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Short Story Time — THE WEDDING

Sunday morning short story time. Enjoy.

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The Wedding

2013 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

Through the glass doors of the chapel, I see an empty space except for my second husband Ken and two other friends of the bride and groom. None of the groom’s family is here. None of my family is here either. Grandmas and Grandpas should be looking on. Brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles are missing, too.

The wedding coordinator opens the doors, and we hear a tinny-sounding electric piano plunk out the wedding march. I look at my daughter, ask if she’s ready, and take her arm as we both step on the pink carpet. But, I want to yell “STOP!”

I can’t, though. It’s not my wedding. It’s what my daughter chose. But I hold tears back because we should be in the church where she was baptized and confirmed, not in some Las Vegas chapel. Her father should be here walking down the aisle with us, but he’s not.

The chapel is a beautiful place in a very false way. It’s painted soft off-white with pink accents. All the pews are padded and covered with white vinyl. The altar is decorate with huge sprays of silk flowers that have no fragrance. The greens, yellows, pinks, and white shades will be a very beautiful backdrop for the photographs, I’m sure.

As we journey up the aisle, I feel my daughter’s tension release when she sees her man. He’s waiting at the altar looking like James Bond in a black tux. Another man dressed in a fifteen hundred dollar business suit stands between the groom and his best man.

As we stand in front of the altar, the man in the expensive business suit shouts, “Who gives this woman to this man?” I stand frozen. Pastor Steve should be asking this question. He should be here in his collar and wedding vestments – not this clown who earlier introduced himself as Reverend Bob.

Finally, with a dry throat, I speak. “I do, her mother.” I let go of my little girl, kiss her cheek and take my place beside Ken in the front pew. The couple turns and faces Reverend Bob, as they do, recorded music that must have been arranged by Yanni plays. Then a photographer positions himself in the aisle and the show is on.

Reverend Bob’s voice booms throughout the empty chapel. “You’ve come here in the presence of God to become man and wife . . .”

My mind drifts to the day my daughter called and told me she wanted to elope, but she wanted me there. Two days later we sat in a travel agency, booking the Rose Wedding Package at the Flamingo Hilton, and in one phone call and eighteen hundred dollars later, the wedding was planned.

As my daughter and her man repeat their vows, I fight to hold tears back. They are smiling at each other, wearing the love for each other in their dark eyes. I notice a sparkle of a pair of earrings her deceased Auntie Ginger gave her, but then the photographer moves in closer, and the Yanni music swells, and the spell is broken.

Reverend Bob drawls in a loud voice, “And  now for the éx-change of weddin’ rings.” He holds the gold bands in his hand and studies them like he’d never saw a pair of rings before. After achieving the desired dramatic effect for the video cameras, he says, “These rings represent your cov-en-ant you are makin’ to each other. When you look at them, they should remind you of the vows you are makin’ today.”

He grins a toothy smile, pauses again, and then continues in his annoying western twang, “Rings are a perfect symbol of love because they are an un-endin’ circle that has no beginnin’ and no endin’. God placed love in your hearts, and after you leave here, you will wear a visible sign to the WHOLE world that you are married.

Reverend Bob lowers his voice. “Honey, turn a little to the right so the photographer can get a better shot.” My daughter adjusts herself according to his stage direction. Then he says, “Do you want to put the ring over the glove, darlin’?”

She blushes. “Oh . . . no. I’ll take it off.” My daughter wears a gold bracelet her sister gave her for her sixteenth birthday on her left wrist over her long, white glove. I’m so happy she was sentimental enough to wear mementos from family members who couldn’t be here. Little by little, the stubborn glove comes down, but the bracelet hinders fast progress. “I’m sorry.” She whispers.

Reverend Bob says, “Don’t worry, honey. Take your time. This is your day.” Then he winks at her. “And, besides this is my last weddin’ for today. There’s no need to rush.”

Pulling, tugging, stretching, and finally giggling, the glove finally comes off. The rings are exchanged and Reverend Bob wipes his brow with a silk handkerchief like he’s working hard. Even though the place is air-conditioned, he’s sweating like a horse.

Now it’s time for the big finish. Reverend Bob’s voice takes on a dream-like quality, which reminds me of a DJ on a late-night jazz radio station. “And now as a happy couple, who has pledged their love in front of God and these witnesses, I want you to take a few silent moments to look into each other’s eyes.”

On that cue, the damn Yanni music swells again.

After the proper chord is reached, Reverend Bob says, “I want you to stop the clock.” He pauses. “I want you to go back to the very SECOND that you ré-al-ized you didn’t want to live ONE MORE DAY without each other. I want you to go back to the SECOND when you knew life would have NO meaning if you weren’t together.” He pauses again.

I’m thinking – for godsakes, man – this is a wedding, not a Vegas floor show.

My thoughts are interrupted when he speaks again in a booming voice. “And now that you both are in THAT moment, I want you to leave this pretty little chapel and become each other’s ad-ver-tíse-ment. Always bring HONOR to each other. Become helpmates to each other. Celebrate your victories. CLING to each other when life gets hard. But always re-mem-ber the love you feel today – AS GREAT AS IT IS – will deepen as you go through the years together.”

Reverend Bob stops, raises his hand and his voice crescendos. “And by the powers vested in me by the GREAT STATE OF NEVADA, I prṓ-nounce you HUSBAND AND WIFE!” He lowers his arms and says, “You can kiss your bride.” He grins for the camera, and I half expect him to take a bow.

Reverend Bob has one more command as he directs the bride and groom. “Turn around and face the audience.” As my daughter takes her new husband’s arm, Reverend Bob shouts, “It is my great pleasure, ladies and gentlemen, to present . . .” He takes a deep breath, and the tinny-sounding piano replaces the Yanni music as the newly married couple rushes down the pink aisle. I hear the rustle of her beautiful dress and the two of them giggling as they go out into the hallway.

I feel the love they have for each other, and of course, I cry. My heart is pounding and now I’m sweating up my matronly mother-of-the-bride dress. My first born is beginning a new life, and I finally have a son. Ken kisses my cheek and takes my hand. We walk up the aisle and I feel sadness for everyone who missed this, sweet, simple wedding with a Vegas spin.

My daughter rushes toward me and she gives me a kiss. “Mom, we did it!” Her eyes are as wide as they were when she was four and discovered she could tie her own shoes.

I hug her. “Was it everything you dreamed of?”

“Oh yes, Mom. It was perfect. I got to be the princess, and I married my handsome prince. And I know we’ll live happily ever after.”

Now it was time for more pictures out in the “tropical” garden on the Flamingo property.

Before we join the wedding party, Ken says, “I know this isn’t the wedding you wanted for her, but you made her happy on her special day.” He puts his arm around me. “And Reverend Bob had one thing right.”

“Oh yeah, what was that?” I grinned.

“He said as time goes on, love will grow. And that’s what’s so amazing. Just when I think I can’t possibly love you any more, you do something incredible like you did today, and somehow my love for you grows more.” He kisses me like we were the ones who just got married.

A teardrop rolls down my cheek. “Shucks, darling,’” I say in a Reverend Bob drawl, “You just say all the right stuff.” I laugh and brush the tear away. “Let’s go have some fun!”

We run out of the chapel and join the others on the lawn where my daughter has never been more beautiful.

Barbie & Chuckie – A Little League Summer

Sunday Morning Story Time – Another romp with Barbie and Chuckie

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Barbie and Chuckie – A Little League Summer

Copyright 2013 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

Second grade was finally over, and both Chuckie and Barbie were looking forward to a long, fun summer with no school and no homework before they had to face third grade in the fall. They made plans for climbing trees, riding bikes, swimming, and baseball.

Today, Barbie and Chuckie rode their bikes down to the park to get the permission slip for Little League baseball. They each reached for a form and Chuckie was the only one who was given the form from the head coach.

“Hey Mister, you forgot to give my friend, Barbie a slip.” Chuckie said to the adult coordinator.

“Baseball’s only for boys, kid. She can’t play.”

“But that’s not fair. She can hit, field and even slide into home as good as any boy.”

“She’s a girl, kid. Rules are rules.” The man said and then turned away from Chuckie.

Chuckie looked at Barbie and realize that she was almost crying. “Come on, Barbie. Let’s go home.” He put his arm around her.

Barbie was still stinging from her rejection. “I think that dumb ol’ coach thinks I’m just supposed to sit around and play with dumb dolls all summer.” Barbie said as she kicked the dirt with her tennis shoe.

Chuckie laughed. “Yeah, that’ll be the day.” He paused before he said, “I don’t think I feel much like playing baseball this summer.”

“Don’t be silly, Chuckie. You like baseball. You should play.”

“But it won’t be fun without you out there.”

“Sure it will be. We’re best friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up something you like to do just because I’m a dumb ol’ girl.”

“I would.” Chuckie said with pure honesty.

“I know you would, but that’s silly. After all, you’re a boy and you can’t go to Brownie Day Camp.” Barbie reminded him.

Chuckie thought about it. “I guess you’re right.”

“And I’ll come to your games and cheer for you.” Barbie smiled.

“More like you’ll yell at me to run faster, hit better, and slide lower. I can hear it now. ‘Get in there and swing, Chuckie’.” Chuckie laughed.

Barbie laughed, too. “Last one home is a rotten egg!” She jumped on her bike and pumped her legs as fast as they would go.

“Hey no fair! You’re supposed to say, ‘ready, set, go!’ before it’s a fair race!” Chuckie yelled.

“Oh, quit whining, little boy.” Barbie laughed as the wind blew her hair back. Before she knew it, Chuckie was beside her and in another moment he led the race. He always did.

A few weeks after the Little League fiasco, Barbie and Chuckie were in the park swinging on the swings.

“Next week I’m going to Brownie camp.”

“Yeah, I know. You tell me about every five minutes.” Chuckie teased.

“I do not.” Barbie defended.

“Do you get to ride a bus like we did when we went to swimming lessons last year?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s neat. What else do you think you’ll be doing?”

“I’m not sure. I know I have to bring a sack lunch.”

“Do you have to wear your uniform?”

“Nah. Just shorts and a top.”

“Hmm . . . so you don’t know anything about what you’ll be doing?”

“Well, not exactly. Mrs. “Z” our Brownie leader said we’ll learn new songs and make stuff like lariats.”

“What are lariats?”

“I don’t know. But she also said we’ll learn about plants in the woods, so we don’t step in poison ivy.” Then she said, “One cool thing we’re going to learn to do is build a fire for a cookout.”

Chuckie’s eyes were as wide as jumbo marbles. “You get to build fires? Wow! My Mom would beat me silly if I ever touched a match!”

“We have to build a fire to cook stuff like hot dogs and marshmallows on a stick, Chuckie. We’ll learn how to do it safely.”

“Yeah. you better, or ol’ Smokey the Bear will eat you if you start a forest fire.” Chuckie laughed. “I wish I could go to camp with you.”

“I know. But no boys allowed.”

“Why is that, Barbie? Why do we always have to be separated?”

“I don’t know, but it sure seems like the older we get, the more stuff we can’t do together.”

“Yeah. Getting older kinda stinks.”

“Not really. We’ll just have to teach each other all the stuff we learn when we’re apart.”

“Good idea. But so far, you know more about baseball than what I’ve learned.” Do you think you could help me hit better by pitching me some?”

“Sure. What’s the problem?”

“I whiff a lot, and then the kids laugh.”

“Are you watching the ball all the time? You’re not closing your eyes again are you?”

“Well,” Chuckie didn’t want to admit he was afraid of the ball when it was coming toward him.

“Come on, Chuckie. That little old “hard rocket” is a lot smaller than you. It won’t kill you. You’ve got a helmet on when you’re in the batter’s box.”

“I’m just afraid, Barbie. And if you tell anybody, I’ll kill you personally!”

“I’d never tell. But I’m going to help you get over your fear. Come on. Let’s go play some baseball.

The two kids got on their bikes, went home, picked up their baseball gear, and then pedaled back to the park.

“You stand there at home plate, Chuckie, and then I’m going to throw the ball so it hits you.” Barbie commanded.

“On purpose?”

“Just stop being a wienie. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Barbie did a pitcher’s wind up and let the baseball fly. It hit Chuckie in the arm.

“Hey!” Chuckie yelled. “That hurt! What are you doing?”

She threw another one that hit him in the hip. “Cut it out, Barbie!”

She threw another ball that hit him in his butt.

Chuckie ran toward her with his fists up. “You hit me again and I’m going to pound you! I swear it Barbie! Girl or no Girl!”

