Friday, December 31, 2010

Scoutmaster



He chose the winter camping site
and trod the trail some months ago.
He studied clothing which promotes
survival in the frigid snow.
He packed lightweight, nutritious food
for honing outdoor gourmet skills,
and coiled forty feet of rope
for practical knot-tying drills.
He calculated how to in-
still character in boys he loves.
With all that preparation done,
how did he forget his gloves?


Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Authentic Christmas

A play in three scenes for an LDS audience.  Overzealous about her Christmas decorating scheme this year, Julie is forgetting the reason for the season.  Can an unexpected visitor help her refocus before it is too late?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Faith of the Shepherds


Merry Christmas, everyone!


Shepherd, Sheep, Lilac Sky by Twink Designs


They knew that He was coming,
but they did not know when.
They could not know they’d be
among the first to hear the news.
They did their duty humbly
in the field and in the pen,
‘til angels sang the birth
of the Messiah of the Jews.
Not doubting it was true,
they spread the word abroad
that they had seen the newborn Son of God.

We’ve heard that He is coming,
but we do not know when.
Prophets say that soon,
in regal glory, He’ll return.
Do we do our duty,
to love and to befriend,
to lead our neighbors to
the peace and joy for which they yearn?
Believe that He is true,
and help prepare all men
to greet the Savior of the world again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The One that Got Away



Carolina boy--
Snow was, for you, a sight unseen
until we whisked you away
to taste winter
on higher ground.

You toddled through the drifts,
legs stiff in new black boots,
to the edge of the mountainous slope.
We placed you on the platform,
cameras poised for your maiden voyage.

But before your escort
enveloped you in padded arms,
you slid away.

You had so little mass
that your momentum was all speed
and friction had no hold
as you spun,
starfish in a saucer.

Did you feel alone,
round blue eyes staring
at the granite sky?
No way to stop or steer
or see what loomed ahead?

Help was closer than you knew.
Your older brother,
with scant more sled experience,
slid to your rescue,
not missing a beat.
He flew fast, though not as far,
lifted you upright again,
held your mittened hand,
and led you on the long hike
up the hill.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cold Determination

and this one is true...


     I arrived at the university full of vague hopes, fond wishes, pleasant dreams, and one concrete goal.  I never wrote it in my planner, but it was clearly defined in my mind, measurable, reportable.  I was determined not to slip and fall on the ice more than once that winter.
     In the maritime climate of my Maryland upbringing, snow was a rare occurrence.  The scarcity of snow led to its identification with delightful surprises.  "Our football team won the game?" a friend might say.  "It's going to snow!" 
     If snow did fall, we thrilled at the sight of the first flakes, and hoped they would stick.  When an inch or two accumulated, my sisters and I would cluster around the radio, listening to the alphabetical list of school cancellations as the various counties phoned in their bids.  One hour late . . . Two hours late . . . Closed.  Jackpot!  If a few more inches fell, the "non-essential workers" would be sent home from the capital.  Beltway traffic was snarly enough in good weather; no one needed those impatient drivers to get stuck in the snow.  Whether the total came to three inches or three feet, with an inch-thick layer of ice on the top, the result was the same:  everyone stayed home and let the snowplows do their work.  We would sled down our front yard, build forts in the back, and try to enjoy the white stuff before it turned slushy and melted in a day or two. 
     My parents, who hailed from a different climate, assured me that in places where it really snows, life goes on.  People put on their snow tires and drive sensibly.  Snow doesn't melt all winter, and schools never close.  Thus warned, I went to further my education in Utah, which boasts the "greatest snow on earth."
     When the first flakes fell that winter, I was thrilled, as usual.  As it piled up on the ground, I wrapped myself in my puffy yellow corduroy coat, put on the most sensible shoes I possessed, and continued to walk all over campus.  I trusted the army of students employed in the Grounds Crew to arise early and apply their plows, shovels, and salt to the walkways.  I watched my step, and stayed upright.
     I was quite pleased with my success toward the end of classes in December.  I even wore ordinary shoes from time to time, but stayed wary.  Constant vigilance was the key.  Then, after studying form and function in my History of the Decorative Arts class one day, I left the Fine Arts building with some of my classmates.  Perhaps I was too eager to eat lunch.  Maybe I was distracted by conversation.  I only remember that when I reached the top of the short flight of icy stairs, my heel slipped out in front of me.  I fell, bouncing as I went.  It was a spectacular slide.  When the others caught up, concerned, I just had to laugh.  I had allowed myself one fall, and it turned out to be splendid.
     Putting that slip behind me, I went forth into the new semester with stronger determination.  I am pleased to say that I did complete my goal of keeping my seat off the concrete for the rest of the winter.
     The next winter was a different story.  I learned that my first year had been rather light on snow, by Utah's standards, and the mountain reservoirs held little for the farmers the next summer.  Returning to school, we were all encouraged to pray for "moisture."  Our prayers were answered with abundant snow.  Having grown complacent in my uprightness, I set no goal regarding slips and trips.  Therefore, I crashed on the same icy spot on my way home every day for a week. 
     I guess the moral of the story might be:

If at first you do succeed,
stick with the program!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Daylight Saving



Legislative might decrees:
Twice a year, adjust your clock!
But when daylight's all been saved,
how do you reset the cock?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cemetery Stomp


An elegant skeleton
made her debut on
the eve of the All Hallows Ball.

Her tarsals a-tapping,
and phalanges a-flapping,
she woke to the wild rhythm's call.

With no hair to style
and a permanent smile
she found she missed naught that she lacked.

Ignoring the warning,
"You'll need that, come morning!"
she danced on her stone 'til it cracked.

Thus her portal broke down;
she remained above ground
while others returned to their rest.

No peace could she find,
left alone, left behind.
She thought moving on would be best.

She found a position
with a student physician.
At least it was someplace to hang

around with her ear
toward the graveyard to hear
when the ghostly band struck up again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Final Touches


He left the frame among the sheets
on the bed in the home of his son.
Splintered, decayed,
it could hold its piece no more.
The artless fragments are gently laid by.

Solemn descendents assemble
in the empty gallery,
remembering the scene:
      pines crown the arid mesa
      behind the apple tree and daisies
      that he coaxed to bloom and bear
      he found the formulae, tacitly bestowed
      elements of wisdom on children, too
      they recall their own faces
      applied in indelible oils
      and the elegant figure of the artist
      who shared his studio for so, so long

Perhaps he'll show her first,
then submit the canvas for review
by the One who gave him brush and paints,
who applies the final refinements
with tender strokes;
who will restore the frame,
infuse it with enduring element,
replace the dust with polish, gilt,
and fit it to his lifescape
forever.


For my grandfather, Ross D. Gardner, 1914-2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bounty




Golden fans flutter
carpeting the breezy park
Autumn's rich largesse


(I first met the fan-shaped leaves in Japan, where a word that sounds like 'ginkgo' means 'bank.'  My sisters and I called the ginkgos 'money trees.'  But I don't think you can place a value on their beauty.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Anniversary


She only asks a bottle of perfume,
yet he thinks her worthy of much more.
He racks his brain to show his love in bloom.

Jars of scent are lined up in their room,
collected since they were a bride and groom,
but still she asks a bottle of perfume.

Would dinner and a movie, one that's sweet,
help sweep his leading lady off her feet?
He racks his brain to show his love in bloom.

He'll polish up her car and change the oil,
to prove that he's as skillful as he's loyal.
She only asks a bottle of perfume.

Perhaps the diamond ring he was too poor
to purchase for her thirty years before?
He racks his brain to show his love in bloom.

