Category Archives: fiction
It was over. The last person to offer comfort was finally departing down the gravel driveway to head home. Mama had long ago pleaded exhaustion and was lying down in the second bedroom, and I was dismayed with size of the mess. Grumpily, I started picking up the Styrofoam cups that had found their way to every flat surface in Gram’s living room. I carried the first load to the sink and dumped out the half-drunk contents before throwing the empty cups into the trash. Then I went back for more.
As I straightened up the room, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the day. It had been a long one with phone calls beginning at 6 a.m., followed shortly after by the first visitor to Gram’s house. Mama had decided her mother’s house would work as the place for people to gather. It offered more space and better parking than Mama’s condo. The fellowship hall at the Holly Ridge UMC, Gram and Mama’s church was undergoing renovations so it was unavailable. Somehow my grandmother’s little 1200 square foot home on Bluebell Lane had ended up with enough room for everyone. But I suspected it was thanks to her large yard that made it possible.
Despite what they say, the dead can’t wait, at least for a better time to deal with the task of burying them. We discovered, while sitting at the funeral home to finalize preparations for the funeral that Gram’s pastor was out of the country.
“He’s on his honeymoon, Isn’t it just the sweetest thing? They eloped” said Mr. White, the funeral home rep.
“Honeymoon?” Mama asked, “Isn’t Pastor Miller about my mother’s age?”
“He’s 79. He and his bride are in Aruba and won’t be back till next week.” The rep, who’s comb-over dated back to the Nixon era, crossed his hands on the folder that contained the paperwork for the funeral. “Now you can certainly choose to wait till he returns, and if so we can discuss the holding fee..”
“Isn’t there another option?” I asked.
“Well, we do have a list of pastors who rotate on an on call basis for those times then a dearly departed’s regular minister is unable to provide the necessary service.”
I looked over at Mama. She looked utterly worn out. I doubt she had slept 8 hours since leaving the hospital three days ago. She closed her eyes a moment, then said, “Alright. You have our denominational preferences, and I know she would have preferred someone a lot like Pastor Miller.”
Mr. White looked at a sheet of paper on his desk. “Ah, Pastor Eckhart is on call this week. He will perform a wonderful service for your mother,” He opened the folder and pushed some papers over to Mama. “Now if you will sign here, we’ll get everything taken care of just as you asked.”
Mama and I met Pastor Eckhart about fifteen minutes before the funeral. He was at least as old as Pastor Miller and I couldn’t help noticing that most of the hair that had once graced his scalp was instead growing thickly out of his ears. The elderly pastor had been quite soft-spoken as he introduced himself with fifteen minutes to spare before the start of the service. I stood awkwardly by the casket as people I barely knew continued to pay their respects. Friends of my grandmother, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years, and some I didn’t remember hugged me tightly and commented on how much I’d grown while Mama and the pastor stood off to one side speaking. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d long since mastered the growing up part, and didn’t even need permission to stay out late any more. I thought it best to keep my sarcasm tightly reigned, even thought I had inherited that trait from the woman currently in the casket beside me.
“I had to strain to just hear the man speak.” Mama whispered to me as we finally sat down in the front row. The opening measures of It Is Well With My Soul, began to play. “I hope those who have them put fresh batteries in their hearing aids.”
So it was a bit of a shock to the friends and family, most of whom were Methodist and expecting Pastor Miller’s usual gentle words words of comfort to sit through Pastor Eckhart’s funeral service. Instead of a gentle homily, the people packed into the funeral home chapel found themselves subjected to the exuberant style of the fire brand preacher from the First Apostolic Holiness Lighthouse Church.
“At least no one is sleeping through this service.” I had thought as I could feel half the room jump behind me every time Pastor Eckhart banged his bible down onto the pulpit. Sometimes someone would let out a surprised squeak as well. Mama was mortified. She had wanted a quiet service with little fuss. Between the cavalcade of relatives who’d been calling non-stop since getting word Gram’s passing, some of whom had asked at this morning’s viewing for Mama or I to arrange for a place to “lay their heads”, a mix up with which coffin was actually hers and a very enthusiastic preacher, quiet was hardly what Gram’s send off to heaven could be described as. I watched as Mama sat there, hands clasped so tightly together they were white, as she fought back the tears that had been threatening all day.
