Tag Archive | short story

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

When a Good Thing Ends

ChristmasThe day after Christmas, and all through the house,

the wrappings and ribbons were lying about.

The boxes were empty, and the lights have grown dim,

It’s time for the house cleaning now to begin.

Momma with her vacuum, and duster and rag,

Papa stands ready with his full garbage bag.

And what do my wondering eyes do appear,

The yard is free of Rudolph for another year.

Okay,  okay . . . it’s not Robert Frost poetry, but I made another attempt at writing poetry. Tell me to stop!

What I’m trying to say is the hype of the  holiday has come and gone and in another week, the decorations that we painstakingly put up to make our houses and apartments look festive will once again be packed away until next year. The coziness of moving furniture together to make room for the Christmas tree will go back to its assigned spot when the tree is hauled to the curb or stored downstairs under a tarp. The warm glow of the colored lights will be replaced with glaring light bulbs in lamps, which will help us limp through the January, February and March. (If you live in the Northern Midwest, you might also include April and sometimes May before the promise of spring appears.) It’s barren when the red, white, green, silver and gold lights and bobbles won’t appear until December 2013. Even a little sad. But every year we sense when it’s time to put away the toys and decorations and once again get back to work.

For me, it’s two new novels and a book of short stories. That’s my New Year’s goal–to keep writing, striving to improve and getting my tales out there where others can enjoy them. That’s my profession and my curse. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So enjoy the last few days of the holiday with friends and laughter. I thank you for making my acquaintance through this blog, and after we turn the page of the calendar, I promise to put away my nostalgia, too.

A Christmas Present for Amy

Mother and daughterI know my daughter in Seattle was probably disappointed by the mere little gift I could give her this year, but I knew she was tired of receiving my handmade jewelry and novels I’ve been passing her way for the past three years.

So, this morning, I’m giving her a gift no one else can give her–a story that is all hers. Merry Christmas, my precious daughter. I love you very much.

Letting Go and Standing By

2012 Copyright  Barbara Celeste McCloskey

When you have a daughter, you nurture and protect her as she grows into a woman. As a baby she’s precious, as a toddler she’s cute, as a child she’s exciting and as a teenager she’s trying. And when she’s an adult, you pray you’ve given her enough, so she can stand on her own. When she finally moves out of your house, you’re excited for her, because you know she’s claimed her own life and feels strong enough to live it. That day came for me about three years ago. My Amy became an independent woman, took an apartment and a short time later, she got married. She’s made me proud. But today, she’s moving very far away.

Amy filed her “flight plan” a few months ago when she told me she was thinking of moving to the desert Southwest. She found herself in a dead end job and needed a change. I listened carefully to hear seriousness, and I found it. Her declaration wasn’t just an idle dream. I knew she had already completed her research and made her plan. She was just easing me into the idea she’d be across the country, instead of across town.

Amy’s adventure will give her an education. Not a college education, as I had hoped for her, but a real-life education where she will need her cunning, intelligence, and strength to make it through. This education will not be sheltered in the warm arms of academia, but in the cold heart of reality.

As I watch her stuff her worldly belongings into a U-Haul truck, I am remembering the baby I held in my arms 20 years ago. That dark-eyed, eight pound bundle taught me I had enough unconditional love to be a good mother. Then the ghost of a two year old, who was unwilling to climb onto the sofa until she knew she could get down alone, appeared. She shouted, “Amy do it!” after accomplishing her feat, and she’s been screaming for her independence since.

I know the time is near because she’s checking the map. I watch her with the same held breath, I did when she pedaled her two-wheeled bicycle without training wheels. I see the five year old climb on the school bus with legs almost too short to climb the high steps of the vehicle. I see her first ballet recital with her tu-tu fluttering, her first piano lesson when her feet didn’t tough the floor as she sat on the bench, her first art award. The memories flood my eyes. I can’t seem to make them s top.  I’m a tornado of emotions. Excitement. Sadness. Happiness. Anxiety. Fear. Loneliness. My heart is breaking, and my eyes are betraying my smile. I tell myself I’m being selfish. I don’t want to let go because she’s brought so much joy to my life.

But this is her turn to dry her wings and fly, not mine to keep her in the cocoon. I command these emotions to take a step back. I will deal with them latter, but right now, I must be strong, supportive and happy for my daughter. She has a right to find her own happiness and prove her adulthood. I admire her. She’s taking a chance I was never brave enough to take. I assure myself, she has the tools of life I’ve bequeathed to her. She will refine them and make them her own. Perhaps some day, she will give them to a daughter of her own. She has my blessing.  I pray her journey will be safe, and I’ll stand by when crushing homesickness, culture shock, and loneliness cross her path.

With a kiss goodbye and a wild wave, I shout “Have a good trip! Call when you get there!” And other “Mom” stuff as I watch her small caravan pull away from the curb. She’s left the station, leaving me in on the platform.

I watch until I can’t see the U-Haul any longer, and suddenly remember once she told me she wanted to make a difference in the world. Little does she know, she’d already accomplished that. Because of her, I became a grown-up. Because of her, I learned to love unconditionally. And because of her, I became a woman.

The Death of Innocence

Happy Sunday Morning. It’s story time. After last Sunday’s lack of comments, I’m guessing you don’t like war stories. Perhaps this one will show the unexpected dilemmas parents face.

book clipart

 

The Death of Innocence

 

Lily turned 18 in April. She said it was her happiest birthday because she was free. She was finally old enough to do anything she wanted. In my eyes, she’d been “free” since she was 14 when she decided to live with her father after the divorce. Since then, she spent too much time alone unsupervised. This custody arrangement was not good for her, or me. I missed her so much. For the last four years, her anger with me for ending a bad marriage and upsetting her life spewed out every time we were together.

After not hearing from her for over a week, I called her one evening.

“Hello,” I heard her perky voice.

“Hi Lily, it’s Mom.”

“Oh.” She paused. “Hi, Mom.” Her voice was flat.

“I called to say I missed you.”

“Okay,” she paused.

“I was hoping we could get together.”

“I’m pretty busy.”

“So, what have you been up to lately?”

Normally my daughter was an uninhibited chatterbox volunteering information about friends, the funny antics of her two cats, and any other thing that was on her mind. But now, pulling a conversation from her was like running uphill in mud.

I tried again, “How’s the telemarketing going?”

“Ah . . .” she hesitated, “Well . . . I’m not working there any more.”

“Oh? I thought you liked that job.”

“It was a stupid job. I got into a fight with the boss and quit.”

