Boys and Girls

At the table over tonight’s dinner, I put my hands on my growing belly. I sigh and lean back in my chair.
My husband Marty looks up from his crab salad. “Well, it’s only about a month more, isn’t it?”
“Yep.” I nod and smile at him, happy to be having a child.
“I do hope it’s a boy,” he says. “What do you think?”
“I do, too, if that’s what you hope for.”
Marty leans back in his chair, looking satisfied and takes a bite of the salad.
My mind wanders, considering the future. I’m not sure how I would do with a little girl. All my life I was surrounded by boys—father and two brothers Gary and Tim, doing their boy things–whooping it up, going to ball games, fighting to see who was the strongest. Mom and I were not a match for them. It seemed that whenever a decision was to be made, one of the boys or Dad made it. My mother held back, tentative as she usually was, and the the boys had their way as if it were promised them at birth.
I learned to do as my mother did–to take the back seat, to say “no thank you” when offered the last piece of cake, to go to a ball game instead of to the city for shopping. The boys always held sway. They learned to express themselves, take chances, abandon caution, and assert their position. Mom was on the side of acquiescence, of keeping the peace. In those days I followed in her footsteps as the only way I knew for a girl like me.
In summertime we took our vacations in the Rocky Mountains, an hour’s drive from our home. We loved the brisk mountain air, the aroma of the pines and the clear blue skies. The year I turned thirteen we rented a cabin next to a rushing stream in Estes Park. My dad loved to fish and often came home with a enough for a good trout dinner.
“Come on, guys, we’re going fishing,” said Dad, waving his hand to include me.
I looked at Mom and she nodded. “Go ahead. You all have fun!”
Dad, my brothers and I took off in the station wagon and made a stop at the bait shop. “Fish are biting this year,” they told us. We bought live worms and shiny lures designed especially for trout.
“We’re all set,” said Dad. “Let’s catch us a good dinner!”
Dad found a flat spot alongside a rushing stream where we stopped and unloaded our fishing gear. My brothers and I prepared our rods with the bright trout lures and worms and chose our positions along the stream.
I planted myself on the bank and watched the glistening water as it rushed over the boulders. When I threw my fishing line out over the water, it wavered in the breeze, then settled down into the current. I watched and waited. When there were no nibbles, I tried again and again.
Finally I felt a tug, saw the pole dip, and my father called out, “You got one! Pull it up! Pull it up!” Dad rushed over to track every movement of my line. I held tight and pulled the line just enough to make sure the fish was hooked for good.
“Bring him in! Bring him in!” Dad shouted.
I gripped the pole and reeled in the line till I could see the fish come out of the water. It writhed on my line, my hook in its mouth, its rainbow scales shining.

“Good girl,” my father said, beaming and puffing up as if he had caught the trout himself. The boys each caught one, too, but I smiled to myself; mine was the biggest one. At the end of our day, we proudly showed off our catch to Mother. She ooh-ed and ahh-ed like it was the first time she ever saw such a catch, and we basked in the glory of our successful expedition.
Mother and I were left to clean the fish and fry it over the old stove while Dad read the local paper and the boys took up their comic books.
Mother laid out the three fish on the cutting board. “Oh, these fish are beautiful,” she said, “and this one is so big!”
“That’s the one I caught,” I tell her with a note of pride. I waited for her to ooh and aah some more, but she just shook her head. “Here, slice them open. Be careful of the knife.”
I sliced each fish along the bones and cleaned all of them, while my face burned in shame. Should I not be bragging about my catch?
I handed the cleaned fish to my mother and she fried them up on the iron stovetop. At dinner we sat around the small kitchen table and Mom set down a plate of freshly fried fish in the center next to the potato salad.
Dad set his cowboy hat aside and looked at Mother, grinning. “A fine catch, wouldn’t you say, Helen?”
“A fine catch indeed,” she said, beaming across the table at my brothers. They drank it all in, each nodding and taking another bite.
Nobody mentioned my part in the expedition, so I kept my sense of satisfaction to myself. That’s the way it should be. A girl has got to learn what it is to coexist with the boys, to balance herself on the tightrope between pleasing them and holding her own. Hanging tight and not falling.
Now at the table I glance at my husband, rub my belly again and lean in. “Marty,” I say, a bit louder than necessary, “if we have a girl, she’s going to keep up with you boys.”
He looks at me a little puzzled, then nods and takes a swallow of wine. “What’s for dessert?”

By Gail Field

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Sex in the 60’s

“No way!” I said, louder than I intended. “You and Frank went all the way?” My sixteen-year-old best friend, Nancy, had just admitted to having first-time sex with her boyfriend.
“Shhh,” she said, closing her bedroom door.
“What was it like?” I whispered, too stunned to wait for confirmation.

It was l965. Sex talk was whispered only to close girlfriends and, even then, only when there were no adults within earshot. The dirty deed, as one friend called it, was a forbidden act reserved for married couples only—unless you were male, then the boys will be boys rule applied.

Growing up in the gender-specific fifties and sixties defined my father as head of the household and the breadwinner who disappeared into the workforce Monday through Friday. My apron-wearing mother wiped noses, cleaned house, cooked meals, polished our shoes, and shared with me her hard-earned words of wisdom including, “you just make men think they’re the boss, honey.” My brothers rode bikes with a playing card attached to the spokes, owned Bee-bee guns, played Little League, and gathered on the school playground during recess for a game of marbles. My sisters and I cut-out paper dolls, ironed my father’s handkerchiefs, watched our brothers play Little League, and wore dresses to school. Girls wearing jeans or any other form of long pants were against the rules, no matter how cold it might be. I knew to address the parents of my friends as Mr. or Mrs. and if I accidentally let a ‘bad’ (curse) word slip out, I was on the receiving end of a stinging lip-thump via my mother’s thumb and index finger.

My expected teen-role during this era was to earn an “A” in Home Economics (I got a “C”), wear a panty girdle (a sixties version of a chastity belt), and to slap boys if they got “fresh.” All of which played an important role in establishing one’s reputation as a good girl. For my teenage brothers, it was auto shop, bullying bookworms (nerds), and getting a girl to “first base” (breast fondling). These conquests earned them admiration and locker-room bragging rights as a bad boy.

My sex education came by way of my mother (sorta) when I was thirteen. She lay soaking under the bubbles in the bathtub while I sat on the closed lid of the toilet. Privacy was hard to come by when you lived in a house with five children, your parents, and one bathroom.
“Do you know how women get pregnant?” my mother asked.
“Yes,” I responded, avoiding eye contact by pretending to admire my freshly painted toenails.
“Do you have any questions?” She asked, putting me in the position of having to decide whether or not I could say words like penis, sexual intercourse, and vagina and not provoke a lip-thump.
“No,” I said, thankful my older brother (when we were eleven and ten) had already explained what going all the way meant…sorta.
“You know how Aunt Norma got pregnant,” my brother had asked, smug over his knowing and my not knowing. “Uncle Harold put his you know what in Aunt Norma’s po-po. So if you want one baby, you do it once; if you want twins you do it twice.” I now knew this explanation wasn’t exactly right-on, but for the moment it was close enough.
After a long silence, my mother put a strong emphasis on the word ‘free’ when she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You know what they say, why buy the cow when the milk’s free?” I assured her I understood with a silent nod and made my exit. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

The True Romance magazines my mother kept hidden under her bed took my sex education to the next level and later it was my friend Nancy who, as I mentioned at the start, had first-hand experience. Nancy’s response to my “what was it like?” had been, “Awful. It hurt.” I was mortified. In all of my mother’s romance magazines, there had been vivid descriptions of bliss and dizzying ecstasy. I made a silent vow to join a convent.

“I’m never going to go all the way,” I told my mother, after sharing Nancy’s experience with her.
“It’s only awful if you go all the way in the back seat of a car,” she said, but I didn’t change my mind about becoming a nun until she followed it up with, “and it doesn’t hurt, if you’re married.” I was so relieved!

Because the subject matter was considered taboo, sex education for most of my friends was limited to each other and school rumors. French kissing or occupying a toilet seat after a boy (if it was still warm) was thought to be a pregnancy risk while drinking a can of Mountain Dew before partaking in the dirty deed was a sure-fire means of birth control.

Pregnant teens were considered a bad influence on the other girls so until they gave birth, home-schooling was their only educational choice. When the once popular Nancy left her newborn in the care of her parents and returned to school, she was snubbed by the same girls she had been friends with for years. They feared boys would see them as an easy target if they maintained their friendship with a bad girl. Sadly, they were correct. High school mindset was that any girl who went all the way would thereafter always be ready, willing, and able with anyone, anytime, any place; and so would her friends. When I questioned my mother about the injustice of this ostracism, she said, “The only difference between Nancy and the rest of those girls is she got caught, and they didn’t. If you’re truly her friend, you’ll stand by her.”

When Nancy attempted to re-enroll in her favorite basketball class, she was informed she wouldn’t be able to participate in Physical Education (PE) because she’d had a baby. “It’s too dangerous physically,” Coach said. In spite of her love for the sport, she pretended she didn’t care and worked hard to complete the rest of her required coursework. When graduation day came, I put on my cap and gown and went to ceremonies without her. The school principal had called and informed her parents she was a half unit short of meeting graduation requirements. The missing half unit was for PE.

Years later I convinced Nancy to return to the high school to find out what she needed in order to get her diploma. Without it, her finding much-needed employment was next to impossible. When the new principal reviewed her file and saw she was lacking a half-unit for a PE class, he signed off on her coursework and handed her the diploma. Her bad girl status had no doubt been the underlying reason she was barred from graduation ceremonies.

“Not fair,” I said to my mother. I was furious. Hiring an attorney and suing for discrimination wasn’t an option back then and even if it had of been, it wouldn’t have undone what was already done. Mother’s hard-earned words of wisdom were limited to, “Life isn’t easy. Which is why you shouldn’t be either.”

By the time I entered my twenties, men’s hair grew longer and women’s skirts grew shorter. Then communes popped up and free love challenged the earlier and stricter codes of sexual behavior—the sexual revolution had begun.

Though my sex education in the early sixties was limited to romance magazines, my best friend’s perils, and my mother’s metaphors I will forever be thankful for all three. Without them not only would I not have learned how friendship is only a word—until you give it meaning, but I would have missed seeing the consequences of giving in to hormones at too young of an age. Worst of all, my sex education would have been limited to my older brother’s knowledge and the sexual tittle-tattle of my high school friends…OMG!

By Kathi Hiatt

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Swept Away

Dear Jacob,
I confess I sometimes want to forget you. Do you also?
I was twenty-five years old; you were forty when we met. Every year that has since passed, your place in my life has changed, and what I felt with you thirty years ago has metamorphosed from exhilaration to an undefined irreplaceable comfort.
I often set the clock aside and think of that night when we were swept away.

It’s eleven o’clock in California, and I write this letter in the belief it will never see the light of day. No one except you knows of the existence of our love. I still have the coral necklace you gave me and wear it when I am blue.
Do you remember you asked me why I loved you? I didn’t know the answer then but I know now. I loved you because of your gypsy ways, your estrangement from society. I loved you because you doubted everything. They said you were a beast, reckless, outrageous. I found you only generous and loving.
The setting sun had set the sea alight when you told me you had a family. I had one too, but I fell short. I did not want to sign you off, so I let you think I was free to love you. The glint of gold in the earring you wore in your left ear mesmerized me. You were aware how handsome I found you with your dark flowing hair, your brooding eyes.
We made love under the stars on that lonely island, and the passion of a lifetime seemed compressed into those few hours. We forgot who we were and let the tides sweep us away.
After I met you, I tried to read everything which had been written about the lives of the indentured Indians who came to these islands looking for a better life. Did your grandfather know that freedom would come at a price, and growing sugar cane for the white masters, his children and grandchildren would feed this land with their blood? You described your hunger when you stole a chicken and cooked it on a treacherous fire of sticks. The overseer discovered you and beat you until you could no longer sit on the bullock you rode to plow the fields.
Your life had been hard, but you were still full of hope for your children. You had put yourself through night school and found a job, but restlessness like in a chained beast still possessed you.
When I came out on the hotel terrace that night I was with other girls, but you were looking only at me. You recognized me in spite of my western clothes – I was someone from the country of your ancestors. You had never been outside of your island, but you knew there was another world where the free Indians lived.
A week became a fortnight but our hunger refused to be satiated. I knew I had to stop now because if I did not, I was never going to. The day came when I told you I was leaving your island, and I told you about this other life which was going to keep me away from you. You did not reply. You just looked away at the tumultuous sea.
You put the coral necklace you had brought for me around my neck.
I had nothing to give you in return.
I knew you’d never be allowed to come to the mainland. After I left I knew you tried to find me through my unlisted phone, searched for me through the memberships of the medical societies I belonged to, and you wrote to my alma mater whose ivy-covered walls protected me.
I never wanted to meet you again.
I wanted to remember us the way we were when we were swept away.

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The Naiad’s Tale

Ears—the fennec cub was a ball of puppy fur with enormous ears and a long, pointed nose. Cyrene cuddled him to her breast as the little fox squirmed to get free. She nuzzled him with her cheek and got the end of her nose nipped. “Damon, that was bad. What am I going to do with you?” She set him on the moss-covered ground, and he began tugging at the hem of her filmy gown. “Damon, stop that. Now, it’s time for a nap. Be still.” She laid her head on the soft tuft of velvety moss, closed her eyes, and let the sound of gently falling water lull her to sleep. The body of the little animal felt warm against her side.

The harsh scream of a hawk woke her in a panic. Feeling for Damon and not finding him, she leaped to her feet and called his name. The hawk screeched again, and she saw that there was nothing in those wicked talons. She began a frantic search for her precious pet before the sharp-eye raptor spotted him first. Following the stream against the flow of the diaphanous water, she called his name desperately.

“Gaia, have you seen my Damon?” she asked the dryad of the oak grove.

“It’s not my job to keep track of your suitors,” the haughty tree nymph retorted.

“No, Damon is a baby fox that Aeolus gave me at the Dionysia on the full moon last.”

Gaia laughed cruelly. “What sense does it make to give a water nymph a fox? He should have given you an otter.”

Cyrene contorted her elfin face. “Go suck an acorn.”

“Give yourself a thrill, Cyrene, douche with tadpoles.”

“Oh, go back in your knothole.” Cyrene stamped her foot and continued up the stream calling her dear pet’s name.

