Heat Wave Woes

            When the temperature rises, when the sun beats down on city streets, people get grouchy. Children whine. Parents yell. Teachers lose patience. Workers stuck in sweltering shops make mistakes. Car drivers honk horns as they swerve in and out of traffic lanes.

            The longer it stays hot, the worse things get. Frustrations normally held in check surface. Old hatreds blossom. Minor complaints become major sources of ire.

            Environmental problems make matters worse. Fires erupt that, if the wind is blowing, sweep across the landscape, burning houses, schools and businesses. People die, not just because of wildfires, but also because of heat exhaustion.

            Crops can’t grow or are burned so badly that the fruit is destroyed. The aquifer, which supplies water to roots, dries up. Plants die. Yards turn brown.

            When the lows and highs intersect, tornadoes are born. The high number of fans running taxes the electrical grid. Rolling power cutoffs cause food to spoil. Machines that keep people alive falter.

            So many things happen that make life miserable that it’s sometimes hard to find a single positive about rising temperatures.

            Ask a kid, however, and you might learn a thing or two.

            Sometimes fire hydrants are opened and kids run gleefully through the spray. Backyard swimming pools are blown up. Perhaps it’s only enough water to sit in, but the magic works anyway.

            Footballs are put away: baseballs come out.  Outings to the beach or lake or river are planned. School is over for nearly three months. Television becomes a major source of entertainment. Kid-friendly movies proliferate.

            Cold drinks and frozen treats lift spirits. Water guns and filled balloons cause much running around and shrieking.

            Kids get to stay out well past dark. If they live where there are lightning bugs, they might catch one so as to hold the tiny on and off of light in their hands.

            Badminton and croquet sets come out. Volleyball, too.

            There seems to be so much more to do when it is warm than in the frost of winter.

            Just like any season, summer has its plusses and minuses. How you think about it makes the difference.

            You can bemoan the heat or step outside and watch the kids zip around, smiles on their faces.

            The heat can make us miserable, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just one more thing that nature gives us to deal with as best we can.

Kitchen Disaster

            When we got married, my cooking repertoire consisted of things from boxes, cans or the freezer. I could fry an egg, but not make a hard-boiled one with any consistency. My grilled cheese sandwiches weren’t too bad as long as I stayed focused and kept it from burning.

            My specialty was a fried bologna sandwich. I used only one slice of the lunchmeat, which was cooked in a hot skillet. It had to be turned frequently to keep it from burning. While it was getting hot, in a separate skillet I fried an egg. If I was diligent, the yolk would preferably be a bit soft.

            When done, I’d layer the bologna, the egg and a slice of American cheese on two slices of cheap white bread. I loved it.

            I knew that my new husband wouldn’t want to come home from work to fried bologna, so when I found an offer for a free cookbook on a soup can label, I sent away for it before our wedding date.

            Every recipe looked easy. All relied on some flavor of soup. I had tried a few before our wedding, with mixed results. The meatloaf was excellent but most of the vegetable dishes came out overdone and soggy.

            I wanted to impress my husband with a hot meal. After turning page after page in the cookbook, I decided to make a stuffed zucchini casserole. I liked zucchini, ground beef and whatever flavor of soup required.

            I followed the recipe exactly. It looked pretty good arranged in the baking dish.

            Feeling fairly pleased with myself, when I got home from work the next night, I heated the oven while I changed clothes. When it was ready, I removed the dish from the refrigerator and slid it into the oven. Closed the door. Heard a loud cracking sound.

            Imagine my dismay when I saw the damage. The dish had separated into two pieces, evenly divided down the middle. Shards were imbedded into the squash. It was ruined.

            I broke into tears. My hopes of presenting my husband with an original homecooked meal were as shattered as the dish.

            Not knowing what I could prepare, I searched the cabinets and the freezer. I was still looking when he came home.

            Being the good person that he was and still is, when he saw what had happened, he gave me the biggest hug, then proceeded to cook dinner.

            I never attempted the stuffed squash again even though my husband had explained what I had done wrong. You see, the dish was not meant to go from refrigerator to oven. A more expensive version would have been capable of handling temperature changes. This was a cheap one. I hadn’t known the difference.