Her blissful smile illuminates the room,
when she spies the parcel, small and square.
He gives her wished-for bottle of perfume,
and she can feel his love, still in full bloom.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Through a Glass, Grainily




Grains of time 
descend incessantly, settling on hair, weighing down eyelids,
sticking to toes, stuffing a nose, accumulating like unopened
 mail on any level surface.  I try to sweep, scrub time away.
It simply slides to another corner, lurking, obscuring the
important, filling pockets with hurry, worry,
slyly hiding purse, keys, documents,
things we need right
 now!
I
wish
I could
gather time in baskets
take it outside, moisten it with tears
mold a time castle, paper it with memories,
drape it with dreams, define sufficient space
to savor life's salty sweetness, served on good china,
wipe it dripping from your chin with silken kindness
 to amble at a toddler's pace, or scamper, skip for joy
to read collected works in quiet corners, inhale lilacs' incense
to watch the cloudscape drift with wondering open eyes
curl new tiny fingers, comb silver hairs until time blows away,
dissolves, and we are left to flourish in vast eternity


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nurture

Terresa, at the Chocolate Chip Waffle, recently posted a lovely poem, "Recipe for a Perennial Writer".  She then asked readers to describe their own creative processes.  For me, for now, it seems to be akin to  breastfeeding.  Here is my reply, which has been gnawing at me for a week and a half now:

It begins
when an idea approaches,
latches on to my bosom,
and won't let go.

One idea
sucks at my sustenance
until fully formed, blooming.
Another sips, to release, and return.

Nourished by my vocabulary
and experience,
it may begin to take on
my freckles, my cute toes,
my eyesight.
But, like a human child,
it has its own spark,
unique essence.
I only feed and clothe it,
silently, in my mind.

When I dare
to set it down on paper, on a screen,
it looks, at first,
like so much spilt milk
running, clumping, formless.
But if I persevere,
the image that grew in my mind
and my heart,
appears for all to see.

Like my own child,
I hope that my creation
will be noticed, loved, accepted.
When instead
it returns neglected,
rejected,
I welcome it with open arms,
for it is mine
forever.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Late to Class


     “I’m sorry.” Professor McGrail shook his head. “Without the Foundations course, you are not prepared to progress through the requirements of this major.”
     “I tried to sign up for it, as soon as I could register. But every section was already full! Couldn’t you--”
     “I’m afraid not. Try again, next semester. Or perhaps you should reevaluate your academic goals, Miss, um . . .”
     “Erickson.”
     “Yes, good-day, Miss Erickson.”
     I could not believe it. I had dutifully completed most of my general requirements in my first year, and I was ready to embark on my life work. As long as I could remember, I had wanted to be an archeologist. I could see myself sifting through the soil of the millenia, piecing together the puzzles of the past. I had hoped the professor could waive the requirement, temporarily, or persuade one of his colleagues to add me, halfway through the semester, to a crowded Foundations section. But this one unavailable course still stood in my way.
     I sat down at the computer before starting my math homework, and clicked through the class schedule. What could I possibly take next semester? Would they throw me out for taking too many electives? Once again, I found myself looking longingly at the archeology offerings. One more time, I looked at the Foundations sections, each one boldly labeled FULL. Except for one, at the bottom of the list. Had that been there before? It was a second block class, so it started the next week, and it fit perfectly into the hour I had left for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Lunchtime was a small price to pay for my dream. I selected the class, and printed out my new schedule before anything could change.

     I pulled out my schedule after Spanish class the next Tuesday, to check the room number for Foundations. But it was not listed in the Smith building, like most of the other archeology classes. I had not brought a map with me, so I headed for the information booth in the student center.
     “The Doyle building?” The attendant peered at the campus map. “ I don’t think we have one.” She typed something into her computer. “Wait. Phineas Doyle was one of the founders. His historic home is now the Alumni Society’s office. I don’t think any classes are scheduled there.” I showed her my schedule. She shrugged and pointed to the map. “The Alumni Office is here, on the south edge of campus. Good luck!”
     I was nearly out of breath when I found the small, ivy-covered cottage. I had to admit that it did not look like a classroom building.  Glancing toward the small window next to the door, I saw a dark shape moving within. What could that be? I peered through the wavy glass. The professor was wearing his full doctoral robes. I had never seen any other teacher dress so formally for class. He must have wanted to make a good impression the first day. I eased the door open, hoping not to disturb him ten minutes into his lecture. But his back was to the door as he wrote dates on a blackboard, and he did not seem to notice as I slid into a desk. Luckily, a syllabus was already there. I pulled out my notebook and copied the chalkboard furiously, hoping I had not missed anything. After a few minutes, I realized that the room was awfully chilly. Why were they still running the air conditioning in October?
     Doctor Altgraber was an old-fashioned lecturer. He invited no discussion, and my classmates were silent. Halfway through the hour, my stomach growled loudly. “Excuse me,” I whispered, as the echoes died away, but no one turned to look.  I continued taking notes. When the lecture ended, I was the first student out of the door, running back across campus for my canoeing class.
     Doctor Altgraber’s chosen text was out of stock at the bookstore, so I ordered a copy online. Then I found a dog-eared copy of Fundamental Field Archeology in the library. It looked almost like an antiquity itself, but the first chapter was a good description of the early history of the discipline.

     On Thursday I packed an extra sweater, and a lunch to gulp down on the way to Foundations. This time I arrived five minutes late, but, warm and fed, I felt much more comfortable during this lecture. A little too comfortable, in fact. Doctor Altgraber’s voice was calm and soothing, and soon I found myself nodding. A young man in a crew cut at my left caught my eye, grinned, and yawned theatrically. I couldn’t help it, but began to yawn myself. Then I found a note on my desk.
     "Don’t fall asleep!" the neat script read. I looked around. To my right, a handsome guy with a dark pompadour smiled, but there was urgency in his eyes. I sat up and refocused on the professor’s recitation.

     I arrived in class already tired the next Thursday. I had been up late studying for a Spanish test. I tried my hardest to keep taking notes, but each line dwindled to an illegible scrawl. My head drooped toward my chest. Abruptly, my head jerked up again. At the same time, my arm twitched, sending my pen flying. Suddenly awake, I watched helplessly as the projectile soared straight toward the beehive hairdo of a young lady two rows away. I winced at the moment of impact. Then I heard the pen clatter to the floor. The student was still calmly watching the professor. The boy with the pompadour winked, but no one else seemed to have noticed.
     More alert now, I took a closer look at my classmates. A couple of rows ahead of me, two girls pulled out their cell phones every few minutes. They appeared disappointed each time, as if they had not received an expected message. They were the most normal-looking people in the room. A guy with bushy sideburns and plaid trousers lounged in a front-row seat. A prim girl with a big bow in her hair wore a flowered dress with puffy sleeves. I saw bellbottoms and pegged jeans. The young lady filing her nails near the wall was actually wearing a poodle skirt. Did the professor advertise this section at the thrift store?
     My textbook arrived in the mail that afternoon. It was less worn, but no newer than the copy in the library. I guessed Doctor Altgraber liked to use original sources.

     I settled into a pattern in the Foundations class: arrive late, listen to droning lecture, try to take notes, start to feel drowsy. When I was nearly asleep, the cute guy with the pompadour would pass me a note, or catch my eye, do something to attract my attention and wake me up. I wished I had time to talk to him after class, but I couldn’t be late for canoeing. One day he signed one of the notes. I smiled at him, but he was already looking back at the chalkboard.
     No matter; I was a modern girl. I looked up “J. Ingledent” in the student directory. He was not there. Hmm. Maybe he had registered late, or a careless secretary had left him off the list. I tried Facebook. Still no entry. Strange. Finally I found a Jerry Ingledent, listed among dead alumni in an old college newsletter. Maybe my friend was named after his father. I started thinking of him as Jerry, and watched for him around campus. Once I thought I saw him at a retro dance in the student center, and a couple of times I thought I glimpsed him through the stacks in the library, but he was never near enough to hear my greeting.