Barbie was laughing. “See, you got hit by a baseball –three times—and you didn’t die did you?”

Chuckie was still fuming. “What?”

“I had to show you, if you got hit, you wouldn’t die. Yeah. I hit you. And you’re still standing. Would you have believed me otherwise?”

“Well,” Chuckie paused. “You didn’t have to be mean about it.”

“I’m not mean. Now get back in the batter’s box. Watch the ball come out of my hand. Pretend you’re seeing it slow down like in the cartoons.”

Chuckie walked back to the batter’s box rubbing his butt.

Barbie was still busy giving him orders. “Hold the bat up and get ready to swing. And when the ball is right in front of you, swing—with your eyes OPEN! I know you can do it, Chuckie.”

Chuckie kicked the dirt. He pounded the wooden bat on the ground and assumed the batter’s position. Then he set his jaw tight and glared at Barbie. She let the pitch go and he watched it flying toward him. He thought about Barbie’s instructions, after all, she could hit the ball further than anybody he knew.

He watched the ball get bigger and bigger as it got closer and closer. In a split second, it looked as big as a grapefruit, and he swung the bat with all his strength. He watched with unbelieving eyes as the ball sailed out into the outfield.

“Run, Chuckie. Don’t stand there! Get to first!” Barbie was jumping up and down. That was the the furthest Chuckie had ever hit a ball.

Without thinking he took off and ran the bases all the way around.

Barbie laughed as her friend rounded the bases with his superior speed. She yelled, “And the crowd went wild!”

He jumped on home plate and pretended he was his favorite baseball hero—Eddie Mathews who played for the Milwaukee Braves. He yelled. “I did it, Barbie! I did it!”

“Yes you did. And before we go home, you’re going to do it a dozen more times.”

“Okay, coach. I’m ready!” Chuckie had confidence he could hit it out of the park every time.

“The two little friends practiced all afternoon and Chuckie felt ready for the tryouts next week. As they were leaving the park to go home for supper, Barbie said, “After I get home from Brownie camp tomorrow afternoon, let’s work on your throwing.”

“What’s wrong with my throwing?”

“We’ll you’re not the most accurate kid on the field.”

“Good point. Fielding it is.” Chuckie jumped on his bike and smiled at his best friend. “And you have to promise me you’ll teach me something you learned at Brownie camp.”

“I think you’re trying to turn me into a teacher, Chuckie.”

“Well, you gotta admit it. You’re pretty good at it.”

Barbie smiled. She was happy, even though she was a girl.

Life Without Chuckie — Part IV

It’s Sunday Short Story time. So, settle down with your favorite hot beverage and read another installment about two great friends, Barbie and Chuckie.book clipart

 

Life Without Chuckie

Part IV – The First Communion

2013 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

The winter months went by slowly in 1958. Chuckie and Barbie could only play on the weekends, which actually meant Saturday. They spent their one day a week building snowmen when the snow would stick together, skating on the ice rink that was flooded in the village park, and building snow forts and tunnels behind the grocery store where the snow was piled as high as the roof. But, as  much fun as the winter brought, both children waited patiently for Spring, when they didn’t have to be cold to have a good time outside.

One warm day in April, the children were able to play in Chuckie’s sandbox again after the long Winter. Barbie liked playing there because a chain-link fence kept out her little brother, John Robert. Nowadays, whenever she wanted to play with Chuckie, her little four-year old brother tagged along and butted into the her fun. Worst of all, if she didn’t willingly bring along the little pest, her mother would scold her and then tell her father how bad she was when he came home from work.

“Where’s John Robert?” Chuckie asked Barbie.

“He’s at home, taking a nap. Thank God.” Barbie replied as he carefully honed out a tall spire on her sand castle.

“Why do you say that? He’s not bad.” Chuck didn’t mind having John Robert around because he always wanted a little brother, but instead he was the youngest in his family.

“He’s such a pest. He gets into my stuff, even when Mom tells him to stay out of my room. But he never gets a spanking. Man, if I would disobey like that, I’d get a whack on my butt and then have to tell the priest in confession, too.”

“What are you talking about? What the heck is “confession?”  Chuckie screwed up his face when he said the word.

“Well, I’m just learning about it right now. When you do bad stuff, you have to go to church and be really, really sorry for your sins. Then go into this little dark closet and tell the priest all the bad stuff you did, and he gives you a penance.”

“You’re kidding?” Chuckie thought she was making it up. “That’s crazy! I thought you said God saw everything.”

“Well, he does. He knows everything, too, Chuckie. We talked about this before.”

The whole concept of confession confused Chuckie. “So, why do you have to tell some other guy about what you did when God knows already?”

“I don’t know. But that’s the way it is. If I don’t tell, I can’t make my First Communion.”

“Communion? What’s that?”

Barbie looked at Chuckie like a teacher. “Communion is when you get to eat the body and blood of Jesus.”

Chuckie stood up and looked at her with fear in his eyes. “You can’t do it, Barbie. That’s just wrong. You’ll get sick and die!”

“What are you talking about?” Barbie looked up at him.

“You can’t eat somebody. That’s being a cannibal like on Tarzan! Only guys living in a jungle do that kind of icky stuff!’

Barbie looked at Chuckie like he was stupid. “It’s not real a body, Chuckie. It’s just a little piece of fake bread the priest puts on your tongue as he says, “Body of Christ.”

Now Chuckie was really intrigued. He sat down again. “So, this communion thing is just make believe?”

“I guess.” Barbie pondered. “I really don’t know how it all works, and I’m afraid to ask because good ol’ Mrs. Pink gets mad when we ask questions. She thinks we’re not paying attention if we have a question.”

Chuckie’s lowered his voice. “So you’re going through with this communion thing?”

“I’ve got no choice. Everybody in the whole second grade is doing it on May 10th. Mom’s even making me a pretty white dress and a bride veil to wear for the ceremony.”

Chuckie looked at Barbie with new eyes. Going to Catholic school certainly required her to do a lot of weird stuff, and she never complained. “Can I come?” Chuckie was curious about this whole concept of eating another person.

“I’m afraid not, Chuckie, ‘cause you’re not Catholic. There’s only enough room in our little church for Catholics.”

“Do you have to have a special decoder ring or something to get in?”

Barbie laughed. “No, silly. I guess the guy at the door just knows.”

“Oh.” Chuckie wasn’t convinced and felt a little hurt he was excluded from such a big deal in his friend’s life.

Barbie said. “And besides, you wouldn’t like it anyhow because everything is in Latin.” Barbie said with authority, and then quickly added, “But I want you to come to my party, after all the church stuff is done.”

“Gee, thanks.” Chuckie was happy to finally be included. “What kind of present do you get for going through this communion stuff?”

“You don’t have to get me a present. Just come over and eat with us.” Barbie smiled at him.

“Oh, okay.” Chuckie paused for a few seconds and then asked. “What’s Latin?”

Barbie had to think hard on how to explain something she didn’t understand either. “Well, it’s this secret way the priest talks and sings in church. I think he wants to keep what he’s saying a secret because nobody is supposed to know what he’s saying ’cause he’s talking to God.”

“That’s pretty weird.” Chuckie wondered why anybody would want to such a church if they couldn’t understand what was going on.

“Yeah, I know. It makes sitting still for an hour really hard.” Barbie confessed. “And we have to sit through Mass everyday.”

“It sure is hard going to that Catholic school.” Chuckie felt sorry for her.

“Tell me about it!” Barbie said. “You know, I still ask Daddy if he would switch me over to your school every once in a while when I can’t take it any more.”

Chuckie nodded. “Can you say something is this Latin?”

“I know this: In nomine Patris et Filli, et Spirtus Sancti.”

“What’s it mean?”

“I don’t know.It must have something to do with the sign of the cross because he always does this when he says the words.” Barbie said as she crossed her chest.

“I’m sorry, Barbie, all this Catholic stuff seems pretty nuts-o.” Chuckie started to laugh.

“You take that back, Chuckie. It’s not nuts-o! It’s Jesus talk, that’s all. You don’t understand because you’re a PUBLIC!”

“I’m a what?”

“A PUBLIC. You go to the public school.” Barbie said with confidence.

“I am not a PUBLIC. That’s dumb.”

Barbie got extremely irritated with her friend. “You are too a public. Teacher says there’s Catholics and everybody else. And Chuckie, you’re going to HELL! I didn’t want to tell you, but you are!” The little girl put down her sand tools and stomped toward the gate.

Chuckie chased after her. “Take it back, Barbie. If you weren’t a girl, I’d pound you! I’m not going to HELL! I’m not going anywhere! I live right here on 97th Street, and I’m staying here with my Mom, Dad, Ronnie and Carol forever!”

Barbie could see he was really upset and she calmed down. She stared at her best friend.  “I guess Jesus wouldn’t want us to fight like this, Chuckie. I’m sorry.” Barbie took a deep breath. Knowing her best friend would have to go to hell just because he didn’t go to her church weighed heavy on her. “Maybe you won’t have to go to hell because you’re such a good friend.”  Barbie crossed her fingers behind her back as she felt like she just lied to her best friend. Now she had a big sin to confess to the priest on May 8th.

“Let’s not talk about Catholic stuff again. Okay?” Chuckie spit in his hand and offered it for Barbie to shake. She spit in her hand and the two friends sealed their deal with a strong handshake as they smiled at each other.

“Let’s get our bikes and ride to the park.” Chuckie said as his bright blue eyes lit up.

“Good idea. I’ll push you on the merry-go-round.” Barbie smiled.

“Deal.” Chuckie ran to the garage to get his two-wheeler out, while Barbie did the same.

They never talked about religion again.

A Back-Breaking Shangri-La

Good Sunday Morning. It’s story time again. Today, as most of the country is digging out from under heavy snow storms, I’ve turned to one of my favorite topics–gardening. Thinking about the rebirth of spring in the dead of winter gives me hope. So, sit back and enjoy a story about one of my most ambitious project that keeps on giving pleasure and back-breaking work.

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A Back-Breaking Shangri-La

By

Barbara McCloskey

Have you ever planted a garden? I’m not talking about plopping a potted plant in the corner of a patio pot, or tending to a couple of tomato plants in amongst geraniums. I’m talking about landscaping, digging, pulling and getting so dirty if you were a kid, your mother would send you to the basement to strip before she’d let you in the house.  I’m talking about selecting plants that compliment one another—tall ones in the back, low ones in the front, colors that weave a tapestry that blooms from spring to fall.

I never really thought about taking on such a large project until my husband, and I bought a “fixer-upper” house with an equally ignored backyard. After the interior of our home was to our liking, it was time for the backyard to match. My dream was to create a quiet place where I could hide from the world. A place that would greet me with open arms after a day of frustration or disappointment in the corporate world. I wanted a safe place which I could relax. A place that would bring me smiles whenever I was there.

My space had to be perfect—but after consulting with professional landscapers, I knew that their price tags were far more than my meager budget could withstand. On top of that, my husband bugged out early, stating that his gardening expertise was confined to pulling out the lawn mower once a week. Needless to say, he wasn’t keen on helping me create my Shangri-La, so how was I going to accomplish this task?

The answer came with Jon, a poor, struggling college student who agreed he could handle whatever our city lot jungle could dish out. So we made a plan and went to work. He would labor in the hot summer sun, and I would make LOTS of lemonade.

We started by deciding what part of the existing mess would stay. That was easy. We had two 20 ft. pines and a 300 ft. locus that we’d work around. During the excavation of buckthorn, grapevines, old raspberry bushes and a forest of thistles as tall as the neighbor’s six-foot fence, Jon discovered a couple of young maple trees that would stay.

Through the hours of shoveling, pick-axing, sawing, straining and pulling, Jon uncovered slowly made progress in taming the wilderness. By fall, the land was clear enough on the east lot line to begin to planting a couple of small shrubs and a couple of dozen spring bulbs. We finished it off with a cover of golden mulch that would protect the new plantings through the winter.

While the snow billowed outside my window during the winter months, I focused on research. I watched the gardening experts on TV, visited websites, bought magazines and poured over dozens of bulb, plant and seed catalogs wondering if I really had it in me to make my piece of heaven half as wonderful as the pictures in the books. So, just to be safe, I prayed to my Grandma, who could grow flowers and vegetables out of a rock. If she could bequeath her green thumb to me, I knew I would never fail.

