Ended up with 7-8 inches in my neighborhood. I’ve never experienced the kind of winter weather as we have had this winter. January was almost spring-like, and then February had consistently freezing temps. Usually it’s the other way around. The official snow total for my city is 14 inches (all told, not actual accumulation), which is a decades-old record breaker. As pretty as it is, the high winds, sub-freezing temps, and impassable roads otherwise dull my enthusiasm. It’s as close as I want to know what it is like to live in Alaska this time of year or the Rockies during the spring thaw.
The line zig-zagged up and down Harold’s long driveway. People came from as far away as South America to see what the news media dubbed “a window to the stars;” a phenomenally clear view of the Milky Way from Harold’s back deck.
Harold was used to seeing the famous galaxy star cluster from his home, but on this occasion, because he was so impressed with the camera on his new phone, he took a video to show off its impressive function. His post went viral within hours. By the next evening, Harold, his wife and kids got calls, texts and emails from just about everyone they knew asking if they could pop by to get a look at the Milky Way. By midnight, Harold’s street was jammed with people from all around the county cruising by in their cars to see if they could catch a glimpse of the view.
The following night, Harold stood at the end of his driveway and invited people to park their cars and walk around his house to his back deck. He simply wanted to keep his street clear so as to keep from angering his neighbors with all the traffic. Still unaccustomed to the power of social media, Harold did not anticipate that people would tweet and post and text that Harold’s back deck was open for viewing the Milky Way. Then came the news media, and before Harold and his family really knew what was happening, they were playing host to hundreds of curious onlookers.
That was 10 days ago. Harold had figured a few things out in the meantime, and believe it or not, things seemed to be going pretty smoothly. A couple of local boy scout troops volunteered their time with traffic and crowd control, the local cops made routine drive-bys, a few neighbors popped by from time to time to lend a helping hand or to act as security guards, just in case someone in the crowd got the wrong idea. Mostly, though, people were kind and grateful.
Harold wandered away from the long lines of people to a cluster of trees in his front yard. The solitude felt as refreshing as a cold beer on a hot day. He leaned back against the largest evergreen and lit a cigarette, drawing in a deep and letting it out very slowly. It was the first time since it all began that he actually stopped to take in the strange sight of all these people cycling through his property.
As Harold stood silently in the shadows, he reflected on not only the events of the past week, but what had come from it. For the first time ever, his family was happily working together on a common goal. Neighbors he never spoke to gladly joined in to help out. Visitors thanked Harold and his family for the generosity of opening their home so others could see for themselves the spectacular view. When they did this, Harold would shrug and smile and say it was no bother. He was just happy to share the experience.
And Harold genuinely meant what he said. Opening his home to strangers was the right thing to do. All who wanted to could see the Milky Way, up close and personal, as if they were looking through a telescope. Just because the view happened to be from his private property did not mean he owned the rights to it.
But, at the end of each night, as the rising sun turned the black skies to a dull grey and the people left, Harold would take the box he constructed to solicit cash donations (because, who wouldn’t ask for a couple dollars to offset the wear and tear on his property) and empty it onto the dining room table. Half way through his count, his wife would call out the total contributions made to the online account she had set up.
So, as altruistic as Harold’s invitation seemed for all the world to come on over and take a look at the Milky Way from his back deck, as it turns out, sharing this wonderful experience was also a lucrative endeavor. As Harold snuffed out his cigarette butt, he said a little prayer that the skies would remain clear for just a few more days.
The UnOLWG prompts this week: He leaned back and lit a cigarette; Window to the stars; Ulterior altruism
I was the one to sort through my parent’s papers and files after their deaths. Among my father’s various papers—drafts of short stories, travel essays, random thoughts and highlights from his career as a City Manager—were his military service records in the Merchant Marines and later in the Naval Reserve. The first piece of paper in the first file was a simple half-sheet form titled, “Employment Severance Notice from Douglas Aircraft,” which read,
I, LD Rose, hereby state that I am terminating, on my own volition, my employment with the Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc., on this 3rd day of April 1942 for the reason hereinbelow set forth: Military Service—Voluntary Enlistment.