     One Tuesday in early December I arrived at class determined not only to stay awake, but to start a discussion. According to the syllabus, we were going to cover one of my favorite topics, the Dead Sea Scrolls. I shivered with anticipation, having become accustomed to the chill of the old classroom. I listened intently as Dr. Altgraber described the 1947 discovery of ancient records by simple shepherds in desert caves, and their subsequent study by learned scholars. I raised my hand.
     The professor looked rather startled. “Yes, Miss, um . . .”
     Should I change my name to Um? “Erickson, sir.” I had never called anyone “Sir” in my life, but it seemed to fit.
     “Miss Erickson?”
     “What is your opinion on the accessibility of these records in modern times? The early scholars were very possessive of the documents and their translations, but now with the internet--”
     He squinted at me from beneath his mortarboard. “You’re a live one, aren’t you?” He resumed his lecture without further comment. He covered the dating of the documents by the style of pottery in which they were found, and mentioned his hopes for good results from G. L. Harding’s team of international experts. And then he moved on to the finding of the Upchurch Hoard in 1950.
     I was stunned. How could a few Roman coins in England compare with the cultural riches of the Dead Sea Scrolls? And what sort of stuffy professor refuses to answer questions? I shot a questioning look at Jerry, but he only shrugged.

     The next week I went back to see Professor McGrail for advice on registering for the next semester. “Miss Erickson,” he sighed. “Must I remind you that without the Foundations class--”
     “But I’m taking it now, from Dr. Altgraber.”
     His eyes grew round. “Really? I . . . I didn’t know he was teaching this term.”
     “You didn’t?”
     The professor regarded his desk. “Dr. Altgraber is an emeritus professor. He teaches a class now and then, when he feels like it.” He looked up again. “Has he graded any of your assignments yet?”
     “No, the whole grade is determined by the final exam.”
     “Do me a favor, if you will. He can be rather, well, eccentric in his recording. So you’ll need to insist that he grade your final exam before you leave the classroom, and bring it to me.”
     “What about--”
     “Just bring it to me.”

     I arrived for the final exam with unusual punctuality.  I was confident that I had filled the gaps in my notes with information from my primordial textbook. The professor had never mentioned any more modern developments, and I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the history.
     There were no bubble sheets for Dr. Altgraber’s test. I had not written that much in cursive since the fifth grade, but I finished the test with time to spare. I checked it over one more time, then nervously approached the professor’s desk.
     “Dr. Altgraber, sir, I’m very anxious about my score. Will you please grade the exam for me now?”
     He looked at me as if he had never seen me before. I put on a pleading expression. “Very well, Miss . . .”
     “Thank you.” I went back to my desk. Jerry gave me the thumb’s up. I bit my lip as I waited, watching all the other students writing steadily. Finally the professor stood, handed me my paper, and collected the others.
     I was surprised to find Professor McGrail waiting for me outside the Doyle building. He looked relieved.
     "Do you have it?"  I handed him the exam without looking at it. “Interesting,” he commented as he leafed through.
     I watched my classmates streaming out of the door. I waved to Jerry, and he walked over, smiling. “You made it,” he said. He looked pleased, but wistful.
     “Thanks to you,” I replied. “Did you pass?”
     “Oh, I passed long ago. But, as the professor likes to remind me, I’ll always be late. So long!” Jerry waved and strode away, disappearing into the dusk.
     Professor McGrail looked up, tactfully pretending he hadn’t heard. “I’m afraid I was not completely forthright about your registration in this class.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Dr. Altgraber was a real asset to our department long ago.  However--”
     “I can tell he’s not up on modern methods, but is that a problem in a historical class?”
     “Well, he suffered a heart attack during Commencement in 1953. He, ah, did not recover. But he does still insist on teaching.”
     “‘Did not recover?’ Do you mean he’s dead?”
     “Well, yes, precisely. The Theatre department invites him to play in Hamlet from time to time, but he complains about typecasting . . .”
     My shivers had nothing to do with the frigid evening air.  “What about the other students?”
     “In much the same state, I believe. If you had fallen asleep in class, you would have been doomed, with them, to repeat the course as often as Dr. Altgraber wants to teach it. He’s been boring students to death for over half a century.”
     I was shocked. “Why didn’t you tell me to quit the class? Some counselor you are!”
     “I’m sorry. But it seems that dropping out has the same effect as dropping off. Three years ago, I lost two students by advising them to withdraw.” He looked terribly sad.
     “Oh,” I whispered. “They are still waiting for you to call.”
     The professor sighed again. “At least you survived.” He walked away with my exam. I looked through the window again. I saw no robed professor, no desks, just a comfortable sitting room.
     “Wait!” I started to run after Professor McGrail. “Do I still get credit?”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

River Story, Part 2

For Part 1, click here


When Chris arrived at his office, he found an unwelcome visitor leaning on his desk. “Dirk. You’re back already?”

“My research grants ran out, so I have to actually write something now.” Dirk said with his mouth full. He set a half-eaten apple on the desk and picked up a small framed picture. “Who’s the pretty redhead? She looks familiar.”

“My wife. You would not know her.”

“You never know. I meet plenty of dissatisfied housewives at the cafĂ©. I do my best to, well, cheer them up, but what can I do, really?” The telephone clattered to the floor as Dirk assumed the lotus position on Chris’s desk. “Attachment brings suffering.”

“You’re taking your Buddhist studies a little too seriously, Dirk.”

“I’m thinking of converting, actually. But not yet.” Dirk slid back to the floor and took another long look at Margie’s photo. “I intend to experience the world thoroughly before I renounce it.”

Dirk sauntered away, leaving Chris fuming. Chris hurled the apple into a trash can across the room, as if it were as poisonous as Dirk’s insinuations. He picked up the telephone. Margie would never . . . would she? He decided to give her a call.

The phone rang and rang. No answer.

Then Chris noticed he was late for class, and rushed away. He could not focus on the discussion, though. What a waste of time. Where is she? After class, he called again, sure he would hear Margie’s melodious voice. But she still did not answer his call.

Worried, he returned to the library to pick up the book of folk tales.



“Chris! Here’s your little book! One of my finest jobs, if I may say so myself.” Becca displayed the slim volume with a flourish.

He barely looked at it. “It’s all right.”

“My masterpiece is ‘all right’? What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s Margie. She’s not answering the phone. I think – I don’t know what to think.”

Becca smiled. “She’s probably getting a surprise ready for your big day.”

“You think so?”

“Absolutely. By the way, I took the liberty of reading a couple of these stories. I like the one about the boy who popped out of the peach. I wish it were that easy to have a baby,” Becca said, rubbing her rotund belly. “I feel like a giant peach myself, about ready to split.”

Chris did not know how to reply, but she went on, saving him the effort.

“The story about the crane was so sad, though. Why didn’t the man just leave her alone, like she asked?”

“Would you?”

“Probably not,” Becca laughed. “Have a happy anniversary!”



That afternoon, Chris waited for Margie in the garden. He could not bask in the sun like she did, though. He fidgeted and paced. Where could she be? What was she hiding from him?

Finally she appeared, looking rather flushed. “Chris! You’re early!”

“Where have you been?”

“I was searching for your anniversary gift. And I found it,” she teased, “but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”

He was not amused. “Is that all?”

“Well, I ran into some old friends, and we had lunch.”

“Who?”

“You wouldn’t remember them. What’s the matter, Chris?”

He sighed. “I tried to call you, and you didn’t answer, and I was worried – ”

“Worried about me?” She put her arms around him. “I’m fine, honey.”