The snow barely melted before I started to itch to resume what Jon and I had started last summer. The first joy was watching the early crocus pop their pretty little heads through the snow. Then the grape hyacinths showed their delicate flowers shortly thereafter, and I wanted to rush right out to the garden center to buy the annuals to enhance the pots that I had scattered around the yard. But knowing the strange sense of humor of Mother Nature in Wisconsin, I restrained myself to not plant anything before Memorial Day. So I waited. Not patiently. But I waited. In the meantime, I pulled weeds. Lots of weeds.

When it was time, I turned my mid-size SUV into a weekend pick-up truck that found it hard to pass a garden center. I bought whatever was on sale and every week came home with a load of plants to fill in the spaces that were ready for planting. I sectioned off plots for a pink garden, a yellow garden and a shade garden. A flowering tree here and an evergreen shrub there. Maybe not a scientific approach, but I felt like I was putting the “right” plant in just the “right” place. I was faithful to my new babies, watering them every night and fertilizing them on time. I clucked over my plants like a hen watches over her chicks.

When summer came again, Jon came back to tackle the worst overgrown part of the project. He worked for weeks to get down to the soil and hauled away truckloads of debris and weeds. Jon had archeologist moment when he unearthed about 100 antique paving bricks that had been manufactured in several different states. The previous owner had used the “pavers” for the floor of old gardening shed that had been torn down before we even bought the house. After a bath with a power washer, the bricks revealed themselves to be a very suitable edging for rest of the garden.

On a hot July afternoon, Jon and I finished the project. We mixed wheelbarrows full of soil, peat, fertilizer and grass seed and gently laid a carpet of the mixture over the worn out dirt where the pavers had sat for many years. Now all I had to do was add water and watch the grass grow. In a couple of weeks, my baby grass sprouted and turned into a brilliant lush, green carpet. I felt like a proud parent.

Throughout this project, I learned that a garden is an entity of its own. It constantly changes as it grows. It elbows weeds for growing space; basks in the sun, and withers in drought. The garden lives on a knife-edge delicate balance of wet and dry. It sleeps through the winter and resurrects in the spring.

As its caretaker, every year I feel a sense of frustration, exhilaration, and satisfaction. I’ve also learned this project is on-going. It’s never finished. And that’s part of its charm. I know that claiming my own backyard as a safe, beautiful place will grow old with me. We’ve become comfortable with one another, and like old friends, the time we spend together will enrich each of us as long as we live together. It’s good for body and soul.

Parnelli – The Wonder Cat

Parnelli in his Bowtie

Parnelli in his Bow tie

If you know anything about cats, you know they choose you; you don’t choose them. They decide who strokes them and feeds them. They decide who they will love and who they won’t. You don’t own them; they own you. And the day Parnelli decided he was going to own me, I was very lucky.

We met at “Orphaned Felines” when a warm, friendly woman led me to a room filled with cages. Each held a little  fur ball of energy. Up until now, I was a dog owner and didn’t have a clue how to select a good cat. So, I surmised, the first animal that would let me hold him/her and purred in the process, would be friendly enough to take home.

So, I went about my task — opening the cages, picking up the kittens, stroking them and then returning them to their cages because none of them purred. After handling about twelve animals, I grew worried . . . obviously; my selection process wasn’t working. But I promised my children I would bring home a kitten, so, I kept trying.

As if he read my mind, a six-week old, black and white kitten with Peridot green eyes and a very pink nose beckoned me with a series of tiny meows from one of the bottom tier cages. He stuck his little white paw through the steel bars, begging me to give him a chance.

I opened the cage and picked up this mouthy kitten, and the second I held him close, he nuzzled my neck, and purred as loud as a lion. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Either you love me very much, or you know the way out of here!” Either way, this little rascal was smart enough to be making the trip home with me.

The children were so excited when they saw him. He was playful and loving. He allowed the girls to kiss and hug him. He never scratched them. He never hissed.  He never jumped up on tables and other kitty “no-no’s” – in fact, he was more like a puppy than a stereotyped kitten—with the exception of not having to “house break” him.

We named him, “Parnelli” because he’d race around the house as fast as he could go, stop on a dime, fall over, and fall fast asleep a second later. It was if he was the famous race car driver Parnelli Jones making a pit stop.

In a few weeks, my eight-year old Sarah had Parnelli riding in a doll buggy, wearing a baby bonnet. She tucked him into bed in her doll cradle at night, read him a story and a kissed him goodnight. This little trooper took all the loving two young children could dish out. When he had enough, he would jump up on the bookcase where they couldn’t reach him and take a break.

Parnelli learned to sit, come, and shake paws. He would even perform all of his tricks for company–providing there was a few treats in it for him. He played his own version of “fetch” with a furry gray “mousy” that we bought in the grocery store.  Curiously enough, he enjoyed getting dressed up He especially loved to wear a bow tie–you could just tell the way he proudly pranced around that he knew he looked good.

As Parnelli got bigger, our love for him grew. But then tragedy struck. Ten years after Parnelli came to live with us, our family when through a divorce, and I had to leave. As much as I wanted to take him with me, I thought it would be terribly unfair to the girls to take their pet – so Parnelli stayed with my daughters and their father.

As you might imagine, being sent away from my family was torture, and my angst included Parnelli. It was months before I stopped looking down, so not to step on him because he usually was under my feet.  I missed his snuggling at night and his funny antics that made me giggle throughout the day. I even missed his demanding “meows” early in the morning when he announced it was time for breakfast, and he spurred me into action to fulfill his wishes.

Everyone at work thought it was very curious that I kept Parnelli’s picture on my desk right beside the children. He was more than a cat or a pet, he was just a four-legged child. I had to accept Parnelli and I would never be together again.

Then one night after supper, I received a distress call from my youngest daughter, now age eighteen. “Mom. I need some help. Would you take Parnelli? Dad’s going to put him to sleep!”

Panic rose in my throat, “Is he sick?”

“No,” she answered. “Since I moved out, Dad’s sick of taking care of him. That’s all. I can’t have him where I’m living. Parnelli’s perfectly fine. Please say yes, Mom.”

“YES, Of course! YES!” I hung up the phone knowing my “baby” was coming back to me!

Ten minutes later Parnelli was in my arms. It was a joyous reunion, and even though his living quarters had shrunk to a two-bedroom condo from a four-bedroom house in the country, Parnelli seemed happy. He purred non-stop for a month, snuggling with me whenever I was still. We “talked”  because he knew I understood his meow intonations. He seemed elated he was “home” again.

Parnelli lived his retirement years in the lap of luxury. He lounged on a heated king-size water bed in the boudoir most of the day, sometimes getting up to stretch, have a snack or make a needed trip his private “box.”  He properly trained my new husband, Ken to his satisfaction. He made sure he got his milk in the morning and his treats at night. And every evening after supper, Parnelli sat between us on the sofa as we watch television and stroked his silky black and white coat. One year on Thanksgiving, he jumped on the chair at the head of the table and sat there waiting to be served. You see, Parnelli never realized he was a cat.

As I watched his round, eighteen-pound body sprawl in the sunshine by the patio door, stretching and yawning before he returned to his most comfortable sleeping position on the couch, I was so grateful he was with me again. He’d chatter at the birds by the window, and on good days, he played like a kitten. Parnelli loved to crawl into empty boxes, and I laughed so hard when he tried to get his fat self into a tiny jewelry box, as he looked at me as if it was my fault he didn’t fit.

Parnelli’s life was long and good. We enjoyed each other as much as a human and a cat can. When his tired, old seventeen-year old body couldn’t sustain him any longer and  he had to leave me behind, it was the saddest day in my life.

But a friendship like ours endures the ages, and I know someday we’ll walk together cuddle again, reminiscing about the good old days when we both were young.

The Wedding

Good morning, everyone. It’s Sunday Story Time. Pour your coffee and enjoy this tale about a Las Vegas wedding.

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The Wedding

2013 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

My daughter and her fiance left for Las Vegas by car two days before my husband Ken and I boarded a “FunJet.” We were early enough to get the best seats on the plane—right behind the bulkhead. That meant for three hours we stared at a carpeted wall. But unlike all the other passengers who were packed in like sardines, we had leg room.

“And what can I get you to drink?” A male flight attendant in a navy blue uniform asked.

“Ginger Ale, please.” I answered. For some reason, I only drink ginger ale on airplanes.

“There you are, miss.” He handed the golden liquid that was poured over too much ice.

“Thank you.” I said, knowing not to complain.

I turned to my husband, “He must want a tip, huh?” He called me “Miss.” I laughed.

Ken leaned over and kissed my check. “No, sweetheart. You look like a “Miss.”

“Why am I feeling so old, then?”

“It’s probably because your daughter is getting married tomorrow. Don’t all women feel that way when they see their daughters in wedding dresses?”

“I can’t speak for other women.” I said pouting. “You know what I wish?”

“What’s that?”

“I wish they will find the same happiness we’ve found together.” I leaned over and kissed his cheek. He smiled and took my hand.

 

We landed on schedule, and Mabel from the travel agency told us to take the Vegas Express shuttle to the Flamingo Hotel. There were dozens of buses lined up outside the baggage claim area and ours was the last one in the queue.

A skinny man leaned against the shuttle bus. He wore a large black Stetson pulled down over his eyes with a large white feather sticking out of the headband; he also had a toothpick sticking out of his mouth. He wore a red and blue plaid long-sleeve shirt with pearl studs for buttons. His pointy snakeskin cowboy boots with two-inch heels made this slight man appear very tall. Lose-fitting Levi’s were held up by a thick leather belt with a silver belt buckle as large as a hubcap. I giggled as I thought he must have seen one too many Marlboro cigarette commercials.

As Ken and I got closer to him, I noticed he didn’t bend his knees; I surmised he must have been breaking in a new pair of jeans. He tipped his hat like a throw-back from the saloon days and revealed his bulbous nose, a ruddy complexion, and a scraggly salt-and-pepper mustache. His ears stuck out like wings under his hat. “Howdy, ma’am. Welcome to Las Vegas! My name is Gus. What hotel you folks stayin’ at?” He smiled to reveal he was missing a front tooth.

I smiled back. “Thank you, Gus. We’re going to the Flamingo.” I handed him my overstuffed suitcase.

“All righty then.” Gus grunted as he threw our luggage into the belly of the bus.

Ken pushed me to the very back of the bus. “That guy is scary and I think he has a hanker’ for you, dahlin’.”

I laughed.  “Well, we are in Vegas, dahlin’” I drawled back at him.

Several more people boarded after us, and Gus announced over the loud speaker in a heavy western accent, “Ladies and gentlemen make yourselves comfortable, and we’ll get underway in gist a sec’.”

A few minutes later, he dropped down into the driver’s seat and looked into the overhead mirror. “For those of you who have never been to the desert before, let me be the first one to welcome you to the land of “lost wages.” He laughed at his own joke. No one else joined him. Gus muttered, “tough crowd,” and pulled away from the curb.

He shifted into a higher gear as we pulled onto the highway. ““Come on, folks, loosen up—you’re goin’ to have a great time!  But while you’re here, you listen to ol’ Gus. Drink plenty of water. Now I know, the fancy alcoholic drinks are more fun, but those snake oils will not only give you a headache the next day, they’ll dry out faster than a bed sheet on a windy day. Worst part is, you won’t even know you’re drying out before you’re faintin’ dead away. Don’t get sick. Be smart. You don’t think I got this pretty face from keeping myself hydrated, do ya?”

This time everyone on the bus laughed.

Gus smile. He knew he had his crowd. “I like to think of myself as the airport shuttle ambassador.” Gus gained speed as he moved expertly through traffic. “I’ll be happy to answer any questions about our little oasis—providin’ your question doesn’t have anything to do with the art of gambling.’ I never did figger out how to beat the house. Don’t think it’s even possible.”

Gus was quiet as he turned at a busy intersection. After the turn was completed, Gus continued. “Now, where was I?” He paused for a second. “Oh yeah—I know it’s hard to believe, but drivin’ an airport shuttle wasn’t my first career choice when I came out here twenty-five years ago. I was going to be a famous high roller, but somehow that just didn’t work out.”

Gus had wormed his way into the ears of the bus riders as they laughed again.

Knowing he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, Gus went on talking. “Now, old Gus is goin’ to give you a little history lesson about our lovely city. Did you know that “Las Vegas” means “The Meadows,” and its first visitors were the Paiute Indians? It seems there’s a natural spring just north of downtown which was source of refreshment for them in the olden days. By the 1850’s the Mormons built a small mission and fort here. Can’t say if there still around.” Gus laughed. “And then in 1902, the railroad bought up most of the land and where the tracks went through, twelve hundred lots were sold.” Gus gulped some water from a cup he had on the dash. “That was the start of our fine city.”

