To Write is to Love Again

written by Mary Rose Betten

I used to come home from performing my one woman show at the theatre – crawl into bed with my husband, audience applause ringing in my ears, we’d snuggle and he’d whisper: “I want you to remember that applause, okay? Whenever your spirits get down. Promise me you will never forget that applause.” I would laugh and promise: ‘Okay, I will never forget.’

Years went by, twenty, thirty, forty, until the night of Presidents day 2011 when I came home from a one-night performance, applause ringing in my ears, crawled into my empty kingsized bed. That ocean of a bed where I wavered, aimless as a stick thrown for a dog the wind blowing branches against the window, scratching lines never to be read and announced to the night: ‘I don’t want to be an actress, I want to be a sage. A great cast iron bird atop some weathered barn in the middle of nowhere indicating: ‘This way, this way, come along, I’ll show you the way. I’ll keep you safe.’

I woke to morning sunlight, my brain marinated, fingers aching to announce, ‘The wind is blowing this way. Feel it? Come along.’ Quickly I found my bathrobe, snuggled into the canoe of my writing chair, laptop for an oar and headed out, navigating the threat of empty space, Henry Miller’s words mapping my path. “Stop looking for a miracle,” Henry bellowed, (Henry never whispered) “You are the miracle.” And I wrote my way back to shore promising I would write, write, write.

 

Bear, a European Cinderella story

written by Laura Beasley

There was once a widowed king with one precious daughter whom he protected to the point of captivity within his castle grounds.  She could never run in the sunshine through wildflowers or walk along the pebbled paths as the moon rose in the evening.  She could never see the endless sky filled with the stars at night.  The young girl was watched by her nurse, her governess and her tutors.  Although the servants provided loving care, they obeyed the royal command:  the princess never left the castle.

As she became older, the princess chafed against these restrictions.  As her fourteenth birthday neared, she begged and pleaded with her father, “Please, won’t you let me go outside in the sunshine?  Can’t I go out to play? To toss rocks in the stream?  Can’t I climb the trees?”

The king refused.  For her birthday, he gave her a golden dress that shone as brightly as the sunshine.

Before turning fifteen, she argued, “I understand, Father, that I am not allowed to go out in the daylight.  What if I went outside in the evening when the moon is rising?  I could walk along the path and hear the owls and the night animals coming out.  Couldn’t you let me go out in the moonlight, Father?”

The king refused this request as well.  He gave his daughter another dress. This silver dress shone and shimmered like moonlight.

In the days before her sixteenth birthday, she entreated, “Father, I understand and respect your limits.  I cannot go outside the castle walls during the daylight.  I cannot go out in the evening.  Couldn’t you just let me peek out one night so that I would be able to see the sparkling stars in the dark night sky?   When I look out of my tiny tower window, the view is so restricted I can barely see anything.  Wouldn’t you let me go out one night to see the stars?”

The king refused, but he gave her a dress that sparkled like the starlight.  The captive teenager was miserable.  As her seventeenth birthday grew nearer, she was reluctant to confront her father.  He had denied each and every one of her desires.  Her old nurse suggested, “Ask your father for a wheelbarrow and a bearskin.  He will not refuse to give you such simple things.”

As predicted, the king gave the princess what she had requested.  The old nurse revealed her secret identity to her beloved charge.  “I am a wise woman and a witch, and I am willing to help you.  Do you really want to escape the castle?  Are you ready to leave your father?”

The princess nodded in assent.

“Very well, my dear, first we must pack up your dresses for you may yet need such beautiful garments,” said the old woman.

The witch pulled three hollow walnut shells from the folds of her cloak.  They rolled up the dress that shone as brightly as the sunshine so that it fit inside the walnut shell.  The dress that shimmered like the moonlight was folded, rolled, squeezed, and pushed into another nut.  The dress that sparkled like the stars was crammed, pushed, and smashed until it fit into the third shell.  All three walnut caskets were placed in the bottom of the wheelbarrow.  The witch told the girl, “And now, my dear princess, you must sit in the wheelbarrow.”

The princess did as she was told.  Her beloved nurse draped the bearskin over the shoulders of the princess while singing an enchantment.  When the bearskin was wrapped around her skin, the girl was transformed into a bear.  The witch took out her magic wand and tapped the wheelbarrow three times.   Her magic made the wheelbarrow move of its own accord.  The old woman opened a door into the courtyard, and the palace guards jumped back as a bear in a wheelbarrow sped across the castle courtyard.  They heard the old woman cry, “Open the gate!  Open the gate!  Let the monster escape!”

The guards were so amazed and frightened to see the horrid creature that they complied without thinking.  Before anyone could blink, the bear in the wheelbarrow was rushing through the opened gates.  She rode along the Royal Road over the hills and down the hills, across the pastures and over the plains, over the mountains and into a forest.  The princess disguised as bear was whizzing along when she ran into a tree. The wheelbarrow was splintered.  The bear princess, unhurt but overwhelmed, sat dazed and moaning.  The baying of distant hounds stimulated the bear to find and secure the three walnuts.  Before the bear could escape, it was surrounded by a pack of dogs.  A prince who had been hunting in this forest rode up, astonished to hear a bear pleading, “Don’t hurt me, I haven’t harmed you.”