“A fight? About what?”

“It doesn’t matter. I have a new job now.” Her tone is matter-of-fact. She smacked the gum she was chewing.

“Well, that’s good.  Did you go back to the video store? You always liked working there.”

“No. It’s a different job, Mom.” I imagined her shifting her weight from one foot to another.

“So what is it?”

“You won’t like it.” I could hear her take a deep breath. Maybe she was even twisting her hair.

“I won’t like what?”

“You won’t like my new job.” She took another deep breath and blurted, “I’m dancing at Sweet Cheeks.”

Her words stung me like a boxer’s right cross. I fell down into my chair. In an instant, my bones turned to dust. I just heard my daughter admit she was dancing at a strip joint in the next town. All I gasped, “You’re right. I don’t like it.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, “Lily the Lawyer” took over.

“Now Mom, look at it this way. I like dancing, and I’m really good at it! And the money! The money is unbelievable! Last night I made 250 bucks —in one night! I had to work all week to earn that telemarketing. And the girls are nice, and . . .”

“So you go to school during the day and do this at night? What about homework?”

She cut in; “I quit school.”

Another blow. Lily wasn’t a model student, but I hoped she would graduate with her high school class. “Oh, Lily, no,” I moaned, “You’ve only got a month to go. Why would you . . .”

She cut in. “Mom, high school wasn’t working for me. I’ll go to the community college and get my diploma.” As she chattered on about some of the girls she worked with and how great it she felt on stage, I was numb. She said for three or four minutes she was the center of attention, just like a star. As she yammered on and on, I saw her innocence—bright blue eyes, silky blonde hair, pink cheeks fading to black. Her magical smile that always charmed me would now be directed at creepy, ogling men.

Lily kept talking. “Mom, there really isn’t anything wrong with dancing. The only bad thing is the stuff that’s around it — like drugs, alcohol and prostitution.” She was nonchalant like she was making a grocery list!

The first blows hadn’t worn off yet, and here was another upper cut. “Lily. Can you hear yourself? Those things get people killed. I choked on my sobs as I mourned loss of her innocence.

“Yeah,” I coughed.

She proceeded in a calm tone. “Now, Mom, there’s nothing to cry about. I won’t do any of that “other” stuff. Look, I tried pot when I was 15, and I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I tried alcohol when I was 16, and the same thing. And prostitution is stupid. I don’t know how anybody can do that. I guess there’s one girl at the club who turns tricks, but she’s the only one.”

Was I really hearing this? Turning tricks? Smoking pot? Drinking? Where did she learn this stuff? Where was the supervision since I left? Obviously, she was running wild.

Anger churned up from my stomach. “God, Lily. Why are you putting yourself in such danger?”

“Danger? There’s no danger. God, you’re melodramatic, Mom. I’m perfectly safe. There are five bouncers–big guys—all of them are six-foot five or more. Nobody touches me. And, when I leave every night, I make one of them walk me to the car. I’m not stupid.”

I thought, maybe not stupid, but not smart either—just young.

She continued, “I know I can’t do this for the rest of my life, but I’m 18, and I’ve got the body and—”

“Right. You’re 18. A young girl with firm breasts, which is what creeps want to look at when they go to places like Sweet Cheeks.”

“So they look. What’s the big deal? It’s a job.”

I tried another tactic. “Really? You mean to tell me you feel that badly about yourself? I feel sad for you, Lily. Where’s your self-esteem?” I took a tissue out of the box next to the phone and wiped the tears away.

Her tone turned icy. “This is why I didn’t tell you! I knew you’d be like this. Just because you’ve been a goody-two-shoes all of your life, doesn’t mean I have to be one. You don’t have a clue that there’s a whole big world out there. God, get a life!”

“Remember who you’re talking to, Lily!”

Silence. I knew she was sorry for crossing the line. Her tone softened.  “Mom, please don’t hate me. I like dancing, and I’m going to do this . . . no matter what you say.” Her stubborn streak ran deep. There was little I could do about her tantrums at this age. At least when she was three, I could throw cold water at her to get her attention.

“So you’re going to do this no matter what I think about it.”

“That about sums it up.” She said with a bit of sarcasm.

I knew fighting wouldn’t solve anything, but I would not condone her behavior. I tried one last thought. “You know, Lily, someday you’ll probably have a daughter – do you really want her to know that her mother was a stripper?”

“Oh for crying out loud! It’s called an ‘exotic dancer’ nowadays. I guess I’ll just have to solve that problem when I get there.”

“Whatever.” I was defeated. I had exhausted all my sensible arguments.

“Be happy for me. I’m having fun and making tons of money. Isn’t that what you always said, that you wanted me to be happy?

“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”

“I know.”

What else could I say? Be careful? Don’t take any wooden nickels? How would we ever be able to talk again with this between us? In one phone call, she changed our relationship. She put a distance between us that would take years to dissolve. But I loved her. I hated her choice. But I loved her. If I turned my back  on her, no one would be in her corner. After all, don’t good mothers provide unconditional love no matter what?

After this horrendous conversation ended. I vowed to stay in her life and to be there when her world fell apart. I knew at some point, this poor choice would leave her damaged, and she’d need me to build her up again. So, I would stay in her life, maybe on the sidelines, but I would keep my mother vigil until she needed me again.

When a Funk Sets In

frustrated writerHave you ever had a time in your life when procrastination took over?

I’m in the midst of one of those times right now. It’s Dec. 11 and I still haven’t put up my Christmas tree. I’ve hauled out other decorations and spread them around the house, but I just haven’t been able to move myself to decorate the tree this year.

I told myself over the weekend, that the cold, rainy day would be perfect for getting the tree up, but I watched football games instead. After yesterday’s post, I’m sure that all of you are quite surprised by this news–seeing I made myself out to be “Mrs. Christmas Tree.”

Well, it’s not just the Christmas tree I’ve been putting off. It’s everything. I’ve failed to go to the grocery store, so the cupboards have little to offer. I still haven’t wrapped Christmas presents. Heck! I don’t even know if I have a gift for everyone. Sending out Christmas cards is completely out of the question. Even making a simple, good, meal has been a chore lately, and I LOVE to cook.

Worst yet, besides my blog, I haven’t written too much of anything for weeks. I have cranked out a short story for Sunday’s “Story Corner,” but that’s it. No work on the novel, nothing. I’ve been a slug. I hate it when I get this way.