On the back of the form was a note written in my father’s hand:
I know that I shall never be the same as I was the days that have past. It is something numb and bursting inside, like nothing within the compass of words. It is bitterly sad and jubilant and aches for a night and complete stillness it shall never know. A sad, thin, stretching voice. A face that is a stranger to the day.
My father was 21 when war was declared on Japan. Unlike so many of his peers, including his good friends, my father did not rush to join up. So, what inspired him to finally do so? I doubt it was at his parent’s behest. From the little I was told about them, I would guess them to be Isolationists. He might have been swayed working for Douglas Aircraft (later McDonald Douglas). He would have been surrounded by a lot of pro-war propaganda working for a company like that. Who knows. Whether he was spurred on by a guilty conscience, or a late-arriving sense of patriotic duty, he never said.
Jammed in the back of the files I found a small journal. It was wrapped in a plastic bag that used to contain Palmolive soap bars. The front and back hard-bound covers were ripped away, leaving the clusters of pages precariously clinging to dangling strings that once held them to the biding, and it was badly burned at the top where fire had once threatened to destroy it. I was confident the singed top was the result of a house fire when I was a child. It was a thrill to discover the journal survived.
From the first page, starting from just under the charred top:
…if I were about to take the most decisive step of my life I hesitate upon these words. For indeed, I have taken a decisive step, perhaps a monumental one, and the need for words of monument is impressive. I am, on this date, aboard my first ship, the Phillip Livingston…We are tied up at a smelter, discharging nitrates from Chile, Peru and Ecuador. Oh, the fascination of the far-sounding names!
I fight the death of youth, fight the becoming a man, wanting neither to the exclusion of the other.
I took the helm for the first time today while we moved to another dock. It was a magnificent sensation of importance and responsibility…
Gray ship, gray day…frantic bouncing of the gulls in the wind, a boiling, brutal wind sprawling on the face of the sea-top. We depart Bellingham at 6am and the adventure commences.
In the 1990s, my father was interviewed for a book—though I do not think it was ever published—about the Cadet Midshipmen of the US Merchant Marines during World War II. It was then that all the stories of his three or so years of service came pouring out, exactly as if a faucet inside him was turned to the open position. The interview inspired him to write it all down. I have a photocopy of one of his drafts, somewhere. For all his efforts at writing the perfect short story, opinion piece for the local paper or essay of my parent’s traveling years after retirement, his memoir of his war service was his very best work.
The only time I saw my father sob uncontrollably was during a televised Memorial Day ceremony. Though he did not know combat as those who served in the other branches of the military, he carried very close to his heart the ultimate sacrifice so many of his generation made. He was profoundly proud of his service and honored to be called a Merchant Marine.
The first snow day of the year is always about getting out for a walk in the winter wonderland. Because this sort of thing happens only every so often, it’s always a treat.
However, this time, because of the terrible cold (in the 20s and teens) and the high winds with gale-force gusts up to 50 mph, going outside for a lovely stroll was not recommended. The conditions prompted the first “frozen spray warning” I’ve ever heard in the weather forecast for those crazy enough to be out on a boat. When I took the trash/recycling out, the experience was the closest I want to know what it must be like to live in Alaska this time of year. So, I stayed inside watching movies, napping, puttering around with this and that, started a new novel, and watched another movie before calling it an early night.
Day #2 is clear and sunny, and the wind is gone, but that’s about it. It’s still in the 20s; the sun only expected to warm things up to a relative balmy 35-degrees. There’s still no getting out of my hill-y neighborhood, as sanding our steep roads is not my city’s priority. It’s another day stuck indoors.
So, Day #2 will be about writing. Stay tuned. 😉
“What do you have against theatres?”
“Not ‘theatres’, I don’t have anything against theatre or theaters. Just the spelling. ‘re’ versus ‘er’. Makes me nuts.”