They sank together onto the garden bench, but Margie started up again. “What is this?” She picked up the green book from her seat, and settled down again.

“Oh, that is my gift to you. You can read it now, if you like. I’ll get dinner started.”

When she came in for dinner, Margie gave Chris a curious smile, but said only, “Yes, I found the perfect gift for you.”



Margie did not mention the lipstick that night. After spending the day worrying, Chris forgot the shiny tube he had tucked into his sock drawer. On their anniversary morning, he awoke to her humming, and thought about the book he had given her. Why was he drawn to those tales? What did her enigmatic comment mean?

They are just silly stories. Nothing like that has ever really happened. And if it did, it was long ago, in a far-off land. Besides, I have never rescued a crane from a trap, or sheltered a fox. No, my wife is just a beautiful, private woman.

His mind drifted back to the day they first met. He had been walking along the river after class one autumn day, shuffling in the leaves and listening to the slow gurgle of the water. He arrived at his favorite spot on the bank only to find it occupied. There was a pimply kid from the high school that Chris had tutored a few times.

“What are you doing with that turtle?”

The boy was holding the squirming creature by its hind legs, staring intently at its tail. “I’m studying marine biology.”

“‘Marine’ has to do with the sea. Don’t you mean ‘riparian’?”

“Whatever. Do you think this is a boy or a girl?” The boy started poking the soft parts.

“Hey, that’s rude,” Chris pointed out. As the boy looked incredulously at his tutor, the turtle wriggled out of his hand and swam for deep water. “Go find another science project.”

The kid slouched off, muttering under his breath. Chris sat down on a stump, reviewing material from his poetry class. He had nearly finished going through his notes when he heard the rustle of leaves again.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” A tall, pretty girl with red hair and serious brown eyes indicated a nearby stone.

“Not at all.” Usually so shy, Chris had no trouble introducing himself, and fell into a comfortable conversation with Margie. He no longer remembered what they had discussed that day. That discussion blurred in his memory with so many others they shared later. They had wed at the end of the summer, and were living happily ever after, more or less.

Happily ever after. Just like a story. Wait. I did rescue that turtle! What if Margie is a...

“Chris, have you seen my lipstick?” Margie called from the bathroom.

“Um, isn’t it in your case?” He reached for his glasses, but the night stand was empty.

“No.”

“Can you use another one?”

“No, that is the only one I have.”

Really? Chris thought as she came into their room. She seemed to be wearing a fuzzy robe, with a fuzzy towel wrapped around her head. Of course, everything looked fuzzy without his glasses. He located her brown eyes, and between them...was that a beak? Yikes! He scrambled to sit up.

“Margie – I’m sorry – sock drawer – what. . .”

She rummaged through his drawer, and disappeared into the bathroom. When she returned, she handed him some clothes and his glasses. She looked as beautiful and serious as ever. “Let’s go for a walk, Chris.”

They walked to the river, stepping silently through the early morning, and sat down in their favorite clearing.

“Margie – I – you . . .”

“You’ve discovered my true identity, Chris. I am actually a painted turtle.”

“Oh, no,” He knew how these stories turned out. “Please stay! I didn’t mean – ”

She ignored his pleas. “Furthermore, I think you are a turtle, too.”

He was shocked. “No, I’m not.”

“What do you remember from the time you fell in the river?”

“Um, not much, really. My parents just told me we were visiting, and we were going to buy some ice cream . . .”

“And you remember what they told you. I remember it differently.”

“You?”

“Yes. A group of us were swimming across the river when that couple came walking up. You were so curious that you crawled onto the bank to take a good look at them. When you took off your wet glasses, you transformed into a little boy. The woman started to cry. They had wanted a child for so long, she said, you were a wish come true. So they adopted you and raised you as a human. Your father happened to knock your glasses back into the water. I hid them in a safe place.”

Chris shook his head. How could it be? A child from the water? Transforming animals? He must have been spending too much time on his translations.

She handed him a small package. Opening it, he found a child-sized pair of tortoiseshell spectacles. They looked just like the ones he had lost. “Try them on,” she urged.

Why not? They will never fit. But they did. Margie took his hand and stepped into the shallows. With her other hand, she dipped a washcloth in the water and used it to wipe away her makeup. Chris stepped into the river, too.

The water was cold, but in a comfortable way. He could feel his fingers lengthening, webbing themselves together. The odd hourglass shape of his chest hair smoothed into a distinctive pattern on his plastron. Scutes spread over his back with a satisfying click. The trees seemed far taller now, the river broader and more inviting.

And there was his Margie. He reached out to stroke the brilliant red streaks of her cheeks. She patted his claws with her own. “I knew it was you,” she said, and led him through the water. Memories swirled around him like the dawn light sparkling on the river, and he knew it, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

River Story, Part 1



He had never seen her without makeup.

The thought never occurred to Chris until they had been married about a year. One of the graduate students who shared his office had just returned from a honeymoon, and the other guys were teasing him.

“It all changes when you’re married, right, Brad?” asked Tom, who was engaged himself. “You find out what’s behind the makeup and flirting.”

“Yeah, the next morning I woke up and thought, ‘Yikes!’”

“Would that be a euphemism or a derogation?”

“Stick your critical discourse analysis in your Eustachian tube, Mike! Seriously, she has this big birthmark, right there on her neck, that I’d never seen. I guess I’ll get used to it.”

“What about you, Chris?” Tom inquired. “What does your wife look like first thing in the morning?”

“Margie is always beautiful,” he replied.

“There’s a typically uncreative American compliment.” The others laughed at Mike’s analyzing tone, and went on with their banter.

Chris headed for the peace of the library, but the question kept floating into his mind. His wife was an early riser, always fully dressed by the time he put on his thick glasses. Was he missing something?

Margie was lovely, no doubt about that. He had often wondered what she saw in a shy scholar like him. It certainly wasn’t his earning potential that attracted her. Linguists don’t get rich. But she did not seem to mind. She shared his quiet habits, enjoying reading, long walks, and going out for sushi on Saturday nights. She was perfect for him, that was all, and it did not matter if her makeup hid a few blemishes.

He shook off the thought and focused on proofreading his translations. Satisfied that they were ready, he found his way to the library’s conservation lab.

“Hi, Chris!” Becca greeted him cheerfully. “What do you have for me?”

“Just these stories. I’d like to give them to Margie for our anniversary.”

“That's so sweet!  For our first anniversary, Dan gave me a case of motor oil.  At least he doesn't expect me to change it myself."  Becca pulled out samples of binding cloths and endpapers.  "For this gift, you'll need a really nice binding.”

Chris looked them over, but could not decide. “What do you think she would like?”

“Don’t you know your wife by now?” Becca teased.

“I thought so.” Chris frowned. “Do you tell Dan everything?”

“Not all at once. When I hung a spoon on the end of my nose at our rehearsal dinner, he almost called off the wedding out of astonishment,” she chuckled. “A girl has to keep a few tricks up her sleeve.”

“You think Margie is keeping some talents hidden?”

“I’m sure of it. How about this gold paper with a green binding?”



Margie was waiting for him outside, as usual. Her red hair shone even more brilliantly in the golden evening light. “The garden looks great, dear,” Chris said. She had been transforming the barren back yard of their tiny rental house into a little paradise, complete with a rocky fountain feeding a small pond.

“Thanks, honey. Look at these!” She pointed at something moving in the pond, then scooped it out of the water.

“Is that a turtle? I’ve never seen one so small. How did it get here?”

“We’re not that far from the river. The mother must have liked this sunny spot.” She indicated a small hole in the ground. Chris peeked in and saw some eggshell fragments.

“How many are there? What do they eat? Do they need shots or anything?” Chris asked nervously. His parents had never allowed him to keep a pet.