“Before Hoover Dam got built, Vegas was a pretty sleepy little place. But that project brought outta-work men here from all over the country. Remember during the depression, it was damn hard to find a good job.” He laughed at his pun.

“About the same time the dam was being built, gamblin’ was legalized. When ol’ Bugsy Siegel came to town in 1946, he had big ideas for the place. He helped build the Flamingo. Everybody said he was nuts for thinkin’ rich people would come all the way out here just for gamblin’, but old Bugsy was right. He made that hotel so big and flashy high rollers from around the world eventually found the place. But Bugsy made some big mistakes; first, he opened the place prematurely before the “bugs” in the hotel had been worked out, then he couldn’t pay the mob back for their investment when his floozy Hollywood actress girlfriend skimmed money off the top. As we all know, that was the end of poor ol’  Bugsy. If you’re staying at the Flamingo, check out the memorial to him.”

Gus turned the bus again.  “But it’s been since the 80s, the city has really taken off. Over a million people live here, now—about 4,000 come out here every month. I gotta say, though, I liked it better 25 years ago when I bought my first mobile home. It’s a little too big for me, now.” He turned the corner onto “the strip.

As the bus passed hotel after hotel, Gus continued our orientation to his city.  “Last count there was over 150,000 hotel rooms in Vegas. Just look at these beauties!” He said like he was showing off his personal property. “Whatever you’re looking for in Vegas, we’ve got it. Heck, we’ve built the whole world right in a couple of miles! Look – there’s New York, and over yonder the Eiffel Tower, and there’s Italy complete with Gondolas . . . just for all of you.” He took another sip from his cup and cleared his throat. “And don’t forget Caesar’s Palace—heck, the damn Romans couldn’t build it that good!”

Gus parked the bus in front of the Flamingo and jumped out of his seat like he’d been shot. He popped open the luggage compartment under the bus and grabbed our bags. Then he came over to the tall steps of the bus and offered his dry,weathered hand to help me down. “Well, dahlin’ here you are, safe and sound, and ol’ Gus started you off right.” He flashed his toothless smile.

I realized he was waiting for a tip. I handed him a five. “Thanks Gus.”

“Why thank you, ma’am.” He tipped his hat. “You and your hubby have a wonderful time in the house that Bugsy built.” He waved goodbye, jumped back on the bus and pulled away.

“Well, that sure was quite a welcome.” Ken dryly.

I smiled. “I think Gus was just what we needed. His commentary got me ready for this Vegas wedding. I never dreamed my daughter would be getting married here.

Ken knew I wanted my daughter to be married in our church with family and friends surrounding her as she journeyed into a new chapter of her life.

He put his arm around me and whispered, “This will be fun. Just wait and see.”

“What would I do without you?”

Ken grinned. “Well, I’m sure ol’ Gus would be good to you. He’s got a first class mobile home, you know. He certainly had a hankerin’ for you, dahlin’.”

I laughed, took Ken’s hand, and followed the bellhop to our suite which would be our home for the next four days.

Lost in St. Ignace

Story corner is here. Today’s story takes me back to when I was 15 years old, vacationing with my cousin, and Aunt and Uncle. We traveled north in Wisconsin to the locks at Sault Ste. Marie and then South down the Michigan coast to Muskego. It was a wonderful week, with the exception of a horrible misunderstanding.

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LOST IN ST. IGNACE

Copyright 2013 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

“Nancy, go look for your father. He got up about an hour ago and said he was going for breakfast.” Aunt Jo yelled from behind the hotel bathroom door.

My cousin pulled on her shorts and sandals. “Where should I look, Mom?”

“Just look around the hotel. He’s probably bending somebody’s ear.” My Uncle was a very social guy and could strike up a conversation with anybody.

The first place Nancy and I looked was the St. Ignace Hotel Café. Uncle Marco loved his coffee. He always said that his first “Cup of Joe” was like putting premium gas in an eight-cylinder Buick. He needed it to get going. He wasn’t in the café, so we tried the lobby. No Uncle Marco there, either. Even worse, no one had seen him. About the only place left to look was the pier down by Lake Michigan. At home, he liked to feed the birds, so he’d take bread scraps to feed the gull. We had no luck there, either.

We went back to the room where Aunt Jo had finished packing. “Sorry, Aunt Jo—we couldn’t find him, and we looked everywhere. We even asked people we met if they had seen him this morning. Nobody had. It’s like he’s disappeared.” I said.

I saw a redness spread over Aunt Jo’s neck like cherry Kool-Aid spilled on a white tablecloth. She picked up the suitcase and halled it out to the car. One the way out, we heard her mutter. “That man! I told him I wanted to leave early. Damn him!” The next thing we heard was a loud thud as the trunk slammed slam shut.

“I hate it when this kind of stuff happens.” Nancy said as she twisted her hair. “She’ll rant for the rest of the day. I hope he’s got a good excuse.”

“Don’t worry cuz. We’ll find him, and then she’ll cool down.”

“Yeah, after she drives a couple of hundred miles with her foot in the carburetor.”

I laughed at Nancy’s image, but she didn’t smile. Aunt Jo and Uncle Marco were known for their fiery blow-ups. Nancy gave me a “cut it out” look.

“Girls!” Aunt Jo barked like the WWII Army Lieutenant she used to be. “Get out here ON THE DOUBLE!”

We scurried out to the car. We knew nobody messed with “the lieutenant” when she emerged.

“Get in!” She ordered.

Nancy and I climbed in the backseat.

We heard her mutter under her breath.  “I’m gonna find that man and then I’m going to kill him!” She fired up the 1960 Rambler four-cylinder sedan and peeled out of the hotel driveway.

We cruised up and down Main Street like teenagers looking for a Friday night pick-up. Safe behind our sunglasses, Nancy and I did our surveillance like a couple of TV homicide detectives—she looking in one direction and I the other. Meanwhile, Aunt Jo kept a choke hold on the steering wheel. With every pass through the sleepy resort town, her square jaw grew tighter and her eyes got darker. The best thing I could do was say a silent prayer for the wanted man.

“There he is, Aunt Jo!” I yelled and pointed out the window.

“Where?” She slammed on the brakes.

“Over there by that white picket fence. He’s talking to an old guy in bib overalls.”

Sure enough, there was portly Uncle Marco in his Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirt, white socks, and Roman sandals. As usual, he had a Panetela cigar between his lips. I prayed it wouldn’t be his last.

Aunt Jo parked in front of the picket fence, rolled down the window, and yelled, “Marco!”

Uncle Marco turned. He tipped his Milwaukee Braves baseball cap to her and waved, “Hi Honey!”

Aunt Jo yanked the parking brake, opened the door, and marched over to him. She grabbed his sleeve and dragged him back to the car without saying a word to the old guy Marco had been talking to. She opened the passenger door and gestured for him to get in with a “don’t give me any shit” look on her face.

“Bye Steve!” Uncle Marco waved to the guy in the overalls. “Thanks for the great breakfast.”

The man stood watching with his mouth open.

“What are you so steamed about, woman? I told you I was going for breakfast.”

“Breakfast? Is that what you were doing? Well, Mr. Bigshot, the girls looked all over at the hotel and café, and nobody saw you there. It looks to me like you were just shooting the breeze and making us late like you always do.”

“The food in that café is crap, so I decided to go uptown to the diner.”

Aunt Jo ignored him. “We even checked the gas stations, thinking you ran out of cigars. But did we find you? Noooooo!”

She looked backward to check for traffic, dropped the old Rambler into gear, popped the clutch, and lurched into the main street. She stomped on the accelerator. We heard the engine’s shrill whine, and she shifted again. In the backseat, Nancy and I remained silent and just hung onto the door and prayed.

She shouted, “The girls even looked around the lakefront thinking you might have fallen in feeding those damn gulls.” She threw up her hands.

Uncle Marco sat with his arms across his abundant chest. “Are you through? I was fine.”

She growled, “You were FINE. Now isn’t that just GREAT! While you were FINE, we missed breakfast. You’re just a damn juvenile delinquent, Marco. A damn juvenile. . .”

He interrupted her, “You didn’t eat? Why not? You knew I went out early to . . .”

She cut in, “We’ve been looking for you for almost an hour.”

In a soothing voice, Uncle Marco said, “So, let’s go and find a place right now. I could stand another cup of joe.” He laid his hand on her right hand that rested on the shift lever.

She threw off his hand. “Don’t touch me.” She said without looking at him.

Uncle Marco looked like a scolded little boy. “Will you at least let me explain, please?”

She didn’t say a word.

“I went to the diner,” he began, “but there was this long line that went all the way out to the sidewalk, see? I guess everybody staying at the hotel thought the café food was crap, too!” He looked over to her. When he realized she wasn’t smiling, he cleared his throat and continued his tale. “The line wasn’t moving very fast, so while I was standing there I struck up a conversation with Steve. . .”

“Steve? Steve? Who the hell is Steve?” she barked.

“I’m trying to tell you, if you’d just SHUT UP for a minute, woman.”

Nancy and I sunk deeper into the vinyl backseat. I had never seen a grown couple fight before. My parents never raised their voices at each other, so this argument had me biting my fingernails.

“Steve—the guy in the bib overalls—the guy you scared the crap out of—that Steve. He was in front of his house watering his tomatoes, and I said, “Hi. Isn’t it a nice day?”

Aunt Jo stayed silent. The speedometer read 70 mph and the car shook.

“Anyway, I got to talking with him—and then he said, “How long have you been waiting in line?” I said, “Almost 20 minutes. Well, he did the damnedest thing. Steve said, ‘Marco, why don’t you come on in, and Mary will fix you a couple of eggs and toast.’ Well, that was really generous, so I thought, What the hell? Why not? This guy is nice enough to offer, so I should be nice enough to oblige. The next thing I know, I have my feet under his kitchen table, downing two of the best sunny side-ups I’ve had in years.” Uncle Marco took a long drag on his cigar.

Aunt Jo glared at him. “So now you have to rub it in that I’m a lousy cook?”

Uncle Marco sighed. He knew whatever he would say wouldn’t be the right thing right now. “No honey—I didn’t mean—“

She cut him off, “Let me get this right. You mooched breakfast off perfect strangers? Honestly. You’re unbelievable!”

Uncle Marco grinned with an enticing smile. “That’s why you married me—I’m unbelievable.” He winked at her.

After that crack, I thought Aunt Jo would pull over and make him walk home. But instead, she grinned just a little bit and the tension in her face melted away. She even slowed down to 50 mph. “Don’t do this to me again, Marco.”

“Do what?” He paused. “Hey you weren’t scared that something happened to me, were you?”

Aunt Jo took a deep breath. “I hate to admit it, but yes, yes I was.”

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” He looked at her with his brown cocker spaniel eyes and reached for her hand again. This time, she let it rest on hers.

Believe it or not, that was the end of the Lost in St. Ignace caper. Nobody said a word for the next twenty miles and we stopped for breakfast as if nothing had happened. By evening, things between the two of them were so relaxed they were laughing together, while we watched the Red Skelton Show.

The next few days were wonderful. Uncle Marco stayed within earshot, and Aunt Jo was able to stick to her planned itinerary without any glitches.  We went from one small Michigan town to another, and after supper we played Yahtzee on the hotel card table.

This vacation was a real adventure for me, and the last day was going to be something special. We were going home to Milwaukee from Muskegon, Michigan by way of the SS Milwaukee Clipper—a car ferry that made this trip across Lake Michigan a couple of times a day. Aunt Jo had been talking about this ship all week. It was hard for me to conceive a boat that could carry 120 cars, 500 passengers and crew.

When we arrived at the dock, The Clipper was the biggest boat I had ever seen. It looked like an ocean liner I had seen on television. Aunt Jo drove the car into the belly of the ship, parked, and then she said Nancy and I could go exploring. During the week, Aunt Jo told us the Clipper had a movie theater, a dining room and a dance hall. I couldn’t wait to see it. We ran toward the front of the ship and climbed to the top deck.

Once we were underway and out into the lake, it got very cold on the top deck. And after about an hour “at sea,” Nancy didn’t find the trip much fun at all. She got nauseous and light-headed and spent most of the next four hours leaning over the ships’ rail.

The motion of the ship didn’t faze me, so I ate the sit-down dinner with Aunt Jo and Uncle Marco. Afterward, I danced with one partner after another to the live dance band. I also had the pleasure of watching Uncle Marco lead Aunt Jo around the dance floor. For a big man, he was very light on his feet as he expertly led her around the shiny dance floor. I watched them in awe. They steps were in perfect sync. Never in a million years did I figure a crusty Army lieutenant like Aunt Jo and a guy the size of Uncle Marco could move in harmony like that. She put her cheek on his, and he held her tight. I wondered if they were thinking about another time or another place as the Big Band Music propelled them around the floor. I’ll never forget the look in Uncle Marco’s eyes as he held his wife close. It was beautiful. No one would have ever guessed the St. Ignace caper ever happened.