“Why? Both are correct, right?”
“Technically, yes. Lots of words have a couple of acceptable spellings. That’s not my point.”
“And that is…”
(sigh) “I know the common use is with an ‘re,’ but I think that should only be used when speaking of the art. ‘Er’ should only refer to the building.”
“Kind-of a pointy-toed logic you got there, but I get it.”
“I know, sorry. I’m a total nerd like that. Anyway, you were saying you want to see that new Mexican film?”
“Yeah! Veinticinco Ovejas por El Pastor Jesus. It’s playing at the Guild 45th Movie Theater. They even spell it with an ‘er’ “
Prompts this week are: veinticinco; pointy toes; what do you have against theatres?
As Boyd lay on his side, trying to keep his head from spinning, and from up-chucking another time, he realized Daniel had no idea he had fallen down the ravine. If Daniel had seen him fall, he’d be calling out for him. There wasn’t a sound except the icy wind passing through the giant evergreens and the occasional thump of accumulated wet snow falling off the limbs as the trees swayed. Asshole must have kept skiing, Boyd thought. Fuck!
How long had it been since he fell? Boyd thought it must have been a while. His fingers and nose burned with the freezing cold. Shouldn’t he be hearing Ski Patrol by now? It didn’t take that long to get down the back country, and grab the shuttle that takes skiers back to the lifts. Daniel would have waited a few minutes for him, but if he waited until the shuttle came back from the lifts, he would have known Boyd was in trouble, right? Fuck! Boyd brought his arm up to read his watch. As he did, the pain in his legs and back shot through him like an electric volt. He shouted as he fought off another wave of nausea.
Boyd called out for help, but his screams were completely absorbed by the snow. Exhausted, he had to fight losing consciousness. He needed to listen for someone, anyone, to come along the rim above. He knew anyone who came by needed to hear him, but with his face half buried in snow, it was impossible to be heard. With all the concentration he could summon, he beared down and, screaming through the acute pain, rolled over on his back. He then screamed as loud as he could: FUCK THIS! FUUUUUUCK!! MOTHER FUUUCK! HELP ME!…HEEEELP!….THE FUUUUCK…AAAAHHHH!
The tears started in earnest. Water poured from his eyes, snot streamed out his nose, and the metallic taste of blood in his mouth turned to a thick sludge. Boyd panicked and spat, repeatedly, afraid he’d choke on all his mucus and blood. His tears turned to heaving sobs, and regardless the pain the heaving caused, he could not stop crying.
“Boyd! BOYD! Now, that is EE – NOUGH!!”
Shocked, Boyd opened his eyes. Standing above him was his grandmother, just as if she hadn’t been dead these past four years.
“Nobody likes a bawl-baby! Quit that goddamned HOLLERING! “
Boyd ignored his confusion. “But, I…fell, Me-mah.” He meekly pointed to the ridge high above him. “I…fell…it fucking hurts!”
“Think you’re the first boy in the whole wide world take a tumble?! Huh? Out here, you and Daniel goofing around, not paying no attention! Serves you right, dammit! Now, get the hell up and let’s get you seen to. Up, I said! UP! NOW!”
Boyd started to push himself up on his arms when, instead of his grandmother, he saw his mother, father and Daniel, in his face, all shouting at once. “Whoa, whoa bud! You just take it easy! Lie back! Don’t move!”
Boyd blinked a couple of times. It was bright and very white, but unmistakably, he was in a hospital room.
“It’s sure good as all hell to see you awake, son,” Boyd’s father said.
Boyd’s mother started to cry and his father, clearly just as distressed, hugged her tight. Daniel, a big grin spread from ear to ear, smirked, “Shit, man. Holy fuck,” and gave Boyd a gentle chuck on his good shoulder, just as the duty nurse walked in.
“He’s awake!” Boyd’s parents exclaimed, as if Boyd was an infant who had just taken his very first steps.
“Where’s…uh…” Boyd started to ask.
“What, honey?” Boyd’s mother replied.
