Dinner Talk

By the time Stan Ellis was finished mucking out the stalls, he was exhausted even though he’d been doing it for the past nine years. As an eight-year-old, when he first came to live with his grandparents, he hated the smell of the horses’ droppings, the texture of the straw, and working in the shadowy barn. Because he’d been born in the city, he knew nothing about ranch life and hadn’t planned on every living on one. But when his parents died, he’d had no choice.

His school day was followed by a hour and a half of band practice, something he’d recently added after Grandpa Ellis convinced him he needed an elective for college admissions. He’d picked up his grandpa’s old saxophone, and after watching a few YouTube videos, was soon playing elementary songs.

Band wasn’t too hard. It was marching and playing that exhausted him mentally and physically.

It was after four by the time he got home, then cleaning stalls for an hour before he could tackle homework. All of it added up to a lot of work.

Stan thoroughly washed his hands then made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He pulled out his homework and began studying for a Physics test the next day. Just as he finished reviewing the assigned chapter his seventy-year old grandpa came in. He brought the outside in with him which Stan now found endearing.

“We’re having spaghetti tonight. Is that okay?” Grandpa asked as he pulled a pot and lid out of the cabinet.

“Sounds great. Can we have a salad too?”

“If you make it.”

Stan pulled lettuce, radishes, and cheese out of the refrigerator. He took a tomato off the counter and fetched bacon bits from the pantry. “So, are you going to give me the money or not?”

“Can you explain it to me again?”  Grandpa dumped a handful of noodles into a pan of boiling water and then wiped his hands on his jeans.

“The money’s due tomorrow or I can’t go to Disneyland.”

“Why’re you going there?”

“I’ve explained it several times.” Stan finished assembling the salad, set it on the table, and then flopped into a hand-hewn chair. “I’ve missed every deadline so far. I’m surprised my teacher’s still letting me go.”

Grandpa stirred the noodles with a wooden spoon. “Let’s see. What extra jobs have you done to earn money?”

Stan sighed and ran his hands over his lanky brown hair. “I dug the weeds out of the pony pens and I trimmed the bushes along the drive.”

“That’s part of your job,” Grandpa said.

“According to that line of reasoning, then anything I do around here is my job,” Stan said. “Look, Grandpa, I really want to go. I’ve got to pay the full amount tomorrow or I’m out.”

Grandpa slipped a loaf of French bread out of its wrapper and laid it on the cutting board. He picked up a knife and sliced off four hefty pieces. “Explain again the reason for the trip.”

“The band’s marching in the Main Street Parade and performing on the stage in Tomorrowland.” Stan leaned his chin on his hands and looked at his grandfather with sparkling eyes. “I want to go.”

After popping open a jar of sauce and pouring it into a pan, Grandpa sat at the table.  “How much are we talking about?”

“We’re flying, so that’s about $300. No hotel costs because we’re staying in a high school gym. They’re feeding us breakfast and dinner. Admission to the park is about $100. The only other cost is for my lunch.”

“So about $500?”

Stan shrugged. “Yeah.”

“I don’t have that kind of money.” Grandpa walked over to the stove, poured a little oil into the water with the noodles and then stirred the now simmering sauce.

“You sold a foal last week to Mr. Newton for a thousand dollars.”

“I paid bills with that money.  We owe Smith’s Hay and Feed over two thousand and Bill’s been asking for his money since he fixed the truck.”

“But everyone else is going.” Stan flopped his head down on his crossed arms.

“Set the table.  We’ll be eating in about five minutes.”

Stan shuffled to the cabinet, and with exaggerated effort got down two plates and glasses.  With an audible sigh, he set them on the canvas placemats that were always on the table.

Grandpa strained the water from the noodles and then dropped in a slice of butter.  He tossed the noodles, poured in the sauce, and carried the pan over to the table.  “Let’s talk.”

Stan scooped a mound of spaghetti onto his plate and sprinkled on a heavy layer of Parmesan cheese.  “It’s during Spring Break so I won’t miss any school. You filled out the permission form that had all the details. I even left a copy for you to keep  My plane ticket’s been bought.  I can’t back out now.”

“I can’t recall filling out any form.”

“Well, you did.”

“What was I doing when you handed it to me?”

“Washing dishes.  You told me to put the form on the table.  You filled it out and handed it to me.”

“I’d never have signed if I knew how much money was involved.  You can’t go.  I’m sorry.”

Leaving behind his dirty dishes, Stan took the stirs two steps at a time up to his room.  When he slammed the door he knew it would shake the whole house, a violation of the rules, but he didn’t care.