Margie laughed. “Don’t worry, they can fend for themselves. There are only five, so the flower garden should attract plenty of insects for them. They’ll like the aquatic plants I set in the pond, too. But maybe they would like some minnows from the river. Shall we go for a walk after dinner?”

“Of course,” Chris smiled. Though he had grown up in another state, his earliest memories were of that river. His parents, alumni of the university, had returned to visit and persuade their young son to study there someday. He ran along the river trail until he tripped and fell into the cold water. His father had fished him out right away, with no harm done, but Chris had lost his glasses. After that incident, his mother had insisted on holding his hand any time they approached water. He still loved to walk along the river, matching his pace to its slow current.



When Chris awoke the next morning, he could hear Margie’s little splashes in the bath as she sang wordlessly. Listening to the comforting sound, his mind drifted to the old folk tales he had translated for her. They were strange stories of grateful animal spirits returning the favors of men by marrying them and making them rich – until the foolish men discovered their wives’ true forms.

Was Margie’s true form much different from her made-up face? It seemed unlikely. And she had never actually asked him not to look in on her during her bath. He put on his glasses and went to the bathroom door. It was locked.

“Do you need something, honey? Sorry – I’ll be right out,” she called.

Why would she lock the door? Chris shook his head. Don’t be silly, he thought. It’s probably just a habit from her single days. She emerged soon, with her radiant hair neatly arranged, elegant eyebrows framing her deep brown eyes, smiling lips nearly matching her vermillion hair.

“Good morning, sunshine.” She tousled his hair, and he forgot all about the old stories.

After his shower, though, he glanced at the case on the counter. It looked like a tackle box, but she had said it was her makeup case. He wondered how much makeup she actually used. He tried the lid. But it, too, was locked. Then he noticed a single metallic tube standing next to the case. He opened it to find lipstick, Margie’s favorite bright red. He slipped the cylinder into his pocket. Would she notice?


For Part 2, click here.

To read the sort of stories of which Chris is thinking, see my father's translations here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Small Steps


May, 1984
     The class perked up when Mr. Wells pulled down the white screen in the front of the classroom. “Get out your Social Studies notebooks, please. We have arrived at a recent, and most exciting, time in our study of United States history.” He pulled a cart into position, and threaded the film through the projector. “Please take notes on these events, and prepare to ask your parents about their impact on your lives.”
     A slight groan met his enthusiasm for interactive history, but mostly the class was impressed that it was an actual movie, not just another lame filmstrip. The teacher flicked off the lights, and the serious voice of the narrator filled the fifth-grade classroom. I started doodling in the margins of my blank page. Most of the images on the screen were still shots, just like a filmstrip. But then the scene shifted to show John F. Kennedy addressing Congress.
     “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space . . .”
     I winced. Did we have to dwell on that part of history?
     The narrator droned on about how the Space Race heated up the Cold War, as groups of scientists posed for pictures, rockets launched into desert skies, and animated satellites emitted concentric radio waves into space. Then, the famous fuzzy footage of the Apollo 11 mission.
     “One small step for a man,” Neil Armstrong said, looking down at his boot. “But who made these really small footprints? Hey!” He fell out of the camera’s view, tackled by blurry white forms.
     “American scientists and engineers rose to the challenge of creating new technology to respond to the lessons learned on the moon.” More pictures of scientists, construction workers, politicians, launches. A quick shot of a dark-haired man with glasses, an oxygen tank, and a notebook, interviewing a diminutive pale creature. I glanced around, my face burning. No one else seemed to recognize him. Why would they? I sank down in my chair, anyway.
     “The discovery of intelligent life on the moon ushered in a new era of responsibility for America’s guardians of freedom.” A hulking spacecraft crossed the black sky behind the Stars and Stripes, to be replaced by a heavily decorated admiral and a moon person in formal robes. “Our mission here is to keep these little guys out of the clutches of Communism,” the admiral announced, and patted the small dignitary on the head.
     “With construction of a permanent moon base underway,” the camera scrolled over an architectural drawing, “and expansion of the Naval Space Fleet, the United States of America continues to reach for the stars.” The Big Dipper faded into the blue field of the flag, the credits rolled, and the bell rang for lunch.
     “Remember, I want three paragraphs on how space exploration has affected your life, by Tuesday!” Mr. Wells called out over the hubbub.
     I could barely choke down my sandwich at lunch, and I gave Lori my cookie without even trading. I toyed morosely with the latch of my lunch box while Tiffany prattled on. Melissa glanced at me with concern, but even she could not get a word in edgewise.
     At recess we lined up to play Four Square, as usual, but I could not concentrate. When Tiffany called, “Around the world–movie stars!” I fumbled the ball and said, “Dad.” I looked around. “Okay, I’m out.”
     Melissa took my arm. “Let’s walk,” she said, and Lori came, too. I hoped Tiffany would keep playing with the next girls in line, but she followed along.
     “I have to tell you something,” I blurted out.
     “Ooh, who is your secret heartthrob?” Tiffany rubbed her hands gleefully. I ignored her.
     “I’m moving this summer.”
     “Already?” asked Lori.
     “You just got here,”said Melissa.
     “I know,” I sighed. “My dad is being transferred. He says it is only for a year. I’ll be back for seventh grade.”
     “That’s good. Where are you going?”
     “You’ll never believe it. I don’t,” I said.
     “Siberia?”
     “Timbuktu?”
     “Hollywood?”
     I shook my head. “To the moon.”
     “No way! That’s so cool!” Lori and Melissa looked excited.
     Tiffany had something else on her mind. “You can’t do that. You’ll miss the dance.”
     “What dance?”
     “It’s a school tradition. Every June, the sixth grade has a dance.” She put her hand over her heart, and looked longingly at a boy who was flopping like a fish on the grass. “I’m going to go with Billy.”
     “He already asked you?” Melissa asked incredulously.
     “No, but I’m going to make sure he will.” Tiffany batted her eyelashes, pivoted, and started sliding backward toward the breakdancing boys. “Better practice your moonwalk, Spacey Stacy!”
     Looking at the boys, I could not imagine dancing with any of them. “Maybe leaving the planet is not such a bad idea,” I commented.
     “Can we come, too?” Lori asked wistfully.
     “So, why are you moving to the moon?” asked Melissa.
     “Dad is a linguist. After the moon people were discovered, the government sent him and a couple of other guys to figure out their language. He wrote the book on Lunish, and another to teach them to speak English. There was a picture of him in that movie.”
     “Wow. So why does he need to go again? Is he going to write another book?”
     “No idea. It’s classified.”
     Melissa nodded. Her father worked for the government, too. “Don’t worry. We’ll write and tell you all about Tiffany’s conquests.”
     I rolled my eyes as the bell rang. The boys quit trying their stunts and ran to line up for class. Half of them shouted, “Spacey Stacy!” as they passed.
     “Oh, great. I know what to call my Social Studies essay,” I decided. “‘How Lunar Exploration Ruined My Life.’”