            It wasn’t the last cooking disaster, but it had a long-lasting impact.

Two souls

           

We fit together, you and I

Most times we see things, eye to eye.

For you, it’s sleeping on the right

Left is my choice always at night.

I listen carefully when you speak.

Good understanding, when at your peak

Moves us, as team, smoothly along

Seeking middle, where we belong.

When I smile, you always do, too.

And if I cry, you soon will coo.

For when one is sad, we can’t fly

No matter how hard we might try.

We love each other, that is true

For you love me, and I love you

.

Without you, I just couldn’t live.

So to you, my whole heart I give.

The Invitation

            I was not a popular kid. I never received a single card on Valentine’s Day even though we were supposed to give one to every classmate. I attended no birthday parties and was never invited over on a play date.

            I don’t blame the other kids. I was a deeply unhappy, troubled girl who couldn’t hide those feelings. My face was in a perpetual frown. My lips were thin white lines. My eyes fought to restrain the tears that poured seemingly on their own accord. I never smiled, laughed or even when on the playground, ran about as joyfully as others.

            At that time, I would have been labelled a sad-sack. I was Grumpy the Dwarf from Cinderella.  I was the cartoon character who went about with storm clouds overhead. I was Eeyore.

            Later when I became a teacher, I understood how my own teachers had failed me. In today’s world a miserable student like myself would have been referred to a school nurse or the psychologist or even Child Protective Services. The stories I could have told would most likely have landed me in a foster home. But that never happened.

            Instead, I moped my way through school, the kid no one invited to anything.

            Until one day in fourth grade a girl handed me a pretty card. She watched with bright eyes as I opened it and read. She wanted me to come to her house for a sleepover!

            I didn’t want to go but my mother insisted. She took me to the store to buy new underwear and pajamas, toothbrush and toothpaste. She made me call the girl and tell her I was coming, get the details as to what time to arrive and what time my mother was to pick me up the next day.

            As time drew near, I became increasingly anxious. I’d never slept anywhere but home. I was terrified about the logistics: where would I sleep, would I have to brush my teeth in front of others and what would happen when I had to go to the bathroom.

            I feigned illness when it was time to leave. My mother made me go.

            To my surprise there were four other girls there. None of them were friends as I had none, but all were in my class. I knew their names, but had never spoken to them.

            We gathered in the girl’s bedroom, clustered on her twin bed. Because I was the last, I got the foot of the bed. I barely fit.

            I don’t remember much about what happened that night, except for the magazine. The girl brought out one of her mother’s magazines. The girls passed around the magazine, taking turns ogling the models and the fashions. All went fairly well until they decided to read the stories.

            The only one I remember was a test to see if you were a lesbian. I didn’t know the term, so had no idea what it meant. As they took turns reading the “signs”, I realized that I fell into that category.

            I had no interest in boys (although, truth be told, I had none in girls either). I was a tomboy with muscles instead of a girly figure. And, worst of all, dark hair on my arms and legs.

            The girls began teasing me, calling me names and scooting as far away from me as possible. Although no one pushed me off the bed, I somehow ended up on the floor.

            The teasing was so bad, so insistent and so cruel that I ran downstairs and told the mother that I was ill and needed to go home. She must have called my mother.

            While I feared my mother and really didn’t like being with her, when her car pulled into that driveway, I was very happy to leave.

            Looking back, I wonder if the girls hadn’t set me up. If they hadn’t planned on taunting me. If that hadn’t been the only reason that they had invited me.

            After the disastrous party, the girls returned to treating me the way they had before. They never spoke to me, played with me, invited me to parties.

            That one invitation could have opened doors for me. Instead, it solidified my place in elementary school society. How sad!

Stepping Out

            When I transferred to the University of Southern California at the end of my freshman year of college, I had no idea what to expect. I had visited no college campuses during my last year of high school, had never seen a residence hall (we called them dorms in the 1970s), and had chosen a major in math just because I found it easy.

            USC was not my first choice. I really wanted to go to Ohio State and live with my grandmother. I didn’t know if her neighborhood was safe, how far she lived from the campus and whether or not public transportation could get me there. My primary purpose was to escape my dysfunctional family. Going to Ohio was about as far away from California as I thought my parents would let me go. Plus, I figured, living with Grandma would give my parents peace of mind.

