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THE SIMPLE THINGS

Lorraine Jenkins was tired. Between going to nursing school, and pulling a double at the nursing home, Lorraine had every cause to complain. But what purpose would that serve. Her ambition was driven by the need to help people.

She had come up the ranks the hard way, a slim black woman with manly features, but a very compassionate heart. Her mother had done volunteer work in the black hospital in Selma. A product of segregation, Floridine took pride in her work.She put all the compassion she had into caring for her patients. Lorraine recalled how tired and worn her mother looked after hard days. She was touched by how her mother would cry for hours when one of her charges has lost their struggle with life.

And here she was, a single woman dedicated to her work so much that she knew nothing of a social life. Her dream was to finish school and be the nurse her mother always strived to be.

But Lorraine was tired after an exceptionally hard day, Mr. Kettering in room 14 was fighting Pancreatic Cancer. He had been failing rapidly. Lorraine felt the end was drawing near. But Kettering had a spirit; he put up a fight. He was determined to survive to the new year. He promised his granddaughter he would be around for the Holiday.

Lorraine knew such promises were not his to make. But she smiled and nodded. And her eyes had met Mr. Kettering’s and the twinkle that lived there mesmerized her. Somehow, she knew he would not falter.

As she turned on the lights to her small Christmas tree, she sighed. It was one week to the dawn of a new year. Mr. Kettering had made it to Christmas. She smiled inwardly. The old guy was half way home. Lorraine took comfort in that fact. A monumental achievement. A “promise” kept. A simple thing.

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IT’S A DOG’S WORLD

IMAG1131_1Funny name these humans gave me. “King” It sounds rather nondescript; what is a king? From my point of view, I must be a big deal. I feel important for some reason. They slather me with praise, always telling me I am highly qualified for this title. “Good King” I heard the hairy one say to me.

The tall, leggy one with the tail in the back of its head… she looks lost in this place. Apparently, my kingdom does not suit her, and the point is moot to her. She seems to be miles away as she stand right there. And that other animal they have… they put in down to play with me. But I am as afraid of it as it is of me. And it smells funny… a cross between baby oil and poop. If it needs to go out, they should let it out.

And what is it about my tail that fascinates it? Always pulling me backwards. Let me voice my opinion just once, and they bring out that rolled paper thing and tell me I’m a “Bad King”. I think I’m getting the hang of this “Good King/Bad King” thing.

But there’s a lot of activity today. It looks festive. A day fit for a… a… well, King! A day fit for … ME! It smells good in here, and I’m getting hungry. Let me get up here and get a closer view! Such a nice spread, I’m glad I stuck around and not followed that poodle to God-knows where. At least I get to keep what falls off the edge.

“HEY, GET THOSE BRUSSELS SPROUTS OUT OF HERE!”

The King is fed. Long live the king!

GONE FISHING

Phil-bee woke up early. Before his mom. “Before the roosters”, like his grandpa used to tease. Actually, it was thoughts of his grandfather that enticed him to carry out this quest.

Philbin Barrett, Phil-bee for short, was grandpa’s pride and joy. Gramps was the only father Phil-bee knew, his own “a flash in the pan” as he heard his mother mention on the phone when she thought Philbin was out of the room. A mistake. A one-night stand, mom spoke in confession. Until then, Phil-bee had thought his father had died when the boy was three.

“The only redeeming quality of that man, was the little guy in the back bedroom” she was heard to interject.

So Phil-bee’s grandfather assumed the part as role model and teacher. A creature of habit was Jackson Barrett, and he taught his grandson the things Jack felt Phil-bee needed to learn in this life if he expected to go far.

All that changed as grandfather’s memory started to fade. Mom blamed some guy, an Al Shimer, for that. Ever since this Al showed up, grandpa just wasn’t the same. It was hard for Philbin to watch the only man who mattered in his life slowly become someone else. As Jack deteriorated, Phil-bee had to rely on the lessons learned from this good man. He tried to remember that man more than the person who did not recognize him any longer. Mom called it a “blessing” when Jackson Barrett had passed away.