Near the place where the brook bubbled from the rocks, she spied a blur of reddish brown. The little beast’s ears perked at the sound of his name, and he looked at the willowy girl who ran to catch him. Damon turned and darted into the grotto.

“I’ve got you now,” Cyrene said laughing. She picked her way across the stepping-stones cool and slick beneath her bare feet. The joyful water frolicked from the fountain in the center of the brooding cavern. Little Damon taunted her from the wet stone floor at the back of the smallish hollow. “You can’t get away from me now,” she giggled as she splashed through the last few steps in the pool.

But Damon wasn’t finished with the game. His tiny paws thumped on the damp floor as he vanished behind a boulder. Cyrene sprinted after her playmate. To her dismay, he vanished into the blackness of a hidden chasm there.

“Damon, you come out of there this instant. If I have to come to get you, I’ll bump my head on the low ceiling or fall into some bottomless pit.”

The little fox made no sound.

With a sigh, the girl flipped her golden tresses behind her shoulders and started into the Stygian darkness feeling her way along the humid walls. She focused her mind on her sisters of the stagnant waters. She sent a plea to the fens and marshes, cupped her hands, and opened them to release the faerie light. A bluish ball of cool light danced on her palm. It barely vanquished the gloom but offered enough illumination to spare her cracking her skull on the jagged ceiling.

The flickering orb of light also made Damon’s beady eyes glow. “I see you,” she tittered, and the tiny fox turned again to flee deeper into the inky labyrinth. Cyrene followed by the glow the cold fire, but it rolled from her hand and bounced along the floor. Blue became green. It flared and subsided to blue again with perhaps some orange. In the brief flash of brightness, she saw it—a face, creased and leering. “Oh,” she gasped, “who are you?”

“Are we lost, little girl?” a disembodied voice asked from the darkness.

“I’m looking for my baby fennec, Damon.”

The marsh light twinkled to life and floated around her head. She could see nothing beyond its feeble glow.

“Are we lost, I say?” the voice had an unpleasant edge of mirth.

“I don’t think so. As soon as I catch Damon, I’ll go back the way I came.”

“Did you come this way?” The will-o‘-the-wisp swished sidewise as if thrown by an unseen hand. “Or that way?” The purplish fire blazed in front of her in the opposite direction. At each end of the arc, she saw the gaping maw of a divergent tunnel.

“I don’t think I came from either of those passages.” She felt confused and frightened.

“Are we lost then, little girl?” the voice in the darkness cackled.

“Again, I don’t think so, but if you might help me catch Damon, I’ll be out of your way.”

“If we catch the little beast, we eats it.”

“No,” Cyrene wailed. “He’s hardly got a morsel of flesh on his tiny body.” She tried to capture the shimmering constellation of light. Her hand went right through it. Shadowy palms reached from obscurity, engulfed, and extinguished it. The naiad sent her prayers back to her sisters of the stagnant pools, and again the magic fire kindled in her hands. “Damon, Damon,” she called, and heedless of the scarcely seen menace, resumed her pursuit of the impish canine. Her fen fire flared once more, pulsing yellow and revealing the malign features.

“Your precious tidbit did not come this way, little girl.”

“Well, which way did he go then?” She stood rigid feeling her imperious side return.

“Which way will you go, little girl?”

“Stop calling me little girl. I’ll have you know, I am the daughter of a king.”

“Doesn’t make you any less of a little girl, and now you’re a lost little girl who cannot even find my supper.”

“I’ll not hear any more of this. Damon is simply not edible. And who are you anyway?”

The murky countenance faded into the gloom. Cyrene tried to thrust the globe of light toward it, but the bauble of blue morphed green and pink and tumbled from her tenuous grasp. She followed the feeble source of light if only to stay in its comforting sphere.
A plaintive yip froze her. She swatted at the glowing cluster and succeeded in swishing it in the direction of the sound. Tiny eyes burned in the umbra and the diminutive cub cowered on the cold stone. Scooping him into her arms, she embraced his soggy fur while he squirmed and kissed her chin.

“Ah, we have found our victuals, have we?”

“I have found nothing of the sort, whoever you are,” Cyrene tried to sound bigger than she felt.

“Give us a taste.”

“Don’t be absurd. Damon is safe now, and we’re going home, thank you.”

“We are going home, are we? Do we know where home is?”

“We’ll find our way. You needn’t worry.”

“Did you say you came from this way?” As before, the wraith contained the nebulous swamp light and shone it on the entry of a passageway, then swung it toward another. “Or this way?”

“We came from the way we came. I shall simply retrace my steps.”

“Oh, really?” The cluster of scintillating blue pinpricks swept around her colliding with a blank wall. They slid to the floor and recoalesced. “Did you say you came from that way?”
Cyrene’s bluff wilted. “Which way did I come?”

“Little girl is lost. Now we shall have her precious, and we shall have our dinner.”

“No,” she pleaded. “Which way did I come?”

“Little dog first.”

“He’s not a dog, and you shan’t have him. I’ll find my way.” She attempted to gather the recalcitrant ghost-light. It flowed over her hand while she clutched tiny, wriggling Damon with the other.

Invisible fingers pinched her curvaceous haunch. “Succulent. Perhaps we let the bony beast be and dine on the lost little girl.”

The ghostly thumb and finger made her leap and cry, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. I shall no more let you eat me than Damon.”

Cackling, the hideous visage thrust toward her face barely perceptible in the meager radiance. “She won’t let us? However, does she plan to stop us?”

“You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

“We heard that before—daughter of a king. All the more toothsome it sounds.”

Cyrene forced her mind to calm. She let her energy flow with the current sending her will to the fountain that frothed in the grotto spilling gentle water into the brook that was her domain. With her naiad’s will, she bent the course of the obedient fluid. She heard the trickle increased to a torrent, and then to a rapid. The first wave curled around her dainty feet and quickly floated her sheer garment to her thighs. In heartbeats, the surge wafted her on its sacred bosom deeper into the bowels of the earth while sweeping the dreadful mountain nymph with it.

The column of water carrying Cyrene and her beloved, but drenched, fennec pup rose through a rocky chimney while leaving the drowned shell of her nemesis far below. Sweet sunlight warmed her face as the sheltering deluge emerged from the netherworld placing her and her charge gently onto the sandy bottom of a limpid pool. The naiad gracefully unfolded her silky legs, swept her flowing locks from her eyes, and adjusted her transparent gown before taking poor, soaked Damon to the grassy bank where he shook the water from his downy coat. He shivered and supplicated her to take him to her breast. She embraced the fickle little beast that licked her face and once more nipped her nose.

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The Wonderful World of Fiction

When I was young I had a speech and learning disability. At that time, kids with difficulties such as mine were simply thrown into a lower reading group. There was high, medium, low – and then my group.

My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Marshall, saw that the children in the class would laugh at me and exclude me from many of the activities. So, he went out of his way to make me feel special. He chose me as Projector Monitor, which, in the fifth grade was a very prestigious honor. This helped raise my self – esteem and it also raised the respect my classmates had for me.

One day Mr. Marshall took me aside and said, “I know you’re very smart.” Those words meant so much coming from a man who I looked up to. Before then, I had never thought of myself as “smart.” After all, I was the lowest reading group.

My favorite time in class was story time where Mr. Marshall would read and we would sit quietly. I will always remember the day he read the story of a hawk. In the story, you were in the mind of the hawk. I was so intrigued by this, and inspired by the way Mr. Marshall read the words, that I ran to the Library and checked out that book. I used my finger to skim along the words and carefully I pronounced each one. It took me two months to get through it.

After that, I checked out the next book in that series, and it took me one month to read. By the time I finished the entire series, I was reading normally and my speech had greatly improved.

In college I began a tutoring service where I helped children with disabilities similar to my own. I became a professional tutor and even went on to get my M.B.A. and Ph.D.

Several years ago I wrote Mr. Marshall a letter saying, “I want to thank you for changing my life.”

Because of him, I have been ably to help other children, and, about six years ago, I started a Great Books Club where a group of adults gathers monthly to discuss literature. We have read over fifty-two works of fiction, most of which, like Ulysses, the Iliad, and the Odyssey, are classics.

My Earth Angel, Mr. Marshall, inspired me to find confidence within myself. This confidence, throughout the years, has enabled me to share my love of the written word by bringing others into the wonderful world of fiction.


By Michael Reiss

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Teachers and Lessons

As children, we don’t see our teachers as ordinary people. They seem larger than life. When we are older, we realize that they really were larger than life. The valuable gifts teachers give stay with us.

Like the wise old man on the mountaintop, our teachers seem all knowing and their words of wisdom can be powerful enough to last a lifetime. And, like our parents, they discipline, guide, protect, nurture, influence, and serve as role models. However, while parents are Earth Angels to their own children, teachers can be Earth Angels to hundreds. From nursery school to college, there are teachers who go above and beyond the curriculum. They have the ability to see past the textbooks and chalkboards and into the eyes of each of their students. This is the quality that makes them Earth Angels.

While searching for stories, it seemed that almost everyone had something to say about a teacher who had made a profound difference in their life, We even heard a story about a very strict teacher who gave a bad grade on a math test, Years later the former student wanted to thank his teacher for the bad grade. He said, “Because she gave me the grade that I deserved, I kept away from math and pursued my more creative side.”

A story you will read in this chapter, “Miss Vandermark,” shows how deeply a child can be affected by the advice of a teacher, Because of this woman and the care she gives her students, Gerardo, the storyteller, believes that she has prevented many of his classmates from joining gangs. Even though it is years since he has been in her class, she continues to meet ounce a week with him and his friends just to talk about life.

Though many of the lessons we learn while growing up are taught in the classroom, it is most often outside the classroom that we are educated about life. Some of the stories in this chapter illustrate that you don’t have to be a teacher to teach. All of us can be enlightened by the lesson of others.


By Michael Reiss

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A Brief Encounter

I am the president of a small community book club, and when I heard about Lorin and Jerry’s book, I invited them to speak to our group. In preparation for their visit, I called my mother, who is a writer and storyteller, knowing she would have a story for me to offer.

“Mom, you’re full of stories. You’ve been telling and writing stories all my life. Surely you have one about an Earth Angel”.:
“Let me think about this,” she replied. “Well, I’ve written seven-teen stories, but none of them are really about Earth Angels.”

After we concluded our conversation, it suddenly occurred to me that she is an Earth Angel. She was a welfare nurse for the British army during World War II, and the story of her life is the story of an Earth Angel.

I remembered a particular autobiographical piece she wrote called “A Brief Encounter.: It tells how my mother, Edith P. Reiss, took a few moments out of a hectic day to help a stranger. Here is her story…

It was 1962. I had been visiting family and friends in England for over two weeks, and the following mourning I was leaving from Hearthrow Airport on a plane to Miami. On this day, I was traveling onb an underground train in London. I looked at my watch – almost six o’clock; perhaps I would have time to stop on Oxford Street at Selfridges Department store to buy a small gif for my husband.

Climbing dowmn the stones steps that led to the street, I noticed that it was pouring outside. I put up my umbrella, but just as I got to the last step, there was heavy gush of wind and the tip of my umbrella hooked onto something. As I pulled, I noticed a tall man looking down on me from the top step. He was attempting to unhook my umbrella from the button of his overcoat. He looked at me with a stern face and two very blue eyes.

“I am so sorry,” I said and moved on down the steps.

I decided to forgo taking the bus. Because of the weather, I may have had to wait some time. I re-entered the London underground, bought another ticket, and waited for the train that would go directly to the Cumberland Hotel, where I would stay the night. Once on the train, I looked for a nonsmoking compartment.

I took a seat and a tall man sat opposite me. He was wearing a felt hat and Burberry-style overcoat, and he stared across at me with his blue eyes. Then I noticed that he was the man I had hooked with my umbrella. He stared at me and, it appeared, through me. He was deep in thought.

At the fourth station, I alighted from the train and entered the Cumberland Hotel. I was at the desk, asking the clerk if there were any messages for me, when I noticed the blue-eyed man standing to my left.

Later, at six-thirty in the evening, I decided to go too the ground floor and have dinner. There was a short line, but the cafeteria seating was somewhat full. I took my tray, and looking around, found a table for two. I proceeded to put down my dishes when I heard a voice say, “May I sit with you?” I looked up and, yes, it was the blue-eyed man.

As I ate, I noticed that he was pushing his food from one side of the plate to the other. I looked at him and commented on what a terrible day it was, with such bad weather.

He put down his knife and fork, pushed his plate away, and said, “Yes, for me it was a terrible day, perhaps the worst of my life.”

“What makes today so terrible for you?” I asked

“I feel my life is ended and I’ve nothing to life for,” he said.

“What happened?” I asked.

He sat silently, and then, looking across at me, said, “My son, our son, killed himself two weeks ago. He was only seventeen.”

Here I was. A complete stranger, and he had revealed this to me – it was like a bombshell. I instinctively knew that this man planned to take his own life and that I had to reach within myself to find the words he needed.

“My wife is blaming me for this tragedy,” he said.

He went on to tell me that eight months earlier his mother had died of cancer, and that his father had died of a heart attack three months later. Then, just tow months ago, his wife had lost her mother in an automobile accident.

Now his son, their child, was gone.

Since there were no other relatives, he and his wife were trying to cope with all these problems. And now, since his wife had put all the blame on him. He felt that he had nothing to live for.

He put his right hand on the table. I reached out and put my hand over his and gently said, “Let’s move to the lobby; it will be more comfortable.” WE found a corner area and sat down. People were smiling around, walking past us, and music was coming from another room. He looked around and motioned for us to move to another, quieter corner.

I wondered how I could possibly give comfort to this distraught man whom I did not know.

He told me he was an engineer and that his job required that he be out of town from time – to – time; his wife had been alone when their son died. I told him that he should immediately go to his wife, hold her tenderly, and tell her that he loved her, assure her and reassure her that he loved her, Both of them should go to their doctor, as neither had been eating or sleeping; he should take time off from his job; stay close to his wife; and try to get some counseling.

I asked if he or his wife were religious.

“No,” he told me.

I told him that sometimes a minster could give some comfort and strength at such a crucial time.

I asked him to try to understand that his wife had been angry about all that had happened, and that sometimes we lash out at the ones we love the most. It may have been here way of dealing with this tragedy. WE all react in different ways.

Realizing he hadn’t introduced himself, he told me that his name was Ernest. The he continued, “I never told my son that I loved him and now it’s too late.” His voice trembled.