“Why you’re a bear who can speak!  I must take you to meet my mother, the Queen.”

The queen was impressed with the bear which could not only speak but also cook and keep house. The bear was made a royal servant who did menial work in the castle:   cleaning, sweeping, putting things away and serving food.

When the bear had finished the chores, it would lie under the dining room table, rolling about and muttering to itself.  The queen adored the bear, but the prince despised it.  He complained that the bear was always teasing him and making sarcastic comments.  Exasperated by these insults, the prince would try to kick it. The bear always rolled out of reach before the boot could connect with its nose.  One morning the queen spoke to the prince in that tone mothers use, “You know son, there is going to be a gala three-day ball in the neighboring castle.  You really should go to the party.  It is an opportunity to meet the right sort of young women.”

“All right, Mother, I guess I will go,” sighed the reluctant prince.

Under the table, the bear muttered, “Sure he might go to the party, but he’d be too embarrassed and shy to ask anyone to dance.”

The prince growled and kicked out with his foot.  As usual, the bear rolled out of reach.  That night when he went to the ball, the prince was determined to prove that the bear was wrong.  He searched face after, face finding no one to dance with.  His interest was sparked when a beautiful princess with gentle brown eyes entered the ballroom; she was wearing a dress as sparkling as the sunshine.  He asked her to dance, and they whirled about the ballroom floor, gazing into each others’ eyes with a sense of closeness and special understanding.

The prince spoke to his mother the next morning, “I am so excited that there is a second night of the ball.  I danced with someone special last night.  She was so wonderful, and I can’t wait to see her again.  I hope she’s there tonight!”

“Sure, you danced with someone,” muttered the bear.  “But you didn’t bother to talk with her.  You’re too shy to say anything. You’re just a coward!”

The prince kicked out, “Leave me alone, bear.”  The animal rolled away.

On the second night of the ball, the prince found the same girl wearing a dress that shone and shimmered like moonbeams.  He spent every moment with the brown-eyed girl.  The next morning, he said, “I did talk to that special girl.  I told her all of my dreams, all of my wishes, and all of my hopes.  I told her all about my past and my present.  We talked and talked and talked.”

Before the queen could respond, the bear interrupted, “Of course you talked about yourself.  But you didn’t ask her any questions.  You didn’t listen to what she had to say.”

The bear’s insight infuriated the prince.  He swung with his right foot to kick at the creature.  The bear rolled out of reach, laughing, and giggling at the youth.

On the third and final night of the ball, the prince searched and searched for his favorite companion.  She was not wearing a dress like sunshine or a dress like moonbeams.  The prince was almost blinded by the brilliant dress worn by the mysterious brown-eyed princess, a dress that sparkled and glittered like shining stars.  The prince spent the whole evening asking her all sorts of questions.  He listened and remembered every word she said.

The next morning at breakfast, the prince rambled, “Mother, she was so wonderful.  I even put grandmother’s ring on her finger.  It was the last night of the ball, and I will never see her again.  She would not tell me her name or where she lived, but I learned so many other things about her.  I know her favorite nut, a walnut.  I know her favorite color, brown.  Her favorite food is soup.  I want soup for breakfast.  Don’t let the bear make soup.  That creature spoils everything.  I am tired of that bear teasing me.”

The bear went into the kitchen and ladled a generous serving for him.  The bowl was set before the prince.  He looked down without acknowledging the creature and dropped his spoon into the soup.  Languidly, the prince started to slurp, swallowing spoonful after spoonful until he spit something out and screamed, “Mother, mother, there’s a bone or something in my soup!  The bear is trying to kill me!”  The prince examined the object and exclaimed, “Wait, it’s not a bone.  It’s a ring!”

After putting the ring on the table, the prince shifted his gaze upward.  The prince looked up and saw something familiar in the bear’s gentle brown eyes.  “Why don’t you take off this bearskin?  It’s time this mystery was revealed,” he told her.

The bear’s paw reached to the top of its head stripping off the bearskin and revealing the brown-eyed princess wearing a dress that sparkled like shining stars.  As the couple embraced, she told him her sad story of captivity and escape.  They were married and neither was ever sad again.

Holiday Wishes Through the Gift of Words…

To celebrate a year of writing together we are posting a collection of essays with the single word prompt of Gift. Happy Holidays to all our readers thanks for following along!

Joy Delicately Restored

written by Lisa Solis DeLong

Dad was never one to spoil the grandkids; he and mom started giving them money for their savings as their Christmas gifts a long time ago, practical people they are. It was really very un-dad-like to give them such lavish doll houses back then but he enjoyed working with his hands and I think he enjoyed being able to give them something of himself.