Could all of this be a simple case of the holiday blues? I truly have nothing to be blue about. After all, last week our family rallied around us and gave us a beautiful wheelchair ramp for Ken. They also blessed us with a very generous Christmas present of cash so we’d have presents under the tree this year. I feel ashamed that I’m dragging my feet, but all I want to do is play Facebook games.

So, if you have any great ideas to help me “get off the dime,” so to speak, lay it on me. I could use a good kick in the pants.

Déjà vu Dances

Happy Sunday morning everyone! I’m sitting in front of our space heater that looks like a little fireplace with my loyal Ernie dog sitting beside me. It’s a cozy scene, considering it’s only 29 degrees outside. Today is story day, so here’s the latest installment in “The Collection” that will be published sometime this next year. As always, feedback is welcomed.

Déjà vu Dances

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

After serving over twenty years of marriage, my husband and I parted. Suddenly, I found myself alone for the first time. There were lots of adjustments. Some good. Some bad. Some easy. Some hard. My two-bedroom apartment, which  I put together with the help of friends and hand-me-down furniture, was very different from a four bedroom house in the country where I had spent most of my adult life. Going to work everyday after a life at home with children was a struggle. But yet, life was good. I didn’t have to referee teenagers who decided to live with their father. I didn’t have to clean up after anyone else, and I didn’t have to watch a television program I wanted to watch. My first year after divorce was a year of solitude and navigating through a new life of different experience, responsibilities, and learning how to cook for one.

The mere mention of the word “dating” paralyzed me. Instead, I went on wonderful trips with two East Coast travel agents who befriended me, and I had a wonderful time running away from my reality a week at a time. We traveled to places I never thought I would have a chance to see, as we cruised through the Caribbean, island after island spending hours at a beach, enjoying “girl time,” and the attention of the exotic men who were at our beck and call.

After a year of solitude and escapism, though, I decided I didn’t want to live out the second half of my life alone in a two-bedroom apartment with my cat Henry. If I didn’t do something soon,  I knew I had to make a change, but I didn’t have a clue what to do.

During that first year, I watched four of my friends, who got divorced around the same time I did, struggled with re-entry into this strange world of middle-age dating. Babs plunged forward within a few weeks after her divorce, joining a separated and divorced group in Milwaukee. Connie built a life with her golden retriever and two cats, while Jenny decided she would rather center her life on her career.

Babs always wanted me  to go with her to one of her dances. She argued I had loved dancing in school and that hadn’t changed. And she was right. I did love dancing. Dancing until dawn on the cruise ships had been a blast. How could this be different?  So, I agreed to go.

When “D” Day – dance day—arrived, I primped like a teenager, trying on every piece of clothing I owned. My bedroom was strewn with my entire wardrobe, and I realized I only owned “nine to five” suits and a couple of pairs of ratty jeans. The closest thing to a party dress I had was a plain, black, A-line, dress I had wore for my aunt’s funeral.

Babs picked me up around 7:30 p. m. to drive the 40 miles to the dance. As we zoomed along the freeway, she laid down the “rules of engagement” for the evening. “You remember why we’re going to this dance, right?”

“Sure, we’re going to dance and have fun.” I smiled innocently.

“Besides that?”

I was confused, “I didn’t know there was a ‘besides that’ connected with our night out.”

She spoke like an Army DI prepping a grunt for combat. “We’re also going to meet ‘new people.’”

“What new people?”

“Men, stupid. I don’t want you hanging around me. You go your way, and I’ll go mine.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You mean the minute we enter the door you’re going to abandon me?”  If I had known this, I would have stayed home and watched “I Love Lucy” reruns.

“You’re a big girl. Don’t make it sound like I’m putting you on a doorstep.”

“Well, that’s what it feels like.”

“I want you to mingle. Walk up to people. Make small talk. Jump in the pool.” She took a breath and changed lanes. “Believe me, this is the best way. I’ve tried going with other girlfriends who stuck to me like glue, and I didn’t get a chance to dance with a guy all night. The last thing I want to do is to end up dancing with you.”

I looked out the window at the darkness and mumbled, “So much for a fun time together. I didn’t think we were on a guy reconnaissance mission.”

“Sometimes you are so ridiculous.”

A few minutes later, Babs turned into a church parking lot. “We’re here!” She unbuckled her seat belt and made a beeline toward the door. She turned and motioned for me to follow her.

I pulled up the hood on my coat, put my head down to enter combat, and bravely fought the winter wind as my feet crunched through the hard, Styrofoam snow to a door marked, “S & D Dance.” I followed Babs down a beige, parochial school hallway and hung our coats on hooks on the wall. Then Babs swished over to the sign-in table. She handed a gray-haired man with wireless glasses a $10 bill. “Two,” she said, then slapped a stick-on name tag on my chest that simply said, “Barb”

We walked through the gymnasium door and cigarette smoke hovered overhead like a fog. Paper streamers had been strung from the ceiling. A stale beer smell completed this “grown-up” high school event. Babs ushered me over to a group of mixed company announcing, “Hi guys – I want you to meet Barb.”

“Hi, Barb!” they yelled in unison. When I heard their chorus, all I could think of was the Cheers sitcom bar group yelling, “Norm!!”

Babs said. “It’s her first dance,” She poked a guy with black, slicked-back hair, “so be nice!”

The greasy guy smiled at me as if to say, “Mmmm. Fresh meat.”

I forced a smile and excused myself, saying I needed a drink.

I walked over to the window where the drinks were being served. I smiled at the guy and said, “I’ll have a Coke, please.” Without looking at me, he grabbed the soda hose and pushed the “Coke” button.

“That’s a buck,” he said, pushing the soda toward me without looking.

I paid him and found an empty table on the periphery of the dance floor to watch the crowd. By now, the lights had been turned down low the room was completely dark except for the colored floodlights that were behind the four-piece band. A balding, pot-bellied Mick Jagger wannabee took hold of the microphone and started screaming, “I Can’t Get No, Sat-Tis-Fac-Tion.” Suddenly, the room erupted. Males who had been plastered against the wall, grabbed female partners who were lined up on the opposite wall. They hit the dance floor wiggling, shaking, and jerking to the familiar sounds of the 1960s.

As I watched them, I felt like I had been plopped down in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Babs scowled at me as she hopped and flailed with the rest of the crowd. She whispered something into her partner’s ear after the song ended and came over to me.

“Is this what you’re going to do all night? Sit on the sidelines and watch? Get out there and dance! Go ask somebody!”