Gram’s House

Happy Sunday everyone. Today’s story is a trip down memory lane seen through an eleven year old girl’s eyes. Let me know about your memories with your grandparents. I hope they are as wonderful as mine.

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Gram’s House

2013 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

It’s a spring day in southern Wisconsin–cool enough to wear a jacket, but sunny enough to know it won’t rain. It’s a good day to be eleven years old. My mom hands me a snack in a brown paper bag and kisses me as I set off on my solo ride to Gram’s house. Mom says it’s a four mile ride from my small town to Gram’s house on the County Line Road, but I’ve been riding there with friends since I was eight. I wave goodbye and turn my blue Schwinn with the big whitewall tires, the wire basket on the front, and the bell to let others beware that I’m coming their way in the direction of my destination. The long ride is safe, down quiet, tree-lined country roads. If I’m lucky, I’ll see a tractor, or maybe a car or two.

As I peddle, I think about Gram’s place. I call it a “used-to-be” farm. When my mother was a child there were cows in the barn, chickens in the coop, and crops in the field. But even though the buildings are still there, they haven’t seen a cow or chicken since before I was born. When Gramps had to go and work in a factory, he had to quit farming. Now the only tractor he has is a John Deere garden tractor he uses to cut the grass.

Gramps still loves getting his hands in the dirt by planting a huge garden; he grows everything from asparagus to strawberries. Today, I’m glad it isn’t strawberry season, otherwise I know after a cool drink and a cookie after my long ride – Gram would put me out in the berry patch picking the little red buggers. I love eating them, but I hate all the bending and stretching it takes to make a dish of them.

Way beyond the chicken coop, there’s an old hickory tree standing proud. Gramps says the tree was standing there when the Indians were still on the land. Gramps has a whole cabinet full of stone arrowheads he’s found as he turned the fields to plant corn or soybeans. When I stand under that huge tree, I can barely see the sky, and I wonder what it’s like to live in one place for so long.

But best of all, the old hickory still gives us nuts. Every time I go to Gram’s, I pick up a pail of nuts, bring them into Gram’s kitchen and begin the work of hammering and cracking. A little nut hides in a thick green hull that I have to smash before the nut is free. Then I try to crack the nut just right, so I can get the meat out in two pieces. It’s really hard to do, and I usually end up using the nut picks to get the stubborn meats out of the shell. I work for hours to get about a half of a cup of nuts. The best part of “nut harvesting” is when Gram puts them into chocolate chip cookies or banana bread or something else that’s yummy. Gram’s a good cook.

Like the old farmhouse, Gram’s kitchen shows its years of use. It has white painted cupboards with glass panels that go to the ceiling. Gram says the glass in the doors makes her keep everything neat and tidy; after all, she doesn’t want her neighbors thinking she’s a messy housekeeper.

Everything in her kitchen is old, too.  She uses heavy flat irons for doorstops. Her dishes are odds and ends of various patterns she’s gotten at the grocery stores – or  they are remnants of sets she’s had throughout the years. It call it Gram’s Style and think it’s cool. My mother calls it “depression thinking” and thinks its embarrassing.

As I crank steadily uphill, my foreheads sweats, and I think about the homemade lemonade Gram will have waiting for me. At home Mom makes the lemonade that comes out of a can and mixes with water. But Gram squeezes real lemons and mixes the juice with sugar and water. Like I said, she’s always doing something in the kitchen. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember seeing Gram without her apron.

Not everything that Gram does in the kitchen is wonderful, though. In fact, I think some of the stuff she does is crazy—like after she fries bacon, she saves the grease in a tin can that sits on the window sill. But I have to admit, the potatoes she fries in the stuff are out of this world.

Gram makes everything. Her Singer sewing machine that she pumps with her foot is going all of the time. My Mom wants her to get a new electric machine, but Gram says, “Why? There’s nothing wrong with the one I have.” That was Gram–no ruffles, no frills, just the basics. My mother throws up her hands when Gram refuses to be more modern.

I’m about half way to the house when I think more about the garden. I love watching things grow. That’s probably why Gram and Gramps plant just about any vegetable that Wisconsin soil can grow. After the harvest, she cans or freezes all her veggies and fruits. Her kitchen cupboard is full of Kerr and Mason jars—everything from corn relish, pickled beets, bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, canned green beans, peas, tomatoes, applesauce, blanched pears—you name it, it’s in Gram’s cupboard. She also cooks jams and jellies then puts the sweetness in jars that originally had peanut butter and other stuff in them. Instead of putting on a cap, she pours melted wax over the jelly and then lets it harden. She says the wax protects the jam until she’s ready to use it.

My mother says Gram has a green thumb. That means Gram grows flowers and plants that would take prizes in flower shows. Deep purple, white and pink violets African violets with their velvety deep green leaves cover her cabinet in the dining room. And her Christmas cactus that’s perched in the East window is happy enough to bloom twice a year. I think Gram’s plants are happy because when she waters them, she talks sweet to them, telling them that they are beautiful. It’s kind of hard not to grow big and strong when somebody tells you that you’re the most beautiful thing in the world.

My mother thinks Gram was born 100 years too late, but I don’t. I think she’s just perfect. She saves everything and finds new ways to use old things most people would throw away. Like aluminum foil she washes to use again. Like plastic bread bags she uses “Baggies” for food leftovers.  She even saves string, tying pieces together and winding it into a ball. Yup, that’s Gram. She usually has whatever you need.

I think one of the most amazing things she does is make rugs out of rags. She keeps old woolen clothes, cuts the cloth into strips, sews the strips together and then winds them into balls. When she has enough material, she makes big braided rugs that cover an entire room! Once I helped her rip the strips. But instead of wool coats, we tore up old shirts that Gramps had worn out. As I ripped, she sewed the strips together.  She says she takes these balls to the weaver to make “rag rugs.”  I think Gram has one of those rugs at every doorway in the house. The colorful rugs perk up the old uneven wooden planks in her floors.

The old clothes that don’t end up in a rug are made into quilts. Every one of Gram’s beds has homemade quilts on them. She told me once that she works with some ladies at her church to make other quilts for “the missions.” I have no idea what that means, but whoever gets a Gram quilt is lucky. I know. I have one of Gram’s quilts on my bed. I think the prettiest one she made was a wedding ring quilt for my older cousin Roberta.

I’m about half way to my destination when I stop under a huge oak tree along side the road to rest and eat the snack Mom gave me. There’s a banana and a store-bought Windmill cookie in the bag. As I rest and refuel, I continue to think about my Gram.

The only new thing Gram ever really wanted was her piano. Gram told me she saved her wages before she married Gramps for a long time to buy that piano. Later on, she sold eggs and picked strawberries to have the keys redone with real ebony and ivory. She also made a needlepoint cover to pad the seat of the piano bench that holds Gram’s favorite sheet music.

Like everything else, Gram’s collection of sheet music is pretty old. Most of the it dates to the 30s, 40s, but the first song she taught me was out of a church hymnal called, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” Mom doesn’t like me singing that song because she says it’s not Catholic, but Gram says Jesus doesn’t care about that; He just loves to hear little children singing. So, I sing the song for Gram and we don’t tell Mom.

Some other songs Gram has taught me are Mr. Sandman and Tammy, which I like a lot.  Gram praises me when I sing, telling me I could sing on stage and be famous on television. She says I need to make other people happy with my voice because its something very special. All I need to know now is, I make Gram happy when I sing for her.

After my snack, I jump back on my bike for the last stretch of my journey. I think about the room where I’ll sleep tonight. It’s upstairs. Our house doesn’t have an upstairs because we live in a new “ranch style” house. So, going upstairs at Gram’s is an adventure. Before I was big, I had to sleep on a couch in the room where the piano is, but now that I’m eleven, Gram says I can sleep in the north bedroom; Gramps sleeps in the south bedroom across the hall. I think it’s strange Gramps doesn’t sleep with Gram on the first floor,  the way my parents sleep in one room. One time I asked Gram about it and she said it just was better that way—that I was too little to understand. Then she looked away from me. I think I noticed a tear in her eye, so I never asked her about it again.

In” my” bedroom, not surprising the bed and dresser are old, too. There’s a big ceramic bowl and pitcher with pink flowers sitting on a table. The room is cozy, and the best part is snuggling under the heavy quilt after Gram tucks me in at night. The different pieces of this quilt were originally woolen coats that Gram has recycled and hand-stitched with a blanket stitch around different shape. The heavy weight of the quilt makes me feel like Gram is giving me a hug when I’m underneath it.

The pillows on the bed are plump and heavy, too. They’re stuffed with goose down and covered with pillow cases that Gram has embroidered and edged with her crocheted lace.

Sometimes I wonder how Grandma finds time to do everything she does. Maybe it’s because she only watches TV once in while. She never misses General Hospital every afternoon. I laugh out loud when I think about her getting so upset when one married man in the story kisses a lady that wasn’t his wife. Gram hollers at him from her rocking chair, “You dirty pup! Go home to your wife.” And I wonder if Gramps had been a dirty pup some time in the past. But I’ll never know.

I can finally see the familiar white frame house with the big maple trees in the front yard, and I peddle faster. As I turn into the long driveway, Gram is waiting for me on the porch swing. Gram has always looked like a grandma –white hair and wrinkles, but to an eleven year old girl she’s perfect. Through her rimless bifocals, she sees me as a little girl, not like my Mom who expects me to be a grown-up because I’m the oldest.  At Gram’s, I don’t have to take care of my younger brothers. I work with her because I want to. She shows me things I wouldn’t know if she wasn’t in my life.

She smiles and stretches her arms wide for me. I drop my bike on the ground and run for one of her special hugs. She holds me tight and almost smothers me between her large breasts.

“How was the ride, sweetheart?”

“Just fine, Gram. I’m glad I’m here.”

“Me, too. Are you thirsty?”

I smiled and nodded.

“Well, let’s go and get some of that lemonade I fixed for you this morning.”

I put my arm around Gram’s waist and together we venture into the house. And as we sip lemonade together at the kitchen table, a gentle breeze ruffles the red and white gingham curtains, and I can’t think of anywhere else in the world I would rather be.

The Dress

book clipartThe Sunday Story Corner is here. This story is about making a change, taking a chance and letting the future take care of itself. Enjoy.

 

The Dress

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

It was the sequins that caught my eye. When I pulled the dress off the rack, I held my breath. It was beaded black silk with a splash of gold, silver and aqua sequins draped across the shoulders and down each long sleeve. It had a peek-a-boo opening on the bodice that would hint at cleavage. Its short skirt would flaunt great legs. I walked over to the mirror and held the dress in front of my tattered red wool coat. I imagined entering a great ballroom and everything would stop. Men’s heads would turn and gaze at me. Ah, but my Cinderella days were long gone.

“Miss Practical” spoiled my daydream, as she spoke in my head. “Don’t be stupid. This dress is not even your size—you’d have to drop 50 pounds to close that zipper. Get real! You’ve been carrying around that ‘baby fat’ since the girls were born. Aren’t they in high school now? And even if you did lose the weight, did you get a look at the price tag? It says $350. Put the dress back on the rack and walk away.”

She was right. Where would I wear a dress like this? I didn’t belong to any fancy country club. No family wedding was coming up. And the annual fireman’s dance would hardly be appropriate for this dress. But as my hand ran over the beads and sequins, I wanted it. I needed it.

Like an obedient child, I listened to “Miss Practical” and walked back to where the dress had been displayed. I hung the hanger over the rod and ran my hand down the silk bodice one last time. I walked in the direction of the junior department to buy the underwear my daughters needed and took one last glance at the dress.

Before I left the department, though, I glanced back. I told myself that dress was meant to be mine, and I rushed back to the dress and yanked it off the rack. I held it to my heart and told “Miss Practical” to shut up. I was tired of always being sensible and giving up things I wanted/ Before I had a chance to reconsider, I walked over to a woman who stood behind a cash register and handed her the dress.

“Cash or charge?” The clerk said without looking at me.

“Charge.” I handed her my credit card.

She scanned in the price tag and finally looked at me. “Are you sure you have the right size, ma’am?”

“Yes,” I growled and glared at her, daring her to make another crack.