“Me-mah. I saw Me-mah. She was pissed.”
Boyd’s father laughed out loud, “I bet she was! Ha!”
This week’s UnOLWG prompts are: Plucked it out; Daniel has no idea; I can’t do this.
Your prompt is: A misunderstood burglar receives shocking news.
As Mark pulled up to the large ranch house, a woman stepped out onto the porch. He stopped his truck and cut the engine. The concoughany of dogs barking was something else. It sounded like hundreds of them. Mark now understood why the kennel was so far out in the country. It was the only property around for at least five miles.
The woman walked up to the driver’s side and gave a little wave.
“Hi,” he said, offering a hand as he stepped out of the cab, “Mark Jefferies. I called you about the puppies.”
The woman shook his hand. “Erin Eschelbach. That momma?”
Mark turned around to look at his dog, who looked pitifully forlorn. “Yes. That’s her, Agatha Christie, and…” he walked to the back of the truck and opened the hatch, “this is her litter. Minus three. Found homes for three of them.”
Agatha Christie jumped from the cab into the back of the truck and proceeded to tend to her pups.
Erin shook her head, a wry, crooked smile on her face. “Well, at least they’re weaned. You spay her yet?”
Mark nodded. “Soon.”
Erin started again to shake her head, but caught herself and quickly asked, “Why Agatha Christie?”
“The name, you mean?” Mark asked. “When we got her, she would spend hours snooping and sniffing around and she has this uncanny ability to find things. Like, stuff we thought we lost. Spiders under the couch, trash in the bushes. Dead animals. Loves to bring us dead animals.”
Mark thought Erin meant her remark as a genuine compliment, but her disappointment about the puppies was as plain as day in her expression. How many litters had this woman taken into her refuge over the years? From the look on her face, it was clear she considered him part of a never-ending battle.
“The vet said we weren’t supposed to fix her until after her first heat,” Mark offered as an apology. “Said that’s healthier. You know, decreases the risk of cancer and whatever.”
“No offence, Mr. Jefferies, but I got a kennel full of what the vet says. Problem is, for the casual pet owner, the vet don’t ever clearly say what a bitch in heat is to a male that ain’t been neutered. Mighty strong impulses on both their parts that make them do things they don’t normally do, like climb fences and the like.”
“Yeah, well, if it’s any consolation, we feel really bad about this.”
Erin placed her hand on Mark’s arm. He suddenly wished she would give him a hug.
“No worries. We’ll get them settled. They look great. You obviously took good care of them. You’d be horrified what I normally get dropped at my door. Now, from the looks of momma, best you carry the puppies up to the kennel. She trusts you. Keep her in the truck, though. But before we go, let’s let her get one last look at them.”
Prompts this week are: She smiled crookedly; at least a hundred; dogs are barking.
By the time Jerome reached 40 years of age, he had achieved all he wanted in life: A great marriage, children, the best group of friends a guy could ever have, vacations to just about anywhere he could imagine, tickets to every game in town, membership on a couple of high-profile charity Board of Directors, and a very, very lucrative and satisfying career. He was absolutely a success, by anybody’s standard.
The only thing was, Jerome was not the incredibly attractive, athletic man he once was. Women no longer perpetually smiled when speaking to him, nor did gay men linger a minute too long in his company. No one ever remarked, as they did so often in his youth, that he “must” be a fashion model. These days, Jerome was a regular customer of the Big and Tall shops. What little hair was left on his head, he had, at long last, decided to shave off, finally embracing his baldness. And, the “old football injury” gave him a pronounced limp. Orthopedics were all his crippled feet could tolerate. Though his wife protested he had not lost his appeal, Jerome missed making people feel, well, sexy.
So, when a new young clerk at the grocery store asked to see his I.D. before scanning the bottle of wine in his cart, Jerome had to chuckle. He knew it was the gesture of an incorrigible flirt, but secretly, he felt it like an unselfish act of random kindness. It absolutely made his day.