After using a napkin to wipe off his mouth, then refolding it and placing it next to his placement, Grandpa cleaned the kitchen. Like always, he then went into the front room to sit and smoke his pipe, but before lighting up, he unlocked the small safe embedded in the wall behind his desk and pulled out a rubber-banded wad of money.  He carefully counted out the bills.  He locked the safe and went upstairs.

“Can I come in?” he said after knocking on Stan’s door.

“Sure.”

Grandpa extended his right hand. “Here’s the money.”

“Really?”  Stan’s face glowed with surprise.

“Yeah.  I was hoping you’d changed your mind and didn’t want to go all the way to California.  You’ve never been that far from the ranch in all these years. But just in case, I put the money aside.  I’m selling this weekend Misty to Steve Carlson.  I’ll use that money to pay off bills.”

“Grandpa you’re the best!”  Stan, even though he was a little too old for hugs, jumped up off his bed and wrapped his arms around his grandfather.

“One thing, though,” Grandpa said as he stepped away.

“Anything. I’ll do whatever you want.” Stan’s eyes gleamed.

“Have fun. Play well. Be careful.”

Stan nodded. “I will. I’ll even find a way to call if you want.”

Grandpa smiled. “That’d be nice. It would make me feel better knowing that you were safe.”

Stan hugged Grandpa again. “There’s supposed to be a pay phone at the school. I’ll call when we get there the first night, call when we get back from Disneyland, then call right before we leave for the airport.”

“Come downstairs. I bought strawberries and shortcake.”

Stan enjoyed his dessert, even though he understood that his grandpa had intended to give him the money all along. All-in-all, it was an excellent dinner.

Cloud Watching

When I was young

I spent hours lying on my back

Staring at the clouds

And wondering what they were.

Sometimes a rabbit or cow.

Maybe an old man or woman.

Occasionally a car or truck.

Most importantly,

They represented an ability to dream,

An insight into a creative urge

To make sense of the world around me.

 

I still love to look at clouds

Even though I am officially old.

I no longer see shapes.

Instead I see beauty.

The wispy feather-like clouds

That streak across the sky.

Or the piles of cumulus clouds

That signal storms coming.

Or the thin stretches of clouds

That add depth and color to the sky.

They still represent creativity

Because they stir in me

A desire to put words to paper,

To make sense of the world

Through story and song.

 

I hope that I will always be able to see

Wonder in clouds.

That they will continue to speak to me

In verse and narrative

And help me to tell my version

Of what the world means.

 

So I will keep on watching clouds,

Like I did as a kid.

And keep on trying to make sense

Of the world.

 

 

Dreams

I wish that I could say that my mother had loved me.  If she had, I’d tell you about the times she held me in her lap and hugged, so tight, all while crooning soothing words.  I would share the story about when she ran behind my two-wheel bike, holding on to the seat, while I peddled, trying to stay upright.  There’d be stories about long walks in the woods behind our house and working together in the garden.

In the winter, after a good snowstorm, she would have thrown snowballs, built an igloo, and gone sledding down Mrs. Brademeyer’s hill.  In the summer, she would have  taken the hose and squirted water all over me, until my hair drooped like seaweed.  And then she’d give me a towel and a root beer Popsicle.

Maybe when I brought home my report cards she’d checked them over carefully, and then congratulated me on good effort.  And when I was promoted to the next grade, she would have given me a little gift to show how proud she was.

Or there would have been fun-filled shopping trips in which we squeezed into the same dressing room and tried on clothes, laughing hysterically.  Afterwards we would go out to lunch at a restaurant and eat way too much food.  If there was time, we’d go to the movie theater, buy popcorn, and cry all through the love story happening on the screen.

When I played on my high school basketball team, my mother would have attended every game.  When I played well, she would have clapped, demurely, of course.  And when I didn’t get to play in a huge tournament, my mother would have walked right up to the coach and chewed her out.  I can picture her doing that.

She would have followed my bowling team when I played for the junior college, and gone to my badminton matches as well.  She would have carried my gym bag and handed me a towel when sweat dripped into my eyes.  I bet she watched with her fingers crossed, hoping for a strike whenever I released the ball sending it skidding down the alley.

And when I was severely trounced in my first college badminton tournament, my mother would have pulled a crumpled tissue out of her purse and then would have had the good grace to look away in my moment of humiliation.  When I was done feeling sorry for myself, my mother would have offered words of encouragement and then sent me back into the gym to face my next opponent.