I am thankful that he did. As I pulled the doll houses out, I was surprised that I had the foresight to save most of the little wooden pieces which had broken off.  I remembered finding them on the floor back then and contemplating throwing them away as the pile of Polly Pocket accessories mingled with Lincoln Logs and the chaos grew out of control and I felt like ditching everything.  But each time I held one of those broken pieces in my hand I would picture my bald little dad in his workshop/garage patiently gluing each one delicately in place, holding it until the wet glue dried and so I didn’t have the heart to toss it.  After gluing the one-and two inch railing pieces back on the log home myself, Jacob and I delicately layered white batting on the roof tops and around the front “yards.” we added lights and created an instant winter wonderland. “Ahhh Christmas has arrived,” I thought, as the “Grandpa Houses” sparkled magically with the little people placed inside, sitting at tiny tables and lying on cozy cardboard beds, Santa and his reindeer ready to make his delivery, perched on the “snow”-covered roof tops.

The other night my husband went to bed after a long day of coaching and teaching, Jacob took his night time chemo pills and Jojo went to bed exhausted from a tough basketball practice. Jessica was still out and I found myself in a rare moment of silence, so I stayed up and played quiet music, picked up the day’s warn shoes, folded some warm laundry, and swept up the pine needles which had fallen from the tree.  The air was chilly but the doll houses sparkled warmly. They looked spectacularly festive. It is in moments of recognizing stunning loveliness that the stinging pain of dealing with so many cancer experiences blend and I wish that Christmas didn’t have to come with such conflicting, difficult emotions. It isn’t right that happiness should hurt but sometimes in the quiet stillness of the holiday season, memories surface, and it does. Life is like that—a blend of good and bad, of highs and lows.

The houses have become my heart’s fondest decorations for Christmas and now when I am feeling too tired, too torn up to celebrate, I look at those glistening doll houses and I feel a spark, think of my dad. And like the tiny rungs of the railing on the well- loved log doll house, I realize that there always comes a time to restore that which is worth restoring.  That is Christmas.

Which Gift?

written by Laura L. Mayes Hoopes

It was December, 1949 in Chatham, New Jersey, cold and blustery but warm with anticipation of Christmas right around the corner.  I was in second grade at Chatham Township Public School, learning to sound out my letters and read phonetically from my teacher, Mrs. Belcher.  We lived in a white frame house on Longwood Street, with many children living near our house.  Robins nested in our lilac trees, but now it was winter and there were no leaves and no birds to be seen.  Icicles hung from our roof and frost flowers scrolled over the windows of the back porch.

My mom sat on the stairs below me, sewing something made of white satin.  I colored, leaning on the step above me where the coloring book rested.  Mom shook out what she was working on, and I saw that it was a doll dress, probably a wedding dress for a Toni doll, the type of 18 inch tall dolls with settable hair that were all the rage.

She said, ‘Laursy, this is one of the two doll dresses I’ve made.  One is for your your friend Christine and one is for you.  I only had enough to put lace on the snap placket of one of the two, this one.  See, here is that lace.  The other dress is exactly the same but it doesn’t have lace on the placket.  You can’t really tell the difference when the dress is on a doll, only when it’s off and the snaps aren’t snapped together.”

I looked at the dress.  It was long and full, with a fitted top and puffed sleeves.  There was lace on the neckline and the sleeves.  And there was lace on the placket of this one.  “It’s beautiful, Mama,” I said, handing it back to her.

“Is it okay to give Christine the one with the lace placket or would you feel bad because yours didn’t have the lace?”  she asked.

I thought about how the real fun of the dress would be putting it on and off and how I”d probably be jealous of Christine if she got the lace placket and I didn’t.  So I was honest and said, “I wish I could have it, Mama.”

“Of course you can if you really want it,” she said.  “I only thought it wasn’t so important and maybe you’d like your friend to have it.  But it’s no problem.”

On Christmas morning, I opened my presents and sure enough, I got a white wedding dress with a lace-bound placket to fit my Toni doll.  Christine was thrilled with the dress my mom had made for her doll too, and I don’t know if she ever noticed that mine had lace somewhere that hers did not.  But I did, and whenever we dressed our dolls in these dresses, I felt selfish and mean because I had given my mom the wrong answer that day on the stairs.

The Gift

written by Rossana G. D’Antonio

She sits in her car with the box on her lap, her hand lightly resting on its simple white wrapping secured with the bright red ribbon.  Her fingers gently run little circles around the farthest corner of the rectangular box.  It is his birthday and her heart beats excitedly at the thought of the gift.    As she steps out of the car, the breeze ruffles her hair and she pushes it back from her face with her hand.  The other hand gently holds the gift against her chest close to her heart careful not to crush the ribbon.

“Hi!,” she says as she approaches him shielding her eyes from the sun with her free hand.

“Hey!  You brought me a gift!”

“It’s your birthday, of course I brought you a gift!” she says as she sits down placing the gift between them.

“Thanks!  You shouldn’t have but I’m glad you did!…hey, is that Cartier red?” referring to the red ribbon with a quiet chuckle.

“You wish!”

“Wow, another year, how time flies.”

She nods.  Actually these last two years seem to have dragged on and yet looking back on them everything seems like a blur.  So much has happened and yet, so much has not.