            They refused.

            Thanks to a full scholarship from the State of California, I could attend any college in the state, tuition-free. I wanted San Francisco State College because they had an excellent teacher-preparation program. I had always dreamed of being a teacher as the classroom was the one safe place where I wouldn’t be hit, spanked, or ridiculed. Teaching, was to me, an honored profession, something to aspire to.

My parents thought differently. They believed that I didn’t have it in me to teach. Intellectually, socially, psychologically. Considering had backwards I was back then, they were right. So, once again, my parents refused. The excuse they gave was that they didn’t want me living on campus and they were terrified of public transportation Their fears made no sense to me.

            My brother also received the state scholarship. He applied to and was accepted to USC as an Engineering major. Because my brother would be there, that was the only college my parents would allow me to attend.

            When September rolled around, my parents drove us down to Los Angeles. My first glimpse of USC was of towering, impressive-looking buildings. Everything was huge. So huge that I saw myself drowning. But I nodded, telling myself that I wouldn’t let that happen.

            After unloading my brother’s stuff at his dorm, I was taken to mine. My room was on the fourth floor, with a great view of what I learned was called the quad.

I wasn’t dismayed by the tiny size of the room as I had been sharing a comparably-sized room with my sister for most of my life.

There were things about it that I liked: the closet was the right width for my limited wardrobe. The bed looked like a couch until it was pulled out from the wall. It was comfortable enough, but then I was only eighteen and so thought anything that wasn’t a floor was okay.

I had a desk and shelves. Wall space to decorate. And more drawers than I’d ever had.

Everything about my new living situation pleased me except for the trek required to get to the communal bathroom. Sharing a bathroom for private affairs was a bit of a shock. But I was okay because it wasn’t home.

My roommate was a haughty, unfriendly rich girl. Her mother arrived every week with a rack of brand-new clothes with tags on and wrapped in plastic bags. A hair dresser appeared like clockwork every few weeks and cut her hair in our room! I couldn’t imagine such wealth until I’d come face-to-face with it.

Shortly after classes began, my brother decided to pledge a fraternity. I seriously doubt that he knew any more about fraternities than I did about sororities. We knew no one who had gone to college and so had no experience with pledging and all that entailed. I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I figured that if he could do it, so could I.

He got accepted into the house that later I learned was for nerds. It wasn’t his first choice. He’d yearned to be at the jock house even though he wasn’t a jock. The only fraternity that accepted my brother was the one for the smart, geeky guys that couldn’t get in anywhere else. Despite the disappointment, my brother grew to love it. For the first time in his life, he was surrounded with nonathletes whose academic goals were lofty.

Next door was a beautiful southern-style building that was home to a sorority affiliated with my brother’s fraternity. They called themselves Little Sisters.

I convinced a rather plain looking girl whom I had befriended in the dorm to go through rush with me. We spent many dinners at that sorority, hoping to be accepted. Looking back now, I bet the sisters laughed at my wide-open eyes each time I sat to eat.

It was my first experience sitting at an exquisite dinner table with rows of utensils on both sides of the plate. Tablecloth and stark white linen napkins. Getting gussied up for a meal. Surrounded by pleasant conversation swirling about. It must have shown, yet they invited me back, time after time.

I was overwhelmed each time. There was no arguing, no belittling, no being punched or kicked or smacked.

I badly wanted to be there, to be one with this wonderful group of young women. My friend was eventually dropped. I understood, even though it made me angry. Her face was covered by acne scars, so many that her skin was permanently dimpled. Her voice was nasally and her wardrobe was as inferior as mine. She was hurt when she was asked not to return. Even so, she encouraged me to continue to try to be accepted.

As time passed, in order to prove my worthiness, I had to participate in a series of activities. The first was a fashion show for a group of women donors. We had to wear our own clothes.

That’s when I noticed how badly I fit in.

The others had designer outfits. Tailored dresses for all occasions. Perfectly cut pants with matching blazers. Scarves and expensive-looking jewelry. Casual clothes that spoke of money.

Only my underwear came from a store: my mother had made every dress, skirt and blouse.