“Perhaps whenever you visit your son’s grave, you can talk to him, talk out loud, and tell him that that you loved him. Also, tell your wife again and again that you love her. Together, you will pull through this.”

I looked at my watch. It was past nine o’clock and I had a very long journey – fourteen hours by prop plane from London to Miami. I realized that I had put a sticker on the handle of this one. We stood up and I noticed tears in his eyes. He bent down, kissed my forehead, and moved away.

That year, at Christmastime, I got many cards from England, and among them was a beautiful one with the words, “Eternally grateful.” It was signed Ernest. There was no sender’s name or address, just a postmark stamped Birmingham, England.

For the next thirty years, until five years ago, I received a lovely Christmas card, always with meaningful words, and sometimes singed Ernest or Ernie.

By Edith Reiss

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It’s Winter, It’s Saturday – 1944

”We’ve been down to the river fishing lots of times. What could be the big deal if we went down in the winter”?

It is a wintery Saturday afternoon in Fargo; not a bad day for North Dakota in January; a few degrees above “0”, dry and still; didn’t really feel all that cold by Dakota standards.

Mom answers the phone, “Eddie, it’s your friend Donnie on the line”. At the ripe old age of 11, I didn’t get phone calls; kids just didn’t use the phone in the old days I guess. “Hi, Donnie, ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬your mom let you make a phone call?” Ignoring me he says, “Eddie, let’s go out and do something. I don’t know what but anything is better than sitting in the house playing jacks with my sister.” “Mom, Donnie wants to go out and do something, is it OK”? “As long as you take your brother Jerry along and you behave yourselves”, was her warning answer. ‘Behave ourselves? How on earth can anyone get in trouble with all that snow out there?

Mom finds wild Jerry; he’s only 8, and she takes on the job of getting us ready to ‘go-out-in-the-weather in a ‘Fargo winter’. This ‘getting ready’ is an always-the-same set of clothes that only mountain skiers would understand. Goulashes, over a set of warm socks and leather shoes, long johns, ‘padded’ pants, not the poofy girly pants but you know, – padded canvas, a warm sweat shirt or wool sweater. Our coats are long, down to the thighs, with fluffy white sheep wool on the inside and a waterproof canvas on the outside. All this with a wool cap and earmuffs, no goggles. After all mom’s fooling around, we are finally ready to go!
Donnie is already out in front of his house waiting for us and in that short time, he’s gotten one of his ideas, “Let’s go down to the river and see how frozen it is, OK?”
The river had always been a summer fishing place where us kids went lots of times but we never went down there in the winter. Without the folk’s permission, we decided to go. The “river” is the big Red River and it is just 4 long blocks down through the neighborhood. As you get closer you can see this block wide flood area that is kinda like a crumby park. It is usually quiet and empty; today it is a lonely place, lots of snow and still. We three kids are the only ones there. Somehow I’m feeling alone in this ‘deserted and noiseless’ place.
Nearing the river, Jerry is excited; he has never seen the river before, he is only 8. “Wow, look at that, you can walk half way across”, he yells as he sees the ice going out from the shoreline. I had been fishing at the river for the past two summers but young Jerry had never been allowed to go. I look out across this wide river and most of it is covered by ice. But shouting at us in this frozen silence of winter, the middle is open, rough, and roaring. The black water, running fast, is frightening/dangerous; not at all like it is in the summer. ”Hey Eddie, Jerry shouts running onto the ice, it’s really bumpy and there isn’t much snow on it, watch!” Jerry’s excitement will not slow down. “Eddie, why isn’t it smooth like the skating rink?” I ignore him, – shaking my head, – gonna be a looong day.

This is a new thing for us down at the river in winter and we are slowly learning things. ‘Things’ like the ice is frozen right to the ground at the shoreline. ‘Things’ like you can actually run on the river ice without fear of falling down. And one other ‘thing’, the ice gets thinner when you go near the middle. Why isn’t it the same thickness all the way across, I wondered?
Lots of times Donnie, he was 12, was the one who made the choices when he was with us; that’s who he was. Today, each of us is doing our own fun kid stuff. Donnie shouts out far away from shore, “Watch me, I can take big steps and bend the ice into big waves, kinda like walking on a giant piece of that red inner tube rubber we make rubber band guns with”. He is making BIG pouncing steps running ahead of Jerry and me. We are having a good time but no matter how I shout at Donnie, “Get closer to shore, that ice is really thin out there”, his happy-go-lucky reply is always, “Come-on out here with me you beg scardy-cats, this is really fun!”

He’s get’en crazier and crazier. He comes to a small tree sticking out of the ice but it right-a-way makes a turn so it is bent flat above him over the ice, – just about as high as he can reach. Without a blink he takes two big steps, jumps up, grabs the skinny tree and starts swinging. Everything is OK until ………….……………. he lets go. The thin ice cannot hold his weight when he drops back down ……… he crashes right through. Lucky, he spreads his arms in time to keep from going under and being pulled away by the fast rushing water below. Donnie is screaming at the top of his lungs, “Eddie, it’s trying to pull me under”! Jerry has run up the hill about 20 feet above the river; he too starts SCREAMING in TOTAL panic; his shouting bouncing off the frozen zone of silence! I’m there on solid ice and Donnie is out there some 40 feet away screaming, banging his arms and breaking the ice around him; almost right away he has a small pond of water around him; that water has to be freezing cold!

I run up the bank to the first tree in sight and brake off a low branch. I can’t break it loose! It is taking forever to break that dumb branch off. I twist it, I turn it! The darn bark just won’t let go! The branch does not want to leave the tree! FINALLY it comes loose and I tumble head over heels down the bank holding onto the branch for dear life. Whew! I’m back down at the river. Got to get out there on the ice and stretch this darn branch out in front of me. ”Donnie, stop waving your arms and grab this stick”, I shout. Donnie is really scared. He reaches for the end of the branch and breaks it off. “It’s too skinny” he screams, wildly pounding and breaking the ice in front of him. “Its all we’ve got, be more careful”, I scream back. Why or why did ever I hand him the skinny end of the stick? He takes the branch again, this time more carefully. “OK, hold the stick and start breaking the ice in front of you, DON”T LET GO OR BREAK THE STICK”, I scream. For what seems like a forever, Donnie finally gets to thicker ice and climbs out on top. He must weigh 150 pounds; it was not only that giant overcoat and the many-layers of wet clothing but his overshoes are filled to the brim. “No time for anything Donnie, we’ve got to get you home and quick or you’re gonna freeze”. Now safe, it was fun to be in charge of Donnie for a change.

With each 100 feet we stumble, Donnie’s clothes get stiffer and stiffer. By the end of the first block Donnie’s weak voice begs, “Eddie, I can’t feel my hands or my feet, let me take my overshoes off, they’re too heavy”. “Donnie, the water will keep your feet warm, we’ve got to hurry”, is my only reply. By the third block the only piece of him that could bend or move is his hip joints. White ice has formed over all his outer clothes; he is starting to look fake, like some kind of ‘ice man’ made for the movies. Beside his stiff arms and stiff legs, he can’t even move his head; touching his coat is like leaning against a tree trunk. “Eddie, I’m soooo cold, am I gonna die?” Donnie, just keep walking, we’re almost home”. Eddie, I can’t walk, my coat is too hard”. If it had been 5 instead of 4 blocks to his house I know he’d have fallen down and we’d of had to just drag him along over the snow like a tree log.

It takes forever but we finally get to his house. Knock, Knock; Donnie’s mother opens the front door. “We’re back, Donnie got a little wet I think,” are the only words that I dare speak. Total panic overtakes her face as she stares down at her son with real ice frozen on his skin. Maybe it isn’t so much panic as it is anger, I can’t tell. Her eyes are popped open, a completely stern look covers her face and her jaw shut tight, – she is really MAD! Her body and hands shake and she’s just staring down at him. Her very first and only words are, “Donnie, do you still have our Food Ration Stamp Book in your coat”? Donnie is too frozen to answer; Jerry and I turn and ran for home; I couldn’t believe that those dumb stamps could be all that important. We didn’t dare go near Donnie’s house for the next 2 weeks. He survived the cold water; I’m not too sure if he survived his mother’s anger.

P.S. Look back at the title. During WW II everything under the sun was rationed. Everything from tires to gas to food. Food was broken down into groups like the red stamp’s for ‘meat’, that included lard and butter. Others were for sugar and vegetables.

by Edwin G. Roche

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Patty Brown is Going on Vacation

After 71/2 years in a Catholic Elementary school with the guys in beautiful downtown Fargo here I am in beautiful downtown Van Nuys, Calif. Girls? Well girls are something I cope with rather than BE with.

There are a number of kids near my age in my new neighborhood but without a doubt but I’m wrestling with the problems of being the new kid on the block. Summer comes and evening games are played in the street. I cautiously join in on ‘kick-the-can’, ‘hide-and-go-seek’ and the like. And ‘girls’ are mixed in.
Two sisters, 2 or 3 years older than I, are part of this pack of 12 and they, with a couple of guys, simply ‘disappear’ early-on during our evening playtime. Us younger out-to-lunch players are often waiting for the mysterious 4 to return.

Charlie is one of the more senior types in the group and I just have to ask, “Charlie, where do Charlotte and Rita go with those two guys every night when we’re out here”? He looks at me like I was someone just dumped off the turnip truck. “What would YOU do with either one of those two hot chicks out here in the dark”? This turnip truck 12 year old kid hasn’t the foggiest notion as to what I’d do with ‘those two hot chicks” even if we were in the middle of my folks living room. Charlie doesn’t wait for my non answer. “Eddie, those four go out there in the field in those tall weeds; they’ve got a regular bedroom built out there. They have a ball with those chicks.” I dare not ask what “a ball” could possibly mean but I have to guess it has nothing to do with game balls. This one-sided talking goes on for too long and I finally patch together that ‘German kissing’, maybe it was ‘French’, and something called hanky-panky is what happens to those teen-age girls.

Buried in the middle of all this confusion I get to know one of the other girls in the group, a Patty Brown. She is 2 years older than I; cute, quite tall, and, what did I call her, ‘interesting’? We are never alone together and talk is always safe; and oh ya, always most certainly at more than two arm’s length.
I find myself alone with Patty on her patio. Mysteriously, I’ve been maneuvered into this. It is late in the afternoon, I am aware that her folks are not home. The conversation is stop and start. I am oh so nervously aware that just the two of us are standing but 6 feet apart right here in the middle of an empty patio. Things are a whole lot closer than I could possibly feel comfortable about. And there’s not one other human being anywhere! There is no touching, there is no reaching out. Patty is standing there in her damn short shorts, relaxed, calmly shifting from one long leg to the other, chit-chatting about the pending family vacation, – all this in her low-cut peasant blouse.

On my part, it is a time of clammy hands, nervous oh-my-god-what’s-going-on-here, and what do I say next? The idle talk seems to be going on forever; she in her comfort zone and I’m sweating bullets. I’m so preoccupied with the situation I’m having trouble following what she’s talking about. Somewhere I’m hearing, “………and we’re going for 2 weeks, we’re leaving tomorrow.” All this is openly presented with a lusty, ‘and what do YOU want to do about that? Oh my, I guess it’s my turn to speak, – it comes out a hopeless mumble jumble. Her response is, “Aren’t you going to kiss me goodbye?” She may as well have asked me to jump in front of a fast moving truck. Shock! Absolute TERROR! I’d never kissed ANYONE on the mouth in my entire life, NOT ONCE, not even my mother.
Talk about a blur. The next two hours, or was it only 2 seconds, are frozen in PANIC!? All I can remember is that she solves the stop-camera-moment by stepping closer, …………….. kissing me on the cheek, and giving me my very first, long to be remembered, HUG.

Within this story you have just witnessed the beginning of the sex life of one Eddie Roche.
(But never with Patty Brown.)

by Edwin G. Roche

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Car Accident

 Almost every day, for three months, my family has been around my hospital bed. Although I am in a coma I can hear what is being said.

“You know Rocky, we all love you. However, this hospital is costing a fortune. We are trying to decide if we should pull the plug” my wife says flippantly.

Are you nuts, I think.  If I can hear you I must be getting better!

Andrew my eldest son stands. “Dad, for what it is costing for this medical equipment keeping you on life support, all three of us children could go to college.”

Selfish ungrateful wrench, I think, Andrew you’re out of the will that’s for sure!

“Dad while you’ve been here, I’ve learned to drive you red and white 1952 Corvette. My middle son Danny says. If you die, please leave me the car! It’s a real chick magnet! Oh, I will miss you Dad!”

Who said I am going to die?  Who said you could drive my car? I think.

Doctor Smith comes into the room. “Well Mrs. Williams have you made up your mind If you are going to take him off life-support?”

“Well doctor not quite yet.”

What’s my best friend Joe doing here? I think, as he walks over and puts his hand on my wife’s shoulder. You know Linda, we have loved each other for years. It would be a blessing to let Rocky go!”

Christ, Linda and Joe have had an affair for years? Have I been that stupid? I think.

“Daddy, I don’t want you to die!” My Daughter Jill says. “I want you to walk me down the aisle, first!”

So, then I can die! Is that what you are saying little girl?

Doctor Smith walks to my bedside and looks in my eyes. “Heavens, I believe Mr. Williams can understand what we are saying, his eyes reflect his emotions as each of you speaks.”

“Now Rocky, Joe was only kidding about us loving each other for years. He loves both you and me, his’s your best friend. We both want you to get better.”

“Dad I only dreamed of driving your Corvette!  Honest! “Danny says.

Sure Danny, I think, what you don’t know is that I log the millage each time I drive my classic car. So, there will be hell to pay if you have really driven my beauty!

And now you Andrew, I think, you want them to pull the plug, so you can go to college “Not only are you out of my will!” Suddenly I hear my own words.  “You can get out of my house and get a job, as soon as I get out of hospital,”

“Rocky” my wife says and throws her arms around me, “You’re back!”

“Get away from me you adulteress hussy. Go off and marry Joe, you deserve each other!”

 “Thank you, Doctor Smith, I sure learned a lot while in the coma.”

By Alan Wills

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The Illustrated Woman

My life has been reduced to notes. Everyday I have a list to remind me of who to call and where my next errand will be. I have recently started a new note. Remember to look at your notes! I should become like the illustrated man who tattooed his entire body with important events so he wouldn’t forget them. Mine would look like this.