“Just think Mama,” I whispered to her, leaning so I could be close to her ear. “This will be over soon. Besides, just imagine Gram’s conniption fit over this spectacle. I bet it is taking a whole host of angels having to hold her back so she don’t come right down here and haunt the lot of us. Why, what she’s probably planning for Mr. White is likely giving St. Peter fits.” The pastor stopped in mid-sentence and scowled right at us, as Mama fought to get her laughter under control. He then got over his outrage and continued on about the wages of sin, as my mother took my arm and linked it to hers. She only let go long enough to get in and out of the car for the graveside portion of the service.
Last weekend I went to Florida for one of my grandmother’s funerals. The night before all us grandkids went to her apartment and chose a few mementos to take back home. I took mostly photos, plus a cross stitched item, and a small vase.
Among the photos as a picture of me at about age sixteen.
What you can’t really see in the photo along with the braces is that I’m not squinting from the bright summer sun, but because I refused to take photos with my very thick, geek alert glasses.
Damn, I was skinny back then.
Somewhere, after three kids, a failed marriage, a new marriage to a man who feeds me so he doesn’t have to eat my lousy cooking, a deterioration of those squishy things between my vertebrae, one french fry too many and about 35 years. I now look like this.
Yes, I’ve been Bubble Wrapped by Mother Nature. Well at least that is what I want to call all that squishy padding I am walking around with these days. It could be that Mother Nature finally realized how amazingly accident prone I am, and decided it was about time she took some protective measures on my behalf. A bit late lady, a bit late.
I look back at that skinny girl and remember how awkward I felt, out-of-place, unsure of herself, unattractive and a bit lonely. I was just a few years away from a couple of decades of life of misery, poverty, and real loneliness, thanks to a disastrous marriage that I got myself trapped in. Part of me wishes I could go back to that skinny girl I once was and try to give a big boost to her floundering confidence, as well as warn her away from the man with pretty blue eyes and charisma that hid the evil underneath.
But even if that had been possible, I doubt the younger me would have listened or understood. Instead I honed what was to be one of my better assets, sheer unbridled tenacity. I used it to keep my children as safe and loved as I possibly could, teaching myself another vital skill, optimism, just so I could face yet another day. Meanwhile, ounce by ounce, the bubble wrap started to appear, wrapping me in courage, in hope, in confidence and in an embracing of myself as a geeky, heart on her sleeve wearing introverted pacifist with a quirky sense of humor. When I finally escaped marriage hell, that wrapping prepared me for the next stage of my life, where uncertainty was no longer to be feared, but met head on.
Deep beneath the layers of artery clogging layers of life, too little exercise and too much pizza, that skinny girl still lives, still awkward, sometimes lacking confidence, still questioning her attractiveness, but at peace with her former and her current self. She grouse sometimes about all the layering, that may or may not some day be abated somewhat, but she also knows the value of what it portrays. Somewhere along the line she discovered happiness and to be comfortable in her own skin, even if that skin was never going to ever have that much public exposure.
Jack crushed his cigarette into the ashtray then reached for another from the pack that was sitting on the dashboard of his car. Absently, he lit the new cigarette, his second of the two he allowed himself each day, as he stared through the rain washed windshield and into the coffee shop across the street.
Lisa was in there. He’d seen her enter the shop just as he had pulled into his parking slot. She hadn’t seen his car, but then she wasn’t looking for him. As he smoked, he watched her order something from the counter, then walk to one of the tables and sit facing towards the door. She then reached into the satchel she had set on the floor beside her and pulled out a sheaf of papers.
For several minutes, nothing happened. Lisa sat quietly drinking from her cup, as she looked over the papers, pen in hand which she used every so often. It began to rain harder, so Jack turned his ignition to auxiliary so he could turn on his windshield wipers. In between the back and forth movement of the wiper blades, the glare of headlights from passing cars made visibility more difficult. Jack considered getting out of his car for a better view, but he didn’t want to risk being seen by anyone, at least not yet.
Cars passing by on the street caused Jack to remember when he first saw Lisa, on a rainy night much like this one. It had been a fairly quiet evening at the auto parts store where Jack worked. Jack was putting the last remnants of a shipment away, carefully lining up boxes of fuel filters when she entered.
“Can you help me?” She said as she approached the counter.
“What do you need?” Jack replied as he put the last box in place and walked towards her.
“I think I need new windshield wiper blades. The ones I have now are just pushing the rain drops around. I can’t see a thing when it’s raining hard.”
Jack led her to the wiper display. He could see her blue Nissan parked right outside. It was the only one in the lot besides his and his manager’s who was somewhere in the back of the store.