“Gramps isn’t suffering any longer” she tried to explain to a tearful Phil-bee.

Phil-bee knew that along with being his grandfather and his teacher, Papa Jack was his friend. Phil-bee lost his BEST friend. If there was anything good in that revelation, it was that grandpa would live in his memory as long as Phil-bee kept him there.

The young boy’s mind was elsewhere as he stood next to his mom at Jack’s graveside. Philbin stared at the pile of dirt behind the square hole, watching the worms peek out and scurry back into the soil. The crowd of people that came to pay their respects was small. A few cousins, a couple of Jack’s friends from the service, Mrs. Burgess from their old apartment and the undertaker were Papa Jack’s only mourners.

Phil-bee remembered the talks he had with Jack as they sat at lakeside with their fishing line in the mossy green water. This was their classroom; where they had their best talks. Philbin needed to talk to Jack. But Jack was no longer there.

worms

“he reached into the tin can that held the wiggly worms”
(Photobucket)

Phil-bee dressed quietly, slipping his blue jeans over his spindly legs. He zipped his jacket right up to his chin and grabbed his ball cap. He gave the doorknob a soft turn and stepped out onto the back deck. Reaching down behind the deck chair, Philbin took the dented tin can that he had placed there last night.

The sun was coming up over the treetops as Phil-bee settled on the shore at their favorite fishing spot. The boy nestled into the moist grass as he reached into the tin can that held the wiggly worms that were distracting him at Grandpa’s funeral. With a shaky finger, Phil-bee hooked a fat worm. As he baited his hook (just like grandpa had taught him) Philbin started to talk out loud.

“Hey Grandpa Jack. It’s a good morning for fishing. I saved your spot…” Phil-bee started his long monologue.

In the early morning mist, a boy and his grandfather shared another moment discussing life and the future. Well, Phil-bee talked, and he was sure grandpa was listening. He had cast his line into the water a few times, but wasn’t having any luck. But it didn’t matter. Jack always said a bad day of fishing was better that anything he could think of.

Phil-be had talked himself out. He had told Grandpa Jack all he needed to say. He thanked Jack for being his Gramps and for teaching him stuff; for not being “a flash in the pan”. Phil-bee was honored to have been given time to be with Jack Barrett. He found peace there. Phil-bee forgave Al for taking Jack so soon.

“I love you, Grandpa!” Phil-bee tearfully whispered.

Philbin felt the tug on his line. He knew his grandfather loved him too.

HONORS AND AWARDS

ShoesIt was the greatest tribute he could have been given.

He lived a honorable life; a loving husband, a doting father. He was the perfect son and brother, a hard-working employee and he did works of charity. Christopher Blandings only did what he had been put on this earth to do.

There were times that he wondered if it was all worth the trouble. Christopher was never one for accolades and acknowledgements; most of his meanderings were done in the strictest anonymity. It was just that the world seemed so out of step with the morals he was raised upon. People never seemed to understand or appreciate the way things were. Blandings was baffled.

His wife sympathized with her mate, but being almost a decade younger than he, she straddled the fence between the generations. But she believed in his good and kind heart. She loved his honesty and his loyalty. He surprised her on occasion with breakfast in bed or a tender back rub. And he had a fire burning deep within him that made Jessica lose control. There was nothing bland about Blandings.

She loved her man. She loved Christopher right up to the day he died. Sadness and grief were not emotions to which she prescribed. Jessica knew life was a celebration. And death was clearly an extension of that celebration. In his passing, she saw that her Christopher did not go unnoticed. As the funeral processed to the cemetery she became aware of something. The telephone wires were adorned with shoes. Their laces bound together, they were tossed aloft to wrap around the overhead lines. There were well over a hundred pairs hanging; she witnessed people removing their footwear and adding to the milieu.

Puzzled, she questioned the undertaker. His explanation brought a tear to her eye and a flicker in her already gracious heart.

“When a person passes, tradition had the mourners remove their shoes and by draping the secured pairs over the wires, pay homage to the person so loved. The more shoes that dangled, the more respected was the deceased.” he informed.