“Well, it’s my birthday so let’s open my gift!” The excitement is that of a 10 year old, except it’s not.  The bright red bow slips off the box with such ease and the rest of the wrapping is quickly pushed aside.  “You got me a book?” he asks somewhat surprised at the wide open box exposing its literary contents.  Everyone knows he is not much of a reader.

“It’s not just any book.  It’s my manuscript.  You know, my story…our story.”

“You finished it?  Finally, geez, it took you, what, two years?”

It had been two years.  Two very long years.  But she was done.  Yes, finally, she was done.

“Did you fix Part II?  I heard there were problems with Part II.  Cause we don’t want a shoddy Part II.”

“Yes, smart ass, I fixed Part II…I’m beginning to think this was a mistake.”

His loud and boisterous laughter rang out in the breeze.  He was always the loudest of the family.

“Ok, all right, I’m kidding.  So, I’m assuming you dedicated it to me, right?  Go ahead, read me the dedication.  Go on.”

She rolls her eyes as she picks up the first few pages the breeze ruffling them gently.

“To my little brother who changed my life forever…”

“Cool, it’s about time you realized it!”

“I hope you can read it sometime,” she says.

“No need to read it, we lived it, didn’t we?”

“Yes, we did.”

She brushes her fingertips lightly against the raised letters on the brass plaque.

Captain Cesare Edoardo D’Antonio

December 15, 1967 – May 28, 2008

Today, your wings are those of angels…

“…we certainly did,” she whispers softly blinking back the tears.

She rises to go, brushing the grass from the seat of her pants.  It is so peaceful here and on many visits it is hard to say goodbye.  So she never does.  The garden of farewells is how she chooses to think of this place.  As she reaches the end of the walkway she turns for a final farewell.  Next to her brother’s plaque lays the open gift box with the pages of the manuscript flipping in the afternoon breeze.  Slowly, one by one, the pages turn and tell a story almost as if being read by its immortal protagonist – the non-reader relishing in the gift of a story.

An Unexpected Gift

written by Barbara Force

The house was dark as I stumbled to the kitchen at six am to start the coffee.  It was mid-December, our home was festive and the Christmas tree was decorated and cheery in our small living room.  I loved the smell of the fresh fir.

The coffee started dripping and the aroma mingled with the fir – a heady and eye opening smell.  I plugged in the tree lights and sat with my coffee to enjoy the quiet moments before I had to start getting ready for work.  Our cat, Imp, an all black, part Siames rescue, came in through the cat door, rubbed against my legs and settled in at my feet.

I had a modest collection of Christmas tree ornaments, amny of them home-made, in a variety of shapes and sizes, some of them animals.  I hadn’t wrapped presents yet, so the area under the tree was bare, except for the tree skirt.  I noticed that one of the ornaments had fallen off, and lay under the tree.

As I stared at it, I realized that none of my ornaments had that long of a tail.  I got up to take a closer look, and there, perfectly placed under the tree, was Imp’s gift to us.

My Christmas Memory

Written by Lisa Ruiseco

It was just weeks till Christmas and I was like most eight year old little girls who only had their sights on Barbie.  Yes, this was the year I was asking for something BIG…a 3-story Barbie House.  I begged, promisd and pleaded with my mother letting her know I would be especially good if she could on, please, please, pretyy please get me a Barbie house for Christmas.  She said it really wasn’t up to her, but up to Santa and that he was watching my every move to see if I had been really a good girl.  I looked back on the year and thought if there was anything bad, I could surely make up for it in the next few weeks.  I was the perfect angel for the rest of that holiday season.

It was finally here, Christmas Eve, and I remember putting cookies, milk and carrots out for Santa and his reiindeers.  My parents said eight thirty was bedtime and the sooner we went to bed the sooner it would be Christmas.  I was so excited with anticipation and nervousness to see if Santa really thought I had been a good girl.  I remember waking up at 11:30 . . . it was a really clear night and the sky filled with stars and the brightest moon ever.  I stood in my windowsill looking for Santa, sure that I would be able to see him flying through the bright sky.  It seemed like I was there forever, never ever seeing that bright sleigh, hearing Santa’s deep voice or Rudolf’s shiny red nose.  Maybe he had already come or maybe he was waiting for me to sleep.

Morning arrived and I jumped out of bed.  I was the first awake and couldn’t wait to see if Santa brought me my Barbie house.  There was a big box with mine and my sister’s names.  Could it be? I had to wait . . . shucks!  Finally everybody was up and it was time to open presents.  My mom asked us to wait to open the biggest present last.  Nothing else mattered to me but the big box, could it be? My mom and dad finally said okay.  My sister and I tore through the paper and yes, I had been a very good girl.  It was a Barbie house!

Stress Relief

Written by Liz Eisen

Stress is one of those terms I’m on the fence about. Yes, it is a valid malady often causing anxiety, insomnia and an ever-growing list of complaints. But, it’s also a word that has become a scapegoat for everything demanding in life. “Can’t get to work on time, you must be stressed…no time to make dinner, must have had a stressful day…need time to relax, eliminate stress in your life.” I think it’s needing more than 24 hours in day that’s the problem, not the “stress”.