July, 1984
     After school let out, my life was a frenzy of immunizations, passport photos, shopping, and deciding what to pack. Between chores, my mother took me on a series of “last” visits, to the beach, to the Smithsonian, to the farm stand for fresh corn and cantaloupe.
     I was feeling a bit nervous the night before the launch. “Why don’t you take a nice last bath, dear?” my mother suggested in a soothing voice.
     “‘Last bath?’ What do you mean by ‘last?’” I was not soothed.
     “Well, the moon is a desert, so we’re going to have to conserve water.”
     “I can’t go for a year without a bath!”
     “There are . . . other ways to get clean.” Even she sounded a bit doubtful. “Go enjoy a nice bubble bath.”
     I filled the tub as high as possible with steamy water and bubbles, and tried to let my cares soak away. I propped my feet up next to the faucet, and regarded my toes.
     One of them waved at me.
     Surprised, I kept watching, and it happened again. My right pinky toe moved sideways, away from the other toes, and then returned. I didn’t know I could do that. But soon I realized I could move my right pinky toe voluntarily, and my left one, too.
     Was that normal? Could everyone move their toes independently, and I’d never heard about it? Was it one of those weird, inherited traits, like my dad’s forked eyebrow, or my ability to crease my tongue into the shape of a cross? Or was I just a freak of Nature?
     I was going to live on another world, and I didn't even know if I fit into my own. 
     Maybe the moon people would make a movie about me. I could see the title on the marquee: INVASION OF THE MUTANT PREHENSILE-TOED ALIEN SIXTH-GRADER FROM EARTH!
     Awesome.
     I practiced popping bubbles between my toes, until the bath water was as smooth as glass.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lurking by the Tap


I'm holding a bulbous water balloon.
I've filled it as far as it goes.
I'll drench my brother before he takes aim--
unless he has the garden hose!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lost and Found

A Magpie Tale, which began with a family brainstorm
     "Mom, look what I found!"
     Melissa looked up, gloved hands full of weeds.  After a month of unpacking boxes and organizing the house, she had finally decided to tackle the yard.  The beautiful garden had been an important factor when they bought the house, but she just had not had time for it since.  Now the carefully tended beds were full of weeds.  And some other things, too.  She had found bits of plastic, a soda can, a toy car, even a broken spade.  What could Sarah have found this time?  She pushed her way through the peonies to where Sarah squatted over her treasure.
     "See?  A watering can!"
     "Well, that could be useful." 
     "And it is so pretty and green.  May I keep it, and water all the flowers with it?"
     "Of course.  The Hansens must not need it anymore.  Bring it along, Sarah."
     The little girl picked up the watering can's curved handle.  "Oh, look!  They forgot a sock, too!"
     Melissa gingerly plucked the tube sock from the dirt.  "Do you want to keep this one?"
     "Eww, Mom, no thanks."
     Placing the sock next to the pile of weeds, Melissa moved on.  Sarah set the watering can down among the daisies, and ran off in pursuit of a butterfly.  Melissa attacked a tough clump of dandelions.  Soon Sarah came bouncing back, and picked up her treasure again. 
     "Another sock!" 
     Melissa looked over.  Yes, peeking out from the daisy leaves was a man's black sock.  Mr. Hansen must have been more careless than she had thought.  She put this sock next to the first, and uprooted the last dandelion.  Sarah dropped the watering can in front of some lilies, and turned somersaults across the grass. 
     When she came tumbling back, she found a pink baby sock.  Then a soft blue lady's sock.  The stack of socks was keeping pace with the pile of weeds.  Every time Sarah picked up the watering can, she found another sock.  None of them matched.  Melissa was puzzled.  The Hansens had not seemed like people who would toss their socks off with a wild impulse to work in the garden.  But she had barely met them. 
     Then Sarah approached with yet another sock.  This time she looked troubled.  "Look, Mom.  It's my favorite sock, the one with butterflies on it." 
     "I'm glad you found your favorite sock, dear."
     "But I lost it before we moved.  A long time before."
     "Maybe another little girl lost a sock just like it, right here."  She thought the Hansens only had sons, but they must have entertained visitors sometimes.
     "No, Mom.  I didn't want to lose my favorite socks, so I wrote my initial on them.  See?"  There, on the toe, was a backward letter S.  Melissa looked back at her daughter, who solemnly proclaimed, "This must be where the socks go."
     "What?"
     "When you fold up the clean clothes, and the socks don't all match, you always say, 'Where do the socks go?'  It must be here, and the watering can finds them."
     Melissa stifled her impulse to call Sarah's idea silly, and proposed a diversion.  "Will you put some water in the can, and water these poor roses?"
     Sarah willingly ran to the tap and filled the can to overflowing.  She lugged it back to the rosebush, and poured.  Along with the water, out flowed five more odd socks.  Melissa jumped.  Sarah just pointed.
     "See?"
     Then another voice rang out.
     "Mo-om!  I can't find my soccer socks!"  Max looked out of the back door.
     Melissa sighed.  "Where did you see them last?"
     "I left them on my floor after the game last week.  And they aren't there any more."
     "Did you look in your drawer?"
     "I don't have time for this, Mom.  I need to get to practice."
     Melissa handed Max the watering can.  "Go look in your drawer.  I need to wash my hands before I help you."
     Max groaned and headed upstairs.  Melissa listened for the thump of the watering can on the floor.
     "There aren't any socks in my drawer.  C'mon, Mom, I'm going to be late!"
     Melissa stood at the bottom of the stairs.  "Max, will you bring me the watering can?"
     "What watering can?  I need my--oh, here are some socks!"
     Max returned, fully dressed for soccer practice.  He handed his mother the watering can, picked up his ball, and waved as he hurried out the front door. 
     Max's mother and sister watched him run down the sidewalk.  The white tube sock on his right leg covered his shinguard neatly.  The blue and yellow striped sock on his left leg reached nearly to his shorts.
     "I think you are right aboug the watering can." Melissa smiled at Sarah.
     Sarah was laughing too hard to answer.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Portal

Don't lock your heart away from me;
I used to hold the key.
You opened up so easily,
communicating breezily.
But now you're looking freezily,
you've bolted from my knee.

When you were my little one
we used to have such fun.
Now you mostly sit and brood,
tumbling from mood to mood.
And so I ask, though it be rude,
when will this turn be done?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mother's Day


Giggling along the way,
they tiptoe with a laden tray.
Surprise!  Breakfast in bed,
the quintessential treat for mums.

Crispy toast and scrambled eggs,
they balance on her nightgowned legs.
Good deed done, away they run,
and leave her with the crumbs.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Firebrands

photo by Eli Snyder

Crimson dragonflies
hovering in the steamy haze
aspire to breathe fire
and set the restless field ablaze.

Shadow wings are fanning
the flames of August heat.
You can't extinguish summer,
it still simmers in retreat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pomodora


     The witch did not know that Rapunzel had a twin sister.    

After her first child was stolen away, victim of twofold greed, the mother sat transfixed for ten days. She moved only to feed her second baby, neither speaking nor putting the child down. On the eleventh day, she began to return to herself.    

"Pomodora," she declared.   

"What?" Her husband blinked. He had grown used to the silence.    

The mother pushed away the salad he had tenderly placed on her bedside table. "Lettuce was all very well when I was pregnant, but now I crave tomatoes. Her name shall be Pomodora."    

"Very well," replied her indulgent husband, and went to the market to purchase tomatoes.    

When he returned, his wife surprised him with another demand. "No one shall steal this daughter from me! You must build a tower, deep in the forest, far from the prying eyes of neighbors. There we will raise her in complete security. It is the only way."    

"Really?" The husband considered it a strange idea. But he had never been able to deny the wishes of his beloved wife (which is how the trouble began in the first place), so he soon selected a parcel of land and engaged the services of builders. Before little Pomodora learned to walk, her mother whisked her away from the town to the obscurity of the tower. Her father carried the only key to the door. He used it often to bring supplies and gifts, but continued to build his mercantile business in town.    

The mother threw herself into nurturing her daughter for the first few years. After Pomodora had learned to walk and talk, to dress herself, read, and write, her mother was not quite sure what to do with her. Leafing through a magazine one day, an article on hydroponics caught her fancy. Soon she persuaded her husband to build a glass dome on the top of the tower, where she could grow her own fresh tomatoes, year-round. Still concerned for her daughter's safety, she kept Pomodora locked in her room with the curtains closed during the construction. The father paid the builders well to not tell tales about a greenhouse in the middle of the forest.    