“These should do nicely for you.” He said, picking a package up off the display and handing it to her to look at. He then noticed how short she was, barely coming to his shoulder. Her petite, fragile looking features made her look almost child-like. Only the obvious curves gave clues as to her real age.
“Oh, good. I’ll take them.” She said taking the package from Jack.
She walked with him to the checkout. As he rang her purchase up, she asked him to help put the new blades on her car, admitting a complete lack of skill in that realm. Jack had taken off the old blades and replaced them with the new ones as she stood beside him holding an umbrella over them both. Jack still remembered the smell of her perfume, a light flowery scent that he later learned was of jasmine.
“Thanks so much for all your help.” She had said, climbing into her car.
“Anytime, and come again soon.” It was the standard statement he made to customers every day, but for her he meant it. The scent of her perfume lingered in the store for a few minutes after she left but it stayed in his memory long after she drove off.
Jack had the same wiper blades on his own car and he watched them for a moment as they went back and forth, slowly, consistently stripping the water away to the sides of his windshield. They were worth the premium price you paid for them. He put the cigarette package into the glove compartment, and then took out a container of handi-wipes which he used to remove the last traces of nicotine from his fingers.
Lisa reached into her purse and pulled out her cell phone, looked at it for a moment then set it down on the table. Jack looked at his watch to see what time it actually was. 8:03 the watch read.
“I’m late.” She had said, as she stood on the other side of the gas pump from him. “I’m supposed to be at my friend’s wedding in fifteen minutes and silly me forgot that I needed gas”
“Well you look nice.” Jack had told her from his own side of the pump.
“That’s real sweet, but celery green is not my color.”
Jack didn’t agree. He thought that Lisa’s dress was perfect and displayed her soft curls wonderfully. He loved her hair up with the tendrils hanging down along her face. He wanted to tell her that, but instead said. “I hope you have a great time and pass along my well wishes to the bride and groom.”
“Thanks. I will.” She put the gas nozzle back onto its slot. “I sure hope Gretchen doesn’t mind the smell of gasoline, because I feel that I reek of it.”
“I have some hand wipes that may help.” Jack said quickly.
“Really? Oh that would be wonderful. Can I have one?”
Jack opened his door, reached into glove compartment and got a wipe out for Lisa. She used it on her hands and then started to walk to the nearby trashcan to throw out.
“Oh I’ll throw that away for you.” Jack had said. “You’re late for a wedding remember?”
“Yes I am. Thanks again.”
Too soon, Lisa climbed into hers and drove off, with a hand waving goodbye through the window. Jack had folded the used sanitation wipe Lisa handed to him, and put it into his pocket. Read the rest of this entry
It’s time to load the car. I strap in the toddler into her car seat, making sure she has a toy handy, and then make sure the luggage is stowed, snacks for the kids are packed and easily accessible, then the kids and the dog are all loaded and ready for their trip to Grandma’s. Everyone is all excited about spending the weekend, even the dog who barks repeatedly at every tree you pass by on our way out of the sub-division. Likely he has deduced that this is one car trip that he is allowed to go on that doesn’t require a visit to the vet.
Ten minutes into the journey, the toddler begins to wail, which quickly escalates to high pitched screams. The dog soon joins in while the other kids are trying to tell little sis to stop. She is ignoring the pleas of her siblings. Apparently my youngest can’t find her stuffed kitty. That stuffed kitty goes everywhere with my three year old, She sleeps with it, plays with it, takes it with her on all important journeys, like to the bathroom. It is her constant and most important companion. A quick search reveals no stuffed kitty anywhere in the mini-van. I can see the interstate on-ramp just yards away. There’s no way we are going back, knowing good and well that Grandma has plenty of toddler friendly toys at her house.
The stuffed kitty was lying on the sidewalk right where my darling daughter had dropped it on the way to the car. The 10 year old also decided that she had to go to the bathroom, so I gave her the house key and told her to hurry. That quick potty trip had taken 15 minutes because she was looking for a Barbie to take along. I then sent in the 14 year old to fetch her. He too was taking his time. Meanwhile my darling spouse is making huffing noises, and periodically honking the horn in frustration. Sighing, I go in and get those kids back in the car. Forty-five minutes later, we are pulling out of the driveway again.
As soon as we hit the interstate the question is asked “Are we there yet?” No, I tell the querying child, and go on to explain that the trip will last a few awhile yet. All is quiet in the car…for about fifteen minutes.
“Mom, Tell her to stop touching me!” The eldest implores.
“Tell him to get out of my space, he’s sitting way too close!” the younger one retorts
‘”Make her move Mom; I can feel her breathing on me!”