At holiday time, we are all more pressed for time and therefore frazzled. Shopping and gift-wrapping, decorating the house, holiday get-togethers added to the regular busy routine of daily life and are more than enough to make a rational person question their sanity. I try to handle December with calm and grace, and an occasional glass of pinot noir.

I never realized that the craziness of the holidays rubbed off on my kids. When they were younger, after days of shopping, I would hide away in my bedroom with cylinders of blue and silver gift-wrap, and emerge hours later with beautiful boxes. More recently I’ve discovered gift bags and speed-wrapping right before the candles are lit. The kids now take iTunes cards or new earbuds out of dreidel-covered tissue paper deftly placed in bright blue bags, which they then hand back to be “recycled” for next Hanukkah, the “to, from” sticker still intact.

As we emerged from the Barbie and Hot Wheels year, the kids each began to adopt one of the eight nights and be a giver only. The requirement was that they spend no money on gifts to Michael and I and their siblings, but rather come up with something creative they could make themselves. In the beginning that worked well; we each got handmade certificates entitled the bearer to three car washes a year or a back massage or a promise to do chores without being reminded. Soon the pleasure of soaping up the SUV on the driveway lost its’ appeal and the kid’s wanted to spend money to get (and therefore receive) real gifts. Pressure ensued as they shopped and realized how hard it is to wonder through a department store hoping that the best gift in the world will jump into their hands.

Over the years, my children have given me beautiful and thoughtful gifts: photographs of flowers they took themselves, coupons for dinner and a movie for just the two of us, and my favorite…the “mom needs to relax” presents. These include, but are not limited to, the Stress-Relief pills from Adam (Sugar Babies in a washed out prescription bottle with a hand-drawn label), a box of Cozy Chamomile tea from Bryan (with the picture of daisies and a butterfly on the box) and a pedicure gift certificate from Melissa (the ultimate in relaxation). The theme is apparent and gratefully appreciated.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and stress-free holiday season…Liz

Christmas Cat

Written by Mary Rose Betten

The evening of Oct 4th, Fall is in the air, and we are leaving for the theatre (okay so it’s L.A. but we still call it theatre). I make certain  the back screen door is ajar for Zorro, our neighbors cat who enters in want of snack.  We have buried the last of our four cats but Zorro still looks for them and snacks in memorium.

After midnight my husband and I return and dress for bed.  I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water and make sure the screen is latched; fill the glass, turn and there on the tile floor is a tiny gold and white kitten with huge new-penny eyes meowing, no…make that yowling! I spill the water and stare.  She can’t be more than 6 weeks, and so confused.  She skids around giving me what for about the door being closed then runs and tunnels herself under the couch.  It happens fast.  Was she a vision?

After coaxing her from every angle of the couch we give up, put food and water at one end, an old scratch box at the opposite and go to bed.

As time went by she would venture out and sit further away from the couch near the  middle of the floor and blink at us.  She began to play with proffered strings and threads and finally let us pet her.  We discovered from the neighbors her mother was a “lady of the evening,” who answered to no one and must have walked her right into our house and left without a fair thee well.

We named her Frances.  Well truth be told, Francis after St. Francis of Assi, since she came to us on his feast day.  When we discovered she wasn’t a Francis we declared her official name: Frances The Feral Cat.  By Christmas she was completely at home, even shared her snacks with Zorro though she remains unsocialized and dives  directly under  the couch when the doorbell rings.  I see her mother occasionally canvassing the neighborhood but we are her parents now, she is forever our gift.   Irrational as love .

The Perfect Gift

written by Erica W. Jamieson

I am not a good gift giver.  Most of my gifts get returned.  I never see anything I’ve given out on display in the recipient’s house or used at a party or worn out in public.  Some of my gifts come back to me as in, oh, wow, you would use this more than me, here why don’t you just keep it.  I’ve also taken some gifts back.  A picture frame that I loved was found on a dark shelf in the corner of my mother’s basement.  It now sits on the side table next to my bed in my home three thousand miles away from where it was intended to be on display in her living room.

I find giving gifts stressful.  The more so now with the internet and all those darn catalogs.  I am inundated with tag lines of “Give the Perfect Gift”, “Fab Finds for Under Twenty-Five Dollars”, or “What They Really Want”. . . I never know what they really want.

I have a friend who circumvents all of this tsuris by giving out specific orders for gift giving at the holidays.  And yet, conspicuously missing from her detailed list of what her son really needs, what would make her husband happy, is any clue as to what to get her.  In twenty years of friendship I hasten to say she has only kept one gift and I’m not sure I’ve seen it recently.

Donations made with an honorarium are meaningful but not personal.  Gift cards worked for a while, money is so easy. But the latter are both rather cold.  I can wrap and add a little candy so it looks festive but after the ribbon cutting paper ripping chaotic anticipation of will-they-won’t-they like it the truth is exposed in plastic or cash.  I didn’t have clue what to get.