When I wake in the morning with a big yawn and my hand starts to cover my mouth I will see tattooed on it good morning, Ruth. You love coffee. So I will never forget my name and never forget that that I also like to drink coffee. I’ll stumble to the bathroom and as I turn my palm over to turn on the faucet I see tattooed on top of my hand two sugars one cream.

Perfect! When I go out to a restaurant or Starbucks I’ll just show then my hand.

Left and right will be tattooed across my toes so I’ll keep up in exercise class. No one will be yelling, “The other left, the other right.” I’ll keep up with my lefty righty toes. In case I lose my cell phone, no problem. Each finger will have an important phone number tattooed on it. I’ll have index fingers.

My left arm will have Book Club friends and close friends on it and lists of books I’ve read. My right arm will have dance friends and a list of all the ballroom and swing dances I’ve learned.

My family will be tattooed on my heart. I’ll have to do that one backwards though. It’s hard to read upside-down. Every morning I will look in the mirror and count my blessings; the names of one son, one daughter, their spouses and four grandkids.

I’ll have to stay the same weight though. If I get real skinny the words will shrink and I won’t be able to read them. And if I get too fat the words will fall into a fold or spread out and be blurry. It will be an eyestrain either way.

It’s a good thing I’m single now. When I was married my husband would get mad at me for so many insignificant things. It could be squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle and not the end or not putting my shoes in the closet and he’s tripped over them. I can’t tell you how many times he’s yelled at me, “If you do that one more time I’ll skin you alive!”

I mouth, “Read my lips,” and tattooed on the top of them is, I’m sorry.

By Ruth Lathrop

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Me and Sharon – Age 9

“Peter,” Miss Derico, my teacher in the Fourth Grade calls. “I want you to team up
with Sharon. Sit across from her, right here on this part of the grass.” I do as she says.
Cross my legs and sit facing Sharon. Miss Derico puts everybody in the class in pairs, and
makes them sit the same way, facing each other. Our class is outside on this small grass
area near the playground at school. While she places other people like she did us, I just
stare at Sharon and say nothing. But my mind is very happy. You see, I fell in love with
Sharon from the first day I saw her, a couple of months ago when the class started.

I have trouble breathing. She is so pretty, I don’t really know how to describe … but I’ll
try. She looks like this little Chinese doll. She has black, black eyes like some kind of big
cat, like a panther or something. And like an animal, they never show any feeling. Like I
don’t know if she’s happy, or sad. or peaceful or angry. But her eyes which sort of point
up, like a V, are like, how can I say? They like sit on her cheeks, bright, like lamps on a
table. She is so pretty. Her hair is as black as her eyes are. It makes her white face look
whiter. like it’s in a black picture frame. She’s a tiny thing, but would fit great with me
because I’m small for nine years old. I’m always in front of the line in class cause I’m the

Once when I first saw her, I tried to talk to her, but she’s just not friendly. Like I said,
maybe she was afraid because she was the only not American looking person, but I don’t
know. When I talked to her, she just seemed to want to get away from me. Not friendly at
all. So, of course I kept away from her till today with this thing the teacher’s doing.

I just sit by her now waiting for instructions. I’m so nervous. I can look at her from up
close with no problem because she doesn’t see where I’m looking. She never looks at my
eyes. She looks there, away, everywhere but at me. Those black eyes that cut into
everything they see like one of Buck Rogers’ Space guns.

Then Miss Derico starts. ”Okay boys and girls. What we’re going to do today is learn
how to really, really listen when people talk to you. Most people that talk to each other
are thinking of what they’re going to say, or want to say, and really don’t hear what the
other person is saying.”

“So today, we’re going to take turns really listening to whatever the other person says.

Okay? Any questions?”

Someone asks who goes first. The teacher answers, “Boys. Now I don’t want any
horseplay. This is serious stuff. Talk about whatever you want, but when I stop you, the
listener has to tell her partner everything she heard him say. So pay attention. Begin.”

Sharon looks down. When I begin. She is not nervous like me, it seems. It seems like she
doesn’t care. “Sharon, I want you to know that I liked you from the first day of class.”
She looks at me really quick, but I can’t tell anything by that. “I mean I liked you like
grownups. Like boy, girl, men and women like each other. I don’t know what it is. But
right now, I have trouble breathing right. It’s like I’ve run for ten blocks.

“Can you tell?” She shakes her head, yes. I’m glad that she’s listening. Then I think,
that’s the assignment.
“Anyway, I can’t really describe what’s happening to me. There’s
changes in my body that I can’t really talk about though.

I want you to to know I would give you any of my toys, or Comic books, or whatever I have, if it will make you happy. That’s what I feel. And I ain’t lying or anything.” I make the Sign of the Cross. “Swear to God. If l could just hold your band and smell your smell. That’s special. I would probably faint. I hope I haven’t embarrassed you or make you hate me. I’d never want to do that, but I … ”

Miss Derico’s voice stops me. “Okay, everybody. It’s now time for the girls to tell their
partners what they heard. Ready? Begin.”

Sharon picks her head up and seems nervous. She’s almost shaking. She pushes her
perfect hair back away from her face, takes a fast look at me. Before she begins, she takes
this deep breath then looks into my eyes. It’s the first time she is really looking at me.

She scratches her face with her first finger, then says. “Peter,” I think she said my name.  Like a song from an orchestra—Peter. She continues, I feel the same about you.

This whole semester, whenever we were in the same class, I constantly looked at the back of your head, or your face when you turned around.” Her eyes are stabbing through mine like, like Superman’s X-ray vision. “I was always afraid to talk to you because you have so many friends around you all the time and I wouldn’t know what to say. I just didn’t want to feel like some idiot. And anyway, Chinese girls are never supposed to talk to boys unless it’s about an assignment or something. ” I can’t believe how fast she‘s talking. Like she going to run out of lime and die, or something.  She changes position. Instead of staying cross-legged, she’ extends one leg straight out like an open scissor. I feel very hot down there.

Then she sounds like she’s been running. “I want you to hold my hand too. You can
smell me too, and I want to smell you.  I think you’re the most,” she raises her
eyebrow and looks away, thinking. Then she reaches out and touches me with two fingers of her right hand. “The most handsome boy in the whole school. Even better than the bigger Juniors and Seniors. Let’s spend more time alone somewhere … ”

Miss Derico breaks up this nice time between Sharon and me. “Okay boys and girls.

That’s good. Now boys, tell your partners what you heard. Ready begin.”

I feel like I have lots of water in my eyes. Thank God I’m not crying tears down my
cheeks. “Oh Sharon. I’m so happy that you like me. I wonder if this is what grownups feel
when they talk about love. All I know is I want to hold you tight and even kiss you if you
let me. I want to do whatever big people do when they love somebody. Let me know if
you want any of my toys or anything. You can have them all. You can talk to me
whenever you want no matter who I’m with.” I begin laughing because I’m so happy. I
can’t talk because I’m laughing so much. Sharon is laughing too. For no reason.

Miss Derico says out loud. “Look class. Look at Peter and Sharon. They’re having such
a good time.

“Do you see what can happen when you listen to others. Those two have not said one
word to each other this whole term.  Now look at them. Good work.”

The End

P.S. Sharon and I touched every chance we could when no one was looking. We even
kissed and things. I did love her, I’m sure, but what did I know at nine.

by  Peter Bruno

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Vietnam War Protest

I’m sitting in the Police car, four levels below the street. There are about one hundred
other officers scattered about waiting. President Lyndon Johnson is across the street, and
up the block inside the Century Plaza Hotel. He is the keynote speaker at a Democratic
Fund raiser. In 1966, during Vietnam, everywhere the President went, he attracted
protesters, mostly loud, and rancorous. Occasionally, depending on the venue, the
occasion, and the Press coverage, the protests turned violent. If the TV crews showed up,
the organized explosive protests followed. It was a premeditated: The “Stop the war,” and
“Get out now,'” mantras of the times.

The cops, of course, were the defenders of both sides. Sandwiched between – keeping
the peace, and protecting the Civil Rights of the demonstrators.

Problems of course exist for the police. To keep the peace, and protect the Rights of
the Demonstrators, what takes priority: Safety, or Rights? The answer is simple, of
course: Safety. So the police have to make the decision of when to act, to use force, if
necessary, and how much. It becomes a basket of snakes.

I’d been at these things before, the front lines of organized anger, sincere, or
otherwise. All the officers in this gopher-hole, four levels beneath the street, have been
briefed, and assigned to specific duties. I’m a member of a skirmish line that will quell
rioters from moving in on the hotel, should it come to that. We uniform guys are
accessorized with helmets, and gas masks; bullet-proof vests, optional. There is lots of
milling around, waiting to be called out. Breathing becomes labored, as the air is thin in
this underground warren, slightly ventilated.

“Hey, Bruno,” my partner Brooks calls from across the aisle, “You want to get into this poker game?”

“Nah, I’ll just hang.”

If you’ve ever been around a group of men waiting, virtually for anything, it’s nerve
racking. Men aren’t waiters, they’re doers. They receive stimuli, and act. In combat, or
adversarial conditions, waiting is debilitating. Men get bored, weary, or worse than that,
nervous and edgy. Husbands in a Maternity Waiting room know the feeling. Before long,
minutes turn into an hour and so forth. Voices of the men lose their vibrancy. Card games break up, and a general malaise creeps in.

Reports and updates indicate that the demonstrators number around two hundred, but
so far, are obeying the various barricades keeping them at bay across from the hotel.
They’re in a huge grassy area as the burgeoning of shopping centers, office buildings, and theaters are still on the drawing board.

The Commander of the response force gets on a bullhorn. “Okay men, listen up.” The
volume is too loud. It screeches and bounces off the walls in the garage. It gets adjusted.
“We just received a report that the people out there are getting really active. Intelligence
reports that they’re planning something big and nasty. So I want,” he looks at some notes
in his hand, “Platoons one and two to deploy and hold your positions. Now everyone hear me, HOLD YOUR POSITIONS. I don’t want you advancing into them for any reason. I
don’t want anyone to retreat and give up a fuckin’ inch of turf. You must keep the line
intact. Somebody goes off half-cocked and weakens the line, we could be overrun.” He
looks around the group of men. “Any questions?” Pause. “Okay, platoons one and two
fall in with your squad leader.”

I’m it. I grab my gear from the car. Put on my helmet, attach the gas mask to my Sam
Browne belt, sheath my baton, and fall in. A bus unloads us across from the hotel and we
form a line behind the barricades, facing the protesters. A platoon consists of about forty
men plus a supervisor. Eighty of us line up about three feet apart. The people shout the
usual things like, ‘Nazi’s, Pigs,’ and other epithets. Many signs are in evidence.
(Virtually screaming in large letters to: Get Us Out– End the War– Johnson is a Killer.)
America the Beautiful, I think. As always, the organizers put women and children
toward the front. It’s a ploy they frequently use. No surprises, so far. Except the number
of demonstrators isn’t a few hundred as reported earlier. It’s swollen to at least a
thousand. Screaming and sobbing pervades the crowd. Little children are terrified of the
noise. They’re in carriages, strollers, in parents’ arms. As the sun gets lower in the sky,
more platoons of officers are deployed.

The President appears on a balcony about ten stories up and waves to the throng.

He’s immediately recognized. The demonstrators get louder. Boos. Jeers. Curses. Isn’t
this a great country?
I think. He shortly disappears from the balcony. Minutes later, the
Presidential helicopter rises from the far side of the hotel whisking away President

My eyes are all over the place. I’m in defensive mode, because I know what’s coming. They dart left, right, up, sweeping the area. Sure enough, as the sun sets entirely,
a pop bottle flies over my head and splatters in the street behind me. Shards fly in all
directions. Rocks and ball bearings soon follow. Officers duck and juke to avoid them.
Some are struck, but hold their positions. We can’t see who’s throwing, but we have spies
in the crowd looking for them, and hopefully arresting them. Of course they’re not dumb,
know of the spies presence, and take counter measures to avoid detection.

The Commander stands on a vehicle and with the bullhorn, announces an “Unlawful
Assembly.” He allows ten minutes for all the demonstrators to clear the area, or be
arrested. TV news crews are getting all this dynamic footage. Every network and local
station has people covering this. The more they cover, the more inspired the crowd gets.

Subsequent to announcements of dispersal or arrest, the order is given to make
arrests. Batons unsheathed now, we advance on the non-believers. Arrest teams, using
plastic handcuffs, do their thing. My partner, Brooks is bleeding from a cut on his face.
We didn’t have face guards in those days. He’s really pissed off. I try to calm him, but he
isn’t listening. He picks out the big young man. “You’re under arrest. Turn around, hands
behind your back.” The guy starts to protest. Before he has three words out of his mouth,
Brooks flails the baton across his thigh. The guy goes down in pain. “I said put your
hands behind you back. NOW!”

The man does not comply. – Whap – another strike across his other leg. The guy
screams in pain. I grab Brook’s arm. “What the fuck are you doing, man? Are you crazy
like these assholes? Stop it.”

“Fuck you, Partner. He’s the asshole who got me on the face.”

“You can’t do this, Brooks.”

“I’m doing it.” He raises his baton again.

I grab his arm. “If you do it, I’m turning you in. He’s defenseless. He’s not attacking

He pulls his arm from my grasp, kneels and handcuffs the arrestee. “You fuckin’
coward. Piss-ant. Teach you to hurt people and hide. Get your ass up.”

The man writhing in pain says, “I can’t.”

“You can’t? You’re telling me, you can’t?” He waves his baton by his face. “How about I stick this up your ass? You think that would help you get up?” The guy scrambles,
scrambles, and gets to his feet, all with his hands shackled behind his back. “Move, you
puke.” I tag along till we get to the Arrest bus to sort of chaperone.

Forty or so demonstrators were arrested that night. I had none, which was all right
with me. The riot was squashed, along with some egos, and feelings, amongst other

As I watch the news on TV that night, I am amazed at the reporting. It’s like I was
never at the scene. The slants of the news people were like from another planet. Were
they there? Was I there?

“Boisterous crowds showed their disdain of the President. ” “Police were nearly
overwhelmed by the protesters. ” On and on.

My mind could not comprehend the hate and fury many of these people had.

Subjecting children to it was criminal, in my mind. Go ahead, exercise your freedom to
protest, it’s what we’re all about. But let a few ringleaders lead you like sheep to the

The Police were just as guilty in some cases. Hostility leads to bloodshed. For what? Is
that what we’re all about. .. being an American?