Just then the drummer smacked his sticks together and began the old drum solo of “Wipe Out”

Babs screamed, “My favorite!” She hustled over to a wallflower gigolo dressed in a polyester leisure suit and began wiggling, while he jerked like he was having a convulsion. But the pounding beat of this “oldie” made my lonely feet under the table tap out the beat.

A 50-year old hippie with shoulder length gray hair came toward my table, and I prayed, “Oh, God, please – no.”  Thankfully, he grabbed the hand of another woman sitting next to me and pulled her out on to the floor, as the drummer went into a frenzy as he pounded out the drum solo.

After the song ended, the crowd dispersed to their boy and girl groups on opposite walls again. I wondered whether high school routines every died.

Then it happened. I felt a tap on my shoulder. After the hippie and the guy with slick-backed hair, I held my breath and turned around. There stood a good-looking man dressed in a business suit. He smiled. “Hi, my name is Jim. Would you like to dance?”

The band was playing, “Do You Love me, Surfer Girl?” With relief, I answered, “Sure.”

After the dance was over, he said, “Can I buy you a drink?”

“That would be nice.” We walked hand-in-hand to the guy pouring sodas at the window.

I danced with Jim for the rest of the evening, and when the band played the last song, Jim twirled me for the final time . Bright lights came on, signaling it was time to leave. We walked to the coat rack, and he slipped my coat over my shoulders. “I had a really nice time tonight, Barb.”

I laughed and said, “You’re my night in shining armor.”

He looked at me with a puzzled look. “How’s that?”

“You saved me,” was all I could say before Babs came busting in between us.

She looked Jim over from top to bottom and said to me, “See, I told you’d have a great time!”

I just glared at her. Jim broke the silence and said to me, “I hope I see you at the next dance.” He turned and left.

I smiled and said, “Maybe.”

Even though Jim had salvaged a dreary evening, I vowed there would be no “next dance.” It broke my heart to see so many broken souls trying so hard to relive their “glory days” of high school, as they faked having a good time.

I turned to Babs and said, “Don’t you feel like you’re experiencing Déjà vu?”

She looked at me like I was speaking a language she didn’t understand. “What?”

“All evening I feel like I’ve been sent back in time.”

“You watch too much Star Trek. But then, you always have some smartass comment to make, don’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

Babs blasted me. “Why is it so hard for you to try something new? Why do you have to put me down because I love to come to these dances?”

“You call this new? This dance was anything but new! Dancing to same music, in the same way we did when we were 16 years old is just a little too weird.”

Babs shot back. “So you didn’t have a good time?”

“It was okay.” It was really horrible except for meeting a nice man like Jim.

“You’re hopeless. Let’s just go home.” Babs turned in disgust and hustled into the frigid night.

As we rode in silence, I felt a little sorry for her. I had spoiled her good time. I should never have let her talk me into going to this ridiculous dance. Right now watching a rerun of Star Trek, eating a bag of microwave pop corn with my cat Henry sitting on my lap sounded like a much better alternative to what I had just endured. At least those time-continuum stories didn’t leave me feeling like an old fogie whose glory days were in the rear-view mirror.

He Played On

Happy Thanksgiving to all  my friends around the world. To celebrate, here’s a short story to read after you’ve had a good dinner and made memories with friends and family.

HE PLAYED ON

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

For the past 30 years Henry’s life had been beige like his favorite Lazyboy chair. A heart attack before he was 50 took him out of the work force, then several surgeries and piles of medication left him to be a man out of sync. Specialists told him he’d die a young man. But like an old reliable Timex, Henry’s heart just kept on ticking.

Today promised to be just another day. He watched the news on television, had breakfast, showered, and got prepared to check on “his” birds. He shuffled to the front closet, grabbed his plaid flannel jacket and his favorite red cap. He checked his appearance in hallway mirror, smoothed his curly gray hair with his wrinkled hand and cocked the hat to the side, just the way his wife, Mary, had liked it for over 50 years. He put on his jacket, opened the back door, and took a deep breath. The air smelled like freshly washed laundry.

He walked to the bird feeder in the corner of the yard. It was full. Good. The neighborhood squirrels had a taste for the gourmet birdseed before the birds had a chance, so he engineered a plastic shield to keep the pesky gray critters away. Henry continued his backyard reconnaissance, checking the rain gauge and the two other bird feeders. Now that it was spring, he wanted to make sure he did everything he could to bring the bright red cardinals to his yard. He loved their songs. He ended his surveillance by pulling a few weeds along the low hedge that separated his yard from his young neighbor Mike’s yard. Mike had put out his trash early and something caught Henry’s eye. The old man leaned over the hedge for a better look, but from this vantage point, couldn’t tell what the object was. He cursed his new trifocals.

Henry unlatched the gate and went into the alley to take a better look at the item which captured his curiosity. He lifted a cardboard box off the object, and revealed an old record player. Not a Victrola, but a relic from the 60s that had a turntable with a speed selector that said 78-45-33. Henry’s eyes widened. He realized right away that this machine could play his thick, black 78 records he had been rescuing from Mary’s cleaning binges for the past 40 years.

As he checked out the record player, Henry figured all the machine needed was a little Tender Loving Care, a new needle, some WD40 oil. Henry figured that before long, the sweet sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller would fill his house again. He picked up the machine and hummed “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” as he shuffled home.

Mary gasped as she heard him struggling in the back hall. She dropped the handle of the vacuum cleaner as fear rose in her throat. What was it this time? His heart? Could he breathe?  Had he hurt himself again? Her mind raced to the worst-case scenario like it had for too many years. When she opened the sliding door that separated the kitchen from the back hall, she found him breathing hard with his arms wrapped around an old record player.

“Are you all right? She said with panic in her voice.

“Of course I’m all right . . . Will you quit . . . worrying about me?” He took one big breath and tried to calm himself.

When she saw he was all right, she asked.  “More junk? What are you going to do this time?”

He grinned at her. “This isn’t junk! I’m going to fix it up and put it in the den.”

Mary put her hands on her hips. “Well, I don’t care what you do, but it’s not coming upstairs. I keep trying to get rid of junk, and you keep bringing more home.”

“Aw honey, have a heart. If I can get it working, I can play my records again. They don’t make music like they used to. Don’t you remember how we loved those old songs?” His eyes sparkled. “Look,” he went on trying to convince her, “It’s got an 8-track and a radio! It’s a classic.” He gave her a boyish grin, “Like me.”

Henry set the record player on the kitchen table and took Mary in his arms. He nuzzled her neck and whispered, “Remember when we danced to Glenn Miller in that Waukegan ballroom on New Year’s Eve? I was home from the service and you were my blind date?”