Maybe I’d tell about her coming to my high school graduation, and how she got there early enough to sit right up front.  Close enough that I saw her smile with pride as I crossed the stage.  When the principal announced that I had won a state scholarship, she would have stood and applauded louder and longer than anyone.  When we got back home, there would have been a beautifully wrapped present waiting on the dining room table.  Something she thought I’d need for college.

For my college graduation?  She would have flown down to Los Angeles a week early and helped me pick out a new dress to wear.  We would have seen a movie to take off my nervous edge.  And on the day of the ceremony, she would have taken me to a beauty shop for a special treatment.  When I entered wearing my cap and gown, tears would have poured down her face, soaking her cotton dress.

When I moved back home, I’m sure that she would have invited over all the relatives to share in my accomplishments.  What a party that would have been!  Laughter, games, gifts, congratulations.

There would be stories about trying to teach me how to cook.  We could laugh about my “raw” pancakes and the meatloaf that fell into crumbs when sliced.  I’m sure she would have laughed when my first cake didn’t rise as well as over the biscuits that were charred on the bottom.  On the other hand, her face would have lit up when I mastered the infamous green bean casserole and when that green Jell-O mold jiggled, like it was supposed to, when dumped on the serving tray.

I can imagine her smiling when I brought my husband-to-be home for introductions.  She would have immediately fallen in love with him and been happy for me.  She would have shared in my joy, knowing that, at last, I was stepping into adulthood.  That should have made her proud.

It would be nice to speak of the times we shared recipes or of the Tupperware parties that we went to and bought way too many of those wonderful plastic containers.  There would have been birthday parties and anniversaries to celebrate with good food, friends, and lots of laughter.

Yes, I can visualize all of these things.  It’s too bad that absolutely none of them ever happened.

My Wishes, Over Time

When I was a child, my dreams were three-fold: happiness, safety, and love. I don’t remember the specifics as it’s been far too many years, but I felt as if I lacked all three.

Early pictures of me show a sulky, sad, miserable little girl. Did I look that way because I didn’t get something that I wanted at that moment in time, or does my downturned mouth reflect the general state of my being? In my mind, it was the latter. I can’t recall much laughter, but that is no surprise since those years have disappeared from my collective memory.

Looking back, I should have been happy, for aren’t little kids bundles of joy? Don’t kids love to giggle and run about yelling like banshees?

Shouldn’t I have felt safe because I lived with my family? If so, why do I recall fear of punishment as the strongest emotion?

And love. Everyone deserves love. I’m sure that my parents loved me, for if they didn’t, wouldn’t they have given me up for adoption or sent me away to live with relatives? They didn’t do those things, so there must have been some positive feelings toward me. The problem is, I don’t recall being loved. I don’t recall hugs or kisses or sitting on laps or walking hand-in-hand.

A flaw in my memory? Most likely.

As a kid, my world expanded, and so did my dreams. I still yearned for the big three, but I added in pleasing my teacher and having friends as major goals. The problem was that I was not a good student and so seldom earned praise from the strict sisters that were my teachers in the Catholic School.

I did my work to the best of my ability, but it was never good enough. Because I wasn’t earning A grades, I was often held after school to clean blackboards! (Could this be why I am asthmatic?) When I got home I was punished once again. Logically, then this made me fearful. Double punishment for every poor grade.

Did it inspire me to do better? Maybe, but remember, I was already working as hard as I could!

And let’s not forget having a friend! Because I was shy, I was not the type that was included when kids went out to play. Add on top of that the fact that I wore faded, hand-me-down uniforms that made me stand out as poor. Then there is the issue of grades, as no one wants to spend time with the dumb kid in class.

Added to that was the fact that, because I got poor grades, I usually spent lunch in the tutoring room, sitting in silence while a stern nun oversaw my efforts to complete work. Sometimes she helped, but most of the time she chided.

So, no friends.

There were material things that I wished for. A new bike. A Barbie doll. Roller skates. To play on my brother’s baseball and football teams.  Store-bought clothes and shoes that fit.

I eventually saved up enough money to buy myself a bike, but I never got the doll. A relative gave me skates and I never had brand new clothes. I did get new shoes every other year, which meant that the first they were too big and the second they fit, but were now scuffed.

While I was good at sports, I couldn’t play on teams. This was back in the 1960s and there were few, if any, teams for girls. So that dream did not become a reality until I was in high school.

As a teenager my dreams did not change much. I hung onto the big three and having a friend. I still yearned for the positive attention from my teachers, and because I had finally learned how to read well enough to get good grades, I was often considered the star student.