Prior to the show we practiced sashaying down a pretend runway. I was awkward to say the least. I blushed at the thought of swaying my hips. I had difficulty breathing just thinking about parading in front of anyone. (I’d never done that at home as my mother thought such behavior was vulgar.)

Two days before the show we had to submit a 3×5 card with detailed descriptions of each of our three outfits. We were supposed to name the designer, the fabric, the trims, the details so as to wow the audience.

What was I to do? Name my mother? The cheap cotton of my dress? The discount fake-lace and ribbon? I tried to “sick” my way out of the show, but was told that it was a condition of my potential acceptance into the house.

The day arrived. I carried over my arm an A-line dress made of white cotton, trimmed with fake gold around the neck, a plaid plain-looking skirt with a matching cotton blouse and the only pantsuit I had, a bright orange cotton, bell-bottom affair that probably glowed in the dark.

Behind the stage we were given racks to hang our clothes. Except for high school PE, I had never changed in front of other girls. As I watched them get dressed in their first outfits, I realized that they were skinny and I was fat. There was no way I’d fit in with these girls!

I picked up my clothes to make a hasty exit, but the house mother blocked my way. I was told that under no terms was I told I had to go out on that stage.

With tears in my eyes, I put on the dress and stood in line. Slowly it inched forward as impeccably dressed girls went before me. When only two girls were before me, I had a clear view of the stage, the walkway and the room. To my eyes, I believed there were at least one hundred richly dressed women in the room.

My turn came. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and walked out on that stage. As instructed, I stopped next to the emcee. As she read the description of my homemade dress, I felt my cheeks blush and my eyes fill with tears.

I knew by then that I didn’t belong there, that I would never belong and that I was foolish to think that I could. However, I couldn’t runaway, so I took a deep breath and stepped out.

I did not sashay. I did not swirl or twirl or even plant my hands on my hips. I did not stop when I got to the end, but spun around and not-quite dashed to the back of the stage.

I changed into my next outfit, knowing that it only served to show how very poor I was. When my turn came, I stepped out once again. And then did the same for my third outfit.

When the fashion show part of the luncheon ended, we found seats at the tables, surrounded by wealthy women. I don’t remember the meal, but I am willing to bet that I ate nothing. I probably only offered cursory responses if anyone bothered to speak to me. I probably sat there with tears streaming down my face.

On the way back to campus, I berated myself for being so foolish to think that I could be a part of a sorority. My poverty, my poor upbringing, my complete lack of exposure to wealth, meant that if I was invited to join, it would only be because they needed a poor girl as a token representation of their efforts to diversify.

Stepping out on that stage was one of the most difficult things I’d done, but I did it.

Trouble in the Air

 

silver birds trailing smoke across the sky

portending omens, making grown men cry

shadowy shapes eerily dancing in the flames

radiating unshaped evil in people’s games

flickering yellow lights and ghostly squeaks

shatter tender eardrums, raise swollen creeks

breaking the silence on dark winter nights

filling souls with torment, shivering frights

darkened halls, a mystical luminous room

place of magic and of gathering doom

witches brew, spirits bubble, liquids boil

creating magical potions with nary a toil

spreading poisoned fingers to make men die

silver birds trailing smoke across the sky 

Tough Words

When your dream becomes a reality

you will believe, with some certainty

all your hard work was worth the effort

now earning you well-deserved comfort.

The sky is the limit, some will say

and encourage you to not delay

the constant climb for the cherished prize.

Only then will there be no surprise.

The path is rutted and deadly steep,

filled with boulders and crevices deep.

Yet each small step leads toward success.

You have to focus, with faithfulness.

Dreams are supposed to inspire us, true.

Failure and struggles will challenge you,

orchestrating real disharmony.

Though the reason is still unclear to me.

Being Considered

            Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how many times those words pop up.

            For many of us, it began when we were quite young. “Being considered” to acceptance into a private elementary school. In some religions, you are “considered” for participation in Holy Sacraments.

            You’re “considered” when applying for a scholarship, job or internship. Same when trying to get your first credit card as well as when purchasing a car or home.

            Admittance into the college of your choice requires a waiting period while you are “being considered”.