At first, Pomodora's mother tried to engage her in the hopeful work of growing things. But as the mother became obsessed with growing perfect tomatoes, Pomodora was left to herself more often. She would spend hours watching the birds in the trees, learning to whistle their songs. Her father heard her at it one day. Delighted with her musical talent, he brought her a harp. She learned to play it readily, so every time he visited, he would bring her the latest tune from the town. He loved to hear her play and sing, and she dutifully practiced so she could please him.    

She could not make sense of most of the lyrics, though. She understood "falling;" she had tripped often enough on the spiral staircase. But what was "love?" Her parents used that word. Would "falling in love" be something like plopping on a pile of presents at the bottom of the stairs? Or perhaps a pile of tomatoes? She began to improvise with minor chords, devising her own lyrics.
I am a fair maiden,
living in a tower.
Mama just feeds me tomatoes,
and I'm feeling kind of sour...

 For she was growing into a fair young lady, pale and slender for want of activity. Her mother tried to help. "You are looking ashen, dear. You need more lycopene." But Pomodora found the tomatoes hard and tasteless, utterly unworthy of the attention her mother lavished upon them.    

As she sang to herself one afternoon, her mother entered her chamber, full of excitement. "Do you remember the new type of seeds your father brought? They came from across the sea. Who knows what he traded to obtain them! They have finally fruited. Sweet little Pomodora, won't you take the first taste?"      Pomodora accepted the proffered slice. It was bland, dull, mushy. She tried to smile at her mother, but felt tears coming to her eyes. However, her mother was not paying attention to her daughter's reaction. Mumbling with her own mouth full, she was already returning to the greenhouse to make notes on the fruits of her labors. Pomodora spat the pink mouthful out of her window, leaned on the sill, and let her tears flow.      Watered by her lonely tears, the rejected seeds quickly took root in the rich soil of the clearing. Overnight a strong vine grew up, clinging to the tower. Broad leaves unfurled in the warm breeze, and when the sun rose in the morning, bright buds blossomed in greeting. Pomodora watched, surprised, as a green globe grew beside her window. By the next afternoon, it had taken on a bright scarlet hue. It looked like a tomato, but it smelled good. At the slightest touch, it dropped into her hand, gleaming in the setting sunlight. She could resist no longer, and took a bite.      Flavor exploded in her mouth. She smelled the nurturing of the earth. Sweetness and tanginess danced around her tongue. She felt sunshine seeping through her veins. Overwhelmed, she fell onto her bed.      Her mother stepped in just then. "Oh, no, the poisoned apple trick! After I've tried so hard to keep you safe . . ." She began to sob.      "No, mother, not poison." Pomodora sat up and grasped her mother's hands. "Ambrosia!"      In the weeks that followed, Pomodora ate many of the miraculous tomatoes. They brought roses to her cheeks, and a smile to her lips. She took to climbing the spiral stairs more often, to reach ripe fruit from various windows, and her slender figure began to fill out. Moreover, she began to feel an attraction to the earth, curiosity about the people who lived in the sunshine, and a longing to experience the mystery of love.      One day, as she reached for a ripe tomato outside her window, Pomodora saw another hand reaching for it as well. It did not look like her father's hand.  She gasped.  A cheerful, freckled face appeared above the sill.      "Good morning, m'lady," the young man said. "May I pluck this tomato for you?"      "No, please, you take it. But tell me, who are you?"      "My name is Zack." He took a bite of the tomato. "Hoo-ee! That's tasty!"      "Why are you here?"      "My cousin, Jack, climbed a giant beanstalk and got rich. So Mama told me to quit climbing the furniture and go find some treasure, too." Zack popped the rest of the tomato in his mouth and chewed it up with a contented grin. He looked Pomodora straight in the eye, and declared, "I've found it, right here."      "Really?" Her heart beat a little faster.      "Absolutely. These are the best tomatoes I've ever tasted!"      "Oh."      "Why, thank you, young man." Pomodora's mother bustled in, willing to take credit for the miracle outside. "Won't you come in and get acquainted?"      Zack decided to camp in the tower's clearing. Each morning he set out to find something new to climb. In the evening, he would regale the ladies with tales of his excursions and life in his village. Pomodora would play her harp and sing for him. He liked the popular songs, but her original compositions touched his heart with their longing. The next time her father paid a visit, Zack boldly asked for Pomodora's hand. Her parents were pleased, as he was obviously an honest young man. Pomodora knew no words for her feelings, but sang blithely all evening long.      Her father left again, but soon returned with gifts and clothes suitable for a beautiful bride, and a priest to do the honors. He sent the newlyweds off in a new cart to seek their own farmland. Pomodora carefully wrapped her harp and music for the journey, and Zack packed a knapsack full of tomatoes.      "Keep her safe, now," the parents called as they drove out of sight. Then they packed their own wagon. Pomodora's mother was ready to move back to town and take up a new hobby. She was considering weaving wreaths out of human hair.      Zack and Pomodora journeyed for many days. Once they saw a bent old crone walking along the road.      "Good day, mother," called Zack, raising his hat. "May we offer you a ride?"      "Why, thank--" The old woman looked up at Pomodora's face. "You! What are you doing with him? And how dare you cut your hair, you ungrateful wench?"      She tried to grab Pomodora by her medium-length hair, but Zack pulled his wife out of the way, and whipped up the horses.  After several miles, he allowed the horses to slow down. "Well, now, that was odd, wasn't it, Dora?" She simply shivered.      The next day, they reached a fork in the road. As they paused to choose their direction, another cart came toward them. Zack lifted his hat toward the richly clad, but travel-worn, couple in the other cart, then stopped and stared. The other man stared back. "Dora," Zack whispered, "she looks just like you!"      As the two young ladies surveyed each other, Pomodora had to admit it was true. She had thought the cart was a hay wagon, but, no, it was full of golden hair. The owner of the hair was perhaps a little plumper than she, but she had seen the face often enough in her own mirror.      "Good day," Zack greeted the surprised couple. "I believe we met someone who was looking for you."      "Oh, no, not the witch!" The lady buried her face in her hands, and two small faces peered out from behind her.     "Which way?" asked the husband, and quickly steered toward the other road. It was a broad road on an open plain, so Zack caught up and drove along.  As the horses trotted, the ladies introduced themselves and compared their histories.      "And these are my twins," finished Rapunzel. "I guess they run in the family." Pomodora gave each twin a tomato to play with. They smiled shyly.      Just then a fierce, shrieking wind blew up from behind. "Here comes the witch! And we've run out of things to throw at her," Rapunzel moaned. The men sped up the horses, and Pomodora contemplated her wedding gifts. No one in town had known of her existence, so all the gifts were provided by her own father. But for some reason, he had given her two identical sets of toasting forks. She hurled one package behind her. Immediately the forks sprang up like tall trees, blocking the wind. The crone could not get through, at first, but soon she was on their trail again.      The witch cast lightning bolts as she pursued the young women. Pomodora threw a silver dish into the air. The lightning shattered the platter, but ricocheted back at the witch. Struck down by her own weapon, the witch gasped for breath. But she recovered quickly and followed the carts again.      This time, before she came very close, the witch conjured a cliff that blocked the road. The horses shied, and the twins cried, but Pomodora sang until they were calm. Meanwhile, Zack grabbed his knapsack and scaled the cliff. Rapunzel's prince was impressed. "How does he do that without any hair to hold onto?"      As soon as the wailing witch was in range, Zack began pelting her with squashy tomatoes. The tangy tomato juice neutralized the witch's base nature, and she dissolved into a heap of bubbles. A sparkling, pure fountain burst up from the spot as the relieved families embraced.      Zack decided that it was a perfect place for a tomato farm. The land was level, the spring provided plenty of water, and there was a great cliff to climb. Pomodora knew nothing about tilling the ground, but she trusted her husband. And as the road no longer led any further, there was nowhere else to go. Rapunzel and her husband decided to stay as well.      "Should you not return to your kingdom?" Pomodora asked, puzzled.      "I'm just a younger son," the prince replied. "They can get along well enough without me, and I'd rather have my own place."      "And his father's castle has too many towers," Rapunzel put in with a shudder. Pomodora nodded. No further explanation was necessary.      The families lived together happily, raising crops and children, allowing them to climb to their highest potential. And every year, Pomodora would compose a new jingle for advertising their produce at the market.
With summer's flavor at your lips,
your tongue will turn triple flips.
You'll keep coming back for more of
tomatoes grown by Zack and Dora!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dependence

Our Founding Fathers
would not have set off fireworks
on the Sabbath Day,
but give thanks and pray
to the God who set them free
from mortal tyranny.
He was to be their King.
In whom do we now trust?