“Of course.” She put her head down and finished the transaction. She handed me the charge slip and said with a saccharine smile, “It’s a sweet little number, isn’t it? I hope you enjoy it.”

I snatched the dress from her and headed to the exit before she could tell me to have a nice day.

 

The dress hung in my closet for months. When I was sure I was alone, I’d sneak it out of its white plastic bag and dream of the day when I would finally put it on. Until that day came, I sweated to the oldies with Richard Simmons and felt the burn with Jane Fonda. I parked at the end of the parking lots and lifted weights until every muscle woke up screaming. The exercise was going well, but the weight wasn’t coming off fast enough. I needed to diet, too.

One day on a whim, I walked into Jenny Craig and told a skinny girl behind the counter I wanted to learn about their program.

Her eyes grew wide and she smiled like she just caught “the big one.” In a high voice she said, “Jenny’s program is so easy and fun—you’ll wonder why you didn’t sign up sooner! And you’re so lucky! We just started a promotion where the first 20 pounds are free!” Her giddiness made me want to puke.

“Wonder if I have more than 20 pounds to lose?” I said.

“Oh, don’t worry about that right now. It usually takes people about ten weeks to shed the first twenty.” She pushed a blue paper toward me which read “contract” across the top.

I slid the paper back toward her. “But I have to know what it will cost. I’ve already got $350 stuck into this dream.”

“The pounds you lose over 20 will cost you a dollar per pound, plus the cost of Jenny’s Cuisine.”  She nudged the contract toward me again.

I contemplated carefully. I assured myself my husband wouldn’t object because he told me I was too fat.

Miss perky came around the counter. “We haven’t been formally introduced. I’m Tiffany.” She extended her boney hand toward me with a weak handshake.

I shook her hand firmly, so she knew I meant business, while I mirrored her false smile. “Hi, I’m Jane.”

After Tiffany recovered from my strength, she said,  “If you decide to sign up, I’ll be your counselor.” She giggled.

I groaned without a sound. I gave her a cheesy smile and said, “Great!”

“First thing we have to weigh and measure you so we have a benchmark. Follow me.”

As I followed behind her I noticed this girl didn’t even have hips yet.

I noticed the long, gray hallways was covered with plastic-framed motivational posters that had captions like “SUCCESS—It’s the journey, not the destination.” I thought. Right! I never knew anyone who enjoyed their journey to the ideal weight.

Tiffany walked over to a scale big enough to weigh a steer. She waved her hand gesturing for me to get aboard. I closed my eyes and took that giant step. I was horrified when 195 appeared in big red LED characters. That was 30 pounds more than when I delivered my babies! I wanted to cry. I swallowed my tears and remained silent.

After the humiliation of the weigh-in, Miss Perky led me into an office about as big as a telephone booth. From an overhead bookshelf, she pulled out a three inch binder and explained the weight loss program. There were charts for food intake, water intake and exercise minutes. A list of calories, carbohydrates and protein for different foods. There was even a diary to chronicle how I felt if I cheated and had the audacity to fall victim to a piece of chocolate cake. This wasn’t a weight loss program; this was a college class!

As if to seal the deal, Tiffany gave me a taste of Jenny’s chicken cordon blue, raspberry cobbler and a frozen fudge bar. It was hard to believe this food was the same stuff  in the little blue and white boxes in the lobby freezer.

I went home with a sense of purpose and a trunk full of Jenny Cuisine. Strangely, I felt empowered. I knew I’d be wearing my dress in no time.

That night at dinner, I told my husband about my trip to Jenny’s. All he said from behind his “Playboy” magazine was, “It’s about time.”

 

Most every week I watched the numbers on the cattle scale go down. When the scale got stingy, I used a measuring tape to assure myself my bust, waist and hips were really getting smaller. I used the food diary and all the other charts in the “blue bible” to prove my goodness. My girls helped my effort by agreeing to go to Jazzercise class with me twice a week. And every time I weighed in, they’d come home and want to know how it went. But the best tool that kept me on track was the dress. All I had to do was take it out of its plastic shroud and dream of the day when we would be together.

After four months of work, I locked myself in my bedroom, while my husband slept in his Lazyboy and my daughters were safely tucked in their beds. I slipped out of my worn jeans and ratty sweatshirt and stood naked in front of the full-length mirror. For the first time in decades, I was happy with my reflection. Flat stomach, firm breasts and arms defined—not bad for an old babe of 40.

I slipped into a black bra, bikini panties and a pair of black sheer stockings. Then I took the dress from its hiding place, freed it from its garment bag and slipped it over my head. I put my right arm through the sleeve, then the left. The silk underskirt flowed over my new curves like rich cream pouring into hot coffee. I zipped the dress and faced the mirror again. The aqua, gold and silver sequins lit a warm glow in my cheeks and the bodice caressed me like a long-lost lover.

I slipped my feet into a pair of black patent leather pumps and started at the woman in the mirror. She smiled back at me. Was this really me? A housewife with teenagers? A Girl Scout leader? A softball coach? I was a friggin’ knockout!

I ran a brush through my short dark brown hair and swept it forward so its wispy ends framed my face. I put on a dab of red lipstick and for the first time in years, I felt sexy. And now it was time for my surprise.

As I crept down the wooden staircase, I imagined my husband jumping out of his chair, picking me up and kissing me like he hadn’t done since we were first married. But upon entering our living room, there he was laying in all his glory—mouth wide open, snoring, his belt undone around his potbelly and his slightly balding head tipped to one side. I laid my hand on his shoulder. He stirred and turned his head to the opposite side. I patted his shoulder again. This time he opened his eyes and rubbed them into focus. Like a three-year old, I waited for his admiration.

“What the hell?” He said. “Where do you think you’re going’ in that get-up?”

I stared at him not wanting to believe what he just said. Numbness crept over me like a doctor had just given me an anesthetic. Didn’t he see that I was thin and beautiful? Didn’t he realize how hard I worked to look like this for him?  But then again, why was I surprised? For over 20 years he’d put me down whenever a spotlight dared to shine on me. Why did I think this time would be different?

Before the welling tears would show him that his opinion meant so much to me, I ran upstairs, locked the bedroom door and turned up the volume on the television. I told myself his stupid reaction didn’t matter. But it did matter! It mattered too much. He was my husband. He was supposed to love and encourage me. But I was wrong. I thought if I changed for him, he’d love me again. I was through. I had been jumping through his controlling hoops for far too long.

I stripped the dress off and let it fall to the floor in a pile of dead silk and sequins. The sobs trapped in my throat came roaring out like dry heaves. I threw myself on my bed defeated. My grief rolled over me like white water crashing on a rocky shore.

After a time, my sobs turned to sniffles, and I picked up my beloved dress from the floor. I held it tight and felt sorry I treated it so badly. I hung it on its silk-padded hanger and once again tucked it back into the safety of my closet. I knew that someday I would wear it, but not here and not for him.

Suddenly, I felt cold and my body shook. I slipped on my pink flannel pajamas and buried myself under the down comforter. When I was warm, I fell into a deep sleep.

When the sun peaked through the curtains a few hours later, I felt strangely calm. During the night, I had a dream where a big gate opened, and I ran into a field of wild flowers. I smelled their fragrance, even picking a few of them. There was no one there to scold me. No one was yelling. It was beautiful and quiet. I felt a sense of freedom.

As my feet touched the floor, my path was clear. I would tell my husband I was leaving. I felt strong enough. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was the dress. Maybe it was the power that had been growing in me since I started to “find myself” under all that fat. It didn’t matter. I liked the feeling. I wasn’t afraid. The future would be what it would be. And that was OK. I was ready.

The Letter Connection

book clipartGood Sunday Morning — Story Corner is here!  Hope you like this novel approach. As always, I’d like to hear your ideas. Do you like it? Hate it? Have ideas to improve it? Keep the criticism constructive, so I can write a better story. I’ll thank you all in advance.

 The Letter Connection

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

If I could have picked my mother, it would have been Marie. She is the sunniest person I ever met. Besides being fun, she inspired me. It wasn’t surprising that I wanted to be just like her when I “grew up.” The difference in our ages bothered her at first, but after she got to know me a little bit, she realized we were the same–just a generation apart. Deep down, I wanted her to adopt me as her ninth child, and she always laughed saying she didn’t need another challenge.

I’m sure her real daughters don’t know how lucky they are. Things within our own world are always taken for granted, but because I’m the outsider looking in, I know how special their mother truly is.

But today, she broke my heart. Even though she tried to break the news gently, I still cried. She told me she and Ray decided to retire permanently in Florida. They had been traveling for the past couple of years, hauling their travel trailer around the country, and she was tired of that life. She said she couldn’t live like a gypsy any longer; she needed a permanent place where she could have friends, join a church, and have a home again. So she’s leaving for some place called Flagler Beach.

She said we’d keep in touch through letters. Really? Letters? How could we really remain close through letters? I’ve had pen pals all my life, but this is different. How could my housewife news be something she’d want to know about? My news was boring. I knew nothing would ever be the same without her laughter in my life.

August, 1985

Dear Marie,

You’ve only been gone a couple of weeks, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone to give you a call. Old habits die hard, I guess. I think it’s also funny, considering you don’t even have a phone yet.

In my head I understand it was time for you to settle down in your retirement, but knowing you’re across the country, instead of across town breaks my heart. As you know, I don’t let go too easily. So forgive me when I tell you that I selfishly miss you.

You’ll never know how much it meant when you said our friendship was dear to you. I too am thankful for the time we’ve shared together. We sure know how to giggle together, don’t we?

Instead of sending this, “woe is me” letter, I should probably tear it up. As you can see, I’m emotional. It’s the first anniversary of Carolyn’s death today. I can’t believe that my friend has been dead for a whole year. As you know, she was as close as a sister, and traveling with her  through the ups and downs of her cancer was quite an experience. It seems Thanks to you, I was able to let her go. I never told you how much your tough love helped me.

Remember that day in the Chinese restaurant when you sternly looked at me and simply said, “Stop it!” when I continued to mourn her. I never knew two words could be so powerful. Maybe it wasn’t the words, but the way you said them. Whatever it was, it helped me to finally let her rest in peace. God took my friend, but then  in His infinite wisdom, he gave me another dear friend to help me crawl out of my self-inflicted misery. And that friend was you.

I know that your move to Florida is a good thing. You won’t have to endure the harsh winters any longer, and you’ll be close to your sister. I’m ashamed I’m so selfish where you are concerned. Blame it on having to let go of two great friends in less than a year. When I invest in friendship, I’m all in. But I will adjust. Just be patient with me.

Love,  “B”

September, 1985

Dear Marie,

This morning I’m sitting with a cup of tea after I put Sarah on the bus for her first day of kindergarten. She was so excited to be able to ride the bus with the “big” kids. Of course, I cried the usual “mom” tears as I watched my baby’s little legs strain to climb the big steps of the yellow bus. I’m feeling a little melancholy. I suppose when you put Teddie on the bus for kindergarten you did the dance of joy. After all, you must be pretty battle hardened after doing it eight times, huh?

Where did the last five years go? And what do I do now? For the past 10 years Sarah and Amy have been my life. Watching them grow and change has been so much fun. Seeing them explore the world opened up my own world. But now they don’t need me as much, so I keep asking myself what will I do next? Carolyn’s death made me realize I have to make the most of my life because I don’t have forever.

I have plenty to do, like vacuuming, washing dishes and laundry, but I’d rather mope. The house is so quiet I want to scream!  Rocky, my faithful puggie boy,  is at my feet feeling my pain the way he always has. He’s such a wonderful dog. I think in his own way, he’s mourning not having the girls around too.

Just knew you’d understand. Hope all is well.

Love, “B”

October, 1985

Dear Marie,

With Sarah in school in the morning, I decided to rev up my doll clothes sewing business for the Christmas season. So far, I’ve signed up for three area craft fairs that tend to be big crowd producers. Hopefully, I’ll make enough money to buy that dishwasher I’ve wanted for the kitchen.

Do you remember Lonna?  She’s the crazy lady who has stood in line for hours and meets people in dark parking lots to buy Cabbage Patch dolls? We’ve been a team since 1983 and have acquired quite a following during the past two years. I think she’s found a doll for every kid in the area, and I think I’ve clothed most of them. But I can see this great enterprise is coming to an end. The dolls are still hard to find, but seem to be more readily available in the stores. It takes the mystique out of the endeavor. So, after this Christmas, I plan to gracefully retire.