Again Jessica looked. And the tear were more abundant now. The entire route to his resting place was graced with shoes. Hundreds and hundreds of pairs pointed to his life as one well lived; having touched many hearts.

It was the greatest tribute he could have been given.

UP WITH THE SUN

…her long dark tresses, spraying the sand with her seductive “rain”.

Rob Caruso had given up all hope. He was far removed from the shipping lanes. No chance of rescue remained. He had been gone for three years. He was REALLY late for his last appointment. As a matter of fact, that’s how most people referred to their friend now. He was the late Rob Caruso.

But hope has a second face. When you give up hope, you actually open yourself up for any possibility. As he emerged from the thatched hut he caught a glimpse of all that was possible.

There she stood, a curvacious silhouette in all her natural beauty. She was Toostana. The name means Tuesday which Rob saw as ironic, since he found Toostana on a Friday. The native cleansed herself in the teal blue lagoon waters tossing her long dark tresses, spraying the sand with her seductive “rain”.

Rob scratched a hand through his disheveled hair and sighed. The thought of being alone becomes less depressing when shared with one as ravishing as Toostana. The thought of clothing also becomes less relevant when all that tanned flesh is the most stunning outfit one could “don”.

The sun crept slowly over the cliff…

The sun crept slowly over the cliff, illuminating more of the shore and bringing every trace of Toostana’s beauty to bare. But Rob’s paradise held this one fact. Who needed the sun to creep slowly over a cliff when Toostana was baring her beauty quite nicely on her own? All he could do was pray for midday!

NO MORE FIGHT LEFT

“J.D. sipped his drink. He thought it would give him “courage” and settle his nerves.”

John Dunn Sylvester sat in his window seat staring out at the tarmac and watching the loaders complete their chore. The Flight Attendant came down the aisle offering assistance and instruction. She stopped by J.D.’s seat.

“Sir, can I get you anything?” she asked.

“Huh? Oh, no thanks, I… no, thank you, I’m fine” came his distracted reply. Her smile offered little in the way of comfort or assurance. It would take more than that, he was afraid.

John remembered passing through the terminal thinking how appropriately the word irritated him after his journey. The doctors at the clinic were all in agreement. They labeled his condition with the same hopeless word. Terminal.
His cancer had metastasized. 18 months was the sentence proclaimed. He got nothing off for good behavior.

“Get your affairs in order, John!” the words ringing hollow in his head.

Sylvester was coming home to do just that. For a moment he thought it was a blessing that he and Beth couldn’t have children. But guilt washed over him, knowing that now his wife would be all alone. Her tears had been plentiful during their ordeal, but the determination as a last “second” opinion would surely open the floodgates.

J.D. sipped his drink. He thought it would give him “courage” and settle his nerves. But all that the Sweet Soco Manhattan did was excite the butterflies in his gut.

It is amazing how when your mind seems a million miles away, you don’t notice the obvious happenings around you. Announcements and recommendations filtered across the intercom.

“Approaching runway 19…”

“Tray tables in the upright…”

“Keep seat belts fastened until…”

The screech of the wheels as they contacted the runway, pierced him with a final thrust. As the plane taxied to the terminus, he tried to compose himself. How could he face Beth knowing he had refused all further treatment? He didn’t want to fight anymore. He just wanted to spend every minute he could loving the love of his life in his last months.

The line of passengers spilled into the waiting area, heading for the baggage claim. John had followed the others like cattle; mindlessly plodding along.

And there she was. Near the carousel. He saw Beth’s tears glisten down her cheek as she tried to retain some semblance of calm. As they embraced, he felt her shudder against his chest in muted sobs.

Pressing his cheek against hers he whispered “Beth, I love you so much!”

She gave a squeeze. Beth sniffed in her last tear.

“Let’s go home!” she whispered, never veering from his side.

GREENER GRASS

Jared Kippler loved his Grandfather Gordon’s farm. Summer vacations usually included a stint helping out for a few weeks. He loved the openness and the freedom that his grandfather’s acreage provided. “You didn’t find that in the city” he always reasoned. The neighbors were neighborly and they liked it that way.