“I remember.” She said softly and suddenly was swept away to the night she fell in love to the sounds “Moonlight Serenade.” “We really cut a mean rug, didn’t we?” She brushed his cheek with a soft kiss. “You’re such a charmer, but the machine still stays in the basement—with your other treasures.

“Oh, all right.” He gave her an impish smile, “You’ll change your mind after I fix her up.”

She smiled at him. “Don’t hold your breath.” Mary picked up the handle to her vacuum and went back to her chores.

When Henry saw Mike later that afternoon, he had no objections when Henry asked to keep the record player. In fact, Mike said he had some old speakers in the attic Henry could have.

Later that week, Mike carried the two dusty, oak-trimmed speakers over to Henry’s house. “Here they are, my friend.  Where’s the record player? I’ll hook them up for you.”

“In the basement.” He gave his wife a cocker spaniel look, “Mary won’t let me bring it upstairs. She says its junk.”

“Well, sometimes wives just don’t understand us.” The young man gave Henry a slap on the back and a sympathizing smile.

Henry led the way to his workshop. The record player sat on his work bench, looking new after a good cleaning and a couple of coats of “Pledge.” Henry turned the “On” knob, and the turntable spun around like it had just come out of the box. His chest puffed as Mike complimented his work.  Mike plugged the speakers into the port in the back of the machine, and when he did, he noticed a metal plate that said what kind of needle was required. “Henry, did you see this?”

“See what?” The old man bent down to look where Mike was pointing.

“This plate here. It says the record player needs a J9 needle.”

“No kidding? How did I miss that?” Henry scratched his head.

Mike said with enthusiasm. “Let’s go into town and buy one.”

“OK!” Henry turned off the machine and the two of them climbed up the basement stairs.

A couple of hours later, Henry came home from his excursion with Mike. Mary wondered what had taken so long.

“Sorry I’m so late, honey, but we stopped at the coffee shop, and you know, I got to chewin’ the fat with the guys and before you knew it. . .” his voice trailed off as he put his coat in its place in the closet.

“Yeah, yeah. Did you find a needle for that thing?”

“Sure.” He proudly showed her a small package wrapped in plastic.

“Where’s Mike?”

“He had to go home.”

“Oh.” Mary answered.

“Do you think I need Mike to babysit me to put a simple needle in a record player? Boy, that’s confidence!  You do remember I built two houses with my bare hands!  I get no respect!” Henry raised his wrinkled hands to the ceiling.

Mary looked at the needle. “Are you sure you got the right one? It looks so different from the ones our kids had in their record players.”

Henry grabbed the needle back, “Of course it’s the right one. Do you think I’m stupid? This record player is more sophisticated than the ones our kids had.” He turned to go downstairs. “You wait and see. In a few minutes, you’ll owe me a dance.” He winked at her.

About an hour later, Henry came upstairs muttering, “I wish I had the instruction manual.”

Mary stayed silent as she hide behind her latest romance novel.

Henry thought out loud in a vow voice. “This should be easy. Why in the hell can’t I get it to work?” Henry turned over the strange-looking needle in the palm of his hand. “It’s such a goofy looking thing.”

Mary put her book down and stared at her perplexed husband. “After dinner things will look different.” She consoled.

Henry relented. “Yeah, maybe I’ll take a nap and get a vision or something.” He put the needle on the coffee table and lay down on the plaid living room couch. He closed his eyes, folded his arms across his chest and sighed. If worse came to worse, he’d have to swallow is pride and call Mike.

After supper that night, Henry went to the basement to try again. He walked around the machine a couple of times, checked all the connections, lifted the arm and scratched his head. Then, he saw it. He grabbed a tiny screw driver.

Mary was finishing the dinner dishes when she heard strains of Glenn Miller’s clarinet crooning “Moonlight Serenade.”  She dropped the dish rag, grabbed a towel, and muttered, “Well for crying out loud, he really did it!” She rushed downstairs and found Henry standing by his beloved toy grinning like a teenager.

“Mary, listen.” He glowed. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Her eyes were brighter than they had been in years as she listened to the needle scratch out the old melody that held so many memories.“It’s wonderful!” Tears welled in her eyes.

He moved closer and took her hand, “May I have this dance?”

She dropped her eyes like a shy high school girl and said softly, “I’d love to.”

He twirled her round, pulled her against his body and held her tight. She giggled. He put his cheek on her cheek, and slowly the familiar steps moved their feet. Memories long forgotten flooded back. The moment was too precious to speak. They glided across their painted basement floor, and their love burned like it had for over 50 years.

But before the needle made it to the end of the thick 78, Henry’s chest tightened. His breath grew short. His eyes locked with the only woman he ever loved. He still thought she was so beautiful.  Then he stopped dancing, took a deep breath, and his music played on.

Another Installment of Barbie & Chuckie

The story of Chuckie and Barbie has been a hit, so here’s Part III. Have a wonderful Sunday.

 

LIFE WITHOUT CHUCKIE

Part III – Second Grade and Second Best

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

Second grade turned out to be a better year for Barbie, but Chuckie struggled with reading and stayed after school every afternoon for extra help. Walking home alone was strange for Barbie because she had become accustomed to sharing what happened during the day with Chuckie, and even though she knew she’d surely go to hell, Barbie still wished she had been born a “public” and could go to school with Chuckie.

One Saturday in November, Barbie went to call for Chuckie. His mother answered the door. “Well, hello stranger.” His mother said. “Come in out of the cold. Chuckie’s watching cartoons and eating his breakfast in front of the TV.”

“Thanks, Lois.” Chuckie’s mom was the only grown-up Barbie called by her first name. She ripped off her jacket and hat, hung it on one of the hooks on the wall and then went into the living room. She found Chuckie laying on his stomach staring at the television. “Hey, Chuckie, you gonna lay around all day watching Bugs Bunny?” She teased. “Let’s go outside and build a snowman.”

“Nah.” Chuckie said ignoring her.

“What’s got you so grumpy?” Barbie said.

“You’d be grumpy too if you were dumb and had to stay after school every day.” He didn’t look at her.

“Aw, come on Chuckie. Knock it off. You’re not dumb. It’s Saturday. Let’s go outside and build a snowman.”

“I don’t want to.” He whined. “It’s cold and icky outside, and I just want to watch Bugs and Daffy.” He looked at her briefly and then turned his attention back to the television.

Chuckie always wanted to play outside. This wasn’t like him. “You want to talk about what’s wrong?”