Am I so obsessed with my own wants and needs that I’m not listening, not  paying attention?  Is it that I don’t deeply know my friends? I worry that it translates to a missing gene in my friendship capabilities.

There is too much pressure to be jolly and ever so friendly in December, that Academy Awards of gift giving month, oh, to hear someone say I really like it, I really do.  Everywhere you go there are gift wrapped packages, bags overspilling with other people’s favorite things.  The stores swell with merchandise, everything colliding together with a wide angled intensified determination.  I get so dizzy.

I would quit, just stop with all this nonsense.  Bake a batch of cookies or an olive oil cake, make a donation, give the money or a card.  Just let it go.  But one of my better gift giving friends — she always gets it right — said to me once as she handed back a gift I had scoured the city for while in search of perfection, “You try so hard.  I really love that about you.”

Manifesto for the Chronologically Enhanced

Written by Laura Hoopes

Time to be happy at sixty because:

~You now have 5 dozen years to add to your wisdom and
insight.  Or if you prefer, you now have 3 score years to add to your wisdom and insight.
~You realize you don’t want to remember everything, and rejoice
in your ability to forget certain things.
~You know more people called whosis and like them better.
~You like slow food and slow sports more, but still think
shuffleboard sucks.
~The good old days do look better every year, and you can recall \​them better too.
~You start to feel that similarities are more important than
differences.
~You think certain activities, foods, and drinks you used to enjoy
are not really that good.
~Charm and manners seem much more important to you than
they used to.
~You don’t care who is listening when you speak your mind.
~You feel that we should all be able to get along, after all.

A Trip

Written by Barbara Force

Midnight at the Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain.  I was biding my time until my flight on KLM at 1:30 am to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.  I arrived at the airport early.  I had a late checkout at the pensione, stored my bag and headed out for tapas and wine.  Proper dinner didn’t start until at least 9:00pm in Madrid.  I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to travel to the airport on local buses and I wanted to allow enough time.  It was 1968.

I had been working for TWA in Los Angeles for two and one half years.  I worked as a Ground Hostess (working the information counter, greeting people in the lobby to answer questions, going to other airlines to pick up connecting passengers and helping out where it was needed).  I had travel privileges, or passes, but very little money.  Lisa, another Ground Hostess and I had become friends at work.  She quit at the end of 1967 to join the Peace Corp and, after training, was assigned to a moderate size town, Agboville, in the Ivory Coast, about a six to eight hour bus trip from the capital, Abidjan.

I loved traveling, which is why I wanted to work for an airline. I would take off when time and money permitted.  In my job, we could trade days with each other, working for someone on your day off, and accumulating extra time off.

When Lisa wrote from Africa about her assignment, I thought what a grand opportunity to travel to this area, a place I probably would not visit on my own.  So we exchanged letters, I took vacation and trades and got 11 days off, a pass on TWA t0 Madrid, and a pass on KLM to Abidjan.  My last letter to her outlined my flights (they were not booked full in those days).  I planned on spending two days in Madrid to adjust to the time change and flight fatigue.  I had traveled to Spain before, but knew a few places I wanted to visit that I had not seen.

At the airport, I sat in an alcove near the departure gate.  The concourse was vacant, except for a lone cleaning woman two gates from me. She worked slowly, and wore clothes that were either Indian or Pakistani. There was a slight acrid smell in the air from the cleaning disinfectant.

The lights were dim.  The silence had settled around me.  I read for awhile.  I checked in five hours early at the ticket counter, tagged my bag, and was given a boarding card.  There was plenty of room on the flight.  At that time, there was no security to pass through, just immigration.  At first I passed the time reading, then walked the concourse a few times. I wrote a long letter to Steve, a TWA agent  I was dating who had been drafted into the Marines and was in boot camp.  This was the

Vietnam era.  After finishing the letter, I started thinking about my destination.  My excitement turned to anxiety as I realized I never heard back from Lisa that she received my flight itinerary.  What if she never received the letter?  What if she wasn’t at the airport to meet me?  How would I find her?  I didn’t even speak French, the language of the Ivory Coast.  My grand adventure might become even more exciting, but I didn’t want that kind of excitement right then.  What in the world was I doing?  I think in one’s twenties, one is brave, adventurous, stupid and invinceable.

I boarded the flight, sat down, and realized I had a entire row to myself in the coach section of the Boeing 707.  After take off, I said a prayer for safety and for Lisa to be waiting for me, and promptly fell asleep.  The flight stopped in Accra, Ghana.  The steps rolled up to the rear door of the 707.  The sun was just blazing over the horizon and glinted off the railing I held onto while walking down the steps to stretch my legs.  Some people headed toward customs, and the rest of us walked to the refreshment stand.  The humidity assaulted me, as well as the diesel fuel and exhaust smell from the airport vehicles.  I purchased a Coca Cola, and talked to a couple of other passengers who spoke English.  It seemed like the most natural thing to be doing at 6:15 a.m.  One man, white, mid 50’s, looking distinguished in a suit, had disembarked from the first class door.  He joined the small group.  He was a Dutch diplomat, returning to his post in Abidjan.  He asked about my travels and plans, and I explained my dilemma, about Lisa. Thoughtfully he reached into his breast jacket pocket and removed one of his business cards and gave it to me.  He said to call him if I had any trouble.  My anxiety decreased immediately and I thanked him.  We all reboarded the airplane and it took off for the thirty-five minute flight.