            Over and over throughout life we sit around, waiting impatiently, as our merits are being weighed. Are we smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough? Even though physical appearance is not supposed to be a defining characteristic, it is if your skin color isn’t right or you weigh too much or aren’t “manly” or “womanly” enough for whatever image the college/job/internship wants to project.

            At my age I thought I was well past “being considered”. I’m a retired wife, mother and grandmother. I’m not trying to join any clubs or organizations. I have my routines that are familiar and comfortable. I’m not looking for adventure. I just want to be accepted as a write.

            This week I received a welcome email from a literary magazine that I’d been longing for. A story I’d submitted was “being considered” for publication, contingent on my making the recommended edits.

            Of course, I made the changes and resubmitted the story, knowing full well that it will still fall into the category of “being considered”.

            Ever since I began sending out stories, I’ve sat, with baiting breath, hoping to “be considered”. It’s what every writer dreams of. Knowing that someone, somewhere, sees value in what you’ve written and wants to include it in some type of publication.

            So, I won’t complain about “being considered”. Instead I will count my blessings as I wait, with fingers crossed, for the next word.

Your Reply, Please

If I knock on your door,

a total stranger,

and when you see my old-lady face,

will you offer me a cool drink

and a simple slice of bread?

Or

will you cringe in darkness,

terrified of what my visit

might mean to the safety of your family?

If, when going down a steep flight of stairs,

I trip before you and

tumble over and over until

I am a jumbled heap of bones,

will you stop and offer care

like the Good Samaritan?

Or

will you step over me as if I

do not exist and

continue your journey to the

Neverland of your office?

If I appear before you as a tiny child

with huge eyes, tears streaking my cheeks,

hands openly imploring,

will you turn away without first

digging in your pocket for that

handful of change that constantly rests

in the folds of the fabric?

Or

will you bend down on one knee,

look me in the eye and ask

what you can do to offer relief?

If I am ill and dying, a frail old woman

with nothing to offer but my stories,

will you stay a while and listen

without checking your watch every few minutes,

wondering when the ol’ windbag will

cease to breathe?

Or

will you come every day to be by my side,

offering consolation and comfort

until my dying day?

If God appeared attired in majestic robes

and called your name,

would you leap up with exultation

and shout, “Here I am, Lord.”

Or

would you run away in fear,

hiding your face from God’s tender eyes,

knowing all the sins you harbor inside

for ignoring your fellows when

they needed you most?

Now is the time for action.

Now is the time to open your eyes

and truly see what wondrous

opportunities God has given us

to help one another reach the golden path,

together,

arm in arm,

step by step,

as we strive toward the heavens,

to live forever basking

in the glory of God.

If I call your name,

Will you answer?

Wedding Fears

            I did not grow up dreaming of my future wedding. In fact, I swore that I’d never marry. Growing up in a dysfunctional home, one where my parents seldom spoke civilly to each other and to me, my impression of marriage was quite bleak.

            On top of that, I didn’t read romance novels or buy teen magazines that offered dating advice. Wearing a fancy one-use dress didn’t appeal to me. Walking down the aisle while everyone watched terrified me.

            I didn’t want to be beholden to someone like my mom was to my dad. She had to beg him for money and then turn in receipts to show where the money went. When I got older, I understood: my mom would have spent every dime. My dad had that privilege.

            If he wanted a “new” car, he’d buy it. When stereos appeared on the market, he bought one of those. He replaced car after car, stereo system after system. Too bad if my mom needed new shoes. I was embarrassed the first time I saw her wearing shoes she’d retrieved from a dumpster.

            Arguing was a sport in my house. My mom yelled at me. My brother and sister did as well. Mom reported any behaviors she found disagreeable to my dad. When he came home from work, he’d yell at me or beat me. And then he’d lecture my mom for being such a poor parent.

            My mom chased Dad with cast iron skillets, trying to whack him on the side of the head. My brother kicked me in the stomach and squeezed my arms so tightly that he left bruises. My sister would swing her legs back and forth, over and over, striking my legs with her corrective shoes. Between them all, I had bruises over much of my body.

            Why would I marry? Why would I ever bring children into the world? It was the furthest thing from my mind.

            Until I met Mike.