The End

by  Peter Bruno

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I question, where do our abilities come from? Some are learned as academic subjects in school, which most of us use to earn our living.  However, there are people who it seems are born with talents, inherited in their genes passed down from prior generations.  For example:  art, music, the ability to learn multiple languages, just to name a few.  I understand these natural abilities can be improved by great teachers, and hours of practice. However, not so with me! It just seems to happen!

I have two natural abilities!

  1. Thinking on my feet. This was a must in my sales career. It is an ability which dates back to my first school days, whenever the teacher asked me what I was doing? I always had a quick answer.  It may not have always been true, but it kept me out of trouble.

In my mind, I also did sit-coms, seeing pig’s ears and a snout on the teacher for fun!  Nobody taught me this? It just seem to come to me!

  1. Telling outlandish stories, with a straight face, just for fun.  Also, just came to me!

For instance:  At 23 when I came to America I was invited to a party high on Lookout Drive in Hollywood.  Starlets, mostly in their twenties, outnumbered men 5 to 1. My English accent was a big plus with American girls, and soon I had a bevy of beautiful young women paying me lots of attention. One in particular, who looked like a young Marilyn Monroe, separated me from the group and took me outside to show me the view of the Hollywood lights.

“So, Alan, what do you do for a living?”

With a straight-face, I said,  “I’m a Brain Surgeon.”

“Aren’t you very young to be a Brain Surgeon, Alan?”

“I did it as a correspondence course, my dear!”

“How do they do that?”

Wondering how far I could go with this empty-headed beauty,

I answered, “They send a head through the mail!”

As suspected, she bought the whole story.  By the time I left the party I had a hand full of phone numbers. I guess they all wanted to date and be seen with a rich young English Brain Surgeon!

Dog Story:

A few years later while still single, I had two large dogs:  A German Shepard    and a Collie.  I discovered that while walking them in parks, it was a great way to meet girls!

Our local Grocery Store had a special on dog food. I loaded the shopping cart with five cases of caned dog food, with two huge thirty-pound-bags of kibble on top. The cashier, who looked less than five feet tall, had to stand to one side of the loaded cart to speak to me.

“What type of dogs do you have?” she asked.

“A Chihuahua!” I answered nonchalantly.

“Do you think I’m stupid?” she said pulling a quizzical face.

“Oh no! Not at all, miss! It’s not an American Chihuahua! It’s a 350 pound   Chihuahua from the Southern Borneo Jungle.”

I paid the checker, who had a very confused look on her face.  Then I pushed my loaded cart forward, allowing the next person to stand in front of the cashier.

I heard her tell the customer. “That’s what I like about this job. I learn something new every day!”

Here’s another Example:

My wife and I decided to take our Thanksgiving Dinner to a friend’s cabin at Mammoth Mountain in the Sierras. Driving into the village she remembered she had forgotten peas and ice cream.
“Norma, let’s stop at that little convenience store.”

On entering the store, we were greeted by a huge woman, who must have been four-hundred pounds.

You know Wills? I think. I bet this woman has been on every kind of diet!

I put the frozen peas and ice cream on the counter in front of her.

She sneered, saying, ”That’s not much of a Thanksgiving Dinner!”

I couldn’t resist “Oh no miss! It’s a new diet I saw in the L.A. Times!”

Norma, put her hand over her mouth, to hide her laugh, and with watery eyes, said “I have to go to the car, Alan!”

When I got to the car Norma was still beside herself. ”Why do you do that? And with a dead-pan face yet!”

“Just a little fun, my love! However, I bet she takes home frozen peas and ice cream to start one more diet!”

Now in the autumn of my years, having worn out many outlandish stories with a straight face on my wife! I am on a mission to disarm the annoying salespeople who always call at dinnertime. I have written scripts for most of their phony pitches.

The carpet cleaning sales pitch: “I’m so glad you called!” which usually  leaves the person on the other end speechless.

I ask, “Can you get blood out of a carpet?”

“No problem sir!”

“The blood covers about six feet by twenty-two inches!”

This always brings silence, from the other end, followed by a hang-up!

Any product, sales call: “Can you speak up?” To which they usually double their volume. “I’m still having trouble hearing you!” By now they are shouting.

“You don’t have to shout. I’m not deaf you know!” The now familiar click ends the call.

Another, any product call: “Look feller, we just sat down to dinner! I really want to hear about what you are selling! Give me your home phone number, I’ll call you tomorrow at your dinner time, I promise!” Once more the now familiar click ends the call.

I have at least a dozen scripts memorized, which make dinner time fun!

I have no talent for Music or Languages! However, I thank the Lord for blessing me with my ability to think on my feet, and with my somewhat strange sense of humor! Therefore, I believe God must have a sense of humor!

By Alan Wills

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Tug of War

 If we pull together, we can do it …

It was to be held behind Duke’s Place at 1:30PM. The time came, we hustled into the truck from PW.

Driving there was uneventful but there was anxiety all around. I could feel it.

Left over from the earlier meeting, the sounds and the sights of our guys with fists clenched, pumping in the air, “We will win,!!, We will win!!”, kept popping in my head as we proceeded.

When we got there, the whole block looked like the typical CBC grounds, grassy and adequately cared for. Is there, I asked myself, a big enough spot for this, here? After we parked, the first impression was that there was something festive going on nearby.
Today was the annual Seabee Day. Families and kids, casually and colorfully dressed, were all over the place. From the looks of things, I knew we were going to have fun. But I also knew, we were there to take a part in a competitive event. But have fun, nevertheless. Win or loose….

It seemed as if everyone knew where it was going to be held. I followed the crowd. On the left side, I noticed many mounds of loose dirt, as high as six to eight feet placed in a single file, bordering the place on the north. I thought, maaann, these contractors! When will they ever stop digging? There was a lot of activity on these mounds though. Kids were all over it. Up and down. Then up again and down again. I remembered my kid-hood and the mounds of dirt I used to climb upon. I also remembered my “tape worm” incident. The doctor told my dad not to let me play in the dirt any more. – Gee, the stuff you remember at the oddest times- As I approached the ultimate location, the corner of my eye caught this sizable, bare spot in the middle of the field. Closer examination revealed a large mud pit filled with water. Oh my God, what was to become of us? I screamed silently, “I’m not getting in there!! No way, in hell, am I gonna fall in there!” I looked around to see if anyone else had a similar panicky look. I met some indicating eyes that; yes the reaction was mutual. Are we all crazy?

Yes, we were and we were going to go through with it. There was no turning back. Now, one could see the opposing team members. You knew who they were just by looking at them. They were the CB’s, with the bulging muscles and thick necks. Spouses and girlfriends helped them limber up while our guys practiced stretching, and flexing. Then, the thing that was to tie the teams together for each match, the rope, appeared within my sight.

It stretched across the mud pit. I thought, oh man, there is enough rope here to hang every one of us if we should lose. Get rid of your sneakers and wristwatch before you get out there, I reminded myself. Before I knew, the stuff was off and given away to a friend for safekeeping. Then all of a sudden, I found myself standing against the rope trying to grab it as tight as I could.

You could only see a couple of guys before and after yourself. I prayed and hoped that there were more guys on that rope on our side. Anxiety was building up. You could hear the short and sharp gasps of air and clearing of throats as usually heard in a lecture hall. This was the “river of no return”. We were the first to go against a mighty opponent.

Finally, the rope was alive, stretched and hard. There was no time to think or rationalize, but to grab and pull, grab and pull, together, with all the might we had. It would inch away in one direction and then, the other as if it made its own decisions. The air was hot and getting even hotter with the sounds from the deepest chambers of the throat, blasting a single word, puuuullll, puuuullll. Spits and sweats were flying in the air, as the heels sank deeper and deeper into the earth. One cared about nothing.

There was nobody except you and the rope. Puuuullll, puuuullll. The body shook and shivered under the duress. You had to keep your eyes half closed to keep the eyeballs from jumping out. I felt my popping ear drums and fingers swollen with blood and taking an ameba shape. I was hallucinating. There was no pain except the pain one gets from being pulled apart.

All body joints cried in unison. I grabbed the rope and pulled again and again coordinating with the panic stricken scream, puuuullll, puuuullll. Mentally, I had a fix on it. It was allowed to move only one way, towards me. There was a yearlong moment, so it seemed, when the rope stood absolutely still. One never exerted so much stress in the body only to achieve absolute stillness of the thing you were tied to.

Finally, The stillness broke, the rope moved in fractions of an inch. Soon, it started to come in a hurry dragging the opposition into the mud pit.

We ran so far back only to stop short of hitting a tree directly behind. My team was up in the air reaching the heights in triumph. It was hard to distinguish the cheers from yelling of pain. The Public Works team had won the first go around. Shortly, the yelling and gasping sounds subsided. We began the process of recovery and realization of a win.
It was absolutely, positively exhilarating!

The Public Works team won two tug of war matches and lost one match on that Seabee Day in 2 May 1997.

By Tall Fellow

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The tall grass that surrounded the house rustled softly as the last of the night breezes faded away and the warmth of the day seeped in from the open windows.  With night gone the heat arrived, accompanied by the sounds of children playing in the open field beyond the perimeter of the house, and as the last blades of grass fell silent with the dying of the wind, the yells and squeals of the children rose up in a crescendo.  The occupant of the house much preferred the muted sounds of the wind.

Chumba was eighty-six years old, although he wouldn’t have known that.  He knew only that he had seen many years go by, that after his wife had died each year seemed far longer than was normal, and that he had no more friends left.  In reality, however, he never had many friends, and those few that he had known belonged to a time long ago, when his wife was alive; everyone after that was no more than an acquaintance.  He sometimes wondered why he was still here when everyone he knew had departed this world.  Chumba would ask God why he was still alive and not residing with Him so that he could be reunited with his old friends and especially with his beloved Abadeet.  He would ask the question, slowly and deliberately framing it in his mind, in a manner which he thought would indicate to the maker that he showed the proper respect, that he did not overstep his position as a humble man still among the living, but that he merely thought his age and the fact that he had lived what he considered to be a good life entitled him to a response.  Then he would sit and patiently await an answer.  He usually fell asleep.

In spite of the fact that Chumba thought that he had led a good life, there were many who would not agree with him.  A life as seen through the eyes of the individual living that life often takes on qualities and aspects not at all seen or appreciated by the objective observer.  And for those who come in contact with that person, their view is often quite contrary since they see the other’s life through their own equally flawed eyes.  In point of fact, Chumba had led a good life, at least until his wife, whom he had loved with a singular devotion, died of Malaria many years ago.  Inconsolable for a full year after her death, he sat outside their simple dwelling, letting his family and friends bring him sustenance and take care of their two young children, but refusing all efforts to involve him once more in the life of the village.  He would disappear for days at a time, much to the consternation of his family, and walk alone through the heavy growth and wooded plains that surrounded the small settlement.  Finally, thirteen months after his wife died, Chumba picked up his children, packed their few belongings and said goodbye to family and friends.  Although by most people in the large cities of the world this would not be considered at all unusual, it was quite extraordinary by the standards of his culture; and the people of the village, after futile attempts to change his mind, only looked at him with sad eyes, shaking their heads and whispering to each other.  It was due, they thought, not merely to the grief that he suffered, but to a certain arrogance, a flaw in his personality that allowed Chumba to believe that bad things should not happen to him because he was better than other people.

None of these thoughts occurred to Chumba.  He knew only that he needed to be away from the memories that haunted him and, as so many do, mistakenly thought that the repository of a life now gone could be in a physical place.  And so, early on the morning of his departure, he set fire to their wood, mud and grass house, leaving everything that belonged to his departed Abadeet inside.  The once familiar objects only served to rekindle the hurt, loss and anger that flamed within him, even as the fire now destroyed what he took to be the physical incarnation of that overwhelming hurt.  The smoke slowly spiraled upward in the calm morning air, an occasional light breeze carrying the smell of burnt memories to him, stinging his eyes.  When only a smoldering circular pile of debris remained, he turned, and taking his children in tow, walked out of the village without once looking back.  Although his nostrils were soon free of the smell of smoke,  the memories of his past life were still inexorably enmeshed in his mind.  He left the village with more baggage than he knew.

Chumba walked for many days, shunning the villages where he knew his relatives lived, preferring instead the anonymity of the small cities or the isolation of the open plains.  If it were not for his young children, he would never have stopped walking and might very well have become one of those perpetual wanderers that one encounters from time to time, carrying their meager possessions from village to town and on to the next village, in search of some undefined mark, a nebulous goal that even they could not define.  After two weeks Chumba passed through a small enclave of huts where the villagers knew his tribe from past trading and were on good terms, but where he had no relatives.  Passing through this little village he continued for several kilometers until the wooded terrain opened up to a pleasant meadow, surrounded on three sides by thick stands of trees.  The fourth side was bordered by scrub and young saplings and offered a view of the wide expanse of plain beyond, where large herds of  wildebeest and topi shimmered in the afternoon heat.  Here he would make a new home for himself and his children.

The months spent building their house were the best that he had known in quite a while.  The hard work was a distraction; and as often happens when a cure is not available, a distraction must suffice.  Just how successful this strategy became was attested to by the size of his house, for it was easily five times larger than any of his neighbors in the nearby village and certainly larger by far than any he had known in his own village.  And the quality, too, surpassed that which was known in the region.  Chumba built a house, not a hut, a house whose walls were made of wood rather than the woven and staked twigs of most dwellings in the area and whose floors were finely smoothed planks.  If it were possible to make the boards any smoother he would have, because the untold hours spent concentrating on evening the surface of that wood pushed his demons further into his unconscious and led to a state which he interpreted as tranquility, but which would be better described as denial or, perhaps more appropriately, ignorance.

In any case, he had provided his children with a house; and if he was not all that a father should be, at least he made sure that they were protected from the elements, had food to eat and clothes to wear.  He saw to it that they attended school, impressed upon them the importance of learning, and encouraged them to play with the other children.  Recluse though he was, he knew that his children’s place in the world should not be held to that of an out of the way house at the fringe of the African plain.  And so they grew, both in body and mind, and as their outlook expanded, so their father’s contracted.  Although they lived in the same house, they inhabited different worlds; and when the ebb and flow of life, the happenings in the world around them, beckoned to them, they left the eddy of their father’s insular existence and were quickly swept into the current of society.  Chumba was not happy to see them go for he knew that one of his last ties to the world around him would now be severed.  He did not, however, hold them back in any way, but rather, offered them encouragement and assurances that he would be all right.