I still wanted store-bought clothes, and was able to buy myself a doctor’s shirt (yes, that was a style!) and my dad no longer made me wear oxford shoes. Because my feet had quit growing, I also had shoes that fit!

Relatives gave me clothes. It was considerate of them to do this, but there were too problems: they were a few sizes too small as I was fat and the styles were old-fashioned and not appealing to a teen. My mom, who was an excellent seamstress, picked apart the clothes and remade them into matching skirts and vests. Beautiful, but not what girls wore.

Now I wanted a boyfriend. My first, real-life boy who would ask me out for a date. Who would hold my hand and be proud to walk with me. No kissing. I wasn’t ready for that yet. But I didn’t know how to be attractive to boys, so I went dateless until my senior year when I asked the young man who lived across the street to take me to my prom.

He was a nice guy. Not real smart, but he had inherited a duplex from his mother and lived alone. He had a job as a mailman, so he had a reliable income. He was fair looking, but so was I, so we fit together.

We dated for a year, so I had a boyfriend for a year. But because he was a man, he wanted more out of the relationship than I was prepared to give. When I went away to college and found out that intelligent, curious young men found me attractive, that earlier relationship died and quick death.

In college I had bigger dreams. By now I was well aware of the world and dreamt of travel. Thanks to campus organizations I went camping in the forests, walked along beaches and stood next to a massive earthquake-caused crack in the earth. I marched in protest of the Vietnam War and participated in sit-ins with hundreds of young people.

I met a wealthy young man whose parents gave him tickets to the theater and to the opera and ballet, so I got exposed to cultural events that inspired me to see more.

My eyes were opened to all the possibilities that existed in the world and expended my dreams to include many of them, even those well beyond my financial reach.

I like to think that my earlier wishes guided my decision-making throughout my life. For example, I always held teachers in high regard, admired them for both their dedication and ability. That’s not to say that I was disappointed when a teacher was indifferent or incompetent.

Since I first attended school, I claimed that I wanted to be a teacher. That was an unwavering goal, even though I was distracted by economic factors that caused me to postpone achieving that goal until I was a parent myself. Once I became a teacher, I was determined to be not just a good one, but a great one. I hope that I was.

My desire to be both safe and loved led me to my husband who fulfills both those dreams. There has never been a time in our relationship when those feelings have been threatened. He is my rock.

My desire to have friends solidified as I have gotten older. I have made good friends through writing conferences, book clubs, soccer, the senior center and church.  I am no longer lonely, although I still have problems in a crowd. Once I break through the crowd to find one friendly face, I am okay.

To summarize, throughout my life my basic dreams remained the same. As I aged, more blended in, expanding my wishes in profound and interesting ways. And as I accomplished goals, I never forgot where I was as a child, how important it was for me to feel happy, safe and loved.

 

 

 

 

Mountains of Dreams

Majestic mountains with snow-capped peaks

touch a baby-blue sky dotted with puffy clouds

like fingers brushing God’s eyes, cleansing air.

White dusted pines march up and down slopes

erect as soldiers, as still as statues bearing arms,

free from smoky campfires and slow-moving cars.

Half-frozen lakes rimmed with white ice,

idle now from summer’s pleasures,

enjoying peaceful rest and rehabilitation.

Winter-tolerant birds call quietly, snug in nests

hidden in tall trees, protected from wind’s chill blasts.

Fragile-boned winter-thinned deer huddle under low branches

ever watchful, ever dreaming of green fields and sunny days.

Bright white hares frozen in place, noses twitching, on alert.

 

Silence broken by crunching footsteps marking time,

clapping gloved hands, and occasional muffled words.

Breath steams, creating human-bred clouds that rise

to greet the day, the mountains, life-giving air,

giving substance to dreams that otherwise vaporize

into nothingness, dispelling fears and chasing away

omens of ills that might come to the unwary.

Blessed mountains with snow-capped peaks

reminders of the glory, the majesty, the grandeur

of the world entrusted to our hands to keep, to protect,

to save for generations and generations to come.

Fearful Memories

She came to her mother in the night

smelling of sweat, fear and sour breath

with hair tangled into miserable knots

crying about the monsters plaguing her dreams

which resembled all too closely

the boys who teased her mercilessly at school

even though Mom had complained to the teacher,

begging her to stop the torture.

The girl snuggled next to her mother’s side

head resting on the chest

arms tightly gripping her mother’s waist

and cried until all tears were gone.

her mom thought about sending her daughter

back to her own bed

back to the darkness where nightmares ran free,

but instead cradled her daughter and tried

to erase the painful memories.