As a child, Charlese and her sister were terrified of their grandfather. He was a deeply bitter and angry man, hardened by every misfortune life could dish out. The girls dreaded weekly Sunday dinners at his home. The rule was to never raise your voice, and to stay out of the way. So, the sisters played outside when the weather was good, and huddled silently in a corner of the living room when the weather was wet and dreary with a couple of books.
On one such wet and dreary Sunday, Charlese and her sister were startled to find their grandfather asleep on the living room couch. Neither had ever seen the man in such a state of repose.
Despite their fear he would wake and yell at them, intense curiosity tempted the sisters to tip-toe over to him, just so they could get a close look. With his eyes closed and every line on his face fallen away; his brow unknit and his scowl slackened, he looked completely different. Almost unrecognizable.
Fifteen years later, at his funeral, as Charlese looked at him in his casket, she thought of that Sunday. He looked very much as he did that day. And though Charlese knew he could not suddenly wake and yell at her, the fear he would was as visceral as when she was a little girl.
ELLIE & PHILIP
Boxes and crates, on top of more boxes and crates, on top of even more boxes and crates filled the large storage unit, all of them stacked nearly to the ceiling, with each filled with expensive and priceless items of a life defined by grandeur and wealth: Statuesque hand carved ivory figurines, Swiss mantel clocks made of mahogany and intricate brass, gold and silver details. Cloisonné vases from China and France. Giant hand loomed Turkish tapestries. Gold plated snuff boxes. Hand embroidered lace and table linens, multiple sets of ornate fine china for a seating of 20 or more, cut crystal bowls and stemware, sterling flatware and serveware, sterling silver and gold-plated candle sticks of all shapes and sizes, and five 3-foot
tall Waterford crystal centerpiece candelabras. To Ellie and her husband Philip, opening a box or crate was like unearthing vast riches of a Pharaoh’s tomb.
Ellie held up a sheet of newsprint used to wrap many of the items: It read, New York, April 15, 1930.
“This stuff has been in storage all this time?”
“I guess,” Philip replied. “My great-great grandparents were the ones who made the family fortune. Probably the ones who accumulated all this stuff.” Philip sliced open a cardboard box and rummaged around.
“According to Dad,” he continued, “his grandfather did everything he could to maintain the family’s wealth, but, he said that’s the same time the federal
income and inheritance tax was, like, made a law. A lot of wealthy families had to sell off and close up shop. Even if some were able to hold on, it didn’t matter, because they ended up getting hit by the Depression. Anyway, that’s what Dad said happened.”
“And, all this stuff, just, what…sat around?” Ellie asked. “You’d think they’d have sold it off if they needed the cash, or whatever.”
“Yeah, well,” Philip held up a large sterling service tray to inspect it. “I guess, but not my family, apparently. Found all this shit in chests and crates in the basement of some cousin’s home after they died, just after World War Two. Dad said Grandpa Bill claimed it, and a judge agreed it was his. For whatever reason, it’s been moved around, ever since.”
“And, you are sure nobody in your family wants any of it?”
“Too bad, right?” Philip said, as held up an even larger sterling silver platter. “I mean, with a little work and polish, all this could be restored, good as new.”
Ellie examined the facets of a cut crystal champagne coupe. “I guess, but, seriously, these days? People only keep stuff like this for sentimental reasons. Maybe that’s why nobody sold it in the first place. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I saw an old fashioned champagne glass like this.”
“Oh, we’re not gonna keep any of it. We should sell it. Somebody will want this stuff. A collector. Museum. Maybe a Hollywood production shop, something.”
Ellie nodded. “But, it’s weird, ya know?” she said. “Standing here, all this amazing stuff, talking about how to get rid of it? I mean, having expensive things like this was such a statement of, I don’t know, whatever. Wealth! and class! Seriously, I can hear your great-great grandparents turning in their grave.”
Fun with vignettes this week! Prompts are: need to see an ID; Some of them, with work and polish, can regain their former shine; when your eyes are closed (https://aooga.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/olwg-85-nigh-on-noon/)