On the day that they left, both bound for the town 10 kilometers away where the bus would take them to the city and the university, Chumba said farewell, told them again not to worry, and, after watching them until they were out of sight, turned his chair away from the direction they had taken and sat staring out at the African plain.  As the sun approached the horizon and took on hues of red and gold, he still sat, slowly rocking himself in his chair.  Off to his left the movement of a group of reticulated giraffes caught his eye, and he shifted his gaze to them as they moved majestically across the plain to the next acacia tree.  In a small town along a dusty main road, he had once seen a postcard outside a shop, that pictured a giraffe at sunset with the golden orb of the sun behind it.  The beauty of it stopped him in his tracks; and he stood there, transfixed, staring and wondering why he, who had lived here all his life, had never seen such a sight.  Chumba looked back at the setting sun as the giraffes began stripping the leaves that made up their evening meal and he thought how nice it would be if they were set off against the backdrop of that blazing sphere, but he did not think they would oblige.  He wanted very much to see with his own eyes what was pictured on that postcard years ago.

Time passed, the years became decades, when one morning Chumba awoke to a ripping sound and upon throwing open the shutters of his bedroom found he was staring at a rather large hippopotamus pulling up great clumps of grass from the meadow that reached to within several meters of his house.  Now this both amused and puzzled Chumba for it was most unusual to see a hippo so far from water, but even though he could not comprehend why such a thing had occurred, it was, nonetheless, funny to see such a large beast calmly munching on his grass, as if it were a breakfast guest curbing its appetite while it waited to be invited in.  After his amusement passed he became worried because such a large and powerful animal could easily demolish his house if it set its mind to it.  However, Chumba had nothing to fear.  After twenty minutes or so the great beast lumbered off into the forest, presumably, he thought, returning to the river about a kilometer away.

Spending little time thinking about the unusual event of the morning, he went about his chores and began cleaning the rooms of his two children.  He straightened them up and started to think that he should store away most of the items left behind because he knew in his heart that it was unlikely they would return, except for a rare visit and, perhaps, upon his death.  However, something welled up inside him, some emotion that he did not understand, neither in its origins nor its meaning, a feeling that was nevertheless strong enough to stay his proposed action.  He did not understand why, but he simply closed the door to each of their rooms and turned away.  The rest of the day he sat in his chair and stared out at the plain.  When he retired for the night, it was with a sense of anticipation and apprehension.  Again, emotions whose origins he could not fathom.  Restlessness and strange dreams dogged his sleep and Chumba woke up tired and apprehensive the next morning.

Throwing open the shutters he wondered if he would see the hippo again.  Perhaps worry about the animal had been the cause of his uneasiness.  With both relief and disappointment he scanned an empty meadow.  Busying himself with the preparation of a breakfast that was far more elaborate than his wont, he passed much of the morning.  When, finally, the last of it was consumed or put away for later, he made his way to the porch to begin the lonely vigil he kept, sitting in his rocker and staring off into the plain or the nearby forest, the solitary observer of he knew not what.  Chumba opened the front door and was stopped in his tracks by what he saw.  A lioness lay in the tall grass, not twenty meters from his door, and calmly licked her paws, grooming herself, with only an occasional glance in his direction.  One hand still on the doorknob and the other pressed against the door jamb, Chumba stood there in disbelief and amazement for quite some time before slowly shutting the door.

He noticed that his knees felt weak and his hands trembled slightly and it was only then that he became consciously aware of the potential danger of this killer that sat outside his house.  For calm as the lioness seemed, and as graceful and elegant as it appeared, it was, nonetheless, the supreme hunter of the African plain.  He slumped in a nearby chair to try to think this out, his breathing still heavy.  Suddenly, he jumped up and closed the shutters on all of the windows and, as an afterthought, bolted the front door before sitting again.  No sooner was he settled in the chair than he arose again and began pacing back and forth, occasionally peeking out between the shutters at the lioness, still at its leisure, enjoying the cool quiet of the morning.  What was it doing so close to the village, not to mention the fact that it was right in his front yard?  He pondered this for several minutes, unable to come up with a reasonable explanation.  The animal, by its behavior, was not in a hunting mode, nor had it just completed a kill, and also unusual was the fact that it was alone; there was no sign that he could see of a nearby pride.

Chumba was still lost in thought when he heard a loud snort and the trampling sound of something big treading on the tall grass.  Hurrying to the side window he peered out, his pupils dilating and an audible sucking in of his breath coinciding with his recognition of the hippo from the day before.  The large animal slowly ambled to within ten meters of the house, glanced up briefly at Chumba, then lowered it’s head and began tearing clumps of grass from the meadow, idly chewing as its ears twitched to fend off insects, moving rapidly and erratically in contrast to the almost slow motion of its giant mouth.  As Chumba stared he noticed another set of legs visible just beneath the belly of the great beast, quite small compared to the stump like legs of the hippopotamus that filled much of his field of vision.  “This is just not possible,” he thought.  Quickly moving to another window for a different vantage, Chumba threw back the shutter without any attempt at discretion, and confirmed what he thought he saw.  Behind the hippo was its young calf.  As each unlikelihood followed another it became easier to accept a new unusual event, but the casual presence of a young hippo and a lioness almost within spitting distance of each other was just too much to believe.  He hurried back to the front window to see if perhaps the lion had left but, sure enough, it lay there, occasionally licking its paws and looking serenely content.

Chumba sank into a chair, quite perplexed and out of breath although he had not done anything physically taxing.  He stared blankly as a myriad of thoughts raced through his head.  “Who can I tell?  Will they believe me?  How can I leave the house without being killed by the lion?  Why is this happening to me?”  The last question turned around and about in his head, seemingly with a throbbing urgency and Chumba began to think that what was happening was not a random quirk of animal behavior but something much more significant, something that was in fact happening to him for some specific, as yet unknown, reason.  As he pondered this, slowly rocking in his chair, he heard a faint high pitched noise and cocked his head to one side, turning his best ear toward the window.  The sounds grew louder and he recognized the laughing and squealing of the young children from the village.  “Damn them,” he thought, “they’ll scare away my animals!”

In the blink of an eye he appropriated the animals and their unusual behavior as belonging to him and the children as interlopers in his private world.  Chumba dashed to the door, threw it open and began yelling at the children entering the meadow surrounding his house.  It was only after the children had fallen silent that he realized the hippos and the lion were nowhere to be seen.  He turned left, then right, then peered around the corners of his house, then turned completely around.  To the children this was a funny sight and they looked at each other and at the old man and began giggling.  Chumba yelled at them again and stormed back into the house, but not before scanning the area again for “his” animals.  As the door clicked shut behind him, the children advanced into the meadow and began to play.

For the past year or so the children of the nearby village had adopted the meadow surrounding Chumba’s house as their own playground, since all the ground closer to the village was too wooded to allow them to play any kind of decent game of soccer or even to just run around aimlessly with the apparent purposefulness that only the young can bring to such an endeavor.  Chumba did not like them playing there and would yell at them; but after an initial retreat the youngsters would return and after a few weeks it became apparent to all concerned that the perseverance of the kids far outweighed the determination of Chumba to evict them.  And so an uneasy truce prevailed, the children keeping what they considered a respectful distance from the house and by and large ignoring him.  Chumba would yell at them from time to time but, for the most part, did nothing more than that, except perhaps occasionally shaking his fist.

While it was true that almost all of the children ignored him, there were two that did talk to him from time to time although their encounters were more often confrontations than anything else.  Juji, ten years old, with a quick wit and a bearing beyond his years, was the acknowledged leader of the group.  When the children first began to play in the meadow and Chumba would run out to yell at them, it was Juji who paraded up to the porch and stood, arms akimbo, not two feet from him and said, “Old man, why are you so angry?  You should not yell at us!  We are not hurting you; we do not steal from you or damage your property.  We just want to play.”  Chumba had stood there, quite taken aback, the color rising in his face.  Then he began to yell and shake his fists and, as brave as he was, Juji nonetheless took several steps back, contemplating whether a full retreat was in order.  It was then that his younger sister, Elumbu, strode right up onto the porch where the boy and the man stood facing each other.  She walked between them and in an exaggerated stance that only a five-year-old can assume,  planted her legs widely apart and held each arm straight out to her side, palms facing outward.  She looked like a drunken police officer stopping traffic at a busy intersection.

As she shook her head slowly from side to side Elumbu said in her most parental voice, “Play nice or you’ll have to sit by yourself!”

In earlier years Chumba would have burst out laughing but now his anger suppressed any such lightheartedness and he shouted at them, “Just go away and leave me alone!”  Turning his back on the children he stormed into his house and slammed the door.  Looking at each other with puzzled faces, Juji and Elumbu slowly walked down off the porch and, along with the other children, retreated to the edge of the meadow, and continued their games.

Over the ensuing weeks more and more animals appeared in the early morning hours in the field surrounding his house.  Grazing animals and predators.  Birds of all sorts.  A conglomeration of African wildlife that had no business being together.  Later each morning, as if on cue, the animals would walk off into the surrounding woods and brush, the birds would take wing and the meadow would fall silent.  After a brief interval the sounds of the approaching children would penetrate the quiet and soon their laughter and squeals filled the air.

This pattern continued for many months until one day, near the beginning of the new school year, the early morning quiet was broken not by the noises of the usual menagerie, but by the penetrating clamor of an approaching jeep as it loudly ran through its gears.  Chumba stood in his doorway, holding the handle of the partly open door and watched the approaching vehicle, his gaze alternating between the jeep and the dust cloud it left in its wake.  His eyes moved from one to the other as if following a tennis match.  After a few moments he found himself staring more and more at the dust, watching it swirl up, float lazily in the air and then slowly dissipate.  He became lost in a memory from a time long ago, his eyelids fluttered closed and the smell of smoke seemed to fill his nostrils.  He was jerked back to the present by the honking of a horn as the army green jeep, bearing the insignia of the Ministry of the Interior, came to a stop in front of his house.  It was driven by a sergeant wearing camouflage fatigues as well as a bored, somewhat irritated expression, as if this drive to a distant house near a remote village was an intrusion on some project he had planned for the day.

In the back seat sat a young man wearing a light-colored suit that seemed a size too big, and rimless spectacles that seemed too small.  A thin leather briefcase was on the seat next to him, its metal clasps glinting in the morning sun.  The young man hesitated a moment, expecting that the sergeant might open the door for him; but since the driver sat almost motionless, staring ahead with a disinterested expression and thinking of all the more useful things a man of his obvious talents could be doing, the representative of the Ministry of the Interior sighed, opened the door and slid his six-foot-one-inch body out of the vehicle.  He reached back to retrieve his briefcase and then walked in a rather stiff, almost military posture to the porch and up the steps, stopping in front of Chumba, who still stood holding on to the door.  The Second Assistant to the Sub-minister of the Interior, for that was his official title, was quite thin in addition to being tall, and this combination, coupled with his youthful appearance, made his movements seem somewhat awkward, an attribute made worse by his poorly fitting suit.  However, it was his voice that was most striking, for the deep resonant sounds, almost lyrical in quality, that emerged were in such contrast to the physical image which he projected, that a listener, meeting him for the first time, was quite taken aback.  “Good morning, I expect that you are the one called Chumba.”  He held out a bony hand.

Chumba, almost as amazed by his current visitor as he was by the appearance of the animals months ago, stood staring for a moment, and just before the pause became awkward, replied, “Yes, that is my name.  I am Chumba.”  He accepted the skeletal hand.  It was cold and dry.

“Well, sir, the Ministry of the Interior has something important it must discuss with you.  Can we go inside?”

They sat by an irregularly shaped low table, about a meter in greatest dimension, fashioned from a single piece of a fallen acacia tree.  Its top was bare except for two small carved animals, “Chumba’s animals”, the first two of the many that visited his property each day and which were the first in a series he planned to whittle.  The Second Assistant Subminister sat in a simple chair, made of mangrove wood, its various members held tight by twisted reeds, rubbed smooth and polished with acacia oil.  He placed his briefcase flat on the table, careful to avoid the wooden animals.  Chumba pulled his inside rocker across the table from the young man and nervously rocked back and forth.

Placing his hands on his knees, leaning forward slightly, and under the watchful eyes of the hippo and the lioness, the ministry man began, “The land where you live, where this house is located, is very special.  It is special to all of the people of our country, and, in fact, to all of the people of the whole world.  For this reason the Ministry believes it must be preserved and protected.”  Here he paused and leaned back, as if this brief prologue had sufficed to impart all the meaning, significance and consequences of this edict from the Ministry of the Interior.

Chumba continued his rocking and stared expectantly at the suited man, waiting for him to go on.  The deep voice, preceded by the merest of sighs, continued; and when, after several more minutes, the real significance of what he was saying became clear, Chumba continued to look at him although he no longer heard what was said.  For what he presented made Chumba weak-kneed and ill.  The land around his house, the woods, the meadow he looked out upon and the plains beyond were all to be part of a new game preserve being developed by the Ministry.  Of course, no private dwellings could be allowed and even though the boundary of the new park was to be just one hundred meters to the south of his house, Chumba would have to move.  No exceptions could be allowed the young man from the ministry emphasized; everything must be done strictly according to the laws of the land and the rules of the Ministry of the Interior.  There would be some sort of compensation from the government for the loss of the house; but the economy being what it was, it would not amount to very much, certainly not enough to have a new house built, and that was what would certainly have to be done since Chumba was too old to build another house himself.

The agent from the Ministry talked for what seemed to be a very long time, then reached forward and released the latches of his briefcase.  The crisp staccato snap as they popped open caused Chumba to blink and refocus his attention on the man sitting opposite him.  “Here is the order from the ministry of the Interior, signed by the Minister and the President himself,” the agent said as he removed a small sheaf of papers and placed them almost reverently on the table.  “And here is a statement that everything has been explained to you–and a place here,” pointing with an extended finger, “for you to sign your name or make your mark, indicating that you agree with and accept the order.”  A brief pause.  “Not that you have any choice, I’m afraid, but still, everything must be done properly.”  Still holding the papers in front of him in his left hand, he reached in his jacket pocket with the other and produced a pen which he offered to Chumba.  Chumba made no move to take either the pen or the papers; and finally, after an awkward clearing of the throat the young man put down the papers on the table and returned the pen to his pocket, making sure that the clip was properly engaged on the front of the pocket.  “I will return in ten days to pick up the signed statement.”  “You must be out of your house in 60 days.  Bulldozers will begin demolition on that day.”  He closed his briefcase, his thumbs moving in synchronized arcs as they shut the latches.  He stood up, thanked Chumba for his time, walked to the door and down the steps to the waiting jeep.