            When my eyes connected with his, my world turned upside down. His face lit up, his blue eyes sparkled and his body posture, casual, not stiff, drew me in.

            We became work partners and often accompanied each other out on cases. Both of us were shy and quiet, so there wasn’t a lot of conversation. His calmness, his quietness, was a relief. Every moment spent with Mike was a joy.

            Within a month of dating, we were engaged. Six months later we married.

            In the interim I had to plan the whole thing, and not knowing anything about marriage etiquette, I was in way over my head. I also had almost no money to buy a dress, veil, flowers, rent a hall and buy food for guests.

            Mike helped, thank goodness, but he knew about as much as I did.

            I was terrified the entire time, afraid that I would make such a hug mistake that he would change his mind.

            I visited a few bridal shops and soon found out that I couldn’t afford a store-bought dress. My mom was an excellent seamstress, so off we went to the fabric store. We picked out clearance fabric and trim, then a pattern that met my requirement’s: simple in style and that covered my upper body. Not too long, not too short.

            I discovered a bridal shop in a lower-income area that had a veil that would do. I wanted nothing long and dramatic. No pins to hold it in place. No frills around my head. Pretty much a duplicate of what I wore for my First Communion.

            Finding an affordable hall was a challenge. I made call after call until one fell into my price range. It was a dismal place. Very little lighting and a million dust motes. A plain slab floor. Scarred and scuffed pretend wood walls. But it was available and affordable.

            I bought flowers; the smallest bouquets possible. Just enough for the altar. Nothing grand or glorious. Food was either made by my mom or purchased in bulk. We sliced salami and bologna, roast beef and cheeses. Made tiny meatballs and spread crackers on cheap tinfoil platters. Deviled eggs filled the refrigerator, and the day before, we diced fruit for an army.

            Plastic tablecloths and bland napkins, plates and utensils.

            During my free time, I copied songs from the radio onto Mike’s 8-track tape player. That was the music for our wedding.

            Mike’s family helped out. His brother bought watermelon to serve as fruit bowls. Jell-O salads were made by his sisters. I know that they bought more, but I was too scared to pay much attention. Oh! And our guests brought food as well.

            The reception was more like a family potluck.

            Mike and I decided which vows to memorize and attended mandatory pre-marriage classes given by the Catholic Church. He knew Bishop Cummins from his school days at Bishop O’Dowd High School, so Mike asked him to officiate. We both knew Phil Josue, a good friend with an excellent singing voice. We paid for the organist, but it was Phil who brighten our marriage.

            I forgot to mention that I didn’t know what kind of fabric bridesmaids wore, so I picked out the most god-awful green taffeta with white polka dots. At the time, I thought it was pretty, but the main reasons I chose if was because it was cheap and there was plenty of it.

            Then I made them wear white wide-brimmed bonnets with green ribbons. The best part was that Mike’s sister Pat made the bouquets. They were beautiful.

            Prior to the wedding ceremony, Mike told me repeatedly that no one would care what he wore: they’d be looking at me. So I made his side wear white tuxedos with frilly shirts. Poor guys!

            When the day arrived, I was a nervous wreck. The evening before my family had descended on the hall, decorating what little we could, and dropping the food off in the hall’s refrigerator.

            Standing in the vestibule, seeing how many had come to see us wed, my heart pounded. I grew faint and felt like I was going to topple over. The march started and off I went, fingertips brushing my dad’s arm. He had reluctantly allowed me to marry Mike despite my mother’s objections. I would have preferred to walk myself down the aisle, without the guy who’d ridiculed me and beaten me, but convention called for Dad.

            Seeing all those eyes on me, made things worse. By the time I was handed over to Mike, I was seeing spots. Breathing was hard. My mind froze. I didn’t understand a word Bishop Cummins said. When Mike recited his vows and they weren’t the ones we’d agreed on, I tried to memorize the syllables as they came out of his mouth. My turn came, I did my best. We were married. I could breathe.

            Walking with Mike down the aisle brought tears to my eyes. My fears receded. I was no longer property of the people who’d mistreated me. I was not Mike’s property either. That was something we’d discussed. I was married to a man who loved me for who I was and who I would become.

            While getting married was one of the most terrifying events of my life, when it was over, I was the happiest person on earth.