to Mike again?” I said to Dad the next Sunday.

He held out the phone.

“Guess what, Mike?  Mr. Perkins on Green Oak Drive said he’ll give me his antique Karmann Ghia, the robin’s egg blue one, not the Atomic Fireball red one, when I grow up.”

Mike huffed.  “Don’t believe it for a second.”

I stuck my lip out.  “Really? 'Cause I love it.  He says when I get my license—“

“Does he hold your hand a long time when he pays you?”

My eyebrows went up.  “How’d you know?”

“Be careful with him, okay?” my brother said.  “Maybe take someone with you when you collect money.  Promise?”

In the summertime, on really hot days, Mrs. Fitzgerald always let me spray myself with her garden hose.

“That’ll cool you off,” she’d say. 

When it was super muggy she’d offer me a glass of iced tea and we’d chat in the breezeway between her house and garage.  Then I’d cut through her yard to get over to Locust Street.  Four boys lived in the house behind hers.  

“Woo hoo!” the youngest one always said.  “Wet t-shirt.  I like it.”

He wouldn’t say that if his mom was on the porch.  Sometimes in the fall she’d give me an old Big Bear bag.

“Get you some chestnuts, honey.  I know how you love them.”

I usually gave her a free newspaper.  She always tried to pay me for it. 

“Don’t worry about it,” I’d say.  “They always put one extra in my bundle.”

“Hey, Dad,” I said.  “Let me tell Mike about the dogs that attacked Holly last week.”

Mike growled.  “The black and white Great Danes over on Linden Circle?"

"Yeah.  How'd you know?  The lady came outside to write her check, but she didn't shut the screen door good.  The dogs tore out of the house, and they were on Holly like rice at a wedding."

Holly was our Heinz-57-mostly-Beagle dog.

I heard Mike inhale through his nose.  “How’s Holly?”

“Her tail might be broke, but she’s okay.  I beat the tar out of 'em with rolled up newspapers, and they backed off. I think the lady felt bad 'cause she gave me a five dollar tip.”


“You calling Mike tonight?” I asked Dad.

He dialed and pressed the phone into my palm.

“I busted my lip on the route on Friday,” I told Mike.


“You know the last house on the route?  At the bottom of Locust, before Norway Avenue?  And how there’s that bent over fence in between it and the house next door?”


“I pretended like I was a horse jumping it, but my foot got hung on the lip of it.  I busted my knees to beat all, and my hips are black and blue now."

Mike groaned.  “Bummer.”

“Oh, that’s not the worst part,” I said.  “My bottom teeth went through my lower lip. Mom thought I might need stitches, but I talked her out of going to the emergency room.  I hate needles.”

“You’re doing a great job with my route, you know,” my big brother said.  “I’m proud of you.”

I handed the phone back to my dad.  Wrapped my arms around my belly and smiled.

I kept the paper route for years.  Blew pretty much all my profits on Certs, candy cigarettes, and wax lips at the Convenient Mart.  Mr. Perkins never did give me the cute blue Kharmann Ghia.  His wife gave him a divorce though.

Then one day John, another one of my big brothers, said, “Want my job?  At Biscuit World?  Since I’m starting Marshall soon?”

I tapped at my front teeth with my fingernail.  A weekly paycheck?  Air conditioning?  All the made-from-scratch-biscuits you can eat?

I grinned.  “Sure!”

Friday, September 17, 2010

The One That Got Away

I had friends, best friends, ‘til God cast us far and wide. He flicked his wrist hard, and we scattered like so many Pick Up Sticks. None of us touched, not geographically anyway. Hefty phone bills and no time to write widened the distance between us. We didn’t have a choice, did we? We had to start over. In new places. With new women.

“Do you wanna be best friends? Just you and me? Do ya? Do ya? Huh? Huh?”  I didn’t answer right away. Didn’t look at her either. I fiddled with my daughter’s onesie snaps. Pretended to give my friend privacy while she nursed her baby. Her question surprised me. Made me feel claustrophobic. Like if I said yes, it would be me and her in a jar with a lid on, and a cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover. That’s how my oldest brother used to get bugs, for his collection. I turned away slightly and cupped my hand to push air into my mouth. So I could breathe. Then she moved. Far away.

“Guess what?” my best-friend-first-through-twelfth-grade said when I answered the phone. “I have unlimited long distance calls. We can talk like, every day now.” And we did for awhile. ‘Til I blew it. We got in this tiff, of all things, about her religion and my faith. When she said that one thing just so, I was pretty sure it was over. I heard the word never come out of my mouth even though my personal philosophy is to never say never.  She was silent, and I saw our friendship, like an egg, roll across a surface that wasn’t level, but tilted ever so slightly downhill.