“No.” He said flatly.

“OK.” Barbie lay down on her stomach beside her friend. Several minutes of silence went by before Chuckie said, “Why is reading so hard for me?”

Barbie was surprised by his question. “So that’s it. Chuckie, be serious. Reading is hard for a lotta kids. My cousin Jimmy has trouble with reading, too. And you know what? Mrs. Pink got so mad at him, she shut him in a locker!”

Chuckie turned and looked at Barbie with shock on his face. “Really?”

“Yeah. Just because he read the wrong word out loud. I think she hates Jimmy. I really wanted to sock Mrs. Pink, but then I would have ended up in the locker with Jimmy.”

Chuckie pondered what Barbie told him. “At least my teacher isn’t mean to me. She just makes me do the same thing over and over again.” Chuckie said.

“That’s what teachers do, Chuckie. I have to do it for my spelling words.” Barbie said with seven-year-old wisdom.

“I guess I should feel lucky my teacher likes me.” Chuckie said. “At least she doesn’t put me in a locker.”

“Yeah. So cheer up! I hate it when you’re sad.” Barbie said and she paused before she added, “And don’t forget, you have me, too. We can practice reading together.”

“Nah. When we’re together the last thing I want to do is school work.”

Barbie kept trying. “I’m not talking about school books, silly. I’m talking about library books. There are gillions of fun books out there. I found some at the Bookmobile the other day. Wanna see?” Barbie said with a grin.

“Maybe later.” Chuckie paused. “What kind of fun books?

“Look.”  Barbie pulled out two books from a paper sack.

“You should have seen that bus, Chuckie! I don’t think they could have jammed one more book in that book there! Here, I got this one for you.” She handed him a book with a cover which pictured a frontiersman on the cover.

Chuckie perked up. “This is cool!”

“Yeah, that guy’s got a hat like yours and everything!” She pointed to the coonskin cap on the cover.

Chuckie sat up. “It’s good old Daniel Boone, Barbie. Gee, thanks.” He took the book from her and started looking at the pictures of his hero.

“No problem. All we have to do is bring it back when the book bus comes again.”

Barbie smiled at his interest. “Should we read yours first?”

Chuckie was shy about reading in front of her. “Let’s do yours. Why’d you get one on trains?”

“You know I love trains, silly. Every time I hear the whistle blow on the big trains, I wonder what kind of stuff is in the cars and where its going. Wouldn’t it be great to just jump on a train and end up some place completely different from here?”

“I never thought about it.” Chuckie said.

“I have. A lot. That’s why I want Santa to bring me a train.” Barbie smiled.

“Again?” Chuckie said. “I can’t believe you’re wasting another Christmas wish on a train.”

“But I really want one, Chuckie. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Chuckie shut the book and stared at her like she was stupid. “You haven’t gotten a train, Barbie, because you’re a girl and girls don’t get trains.”

Barbie crossed her arms over her chest. “Sometimes you’re really mean, Chuckie.” Barbie said with tears in her brown eyes.

Chuckie said in a soft voice. “I didn’t mean anything bad. It’s just the way it is. Did you ever see a lady engineer? Think about it.” He gently socked her on the shoulder. “Oh, come on, Barbie. We learned about this way back in Kindergarten – boys do certain stuff and girls do other stuff. Trains are definitely for boys.” He spoke with authority.

Barbie defended herself. “I don’t think Santa will see it that way. I wrote him a letter and told him I had been good all year, and the only thing I want is a Lionel train.” Her eyes widened. “I saw it on television. The engine blows smoke and everything!”

“If you wrote a letter all by yourself, then I’m sure Santa will bring you one.” Chuckie said in a soft voice, knowing he just lied to his best friend.

 

 

The night before Christmas, Barbie carefully placed the Christmas presents she had made for her parents in Brownie Scouts beneath the beautiful fresh pine Christmas tree she and her father had picked out together at the tree lot. She felt happy as she looked at the bright red wrapping paper and white bow that she tied with love. Now she understood why Santa was so jolly all of the time. After all, giving was his job.

Barbie kissed her parents good night and padded off to bed in her warm Dr. Denton pajamas. As she lay under Grandma Ella’s quilt she prayed. “Dear Lord, thank you for Christmas. It’s a beautiful time of the year. Please keep Santa safe on his long journey. And if it’s not too much to ask, please let him bring me a Lionel train.” She squeezed her eyes tight and willed herself to sleep.

The house was dark when her little brother John Robert crept in her room at two o’clock. “Barbie, wake up!” He whispered.

“What are you doing up so early?” She said in a groggy voice.

“Barbie, Santa came. There’s LOTS of presents out there.” John Robert said in his squeaky four-year-old voice.

“Shhhh—if we get up too early, Mom will spank us. Remember last year? Crawl in.” Barbie pulled the covers and her little brother snuggled beside her.

John Robert protested, “But Santa was here!”

“I know. But we’d better wait a little while before we wake up Mom and Daddy.”

“There’s a great big box out there.” He said in a whisper.

“Whose it for?” Barbie held her breath hoping that her name was on the box.

“I don’t know. I can’t read.”

The children waited for what seemed an eternity before John Robert jumped out of bed and ran down the hallway to his parent’s room. He yelled, “Mommy—Santa’s been here! Wake up!”

Barbie thought. Always send the little brother to do the dirty work.

Her mother dragged herself out of bed and went to the living room with John Robert. Barbie followed. Her mother turned on the Christmas lights as John Robert jumped around. When she sorted the presents, the big package wrapped in bright green paper was placed in front of John Robert. Barbie’s present was the size of a shirt box, and she knew before she even opened it that Santa didn’t bring her a train.

Barbie tried to hide her tears as she tore open her gift, which was a brand new Brownie uniform, along with a brown beanie cap and a new shiny brownie pin.

John Robert’s present was a train. Barbie watched in horror as he lifted the bright shiny Lionel with the engine that blew real smoke high in the air. He also got a cattle car, a tanker car and a little red caboose and an engineer’s hat to wear when he ran the train. Her father talked about how they would build a table in the basement and set up the train there.

Barbie ran to her room and threw herself on the bed. She figured Santa must really hate girls.

Christmas afternoon, Chuckie came over to exchange presents. Barbie had saved her allowance for weeks to buy him a red bandana he wanted for his cowboy outfit. He gave her a pretty red ornament that had a picture of a train on it. On the back of the ornament he painted, “From Chuckie, 1958. ”  When she saw it,  she cried. “Oh, Chuckie. It’s beautiful!” She looked at her friend with a lump in her throat. “You knew all along that Santa wouldn’t get me a train, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.” He said softly.