Happy Independence Day, USA!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hygiene to Go

A beef cattle judge from Glasgow
once found he was late for the Show.
His kilt had no pocket--
he'd just have to sock it,
and keep his blue toothbrush in tow.

Inspired by Magpie Tales and this photo from the Royal Highland Show 2010, posted on Scotland for the Senses

Monday, June 21, 2010

Midnight Blade

     "All right, then. Meet us at the tree house at midnight. And don't forget your knife!"
     Todd nodded and walked away quickly. He could hear them laughing behind him, but he didn't dare turn around lest he lose his nerve. This time he was going to do it. He wouldn't have another chance.
     His grandmother would never understand. Todd had spent a couple of weeks with his grandparents in Fort Yukon every summer since he could remember. He knew the local kids almost as well as he knew his own neighbors, and he was comfortable playing with them. They had always teased him about having to go to bed early on the long summer evenings, but he had no choice. Grandmother retired promptly at 9:30 every night and arose at 5:30 each morning, no matter the season, and expected everyone under her roof to do the same. What Grandmother expected, happened.
     In the past couple of years, the teasing had intensified. "Come on, it's still light," they pressed.
     "You don't know my Grandmother," he mumbled, embarrassed at his fear.
     "Oh, we know your old lady," they smirked. "We live here, remember?"
     Todd sensed that there was more going on after his curfew than another game of tag. This year he was fourteen, nearly a man, and it was time to defy his grandmother.  Secretly, of course.
     Grandpa would have understood, and might even have given Todd a few hints. He had come to Alaska as a young man, looking for adventure. He had never struck it rich like the heroes of his old Gold Rush tales, but he always maintained that there was treasure in the hills, in the rivers. He had spent his summers hunting, fishing, showing the tourists how to pan for gold. Grandmother had sometimes allowed Todd to go along on day trips. He loved hiking the rugged country, listening to Grandpa's stories. But Grandpa had died last winter. This summer, Todd's mother sent him to help Grandmother pack up the house. She would be flying back with him, to live in an apartment near his family. He was working hard, without much time to socialize, but his friends cornered him on the way back from an errand. He made a commitment.
     How would he fulfill it? Grandmother's locks were famous in this small town, and her sharp ears would surely detect any attempt to open them. Todd slowed down, discouraged. As he reached the house, an old rain barrel caught his eye. Probably it was rotten, but he went to check it out. A thin layer of water lined the bottom, left over from last week's rain. Todd tipped the barrel over, and heaved it up again. It was actually quite sturdy, he found as his face reddened, but finally he positioned the barrel, upside down, beneath his bedroom window. He could just reach the sill. The barrel could be his ticket out.
     But how could he obtain a knife? Todd thought longingly of his own pocketknife. He had worked so hard to learn how to use a knife, how to oil it and hone it and pass it safely. Only after Todd had certified as a responsible blade user had his father presented him with a new knife. It was perfect, from the shiny red exterior to the tiny corkscrew inside. Todd proudly took his knife to Scout camp, where he used it to cut the rope for the clothesline, open his morning juice cans, punch a new hole in his belt, and trim the leather pouch he crafted. When he found the right branch on the ground, he shaved it into an ideal hiking stick, complete with his initials carved into the top. Todd felt like he and the knife had bonded. They were a team, inseparable--which is why the knife was in his pocket when his canoe tipped over. He hoped the fish admired the slick red rectangle at the bottom of their lake.  He could not have brought the knife through airport security, anyway. Where could he get another? Could he borrow a kitchen knife? No, his grandmother would notice, and be inconveniently curious.
     Todd breathed deeply, then walked around to the front of the house.
     "What have you been doing?" Grandmother asked as he pulled open the screen door. "Are you quite all right?"
     "Yes, Ma'am. Just, ah, watering the flowers."
     "Indeed." She eyed him narrowly. "Well, back to work with you. Please pack the clothes in your grandfather's study, and the contents of his desk. I've already removed the important papers." She handed Todd a roll of tape and two boxes that were clearly marked as "Donations."
     Todd did not know why Grandmother called this room a study. Grandpa had called it his den. He had spent the dark winter days holed up in here like a black bear, tying intricate fishing flies, poring over his maps, dreaming of expeditions past and future. Todd folded the familiar flannel, wondering if the new owners could love the outdoors as much as Grandpa had.

     "Off to bed with you," Grandmother commanded at precisely 9:23.
     Todd dutifully donned his pajamas and brushed his teeth. He listened carefully to his grandmother's ablutions.  When he heard the muffled flush, he slid his window open, then pulled the blackout curtain closed. Nervously reclining on the bed, he could not sleep. Todd sat up, took the knife from under his pillow, and cautiously polished the blade with his shirt. He hoped it was sufficiently sharp. He lifted the curtain to take a better look at the edge. There was no reflection. It would do.
     Todd's eyes flew open at 11:47. He could not believe he had really fallen asleep. He pulled on his jeans and a sweatshirt, patted the knife in his pocket, and poked his head under the curtain. How could he sneak through the neighborhood when there was still so much light outside? Even the sun was watching him over the treetops.  He hoped the neighbors were asleep. But first he had to get through outside. He hoisted himself up--and realized that he had not opened the window far enough. Gently lowering himself again, he opened it wider.
     Squeak!
     Todd froze. Had Grandmother heard? No, there was no more sound. He climbed through the window, stretched down until his toes met the barrel, and scampered away. He ran through the back yards until he reached the trees. He checked his watch again, sure he would be late. But he still had a minute, just long enough to reach the foot of the old spruce.
     Brent was standing guard, looking more serious than usual. "You got it?" With sweaty hands, Todd showed him the knife. "All right."
     Todd climbed the rope ladder, heart throbbing, hands slipping. Brent climbed up behind him, and pulled the ladder into the tree house. Todd knew he was trapped. He looked up at the solemn youths surrounding a rough table. Then his mouth dropped open. Enthroned at the head of the table was his own grandmother.
     "It's about time you displayed some gumption, young man." She nodded curtly. "I trust you brought your grandfather's knife?" Todd nodded weakly. "Do shut your mouth, boy."
     Majestically, the old woman addressed the young circle. "Welcome to the annual meeting of the Summer Solstice Turophiles' Society."
     "What?" Todd gasped.
     "Cheese lovers," whispered Brent.
     "Rachel, will you pour?" Grandmother handed a bottle of sparkling cider to the girl on her right, then distributed cutting boards and bowls of crackers.
     "Todd, slice this Gruyere for us please."
     Relieved, Todd opened Grandpa's knife and set to work. Between slices, he exchanged smiles with his amused friends. He even saw, for the first time, the twinkle in Grandmother's eye that had attracted Grandpa's attention so many years ago.