I met another gal at my son's pre-school. She had the best cheekbones ever, but something shadowed her. All the time. One day I figured out what it was--fear. I got used to it though—her scaredy-cat aura. It seemed to lessen the more we hung out. Our kids got taller.  We grew closer. At one point though, in my mind, I pretended to be a traffic cop. I held my arm out, flexed at the wrist. Stop. Don’t come any closer. ‘Cause I don’t think we have enough in common. See, she didn’t paint her nails, wear lipgloss, or love shoes. I could tell her anything, but somehow that didn't seem like enough. We telephoned and emailed a whole lot, but I knew, even if she didn’t, that I’d put SaranWrap around my heart. She moved away, just for a year, but still . . .

                                                    A   L   O   N   E   (L   Y)   N   E   S   S

The gal I said no to visited the other day. We sat side by side on the sofa. You’re more like me than anyone I know. I smiled as my kids laughed with hers. Only thing is, you don’t wear mascara. She hugged me before she got in the car to leave. “It’s like I never left.” I stepped back and nodded. Watched them drive away.  Ask me that question again. I’ll say yes this time.

When we found out my pa-in-law had super bad cancer, I called my best friend from childhood. “Tell me all that stuff you do again,” I said. “The natural, organic, herbal, and homeopathic stuff.”


I winced. “Really. And maybe-- Maybe we should do that thing people say.”

Her voice sounded farther away than three hours. “What thing?”

“You know, the ‘Never discuss religion and politics’ thing.”

I pictured her on the other end of the phone. She'd lift her chin as she got it. “You think?”

“Yeah.  I do.”

Things are better now.  We're almost to the place we were before. There’s still this creek that divides the lands of my belief and hers. But after six years, the bridge is coming along nicely.

I threw a welcome-home-unload-the-U-Haul party when my one friend moved back. See, despite phone calls, emails, and texts, I missed her. A whole lot. As I walked up her driveway I wondered if she’d be able to tell the difference.  That the SaranWrap’s gone now.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I almost lost it--my sanity, my togetherness—when the song came on. “This is what it means to be held.  How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life.” I covered my mouth. So she wouldn’t hear the sound of my desperation. I pushed my sunglasses up, thankful for them. She was awake. She might be watching. I need Superglue. I blinked back tears. ‘Cause I’m falling apart.

I focused on I-270. Is war like this? My brow furrowed. Where’d that come from? But I knew. The trip to the airport felt as if I was going to certain death. Like Prince Caspian and the Narnians. Before the fighting trees showed up. Like Aragorn and King Theoden at Helms Deep.  Before Gandalf arrived with the Rohirrim. Like us.  Before Jesus came.

For a week, maybe two, I had a ritual. Let my eyes burn. Allow a few tears to fall. Then I stopped ‘em. You can cry all you want, the day after. Keep it together for now. So she won’t see. Don’t soak her dream with your sorrow.

I almost failed. Husband asleep. Little guy reading. Our oldest daughter looked out the window. Then that dang song came on. The girl sang about the sacred being ripped from your arms. The SUV swerved as I lost my grip on the steering wheel for a second. I eased the car back to the center of the lane. Set my face like flint.

At the airport Daddy saved the day. He leaned over the counter.  “Her flight’s been pushed back,” he told the customer service representative. “She’ll never make her connect. Can you put her on the—"  He glanced at his watch. “The one that leaves in 20 minutes?” It was accomplished.

We sprinted to the escalator. What if she gets stuck in security? My breath came in gasps. What if her plane crashes? I put my hand under her backpack, heavy with books. Tried to bear some of its weight so she wouldn't have to.  We didn’t get to pray for her. One last time. I struggled to keep up. If she cries, I will lose it. I'm serious.  Right here. In front of all these people.

At the turnstile she faced us. I felt as if I was breathing in a plastic bag. My eyes shone with unborn tears. This is it.

I laid my hands on her hair.  Dug my fingers into the curly mass.  “Oh, God! Cover everything.” Spirit, please pray what I don’t know how to.

And she was gone. She didn’t look back. Did she not want to be Lot’s wife?

The next morning I couldn’t move. I felt almost bound. Like a thick blanket was on me. A weighty covering. It was warm.  Expensive. I don’t know how I knew it was costly, but I did. I pulled my arms out and stroked the luxurious softness.  Without looking, I could tell it was silvery aqua. Gorgeous. I inhaled. Identified the fragrance as lilies and lemons. Then I knew. What it was. It’s peace.  And grace.

I smiled and opened my eyes. That's when I remembered.  The rest of the song. “This is what it means to be held.  How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life. And you survive.”


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