“It’s not fair!” By now the tears streamed down her face. “Why do I have to be a dumb ol’ girl any how?”

“Hey, cut it out! I think you’re a pretty girl and a great pal. Heck, you can do anything! You swim better than me; you play baseball better than me; you read better than me.” He put his hand on your shoulder and looked at her with a serious face. “And you’re my best friend.”

She brushed her tears from her face.

Chuckie felt so bad for her. “I don’t have a train, but do you want to play cowboys and Indians? You can wear my new cowboy hat and holster with my six-shooter. It fires real caps and everything.!”

“At least Santa got your present right.” She said and smiled knowing she had the best friend in the world. “You’d really let me?”

“Sure. You can be just like Anne Oakley!” At that moment, Chuckie was happy he could put a smile back on his best friend’s face, even if she was a girl.

 

Short Story Saturday

I heard from one of my readers that she enjoyed the story about “Chuckie.” Well, this story has three parts, so today in honor of enjoying the weekend, I’m giving you part two.

 

LIFE WITHOUT CHUCKIE

Part II — Life’s A Beach

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

On June 4, 1958 first grade was finally over for Barbie and Chuckie. Both of them had been promoted to the second grade, and both of them were happy they were finally FREE of school for the summer. They celebrated by skipping home together laughing and giggling about their summer plans. Barbie was elated she could be with her friend everyday, but she was especially happy because there would be no more Sister Esther, no more church everyday,  and no more having to be quiet all of the time. She was FREE!

Summer offered a recreation program at The North Park which would start on Monday. All of the village children looked forward to the planned activities and crafts that would be available everyday for almost the whole summer, but Barbie was looking forward to the swimming lessons she could take at a special pool in the neighboring city. The Red Cross lessons were given at the Washington Park Pool that was a half a city block in size. There were playground-type slides around the perimeter of the pool, and in the middle there was a deep water island with diving boards which was surrounded by a big fence. It was a swimmer’s paradise.

Bright and early Monday morning, Barbie and Chuckie waited in line to get their applications for swimming lessons.

Barbie boasted, “I’m going to get my Red Cross Beginner’s card so I can go in the deep water and jump off the highest diving board.”

“Yeah, me too.” Chuckie said.

After they got their permission slips, both children hopped on their bikes and took the forms home. For Barbie, waiting for her father to come home that afternoon was harder than getting up for school every morning.

As soon as Barbie’s father took off his work shoes and sat at the table for his afternoon cup of coffee, Barbie slapped down the application and said, “You need to sign right here, Daddy.”

“What’s this?”

“The lady at the park said you gotta sign this so I can go learn how to swim real good.” She said with a wide smile.

“Oh, I do, do I?” Her father teased as he looked at his girl’s wide eyes.

Barbie pointed to the line at the bottom of the page again. “Yes. If you don’t sign, I can’t go to go to the big pool. You gotta sign here.” She pointed to the line again.

“And, if I sign, do you promise to be good and obey the rules at the pool?”

Barbie shook her head “yes” with her most serious look. “I’ll do whatever they tell me, Daddy.”

Her father laughed. “I swear child, I think you were born with gills.” He picked up the form and signed. He knew that his first child loved the water simply by how much she enjoyed the wading pool in the backyard every summer.

“Thank you, Daddy.” She looked at his signature. “You know, this pool is the biggest one in the whole wide world. The kids say there’s slides and diving boards and—“

Her father cut her off. “You have to promise not to go in the deep water.”

“Even after I pass?”

“After you pass, we’ll talk about it.”

He handed the form back to his smiling daughter. “Do your best.”

“I will, Daddy. You’ll see. I’ll be the bestest swimmer in the world!” She took the form, ran to her bedroom and put it into her underwear drawer so her two-year old brother couldn’t ruin it. In the morning, she’d ride her bike to the park and be first in line to sign up for swimming lessons.

 

After two weeks of  lessons, Barbie proudly looked at her Red Cross Beginner card that her swimming teacher awarded her at the end of the last class.

Chuckie sat beside her on the bus ride home. “You did real good, Barbie,”

“Thanks. Chuckie.” She said and then added, “I’m sorry you didn’t pass.”

“Aw, sucks it’s nothing. The swimming teacher said I could come again next session.” Chuckie then whispered, “Don’t tell anybody, but I’m scared when I have to put my face in the water.”

Barbie said, “Cross my heart, hope to die, I won’t tell, Chuckie.” She paused. “But I’m going to try for my Advanced Beginner next session. Daddy said I could go if I passed.”

“Will you still go if I don’t go?” Chuckie said.

“Yeah.” Barbie felt guilty after she spoke so quickly because she saw the disappointment on her friend’s face. “But it won’t be the same without you.”

“Swimming is not for me.”

“Oh.” Barbie realized this was the first time she was better than Chuckie at something important.

When the second round of swimming lessons came the next week. Barbie went without Chuckie, and like the last session, she passed the requirements for the Red Cross Advanced Swimming card. Her father said he thought she was a fish, and he wasn’t surprised when she asked to go to the lake for her birthday.

The next day, Barbie sat between Chuckie and her brother John Robert as they traveled 45 minutes to Brown’s Lake for her birthday celebration. As they rode along, she thanked God that He put her birthday in July. When the lake appeared around the last curve, Barbie sat on the edge of the seat and said, “You know, Mom, someday I’m going to live on a lake.”

“Only rich people live on lakes, Barbie.” Her mother said flatly.

“Then I’ll be rich!” It seemed simple enough to Barbie.

“OK.” Her mother said without a smile.

As soon as the car stopped, the children grabbed their swim bags and ran for the beach. “Wait for us,” Barbie’s father yelled and then turned to his wife, “Do you believe how much that child loves to swim?”

Her mother said, “I just hope we never find her belly up.”

Barbie and Chuckie found a nice spot with a picnic table under a large tree at the edge of the beach. “How’s this Mom?”

“This is a very good place, dear.”  Like Chuckie, going to the beach was not fun for her mother.

But Barbie was in her element as she felt the warm silky sand between her toes. She loved the lake breeze and the bright sunshine. But the best thing was the water. She quickly stripped off her tee-shirt and shorts to reveal her new red swimming suit. She pulled her rubber swimming cap from her bag and tucked her brown hair into it. “Daddy, can we go in now? PLEASE. I’ve been waiting FOREVER!”