I was nervous, wondering what would happen and tried to read.  It was useless.  I then moved to the window to watch the scenery.  We were flying along the coast.  The land was a mass of dark green, contrasting with the blue of the ocean.  Suddenly we were landing, and taxied to a stop.  Walking through the door and down the stairs, the same humidity engulfed me.  I really don’t remember walking into the terminal, passing through immigration and customs.  It was all a blur.  I could hardly wait to exit throughthe double swinging doors.  As I walked out, behind a rope there was a sea of brilliant colors against dark skin.  I scanned the crowd.  And there was Lisa, her white face smiling and her arms waving.  The next part of the adventure was about to begin.

Affirmation

Written by Liz Eisen

It took weeks to get Adam ready to move into his dorm.  Multiple trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond yielded the requisite twin extra-long sheets, blankets, comforter and the (thick, really thick) mattress pad needed for the bed in his new room. We bought towels, spiral-bound notebooks, desk accessories, a toaster oven, a coffee maker (aka the “ramen noodle soup” cooking machine), a mini refrigerator, posters and clothes. A week before move in day on campus, my living room was stacked with what we thought was everything Adam would need to live at a college that was five hours away from home.

To say that I had mixed emotions would be putting it mildly.  I was immensely proud of my 18 year old for getting accepted at the school he had worked so hard to attend. I was grateful that he would still be in California, and the five-hour drive easily translated into a flight that took less than an hour. I knew I would miss seeing his mischievous grin every day and I vowed not to be the mom that would call or text so much that I would pester my son on this first leg of his journey into adulthood.

Just before the big move, we visited my sister-in-law Laurie and her family in Los Angeles.  They practice Orthodox Judaism, more observant than the conservative sect of the faith in which Michael and I have raised our children. Laurie and her husband have seven children; the four girls love spending time with their older cousin Melissa and the three boys rambunctiously treat Adam and Bryan as two more brothers. During our visit, conversations ranged from politics to family gossip to Adam leaving for college. I mentioned to Laurie that the only thing I had not yet gotten was a mezuzah for his dorm room. She went to a cabinet in her kitchen and pulled out several extras she had and let Adam choose one. He picked a mezuzah with a carved wooden case and silver Hebrew lettering into which Laurie rolled up the tiny parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah.

A mezuzah is affixed to doorways of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) of inscribing the Shema “on the doorposts of your house” to remind us of God’s presence in our lives and in our hearts. On the scroll inside the mezuzah the Shema is written out, along with a companion passage also from the book of Deuteronomy. Many Jews touch the mezuzah as they enter a room and then kiss their fingertip, which I didn’t grow up with and don’t practice. I always look respectfully at the mezuzah when I walk into a Jewish house. I don’t see the case and the scroll as a good-luck charm, but as a reminder of my faith.

We have four mezuzot in our home, one on the front entry door and also in the doorways of each of our three children’s rooms.  Adam has always slept in a bedroom with a mezuzah on the doorframe. I was reassured to know that he would bring one with him to college. That could be the first step to meeting a nice Jewish girl who he could date throughout college, marry in 10 years and then give me gorgeous grandchildren.

All too soon, Adam was packing the car for us to drive him north to school. He is a pragmatic young man and he realized that one small SUV, all his dorm necessities plus his family of five would be a tight squeeze in the car. He packed into every available space; the mini-refrigerator became a suitcase of sorts, non-breakables were gently shoved under the seats and I think he would have used the well holding the spare tire if we would have let him.

Move-in day in the dorm was a blue-skied Saturday, which helped a bit with the gray feeling I was masking. The sub-terrain parking of the building was set aside strictly for the unpacking of cars. As we hunted for a parking space, I was amazed at the items people were unloading. Big screen televisions, gaming consoles, clear storage boxes filled with what looked like enough food to last through the entire semester. Many move-in veteran parents had brought furniture-moving dollies to transfer boxes upstairs. I glanced in the back of our car and wondered aloud if we brought enough to last Adam until our next trip to San Jose. The recommendation from the university was that freshman should not have cars, so Adam would be depending on public transportation and his skateboard to get anything or anywhere off-campus.

Michael, Melissa, Bryan and I waited in the hall with the contents of the car while Adam checked in and received his dorm card key. I was unsure of the protocol; did we bring everything into the room and then quietly make our exit to leave Adam to unpack on his own? Or, did we help him fill dresser drawers and make his bed? I decided on the wait and see plan of action. As we made our way through the halls to his room, we passed by many parents and siblings also carrying boxes.

We ended up helping Adam unpack everything, meeting his roommates and their parents and then spending the afternoon together having lunch, seeing the area, shopping at Fry’s for the internet cable we didn’t know was needed, grocery shopping and then out to dinner at Iguanas, a Mexican food favorite of students that is the home of the five pound, 18” ‘Burritozilla’. Everyone hungrily tucked into our last dinner together for a while and I choked down a salad.