Chumba continued to rock as the sound of the car receded in the distance.  Holding on to the two figurines he had carved with such care, he shut his eyes and a silent tear welled up in his eye and rolled down his grizzled cheek before it was swallowed up by the dry air.  For the next several days he did even less than usual, spending almost the entire day sitting in his outside rocker on the porch and staring out at the plains.  He ate little, slept only briefly and fitfully, and barely noticed the animals that still surrounded him each morning, or the children that surrounded him each afternoon.  Usually a man of action, Chumba did not know what to do.

Finally, after a week, Juji walked hesitantly up the steps and over to where Chumba sat in his rocker staring out at the plain.  Chumba seemed not even to notice his approach, and it was not until Juji said his name twice that he turned to look at him.  “What is the matter with you, old man?  You don’t even yell at us any more.  Are you sick?”

A fleeting, melancholy smile crossed his face as Chumba thought about his life during the past months; and at that instant he realized how much the spirits of the children and the animals had in common and how, in his surprise and joy over the unusual appearance of the animals, he had resented, ignored and taken for granted the more familiar miracle of children playing.  It was, indeed, a miracle, he thought.  These noisy, running, laughing children were the world’s inheritance from those who had gone before; it was like looking into the future; and with that realization, paternal thoughts, long dormant, welled up in him along with regret for his behavior towards the children.  Chumba reached out for Juji, wanting to take his hand or touch his shoulder to let him know that he now understood, but Juji, startled by the movement, took a step back.  Sadness suddenly overwhelmed Chumba and tears formed in his eyes.  No sooner had this emotion surfaced when Elumbu, who, on silent feet, had followed her brother to the porch, stepped out from behind him and took Chumba’s hand in her two small hands and said, “Don’t cry, grandfather, everything will be alright.”

“He’s not our grandfather,” Juji stated.

“Yes he is!  He’s everybody’s grandfather,” she said emphatically.

An emotional dam seemed to burst in Chumba and his tears flowed freely as he attempted to stifle his sobs.  Juji, obviously discomforted, took another step back, but Elumbu moved even closer, enfolding both her arms around his outstretched forearm and resting her head on his shoulder.  Not willing to yield control of any situation to his younger sister, Juji stepped forward again.  “OK, you can be our grandfather.”

“Everybody’s grandfather,” she repeated.

“OK, OK, he is grandfather to us all.  He is the grandfather of the world!”

Chumba looked at them both and smiled broadly through his tears.  There was so much he wanted to tell them.  Where to begin?  He laughed out loud and Elumbu joined in while Juji hesitated, looking from one to the other, and then his mouth curled up and he, too, laughed.  For a moment, Chumba felt lighter than he had in many weeks; but then his current problem intruded, like the heavy dark thunder clouds that sometimes formed over the plains at the beginning of the rainy season and he was once again enveloped in melancholy.  Juji noticed the emotional change and said, with the sound of genuine concern in his voice, “What is wrong, old…”  A quick reproving look from his little sister.  “What is wrong, Grandfather?”

“Tell us,” she said.

Chumba looked at the two innocent faces looking expectantly at him and wondered if he should burden them with his problem–wondered, too, if they would even understand the enormity of what would happen to him.  But who else could he talk to?  There was no one.  So, with a deep sadness in his voice, he explained what had transpired during his meeting with the representative from the Ministry of the Interior and that he would have to leave this house and this place, both of which he loved more than he had suspected.  The children looked at each other and unspoken thoughts must have passed between them because when they looked back at Chumba, they both spoke in unison, “We can move your house!”

Nodding his head, Chumba said, “If only you could.”

“Oh, we can,” Juji intoned.

“Don’t worry,” Elumbu added, as they turned and walked down the porch steps to rejoin and confer with the other children.

He smiled as he watched them hurrying across the meadow, while he silently chastised himself for all of his past anger at these young wonders that might have provided so much of what had been missing from his life for so many years.  “Truly, I am a foolish, old and sad man,” he thought.  He sat, alone and lost in thought, until the onset of the cool evening breezes roused him.  Chumba stood, scanned the darkening plain stretched out before him, slowly directing his gaze from the far left to the far right, as if looking for something, then turned and went into his house.  After a light supper he retired for the night.  He slept soundly that night, and more deeply than he had in many years.  If dreams intruded, they were of the most gentle kind; and a peace, unknown for years, filled his slumbering mind.

The next morning, Chumba was jolted awake.  Somewhat confused, he sat up in bed and looked around.  He could tell by the sun coming in through the window that he had slept much later than usual.  Suddenly his bed seemed to lurch forward and he noticed that the carved hippo he had placed on his night stand was shaking.  When he got out of bed he could hardly keep his balance and as he staggered towards the front door he could think only that this must be a major earthquake.  Moaning softly, he rushed down the steps and when he looked back at the house, his jaw went slack and he stared, opened mouthed and wide eyed, for his house was indeed shaking and lurching.  But there was no earthquake.  Chumba stood on solid, unmoving earth and watched as his house slowly, in fits and starts, receded inch by inch.  He now became aware of shouting and yelling, high-pitched orders barked out from every direction mingled with snorts, trumpets and assorted animal noises.

Tied to his house were numerous ropes, perhaps hundreds, all stretched taut.  Hurrying to the side he saw that these all led into that part of the meadow to the south of his house and there, tethered to the lines, was an army of animals.  Every beast imaginable.  Every animal that had ever come to visit the meadow and many more besides.  If this collection was like an army, then Juji was the general, standing out in front and urging on his troops, with little Elumbu running from the hippos to the elands shouting encouragement.  Even the children held tight to one rope and strained to contribute what they could.  It was too much for Chumba.  He sank to his knees, slowly pitched back to a sitting position and watched, completely dumbfounded, as his house inched its way south until it came to rest beyond the boundary of the new park.  The ropes went slack and a collective sigh of relief arose,  animal and human voices mingling together.

Juji strode over to where Chumba sat, followed by several of the children and a few of the animals.  “I told you we could move your house.”  A big grin, seemingly larger than the small face it inhabited, spread out as he continued, “Now, you don’t have to move and we can all come to play each day.”  The lioness stepped out from behind Juji, brushed past him and walked over to Chumba.  She slowly nodded her head, then turned her face towards Juji and, looking back once more at Chumba, turned with feline grace and walked off into the meadow.  Elumbu rushed up to Chumba, took his hand and tried to pull him up to a standing position.

“Let’s go into your new house, Grandfather.  It is a new house, you know, because it’s in a new place, so we must go and see if it looks any different.”  With her brother’s help they walked Chumba the hundred or so yards to the house as the army of animals disbanded.  On unsteady legs, his mind a spinning vessel of half formed and confused thoughts, he let himself be guided by the children to his new home and when he walked into his once familiar house and sat in his well-worn rocker, running his fingers over the arms, feeling all the well-known curves and imperfections in the wood he was, nonetheless, overcome by the sensation that he was indeed in a new and somewhat strange place.

The children stayed with him the rest of the day and just before sunset Elumbu prepared a light supper which she left on the table for him.  She and her brother said good-by, and with their concern for him visible on their faces, asked Chumba once more if he would be OK, before turning and starting the walk back to their village.  “See you tomorrow,” they shouted back in unison as they headed across the meadow.

Chumba sat for some time further in his rocker, and it was not until the moon had risen high in the night sky that he eased his exhausted body up and went to the table to eat his evening meal.  He felt somehow troubled.  He noticed a strange new feeling and tried to concentrate in order to identify it and perhaps find its cause.  Suddenly, fork in mid-transit, he paused, and as the new feeling washed over him in rolling crescendos, he realized that what he now felt was peace.  And as the realization struck him full force, Chumba began to cry, great heaving sobs of joy and relief, the kind of tears known only to those who, fearing the tragic death of a loved one, are thankfully surprised to find him alive and well.  Chumba had found himself again, after many years, alive and, yes, still well, although certainly showing the effects of the passage of time.  Peace.  Peace with the children, with the animals and, at long last, peace with himself.

That night he slept deeply.  When he woke, there were several animals as usual in the meadow, as if nothing at all had happened the day before.  Chumba knew, though, that things were different now and in fact, would never be the same again.  Later that day when the children came he sat on the porch and watched them, waving from time to time, and once, even going down the steps to join them in a game of catch.  Over the ensuing weeks, children would come up the porch to ask him a question or just to talk to him and soon he knew them all, but Juji and Elumbu remained his favorites and they would often talk for long periods, Chumba truly becoming the grandfather neither had.  The peace and lightness that he felt not only lifted Chumba’s spirits but seemed to imbue him with renewed physical strength and a sense of well being.

This halcyon time went on for many months, a year passing in the blink of an eye.  Soon thereafter, however, the children noticed that Chumba descended from his porch less and less until one day in early autumn Juji realized that he had not ventured farther than his front porch for several weeks.  Chumba, too, noticed a difference, felt the vitality ebb, only to be replaced by an ever more pernicious fatigue and he sensed that he would soon be leaving this world which, until recently, had been only a source of anguish and pain. This did not frighten him, nor did it sadden him, but whereas he knew that several years ago he would have faced death with a heavy heart full of guilt, anger and regrets, he could now confront his own mortality with a calm acceptance that would have been unknown to him in years past.

When the day came that he could no longer leave his house to sit on the porch, the children would take turns keeping him company as he sat in his chair and looked out the window, often falling asleep for much of the day.  His weakness increased noticeably, day by day, until his time was finally at hand.  Little Elumbu gently rocked him as he sat in the worn cane rocker and, standing on her tip toes, reached up and touched his head each time the chair reached the apogee of its backward motion.  His slow easy breathing mirrored the contentment and peace that he felt.  Slowly turning his head, Chumba gazed out the window at the setting sun and paused in his rocking.  As he stared, his lids felt heavy and the scene at which he looked occasionally blurred, although, to tell the truth, the old man never noticed this.  The last sounds he heard were the voices of the children rising above the soft noises of the approaching night, Juji’s voice louder than the rest.  Chumba smiled.  And the last thing he saw, through fluttering lids, was a giraffe walking with infinite grace across the red disk of the setting sun, a shining golden glow outlining the animal and expanding, seeming to fill the whole orb, as if the sun, in setting, was reborn.

The End

by Alan S. Bricklin

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Meeting Mr. Rafael De Avila

Suddenly, the door of our sixth grade classroom at my private school Internado Franco Ingles opened and a young lady, the Principal’s secretary, said in a firm voice “Senorita Virginia Garcia Ornelas, se Ie requiere en la Direccion”, Miss Virginia Garcia Ornelas, you are required at the Principal’s Office. I was surprised and so was my teacher, because at eleven years old, I was a good and quiet student.

I got up from my desk, and asked my teacher’s permission to leave the classroom.  “Go ahead Virginia”, she said with a smile.

Silently I followed the secretary through the long corridor taking a look at my navy blue uniform. Everything seems to be O.K. My collar, my cuffs and my belt were white, clean and ironed as my grandma ironed and starched, every single day. My black shoes were polished by my dad, my nails were clean and my hair was perfectly combed and in braids. I also finished my small embroidered tablecloth for Mother’s Day, so what could be the problem?

As we arrived at the Principal’s office, I saw the back of a woman seated in front of her desk. As soon as I entered the room, she turned her face and I recognized the woman. She was my “aunt” Maria Luisa, my real mother. Even if I did not like her, I could appreciate how pretty and elegantly dressed she was.

Getting up from the chair, she thanked the Principal.

“Me dio mucho gusto conocer a tu Mama, Virginia. It was very nice to meet your mother Virginia.” My mother, I thought … Only my Grandma and my Dad come to my school… “You can go, Virginia.  I will see you tomorrow.”

Taking me by my hand, Maria Luisa said “Let’s go Chatita”.

“Where are you taking me?” I asked.

Turning her head towards me, with a smile, she replied. “I have a wonderful surprise for you.  You will see”.

I did not like what she was saying, but I followed her through the school yard into the entrance gate.

“Does my Grandma know that you were taking me out of my school?” I asked.

“Well” Maria Luisa said, “No, not really”, but at that moment the taxi arrived and we left.

It was a rather cold day, we traveled through the Colonia Santa Maria to downtown, Mexico City. I was enjoying the trip, but I was worried about my Grandma.

Once more, inside the Taxi I asked her, “Did you tell my Grandma you were going to pick me up?”

She did not answer, just smiled. Maria Luisa was always flirting, even when nobody was around.

The taxi stopped in front of a toll building.  She paid the taxi driver and we entered. Taking one of the elevators we arrived to the tenth floor. I read De Avila Engineering Firm posted at the entrance. All the personnel looked very busy. Men and some women working with big drawing boards, with bright lights, with large, very large, papers.

“What are we doing here?” Once more I asked her.

“Don’t be so anxious, it is going to be a very good surprise for you.”

We entered into one of the big offices, where a large leather brown couch and a table with fresh flowers and a glass jar with candy impressed me. After talking to one of the young secretaries Maria Luisa opened a door of one of the offices.

“Pueden ustedes entrar”, you may come in, said the secretary.

The door opened and a tall, nice looking man, in his late thirties, wearing a white shirt and a tie,was at his desk. As soon as we entered, he immediately stood up saying “Well, this is quite a surprise Maria Luisa” giving her a hug.  He turned to me…

Suddenly from Maria Luisa’s mouth, came out these words “Chatita” (my nick name) “this is Rafael De Avila, your real father.”

I was in shock.  I did not like what I was seeing, I was angry at Maria Luisa. I already have a father.  Florentino is my Dad. “He is your brother.” I said to her. I was in complete shock.

Taking my hands into his long fingers, the man said “You are so precious. May I give you a hug?” he asked.

He hugged me and I could smell his cologne. Looking at him, I saw some tears coming out of his green eyes. I stood still. I was so surprised, but more than that, I was hurt. I have my own Dad who I love so much, and he loves me a lot too. I don’t need another father.

The man, holding my hands, said “Chatita, I want you to remember what I am going to say to you. I wanted to marry Maria Luisa. I loved her very much, but she rejected me” and looking at her he said “She did not love me enough, so she married Angel.”

Looking into my eyes, and still holding my hands, he said “Also I want you to know that I have been in touch with your father, Florentino, all these years, who often sent me your pictures.”

Well, Maria Luisa said, flirting “We better go.”