Until then, I’ve got the sewing machine humming. My goal is to take at least 100 outfits to each of the shows, so that means I’ll be working about 10 hours a day until the shows start. Sarah is such a sweet helper. She sits with her dollies in my sewing room and makes sure that all of the clothes fit just right. I call her my “quality control” officer. I tell my customer’s that all the clothes have been “kid” proofed – if only they knew how well!

Well, gotta get going. There’s lots of work to do.

Love,  “B”

November, 1985

Dear Marie,

Holy Cow! The first show was so successful – I can hardly believe it .  . .$800! I not only bought the dishwasher, but Santa can be very generous this year! I’m on top of the world!

Thank God for Lonna! I don’t know what I would have done without her. We used her van to haul the tables, props, dolls and clothes to each show. Then she stayed with me all  day to handle the sales.  It wouldn’t have any fun without her and I would have had to schlep everything alone. My “loving” husband, Bill fights me at very turn. He always finds an excuse why he can’t help.

I just don’t understand him. It’s not as if I’m keeping the money for myself. I wallpapered the girls’ rooms and bought them new beds with the money I’ve earned. When I told him I intended to buy a dish washer, he said “Well you can be damn sure I’m not putting it in.” Don’t worry.  I’ll find a way to get it done. Our neighbor is a carpenter and I know he’ll help me.

I still have some special orders from the show to get out before Christmas. I couldn’t possibly disappoint any child on Christmas morning, so “a sewing I will go!”

Hope your holiday plans are coming along.

Love, “B”

January, 1986

Dear Marie,

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were happy. It must seem strange to spend your first Christmas in a warm climate – after living in Wisconsin for most of your life. I know that some of your family was coming down, but still it must be weird to go to the beach on Christmas day.

The girls got a surprise this Christmas. When they came down to open their presents bright and early on Christmas morning (about 5:00 a.m.), there were NO presents under the tree. You should have seen their faces. The only thing they found was a note that said:

 Dear Amy and Sarah,

Santa Claus came down with a terrible flu this Christmas Eve, so I volunteered to help him as much as I could. But I had to do it my way . . .

Love, The Easter Bunny

The girls were stumped. When I told them I thought the Easter Bunny must have hidden their presents, you should have heard the moaning.  This little strategy slowed them down for a while. It took about two hours for them to find everything and then another 30 minutes to open them – I think they were pooped out from the treasure hunt.

At any rate, I got what I wanted – enough time to put the coffee on, put out the cinnamon buns and watch their faces as they opened their Christmas treasures. It was a gas! (I wonder what I’ll do next year???)

The fun in the morning made up for Christmas Eve. Bill worked at the fire station again. For a part-time job, it sure cuts into our holidays together. Worst of all, it was –20 degrees below zero last night, so it was too dangerous to go anywhere.  The girls and I ended up having a pizza party in the living room, while we watched a television Christmas special. They thought it was a big deal to be able to eat their favorite meal in front of the television; I’m glad they couldn’t see how I was feeling inside.

Can’t wait to hear about your family celebrations.

Love,  “B”

 February, 1986

Dear Marie,

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear friend. I hope Ray lavished you with roses and candy and proclaimed his undying love for you. After all the years you’ve been married, I hope he still remembers.

Bill gave me a card on his way out the door at 6 a.m.  How romantic, huh? It wasn’t even a mushy card. It said, “Remembering you on Valentine’s.”  Men! Why do we put up with them?

It sounds like you’re really enjoying your new home. I’m so glad. Sometimes when people make such a drastic change, things don’t go very smoothly. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with you. I love the pictures you sent.

This afternoon, I’m helping with the Valentine’s party at school. I’ve baked a couple of dozen cupcakes for Amy’s room and promised to help with the games. So, gotta go.

I love you, Happy Valentine’s Day!  — “B”

April 1, 1986

Dear Marie,

So sorry to hear that you’ve been sick. I hope this letter brightens your day.

Things have been relatively quiet for the past few months. The doll clothes sales dwindled down to nearly nothing. Valentine’s sales were good, and Easter sales were decent, but since then, I may as well fold up my tent and sell my sewing machine.

I went to the doctor the other day for my yearly check-up and learned that I will soon be a mom again. It turns out the rabbit died — just in time for me to be completely free. I don’t know how this could have happened. Bill isn’t home enough for, well, you know. Maybe it’s another immaculate conception?

I can just hear you snickering right now. Nonetheless, it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around being pregnant again. After being in bed for the last four months of Sarah’s pregnancy, I’m not too keen on doing it again.

Well, it’s time for a nap. The first trimester is so tiring.

So I’ll leave you with that bit of news and just say, “April Fools!”

(Had you going there, didn’t I?)

Ha, ha — “B”

 May 1, 1986

Dear Marie,

Sometimes I can’t believe what a snot you can be — teasing me about the weather like that. Rubbing it in that you are in shorts, while you know I’m still wearing jeans and a sweatshirt on the warm days!  Enjoy it, my friend, because soon you’ll be melting. and I’ll be the one talking about beautiful summer nights.

We celebrated Sarah’s 6th birthday last week. I took all of her little friends to a Chuck E. Cheese Pizza joint in Milwaukee on what she said was her “real birthday.” Over the weekend, I had cake and ice cream from my parents, Bill’s mother and Sarah’s God parents. Sarah’s favorite gift was a little “big wheel” she got for her Cabbage Patch doll, Nancy. I thought by now she would have outgrown her love for that doll, but Nancy still makes most trips to the grocery store, and of course, is always available for snuggling at bedtime.

I’m glad to hear that Ray is finally working on the studio/workshop—or was that workshop/studio? I think you’d better sit that man down and redraw the plans. It seems like you got gypped out of  floor space.  Remember he’s a man, an older man who has gotten his way most of his life. I think at the end of the day, it will be Ray’s workshop, not Marie’s art studio.

Only one more month of “freedom” before school is out. Now that I’ve gotten used to my half days of no children, I am not looking forward to up my free time. I’m off to my Jazzercise class!

Did I once say this stay-at-home Mom stuff was a drag? It always astounds me how many times I end up eating my own words.

Love, “B”

 June, 1986

Dear Marie,

School’s out, and we’re off on a great adventure. Lonna, the girls, and I are going to Cleveland, Georgia. We’ve been planning this trip for the past few months and we’re all excited. Lonna and I thought it would a grand tribute to end out involvement with the Cabbage Patch dolls by making a pilgrimage to where it all began.  Xavier Roberts – the inventor of the dolls — put his whole small town to work with his creation. I can’t wait to see the girls’ eyes when the cabbage patch gives birth to a new baby, and they get a chance to give the doll a name.

Other than that, it’s the usual. Hope the weather isn’t too hot for you.

Love,  “B”

June, 1986

Dear Marie,

Well, we’re back from a great trip! Do you know this was my first road trip out of the state? Georgia and Tennessee are such beautiful states.

Babyland General Hospital was as cute as I imagined. The handmade dolls were posed in different scenes in several rooms of a very large old house. But the main attraction was the “Cabbage Patch” where the babies were “born.”

I’ll never forget the look of surprise on the girl’s faces when a “nurse” said over the paging system, “Doctor, doctor. The Cabbage Patch is about ready to deliver.”

A man in surgical scrubs ran into the delivery room and slowly peeled back the “leaves” of the cabbage. There were several little doll heads sticking out of green fabric “cabbage leaves,” and one was ready to emerge as a full-fledged baby. The doctor did an “Easy-Out-Of-Me” and the next thing you know, he was holding up a new doll by its feet. He asked the crowd, “Who will name this baby?”

Amy piped up, “I will! I will! Her name will be Amy Kelley.” She was so thrilled when the doctor spanked the dolls bottom and said, “We name you Amy Kelley!”

We went away from the place with four new dolls . . . at $200 each — not a bad day’s work for the cabbage patch, huh? But it was worth the money to see Sarah take the oath of motherhood. She stood so erect and held her right hand straight up in the air and solemnly repeated the oath. I’ll never forget it.

I’m so happy I had this time with the girls. The whole week was a joy. We saw a part of the country that none of us (except for Lonna) had seen. We picked softball-size magnolias that had a scent of fine perfume. We walked through an old cemetery in Gainesville and found grave stones of a Confederate General named Longstreet. We toured an old southern mansion, which looked like something out of “Gone with the Wind.” In Gatlinburg, we took an “Old Time” photo. In a small Swiss-looking town called Helen, George, Sarah participated in a turtle race in the town’s square.

My favorite part was our sojourn through Smokey Mountain Park. We meandered down a curvy road beside a small stream with beautiful natural scenes surrounding us. We traveled to the top of the lookout, got out and looked around. As I gazed into the haze of the mountains, I got a feeling of how inconsequential we humans really are. The weather was perfect for the entire trip — highs in the 80s every day.

It was a wonderful way to conclude my love affair with the Cabbage Patch dolls . . . the very first doll I ever loved. My own Eddie doll sits proudly on my dresser in his pleated pants and suede jacket that I made him as a reminder of three wonderful years.

On the trip back, Lonna and I talked a lot after the kids fell asleep. . . that was my job to keep her awake until we got to Kentucky. She asked me what I was going to do now that we’re wrapping up the doll business. I confessed I was considering going to college. When I asked her what she thought, she said, “Cheryl’s in college now, you know.” I guess she thought I was too old because her daughter is there.

But I’ve always wanted a college diploma. After high school, the only options open to me were to be a teacher or a nurse. My mother said girls not studying to be a teacher or a nurse were on campus for a “MRS” degree. I didn’t want to be either of those professions. Heck, I faint when I see blood and some days teaching two kids is enough for me – much less a whole room full of them, day-in and day-out, for years and years!So my only option was to find a secretarial job. Mom said I needed skills to “Fall back on.”

But now, even my secretarial skills are so dated that I’d have to go to school to update them anyhow.

Am I crazy to want to do this?  I’ll be 35 next month, you know and maybe I really am too old. After all, high school is almost 20 years in my rear view mirror.

Well, I’m off to supervise a neighborhood swimming party at my neighbor’s pool. I’m bringing my whistle with me, so I should be OK.

How did you ever raise eight kids and maintain your sanity?

Love,  “B”

 July, 1986

Dear Marie,

Happy Birthday, my friend. It seems so strange not to spend our birthdays together this year. Oh I know, you and Ray will be camping nearby in August, but it just isn’t the same.

Thanks for the support about the college thing. After I got your letter, I made an appointment to go see a college counselor. I’ll have to take a couple of tests and get my high school transcript. I hope they’ll consider me.

I’ll tell you about it when I see you in August.

Love,  “B”

 July, 1986

Dear Marie,

Yes, it’s me again.  I couldn’t wait until August.

I met with the college counselor last week. My appointment was late in the day, but I left a couple of hours early. I was afraid that I’d get lost and be late. I’m so dumb some times. The woman I spoke with gave me good directions, and I found the office right away. So, I spent the extra hour waiting in the school coffee shop. Because it’s summer, there weren’t too many people around. I tried to imagine it would be like at the height of the semester.

I took the interest test, and it revealed that I could be successful at just about anything. I was hoping to get some direction on “what I want to be when I grow up” because I’m as confused now as I was when I was in high school.

I’d still love to sing professionally – but at my age, I think that dream has passed me by. Or I’d love to write books. I’ve always loved to write, but you know that better than anyone . . . after some of my longer letters. Anyhow, the counselor said my high school transcript was superior, and I should be readily accepted as a student.

I decided to go part-time at first to see if I can handle it. I’m wondering if I still remember how to study, keep up with the course work, and of course face a test. Will I remember everything that I need to remember?

Well, gotta go. I’ll look forward to seeing you next month!

Love,  “B”

 July, 1986

Dear Marie,

Yes, me again. I’m so glad you’re always there. I think writing to you sometimes is my salvation. If not salvation, for sure therapy.

I actually did it – I registered for college!  Registration was pretty strange. I stood in line with kids who could biologically be my children. I felt old and wondered if I was doing the right thing after all.  I’m taking an English 101 class and an Anthropology class. Six credits. That’s all.

When I got home, I called my mother and told her what I did. And you know what she said?  She said, “Well, that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard! Why in the world are you going to do that now?” She went on and on about how I had it made with a husband who provided so well for me. I had my own car. A house in the country and two lovely children. As usual, I got a lump in my throat and couldn’t say anything to her. Sometimes I wish I could just tell her to go to hell.

I guess my mother and I will never be on the same page. What does she expect me to do with the rest of my life? Sit home and watch soap operas? Or at the very worst, go back to secretarial work? But then, she’s always blasted working moms, too. I can’t win with that woman! I should have kept my mouth shut and not shared what I was planning to do. When will I learn, I’ll never get the support from her that I want?