As Jared got older, the summer vacations got shorter as he spent more time in his rural retreat. Grandfather’s health was failing and it began to show through the neglected parcel of land. When Jared graduated from college, he made the toughest decision of his young life. He moved to the farm to live and care for the old man and try to resurrect the farm.

When Kippler arrived at his Grandfather’s he was greeted by a surprising sight. The neighboring yard, which ran alongside and behind the farm, had been completely enclosed by a thick fortress of a fence. Mr. Salazar had been farming his tract for as long as Gordon had. Francisco (Frank) had apparently taken ill and subsequently died. The resulting sale of the property brought a new set of neighbors with a different set of problems.

To hear his grandfather tell it, they were “uppity city folk, not very friendly”.

When he would say hello and wave, they would turn and ignore Jared’s grandfather.

“Your great-grandfather always said that silence was a fence without wisdom” the elder Kippler would recount to Jared. Now that silence took on a physical presence with the wooden enclosure.

Jared found Gordon Kippler’s assessment of their neighbors to be very accurate. And the land nearest the fence started to show the lack of attention it was getting. The grasses where waist high and higher where they did grow, and the ground was dry and cracked where it didn’t.

“Only two reasons for a fence” the sage elder continued. “You build a fence to hold stuff in, and to keep people out.”

Jared took it a step further. “You build a fence to keep love out and anger in!”

 

The openness and the freedom that Jared used to crave, and that his grandfather’s acreage provided, was all but gone. It was as if those “city folk” brought their urban banality home to roost. The once neighborly neighbors had been supplanted by arrogance and ignorance.

Jared felt it would be a matter of time before the neighbors got bored with their “Green Acres” dream, and the summer following his arrival proved him right. The tract of land was back up for sale and would sit vacant and more neglected as it ever was. The changes that Jared was enacting on their property were seeing some mild success, when Gordon’s tired heart finally gave out in late July.

The farm was never the same as his youth reminded. It was an isolated place; an island which was rapidly becoming deserted and desolate. Jared sensed what the Salazar’s must have felt when they were forced t dispose of their property.

After much soul searching, Kippler decided to stick it out a while longer.

Winter’s harshness gave way to the promise of spring. Jared had settled into Gordon’s life rather easily, and knew his grandfather would be proud of his effort and decision to stay. Another sign gave Jared hope. It was the one that said, “SOLD” and that sat in the Salazar’s front yard.

Progress has a very distinctive sound. Jared loved waking to the rumble of the tractors and backhoes that always seemed evident on the neighboring property now. Activity was the engine that drove that resurgence and seeing the work going on there encouraged Jared in his own endeavors.

Out back near the monstrous fence, Jared set out to paint the barn. He noticed that in the far corner a few sections of the fencing were gone. A group of people was working to dismantle the enclosure. One was clearly directing the others, as Jared saw a woman pointing at parts of the fence and gesturing signals to the rest of the crew. She noticed Jared observing their work. The woman gave a hearty wave in Jared’s direction.

“Howdy, Neighbor!” she called, sounding quite…neighborly.

Jared smiled and waved a “Howdy” of his own as he approached the fence to meet her. She was quite attractive, and her long raven hair and dark chocolate eyes bore witness. Her smile was warm and heartfelt. And very familiar.

“How are you Jared?” she began, catching him quite by surprise. “These places have seen better days, haven’t they?” she continued. Her manner and grace were intoxicating. “I remember the grass being much greener and the land so… open.” The woman smiled again, and Jared made the connection.

“Marisol?” he asked timidly. “Marisol Salazar?”

She smiled wider. “I thought you had forgotten. I’ve come home. God knows, this place needed me.”

Jared grew up summers with Marisol and her brothers. He always felt an attraction to the striking beauty before him. She was a few years older than Jared, but they shared the same passion. This land and all it had been; all it could be again. His workload had just changed.

Jared put his brushes and paint away and grabbed his hammers and pry bars.

Things would be much better now, the way they used to be. And without this horrid fence.