“Its air and I can breathe on you if I want!”
“Both of you stop right now and move apart from each other by three inches each!” I command. A moment passes, and I hear the younger child murmur sadistically “Not touching you, not touching you, not touching you…”
I turn around and catch my child with finger millimeters from her brother, my son with a murderous look on his face. “Stop it both of you!”
Two minutes later, someone asks “Are we there yet?”
Forty five minutes into the trip, the kids have decided they are hungry. Never mind that I fed them before I left the house, they know there are snacks in the car and they must have them or suffer the consequences of starvation. Even the toddler, who has yet to fall asleep, is demanding Cheetos. In no time at all a week’s worth of junk food is consumed and someone needs to go to the bathroom really, really bad.
Twenty minutes later, our van pulls out of the rest stop. My bladder is thankful, and I am chiding myself for not having gone on that return trip to the house. The dog got to visit a tree, and almost made a break for the woods behind the rest stop when he saw the squirrel that was just asking to be chased. As soon as the car gets up to speed with the rest of the traffic I hear “Are we there yet?”
It doesn’t take long for yet another sibling spat to start up. This time it is over whose turn it is to play with the hand held video game.
“Mawwwoom! Tell her to give me the game. She’s been playing since we left the house. It’s my turn.”
“No I haven’t! I didn’t play when we were at the rest stop. I had to take care of the dog.”
About this time, my spouse who has been mostly silent until now says in a gruff voice, “You kids need to be quiet. Daddy is trying to concentrate on getting through this traffic.” Looking ahead, I see four cars and a dump truck.
Breaking the concentration of a man reaching his destination is something best not done. He is a man on a mission. The goal is Grandma’s and delays such as bathroom breaks, hungry children or dogs horking up Cheetos the toddler fed him is just going to add to the frustration of achieving the destination on time, hopefully shaving a few minutes off his record. Yes, he keeps score.
At least Dad’s input into the sibling rivalry works. The kids are quiet, the game has been confiscated and the toddler looking sleepy. It looks like the other two may be settling down for some snooze time as well. I finally get to open that new best seller I’ve wanted to read when I hear. “Are we there yet?”
I manage to get through a whole chapter when two things happen, I smell something horrific. Then I hear. “EWWWWW! You farted!”
“Who-ever smelt it dealt it and I didn’t do it!”
” Who-ever denied it supplied it! It must be you!”
“Was too!” In the meantime the windows are being rolled down as the aromatic offerings by the anonymous offender are diffused from the car. I look over at my husband. He has a smirk on his face. Why is he looking like that? I wonder…”Oh!” I retaliate by aiming all the air vents in his direction and turning the AC on high.
Soon, the words “I gotta go” are heard, spoken by the three year old at the same time I hear the now inevitable “Are we there yet?” I ignore the second question and look over to my spouse who announces “Well, we are getting a bit low on gas.” He then passes the next eight exits because he’s not about to pay THAT much a gallon, while mine and my daughter’s agitation grows. Finally he decides that he’s not going to find a better price for gas considering the best price he saw was nine exits ago and pulls into a station.
I unstrap the toddler from her seat and rush her into the bathroom with seconds to spare. It is only after she’s in full pee mode that I discover the disgusting state of the stall. I use an entire box of wipes to get her clean to my sanitation standards and head back to the car, only to find it empty. That is because we are at a truck stop that contains a gift shop and a fast food restaurant. My family is standing in line for food, while the oldest tries his hardest to catch a glimpse of the girlie magazine display without notice from any grownup.
Forty five minutes, two more bathroom trips by family members and 20,000 calories later we are all full and on the way again. I wait for it and am not disappointed when I hear “Are we there yet?” ten minutes into the next leg of the journey.
Eventually we reach our destination and are welcomed by Grandma and Grandpa as the kids pour out of the car and the dog jumps out of the van and begins to grace the lawn with his presence. The older kids head immediately to the pool. They apparently have planned one thing in advance and are already peeling off shirts and shorts revealing the bathing suits hidden underneath. My husband goes in the direction of the television. He is muttering something under his breath about at least being able to watch the post-game highlights. I am left with the toddler, the dog and all that luggage. My youngest, who has just awakened looks up at me with sleepy eyes and says with a lisp. “Are we there yet?” “Yes Sweetie, we are.” I answer, kissing the top of her head. I hand her off to grandma, deciding to make everyone help unload later, and head into the house. I know where the good ice cream is hidden.