Her father smiled, “Don’t go out too far, birthday girl. Just because you can swim in a pool, doesn’t mean you know how to swim in the lake. Be careful.”

“OK,” she yelled as she ran toward the water and dove in. She yelled to Chuckie, “Common slow poke. The water’s warm. It’s heaven.”

“Heaven?” He yelled back.

“Yeah, you know the place you go to when you die.”

He tip-toed into the shallow water. “Where did you learn that?”

“At the dumb old Catholic school.” She moved toward him.

“Boy, they sure do teach you stupid stuff there!” Chuckie said.

Barbie dog paddled out to the buoy that divided the deep water from the shallow and expected Chuckie would follow her. When she got there, he was still wading in the shallow water. “Come on, Chuckie, you can do it! Get your skinny butt out here. The water’s great!”

“It’s too cold. I don’t want to.” He whined.

“For crying out loud! What are you, a sissy girl?” She taunted him. She knew he’d get mad enough to swim out to her. And she was right. Before she knew it, he was paddling like a Labrador. When he got to where she was hanging on the rope, she said, “I knew you could do it. It’s not even deep. Try touching the bottom.”

A smile crossed Chuckie’s face when he realized he could stand on his tip toes. “This isn’t so bad.”

Barbie dove under the rope. She knew Chuckie wouldn’t follow her now that she was in the deep water, but she wanted to really swim where she couldn’t touch the bottom. She remembered everything she learned at her lessons and moved through the water like a slippery eel. Chuckie stood on his toes watching her and feeling jealous she could swim and he couldn’t.

A few minutes later Barbie’s mother stood on the shore yelling, “Barbara Jean, you get in here this minute.”

“Don’t worry Mom,” she yelled back. “I can swim. I’m OK.” The little girl paddled around the water to demonstrate.

“Barbara Jean, you come in right now and play with your brother while I fix lunch.”

Chuckie started to go ashore. “I’ll go watch him, Barbie. You stay in the water.”

Her mother screamed. “Get in here, right now—Barbara Jean, or there will be no more swimming for the rest of the day!”

“I’m coming.” Barbie said defeated, knowing if she pushed it, she’d be heading home before birthday cake. This is not fair! Why did I have to have a dumb little brother, anyhow? He ruins everything. After all, it’s MY birthday and I’m supposed to be the special one–not him!” 

Chuckie went to work building a great sand castle with John Robert, while Barbie sat and pouted about being beached. As she watched her best friend play with her brother, she knew Chuckie was the best friend in the world.

That afternoon Barbie thought bratwursts were the best she ever had eaten, and to round out the meal, her mother also brought potato salad, dill pickles and melon salad. When it was time for her favorite cake–the poppy seed with butter cream frosting, everyone sang “Happy Birthday,” and Barbie felt she had the best seventh birthday ever.

While the children waited the obligatory 30 minutes after eating in order to go back into the water, Barbie was allowed to open her presents.  She chose Chuckie’s gift first. “Wow! Look Mom, a brand new box of 64 color crayons and a new tablet! I’ll bet there’s more colors in there than in the whole world!” She hugged Chuckie. “Thanks, pal!”

He pulled away. “I’m glad you like the present, but geez, don’t get all mushy on me!”

She giggled. “Sorry.”

Then she opened the present from John Robert. “How did you know that I needed new socks and underpants?” She said to her little brother and glared at her mother.

Her mother said, “You’ll need them for school.”

Barbie saved the biggest present for last. She ripped off the paper and stared at the new baseball glove that now lay in her lap. She ran to her father and gave him a big hug. “Oh Daddy, this is the best mitt in the world! Thank you!” She ran back to the mitt and put her small hand into the leather glove and pounded the “pocket” with her tiny fist. “I’ll be the best baseball player at the park!”

“We’d better practice in the backyard first.” Her father said. “I’ll show you how to oil it and soften it up. Then you and Chuckie can practice.”

“But I don’t have a glove,” Chuckie said.

It was the third time this summer Barbie felt sorry for her friend. The first time was when she found out at school that Chuckie was going to HELL because he wasn’t Catholic; the second time was when he didn’t pass the beginning swimming class at Park Pool, and now, when he didn’t have a baseball glove. “That’s OK, Chuckie, you can have my old one.”

“Thanks, Barbie.” Chuckie said while her parents smiled at the generosity of their little daughter.

“You’re my best friend, Chuckie. Baseball wouldn’t be any fun without you.”

This time, he hugged her.

“Hey, watch the mushy stuff.” She laughed.

Before she knew it, her special day at the beach was over. As the family packed up everything to go home, Barbie felt sad, even though it had been a great day. On the way home, she fell asleep between the two boys and dreamed about all the baseball games she would win with her new mitt and all the beautiful art she’d create with her the new crayons. It had been a perfect seventh birthday.

In August, Barbie’s mother sewed a new uniform dress, which signaled going back to school was just around the corner. The dress was exactly like last year’s uniform, except it was a size larger. Barbie groaned when she thought about having to return to the Catholic School and face a teacher like Sister Esther again. She still wanted to go back to the public school with Chuckie—even if it did mean that she would go to HELL with him when she died.

Before she knew it, she was dressed in her new uniform and spiffy saddle shoes for second grade. Chuckie picked her up like usual and waved to her as she crossed the highway with the crossing guard. “Have a good day, Barbie!” Chuckie yelled.

She turned around and gave him a dirty look. “I hope you get an ugly teacher!”

He laughed and went into the public school door. He didn’t say so, but Chuckie was dreading second grade, too, because reading and arithmetic were hard for him.

When Barbie walked into the second grade room, she was pleased to see she had a real lady for a teacher this year. The woman was a tall and skinny. On her long, thin nose, she wore a black pair of glasses that flared out at the edges, which made her eyes look slanty like cat eyes. She wore a petticoat that “poofed out” her dress and made a swishing sound when she walked. Her brown hair was curly and short, and she wore pink lipstick. Barbie thought she looked like one of those TV housewives on the commercials.

“Good morning, class. My name is Mrs. Pink,” the new teacher said in a shrill voice.

It was hard for Barbie to hold back a giggle. Mrs. Pink! What was a very funny name—especially for Mr. Pink.

The teacher continued in her annoying voice. “Before we get started, I have a few rules. There will be no talking at any time, unless I ask you for an answer. You will line up quietly when we pass to through the hallways. There will be—

At that moment, Barbie stopped listening. She knew the rest by heart, and she realized second grade wasn’t going to be much different from first grade. It would be one more year in solitary wearing an ugly uniform.