“Yes, thank you so much for bringing Chatita to me. Hope to see you again.”

We left.  I was mad, mad at Maria Luisa. Why is she doing this to me?

On our way home, I keep silent, not a word, but as soon as I arrived home and my Dad arrived from work, I hugged him, kissed him many times and thanked God that he was my real Dad.

by Virginia G. Rafelson

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But, What Will I Wear?

When my husband was about to retire, he worried about what he would do. Now that I’m about to retire, I’m worrying—it’s a woman’s thing—about what I will wear. My husband sees no dilemma. “Honey, you can wear whatever you darn well please.” As well meaning as he tries to be, his answer is for the birds.

Baby boomers like myself were weaned on books such as John Molloy’s DRESS FOR SUCCESS and articles entitled “You Are What You Wear.” We were taught that first impressions counted the most.

And now you see, there are no books on how to dress for retirement. You are on your own. Of course there’s always jeans and tees or sweats. I’ve gone through that era, thank you. Besides body shapes tend to change with the ensuing years. What looked cute and perky may now look frumpy and dumpy.

Where is my retirement guru? I need help. While I await the cavalry riding in with the newest book on RETIREMENT APPAREL, I head for my closet. Maybe I can find inspiration among the denizens residing there. If nothing else I can recycle garments to my local thrift shop. Hmm, it would seem that I have a few dinosaurs in my closet: blue corduroy gauchos, long plaid skirt, and hip huger pants.

Stealing myself, I ruthlessly go through my wardrobe. Out go the power suits and business blouses. Good -bye to the coordinating separates in taupe, black, and red. I am creating a new retired me and I need a new palate and an open closet.

My weeding completed, I survey what is left: sweats, denim skirt and jumper, jeans, navy blue blazer, and two casual calf-length dresses.

Now what, I muse. I start to daydream on how I will fill my non-working hours: tennis, golfing, sailing, bowling, perhaps horseback riding. That’s it. I can build my wardrobe around my activities. I picture myself in cute, pleated tennis outfits returning a volley a la one of the Williams’ sisters. Oh dear, might have to firm up a bit to look good in the jodhpurs. Then reality sets in. What do I wear in between these sporting occasions? Going to the bank, post office, market, matinee or lunch requires something casual but smart. I want my clothes to politely say, “Hello World. I’m retired. I’ve paid my dues. I’m happy and I look G O O D!

Maybe my husband is right. Perhaps I don’t need some guru dictating fashion guidelines. I’ll make my own. With this goal in mind, I’m off to the mall to shop till I drop. Let’s see, companies are encouraging smart casual dress on Fridays. Perhaps I should start with that concept. And, if I can’t find anything appropriate? I’ve already got that covered. I shall come out of retirement and start a new career in the design field. Styles by Sheila. Just what the smart retiree wants to wear.

by Sheila S. Moss

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Life Writing Check List

by Bernard Selling

  1. Is my story written in the first person and in the present tense?
  2. Have I stripped the story of adult, intellectual language?
  3. Are my feelings in the story?
  4. Do the details and actions make the story clearer and more
  5. Does the dialogue help tell the story?
  6. Have I kept to one well-focused incident at a time?
  7. Are the characters interesting, perhaps unforgettable? Are their
    qualities evident?
  8. Are my feelings about the event clearly expressed?
  9. Have I created a monologue to convey inner thoughts and feelings?
  10. Have I improvised the facts where my memory has failed?
  11. Is the spine of my story clear?
  12. Did I Find an effective starting point? Did I begin with action or
  13. Is my story visual?
  14. Did I find and expand the climax to the story?

Page 93    Writing from Within

This book has become the Bible for hundreds of Life Writing Groups &
Writing Classes across the country and around the World!

Bernard Selling’s books:  Writing from Within and Writing from Deeper Within
on writing are published by Turner Publishing and are available from Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. They are Must Haves for all Writers – Alan Wills, editor,

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Freedom of Speech

“So, what do you think? Interesting, huh?” Benson exhales a deep drag from his cigarette. “Fuckin’ different ain’t it?” We’re on the escalator taking us up to the street.

“I don’t know what to think.” I reply. “I didn’t sign on for this.”

“We’ll see soon enough.” He glances at his watch. “It’s scheduled for noon. Ten minutes to go.

We’re both in plain clothes. We exit the subterranean garage and turn into the park.  Benson stops at his post, a bench, “Keep your powder dry,” he quips.

”No kidding. Don’t forget to cover my back, Dickhead.” I continue to my assigned
post. The park is pretty filled with people on this beautiful day in May. I’m conflicted in a
way I never imagined.

The guest-speaker is escorted from the underground parking structure. His escorts are
five men in their twenties, impeccably attired in Nazi uniforms. Clean cut, and closely
shaven, their uniforms consist of a tan military jacket, black Gestapo trousers pinched
smartly below the knees, where black spit shined boots meet. To finish the ensemble, black formal caps with glistening plastic visors shade their eyes, a shining eagle centered above the visor. Spit shined leather belts surround their small waists that punctuate the V’s formed by their athletic chests. On each right bicep is the indomitable red swastika, on a black background, wrapped fastidiously around each arm.

These uniformed men are really not far from being boys. In their twenties, they show no
feelings. It’s as though they are fine-tuned robots in a ‘box’ formation. The escorted
civilian, wearing a suit, white shirt and tie, is the centerpiece. They march smartly to a
bench, strategically pre-selected, in the center of the park ‘Poster Boys of the Nazi party’.

It’s a typical city park, where neighboring workers bring their lunches to eat peacefully,
read, and grab some sun. It also hosts an assortment of itinerant people from the
neighborhood. Senior citizens getting away from the concrete and asphalt: playing
checkers, chatting, perhaps seeking a temporary refuge from the city. Included are the
resident crazies, winos, homeless, and the pathetic hopeless, strewed about in various
shapes of disarray. There are many races and origins, but mostly Jews.

These thugs are going to foment the crowd by stumping for their cause right here in
the middle of Los Angeles. A year and a half on the Police Department and I’m privy to
this vomitus spectacle. In my city, Nazis in uniform flaunting themselves. The real irony is
that I’m here to protect them from violence. They represent everything I despise. Yet
I can’t remove them, or arrest them as every inch of me demands. They have City Permits
from the City Council, and the Police Commission too, which allow them to ‘speechify’
on this day, in this very park. To recruit, to proselytize, to do any little thing their hearts
desire, as long as it is short of inciting a riot. After all, this IS America. Everyone has the
Right to freedom of speech. Therefore, as Americans exercising that very freedom, they
shall be protected from person, or persons, who attempt to violate that Right.

I never knew the boundaries of what this really meant, until this very moment. Protection for the Nazis, just like the Police Department’s motto, ‘To Protect and Serve.’ I want to throw up. There are 30 other uniformed policemen secreted below the park on standby alert. Officers that could be more effective on the streets suppressing crime, instead baby-sitting these assholes. I think. The only modern accessory is that each man is wearing mirror-like sunglasses, making their eyes invisible behind the lenses.

The group stops military style at the bench, hut-two. These uniformed apparitions
startle an old lady, who occupies the bench feeding pigeons. Terrified, she reflexively hugs
her handbag, and skulks away. So out of sorts, that she stumbles over her own feet, crashes to the concrete path, and cracks open her forehead. Blood squirts through the wound, and runs down her face. Bystanders run to give her aid. Pigeons scatter from the onrush as they pursue her bag of food.

The suit leaves the pack and climbs upon the bench. A command: “Left -face,” and the
uniforms turn in unison facing forward; four forming a semicircle in front, the fifth in back facing the rear. “Parade Rest.” They spread their feet shoulder distance, and cross their arms in front. Their backs are yardstick straight, heads erect. A momentary pause allows anticipation to rise. The speaker stares upward, takes a deep breath, apparently relishing the resplendent sky.

I’m ten feet from him, having infiltrated the audience now numbering about fifteen.

Others quickly join, swelling the crowd to fifty within seconds. I know who the guy in the
suit is as I’ve been well briefed. The civilian’s name is, George Lincoln Rockwell, the
well-known leader of the American Nazi Party.

This is downtown Los Angeles, California, 1961. Specifically, Pershing Square, located
at 6th and Hill Streets, across the street from the Biltmore Hotel. (The hotel where just one
year earlier, John F. Kennedy accepted the Presidential nomination.)

I unwittingly fall into an imagery. Backwards in time, another park, year 1939. I’m
there, also living the rising terror of the Nazi onslaught. Experience complete futility,
disgust, and trembling helplessness, as I foresee the havoc that the Reich will inevitably
foist on mankind.

For this moment, I’m a Jew caught in Hitler’s nightmare. I tremble with fear. Is this a
movie. Am I dreaming? Am I living this brutal debauchery of mankind? “What’s going on
here? Isn’t this Germany? America?”

My mirage gets mercifully shattered, when an elderly man next to me shouts, “What
are these dogs doing here? This is how they started in Germany!” Like a cold slap, I am
back to the present.

Mr. Rockwell raises his arms toward the summer sky and proclaims with lofty
arrogance, “Welcome. Welcome Everyone.” A deathly scream knifes through the crowd.
The old lady who was feeding the birds faints dead-out onto the pavement. People scurry
to give aid. Another shouts, “You Nazi bastards, get out of our park.” And another. The
audience gets worked up. People, men and women crying, sobbing, reliving their own
personal nightmares. I want to wrap my arms around them all, to comfort them. Instead,
I’m alert to do my job. I’m watching everyone I can to ensure that I can stop crimes from
being committed.

I relay a pre-arranged signal from my supervisor, also dressed in plain clothes, which is
to release one squad of officers from the standby pool under the park. It is passed like a bucket brigade to the officers standing by. During this tumult, Mr. Rockwell waits
patiently for the crowd to become quiet. All he had said was the initial greeting of, “Welcome. Welcome Everyone.”

Those words lit a pile of tinder ready to explode into a conflagration. The 11 officers
appear almost immediately. A woman falls at the feet of the lead Sergeant and wraps
herself around his leg. Sobbing, screaming, “Thanks God, the police are here. Thank you
God. Get them please.” Others shout pleadings echoing the first woman. “Arrest them
Nazi pigs.” “Throwaway the key!” “Beat them like they beat us.” Frankly, I feel the same
way. I’m sure the officers responding do too. It’s unanimous. A milk carton is thrown at
Rockwell, falling short. The thrower is the 70-year-old man standing two feet away from
me. He is tormented, turns in circles, bewildered, mumbling incoherently. It’s as though
he’s trying to decide some course of action, anything. Helpless, he turns to me, “Young
man, what can we do?”

“I think that if we all leave, he’ll have nobody to talk to. You think that’s okay?”
”No.” He shakes his head helpless. “You know, I’m a religious person. But in this case,
I want to see blood.” Tears well up in his eyes. “God forgive me, please.”

The responding officers begin to disperse the mob. Perhaps 100 people are now congregated, and it is still growing. The officers push the crowd back away from the
bench, their backs to the Nazis. It is obvious whom they are protecting, and it’s not these
pitiful people. The remaining 22 officers appear on the scene, and in crowd control
formations, disperse the mob in three separate directions. The lieutenant in charge
suggests to Rockwell that he should leave also. I am five feet away from them. Rockwell’s
blond hair and blue eyes shimmer from the sunlight. His whole countenance seems to be
illuminated. I think of how much he looks like a movie star, or other famous celebrity. I
cannot take my eyes off of him.

He politely refuses, “Lieutenant, with all due respect, I have a permit to be here and
want to say what I came to say.” He speaks softly, which gives his words more impact.

“Well, sir,” the Lieutenant admonishes, “I’ll try my best to keep you safe, but I can’t
guaranty your safety. We’re getting outnumbered pretty fast.”

“I’ll deal with that,” he says nonchalantly.”

As the din becomes louder, the lieutenant makes the decision to give a formal dispersal
order. An ambulance drives into the park to tend to the old lady who had fainted. She is
bleeding heavily from her forehead. They clean and bandage her wound, then tie gauze
around her head for temporary relief. As they try to get her on a gurney, and into the
ambulance, she screams louder than before. ”No, no. I’m not going anywhere. I stay to
see them Gestapos get arrested. They’re animals.” No one could convince her to get into
the ambulance. It drives away without her, but stands by a couple of blocks away.

The crowd becomes heartened by her courage. She is lifted onto shoulders. Above the
crowd, her head heroically bandaged, she evokes another wave of shouts. “See what you
caused, you fucking brutes?” “It’s what you do, damage humans in every way.”

An ear-piercing screech from the megaphone eases the tension. I look in its direction.

The Tactical Commander is standing on an adjacent bench. “Ladies and gentlemen. I am Lieutenant Miller of the Los Angeles Police Department. I am issuing a legal order. I
deem this to be an Unlawful Assembly.” Reading from a card, all the words must be
properly cited for it to be enforceable. “Therefore, I order all of you to leave this area
immediately. Anyone remaining here after five minutes will be arrested and taken to jail.”
At that point, an ominous black paddy wagon drives onto the path with its red lights
spinning. The word ‘Police’ emblazoned on all sides.

A great shout of approval rises from the crowd. Their wish had been granted. They
believe that the Nazis were ordered to leave. On the contrary, they themselves were
ordered to evacuate the park. Either way, their wish will be granted.

Rockwell, seeing the futility of speaking to no one, or at best some returning
bystanders, who will continue to disrupt him, decides to leave. His attempt to peacefully
do his thing has been foiled. Or was it? Was it merely an attempt at intimidation?

With murmurs, shaking arm threats, and epithets, the officers finally disperse the crowd.

No arrests are made, thank God, because I would be severely challenged, morally, to do it.

The Rockwell contingent is escorted to their vehicle, and again escorted safely away
from the location to safe harbor.

The End

P.S. I had great difficulty trying to fathom the justification of the City, and the Police
Commission too, issuing permits to allow this event to take place. They knew that it
would take manpower to Police. There were 30 some odd officers assigned beforehand.
Could it have been political intimidation? Perhaps payback of some kind? I don’t know,
nor do I really care anymore.

Our Freedoms are for everyone, even the Rockwells of my nation.

In retrospect, as I sit here 40 plus years after the event, I feel a surge of pride. Not
swagger or anything boastful.

I have seen since 1961, when the event occurred, and now, what a truly great country I
live in. Despite its ups and downs, and its political ambivalence, I love the USA warts and

Let Freedom Ring.

by  Peter Bruno

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