But I wanted you to know that I didn’t chicken out. I guess I need you to be proud of me.

Love,  “B”

 September, 1986

Dear Marie,

It was so wonderful seeing you again. Even though it had been over a year since we’d been together, we just seemed to pick up where we left off. Amy and Sarah enjoyed coming out to your camp ground, too. They loved the “Up and Down the River” card game you taught us, and said they said they were lucky to have you for their third grandma.

Well, the big day finally arrived on Tuesday. Sarah packed her backpack for first grade, and I packed mine to go off to college. I don’t know who was more scared. After the registration indoctrination of last month, I decided to go buy a couple of pair of jeans and some t-shirts to camouflage my age. That seems to be the standard uniform of the student population – heck, it’s the standard uniform of the faculty.

As I walked down the hallway to my Anthropology class, I saw one woman who never made it out of the sixties. She had waist-long gray hair, and she wore a thick headband to hold back the mop, no make-up and wire-rimmed glasses. Her denim skirts were down to her booted ankles, and she had on one of those crocheted vests that were so popular back then. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw her. For a moment, I wondered whether I was really in 1986. Turns out she’s an English prof.

The class expectations don’t seem unreasonable. I think the English class will be the easier of the two. Writing and reading – the two things I love to do most. Anthropology, I haven’t got a clue. But then, that’s why I’m in college isn’t it? To learn new things and be exposed as I never have before.

It will be an interesting 16 weeks.

Love,  “B”

October, 1986

University Library

Dear Marie,

I’m writing this letter in the school library to get more comfortable with the place. I’ve always been afraid of libraries – probably because the closest thing to a library I’m familiar with is the Bookmobile. I don’t like feeling intimidated by a building. Worst yet, I hate feeling stupid, so I’ll ease myself into the place by visiting with my friend.

I’ve been worried about you with the bad weather hitting Florida lately. Have your neighbors helped you to learn the ropes when hunkering down for hurricane? I keep trying to imagine what those huge storms must be like. We get bad weather — rain, thunder, lightning, even tornados sometimes, but the storms pass quickly. I can’t imagine that kind of fury going on for days! Promise me you’ll be careful.

Time is flying by. Who’d think that two little classes would be so time consuming?  Of course, I’m probably more “anal” (I heard a psych major say that word the other day. I’m guessing that it’s a polite way to say “tight ass.”) Listen to me! I sound like a “real” student!

I’m making a friend in my English class. Her name is Donna, and like you, she’s not sure if she wants to be my friend. What is it about me anyhow? She feels if she chats in the coffee shop, she’ll be a delinquent student or something. She puts so much pressure on herself! Once she relaxes, she’ll come around – just like you did! As you know, I’m persistent.

I turned in my first theme in English class this week. It was pretty good – but then, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything except letters.

And who would have thought I’d dig anthropology . . . sorry, pun alert. I really like Professor Shipek. She’s about 60 years old – did her PhD when her two sons went off to college! I guess I feel a kinship with her because she was a “non-traditional” student too.

“Non-traditional” – isn’t that rich? A politically correct way of saying “older than 20.”

Anyhow, Professor Shipek gave us our semester assignment today. We have to find out something about our family we didn’t know about before. I’ve decided to look into my Italian grandfather because we know so little about his immigrant experience. I think this will not only be a fun project, but it might help my Dad learn about his father, too.

Love,  “B”

October 12, 1986

Dear Marie,

I’m crushed. I got a C- on my first theme. In high school I was always GREAT at English – especially writing.  How could my paper be that bad?

I was so ashamed after I saw the grade, I hid my paper and like a little kid and headed to the bathroom for a good cry.

And of course, today was the day Donna said she’d like to meet after class. I told her I couldn’t. I suppose she got an “A” on the thing and wanted to show off. She’s very bright.

After I pulled myself together, got some lunch and went to my afternoon Anthropology class, Professor Shipek mentioned that the naturalization papers for the people in this area are in the archives of the library. I made an appointment with the librarian right after class to see if I can find Grandpa’s information. Wouldn’t it be cool if I found some deeply hidden family secret? It might make up for getting a C-.

Sarah volunteered me to bake cupcakes for her Halloween party. You should have seen her sweet little face when I said I could do it. “Thanks, Mom – you’re the best cupcake maker in the world.”

Maybe a C- theme writer, but an A+ Mom –right? If this college thing doesn’t work out, I know I’ll always be a good Mom.

At least I’ll be good at something — Boy, that C- stings.

Well, not much more to tell. I promise I’ll be a little cheerier in my next letter.

Love,  “B”

November, 1986

Dear Marie,

Well, two weeks later, and I’m still confused about the dumb English Class. I turned in another paper and got a C+ on this one. I guess that’s progress, but I really put a lot of work in on this one. I just don’t know what this instructor wants.  There must be some kind of magic formula that she’s looking for.

Come to find out, Donna’s having the same problems. Her papers were graded a little higher, but not that much better than mine. And she’s “way more” anal than I am!  So, we’ve decided that we must really be rusty or this instructor isn’t telling us what we need to know.

We started asking other students about what they’re learning in the 101 English classes in the hopes we’ll come up with an answer to this mystery. The reason this is so perplexing is we’re worried about a damn competency test that we have to pass in order to get our grade for the 101 English class. Get this! Because we’re both on an 1969 college catalog, we really don’t need to pass the competency test to graduate.  But we can’t get a passing grade in the 101 class, if we fail the competency. (Do I sound like I’m chasing my tail here?)  If we don’t pass now, we’ll have to take the class over again and repeat the competency exam. If this isn’t stupidity at its best, I don’t know what is. Around campus they call it “academia”  logic.

I’m beginning to think that college is the only place on earth that you pay big bucks to have someone drive you crazy!

Love, “B”

November 25, 1986

Thanksgiving Aftermath

Dear Marie,

You’d better sit down with a cup of coffee because this isn’t a letter, it’s a saga.

Our Thanksgiving was the usual. Mom and Dad had the family over for dinner. Even Rocky was invited! My Dad and I continued our tradition of carving the turkey together–something we’ve done since I was about ten years old.  The best part for both of us is snitching juicy turkey piece off the cutting board. Dad says it the carver’s right to get the first taste. And you know what? That first taste is always the best.

Through the years everybody has laid claim to their favorite part of the turkey. Mom’s is the tail. Mark’s is the gizzard and heart. Chris opts for a wing and I like the thigh. Dad gets stuck with the white meat, but since his heart attach, it’s the only part he’s supposed to eat anyway. The girls enjoyed the day too — and as usual, Bill found a way not to be there. He volunteered for duty at the fire station, so he wouldn’t have to be with my parents. I’m growing very tired of making excuses for him, so I just told my parents Bill didn’t want to come.

You never mentioned your plans for Thanksgiving this year. Did you go to the church with your friends like last year? I think that’s such a nice tradition. People without close-by family members being able to share dinner together is a great way to spend a holiday. That’s what I’d want to do if I was far from my family. Bill would choose differently, though. He’d be happier staying alone, eating a baloney sandwich than have to sit next to a stranger at a dinner table.

How did we ever get together? Must have been the hormones, huh?

Oh, well. Let’s go on.

You asked about the essay problem. Well, we cracked the code. My new friend Donna came across a handout from another professor that outlined a formula for a five-paragraph essay. An introductory paragraph that introduces the subject and three supporting points and a concluding paragraph. Simple! We confronted our instructor and asked why she didn’t give us this information. She said, “I thought I’d be insulting your intelligence by giving you such simple information. You should have gotten this in high school.”

I looked her in the eye and said, “Do I look like an 18 year old? Do you realize how long ago high school was for me?” She apologized, and I got an A on my next two themes, passed the competency with flying colors, and am confident that I can keep going — I’m really not too stupid after all, no matter what Bill says.

The Anthropology project is just about completed. I’ve so enjoyed digging up things about my grandfather. I found his American Naturalization papers in the University Archives! The papers recorded the name of the ship and his home town — Bovino, Italy which is in the southern province of Apulia. At the time he applied for US citizenship, he had four children, and lived on Mead Street in Racine.

It turns my dad’s oldest brother is really a year older than he thinks he is — looks like he had a head start before Grandma and Grandpa got married. Now there’s a family secret!

Grandpa sailed from Naples at age 17. That really blew my mind. I can’t imagine Amy or Sarah coming to me in a few years and saying, “Mom, I’m going to go to the moon next week. I’ll probably never see you again, but I have to do this for my future.” What courage our ancestors had! As I turned over one stone after stone, I become so proud of my grandfather.

Part of the assignment was to talk to all my older relatives, and get them to recount family stories. One that particularly impressed me was when Grandpa got fired from J. I. Case Company during the depression.

Grandpa was a well-loved foreman, supervising over 300 men in the tractor foundry. At that time, there were no worker protection laws, and it was common to assign dangerous tasks to men; after all, there was just another dumb immigrant to take his place if something bad happened. Well, Grandpa never asked anybody to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and when he refused to assign a dangerous task to one of his men, my Grandfather’s boss fired him.

The Union was just getting started at Case, and when the workers heard what happened to Grandpa, they ALL walked off their jobs. Dad said he was just a little guy then, but he remembered people coming to the house with baked goods, garden vegetables and any money they could spare to keep Grandpa and his eight kids going. The workers said they were going to stay off their jobs until the company gave Grandpa his job back.

About two weeks went by before the strike was over. The company reinstated my Grandfather with no punishment, and the men went back to work. Considering the bad times the country was going through, I think this story is something everybody in the family should know. So, I’ve given copies of my report to all my aunts and uncles to share with all my cousins. I hope they’re as proud of their roots as I am.

You know, Marie, I was only seven years old when Grandpa died. I remember he was a loving, kind old man. I remember sitting on his lap as he rocked me in his favorite chair. He told my Dad I was his favorite grandchild. Now I feel a true kinship with him, and the best part of the project was sharing it with Dad.

The one mistake Grandpa made was not telling his kids about the “old country.” Once he became an American citizen, he left Italy in his past. He never talked about his life there. My Dad didn’t know anything about his Italian background. Heck, Grandpa’s obituary was completely wrong because none of the kids knew the truth about where he came from.  I guess Grandpa was too busy working 16 hours a day to think it was important.

If my college education would have to cease right now, this experience was worth it. When I told Professor Shipek that. she took my hand and said, ““Barbara, your first project was outstanding, and I want you do whatever it takes to keep going.” Think about anthropology as a major. You’re a natural.

Right then and there, I vowed to get my degree.

Love, “B”

January 15, 1987

Dear Marie,

I don’t know where the time has gone. Here it is the middle of January already and I haven’t written. I hope you’re missing me as much as I am you.

Thanks for the invitation to come and see you. If I can swing it, it will be just me and the girls. Maybe during Easter break.

I had a pleasant Christmas. The girls were so cute in the church Christmas pageant. Amy was an angel, and Sarah was one of the little lambs in the manger. Amy’s halo kept falling off to the side, and throughout the whole pageant, she tried nonchalantly right the thing. Sarah hammed it up as usual. She crawled over to baby Jesus in the manger and breathed heavily on him. When I asked her afterward what she was doing, she said that she had learned in church school it was cold in the cave where Jesus was born, and she was very warm in her costume, so she wanted to share some of her warmth with baby Jesus. What a character!

My grades came right before Christmas. “A” in Anthropology and “B+” in English. Not a bad start, for an old fart, huh?

I also received word that I passed the competency in English and I am exempt from the Math competency. Yeah! I don’t know if I could keep going if I had to take math.

Next semester I’ve signed up for 12 credits. Since Professor Shipek’s comment, I’ve dedicated myself to get my BA. Of course,  Bill hates the idea. In fact, he refuses to pay the tuition, so somewhere I’ve got to come up with the $800 to pay for the next semester.

As if an answer to a prayer, I found a paid on-campus secretarial job in the student government organization. I’ve calculated that I’ll have just enough to cover next semester’s books and tuition if I work about 15 hours per week at $4.00/hr.

So, I’m on my quest. No one or any thing can discourage me from graduating in four years. I’ll bet you lunch, I’ll do it with honors, too. Away from my parents and Bill, I’ve found a strength I never knew I had.  Best of all, I found “Barbara” again—not somebody’s daughter, wife or mother – just “Barbara.”  It’s a wonderful discovery.

By the time I graduate, I’m sure there will be lots of changes, but I know I’m strong enough and smart enough to deal with anything. Thanks for always hanging in there with me. Your support has changed my life.

Love forever,

Barbara