Adam was in a hurry to return to his dorm to start getting to know his roommates and shift into this new phase of his life. I reminded him to ask his (non-Jewish) roommate if it was all right to put the mezuzah on the doorframe and Adam absently nodded to me in between bites. After eating, we dropped our son off as close to the building as we could and accepted his refusal of help, instead watching him slowly walk across the darkened campus with grocery bags on each arm, lugging two cases of bottled water.

Our plan was to drive home Sunday morning after a quick visit to the campus bookstore. Instead, Adam asked if we could take him and a roommate to Target and Costco to stock up on more forgotten necessities. Two hours later, we had finally gotten Bryan an SJSU hat and a sticker for the car window. We called Adam to come meet us to say goodbye and were surprised with an invitation to his room. “I want you guys to see where I put up my posters and stuff.”

As we walked through the halls of the dorm, now crowded only with students, my throat tightened. This was it, the moment I had been anticipating and dreading since I walked to school holding Adam’s hand for the first day of kindergarten. Tears filled my eyes, but did not spill out until we reached Adam’s room. Before I walked in to see where my son had taped up soccer posters, I touched the wooden case he had affixed to his doorway and kissed my fingertip.

 

Islands

Written by Rob Daly

Cliff stands bent at the waist in the dressing room of the “Islands” clothing store, his black Nike track pants at his ankles. The green carpet under his Lacoste sneakers so plush he swayed a little as he smoothed the silky palm tree-print shirt around one leg and slid three thick rubber bands around it, holding it aloft. Pulling up his pants, he looked down and, satisfied with his work, grabbed three similar shirts hanging on a brass hook and left the dressing room.

The slight, balding salesman, who had introduced himself as Jody, watched Cliff emerge from the rear corner of the store and called to him.

“Did those work for you?” he asked, moving slowly toward him.

“No,” Cliff said, forcing a smile. “Better luck next time.”

He draped the shirts over a rack and continued toward the entrance without pausing.

Jody walked to the shirts, passed his hand over the three hangars and called to Cliff.

“Sir, may I speak to you for a moment?”

Cliff stopped and looked back as two nearby customers looked up.

“I believe you took four shirts into the dressing room.”

“Must have left one in there, sorry,” Cliff said turning away.

Jody looked over his shoulder where a young woman stood by the dressing room door gently shaking her head.

“Sir, excuse me. May I speak to you for a moment?” Jody said and in that instant Cliff pulled the tinted glass door open and dashed out into the night.

A piercing alarm squealed.

The mall was nearly new, a style blending outdoor shopping with amusement park. Spanning three blocks on a manufactured cobblestone Main Street, it was built to resemble a quaint village. Storefronts were facades of used brick, louvered shutters and flowery window boxes. Antique light posts lined the street where in the middle, a reproduction trolley car carried shoppers from one end of the mall to the other.

Cliff had planned on an orderly exit, unaware that security devices were now attached stealthily to clothing; that Jody’s computer screen had revealed four items in Cliff’s possession when he entered the dressing room. Cliff could ponder his mistake on the long flight to Hawaii tomorrow. Right now his problem was the Friday night movie theatre crowd. The same teeming herd that would have provided cover for the walk to the street and his car parked a block away.

To his right the trolley lumbered past. He dashed around it out of sight of the store, then hurried past couples and children, between giggling teens and window shoppers; past the throng at the surging fountain. He was nearing the corner where he could dash for the exit when he heard voices behind him, demanding that he stop. He broke into a frenzied run, pushing people out of his way. The corner was in sight and he lunged for it with every muscle and all the adrenaline he could summon.

Mr. and Mrs. Timmons had been planning to take the twins to Baby Gap all week and while Donny parked the car, Sheila left the parking garage and pushed the double stroller quickly toward the lights and the crowd on Main Street. She wanted a few minutes in front of the fountain and the musical light show before meeting her husband.

Cliff never saw the front wheel of the stroller before he tripped over it. He somersaulted over the legs of baby Jenna and hit the street in a roll. It happened so fast that some witnesses claimed the screaming began even before Cliff’s body caused the trolley to lurch to a stop, sending passengers and their bags sliding off the seats. Baby Jenna cried and cried as people began shouting orders and sirens sounded and shoppers were corralled behind the entrance to Crate & Barrel. The blood ran downstream, crisscrossing the outlines of the cobblestones, past Cliff’s bulging eyes into the period-look drainage grate.

The trolley wheel having penetrated at the level of his heart, Cliff’s pants and the stolen goods hidden inside were hardly touched. At the mortuary, the palm tree shirt was retrieved, bagged and eventually returned to the corporation that owned the store.  After a thorough steam ironing, Jody placed it back on the full price rack, as good as the day Cliff didn’t buy it.

Habits

Written by Mary Rose Betten

Habits like rabbits multiply.     I find it curious a nun chooses an order, takes a vow and wears a habit.  “Make it a habit,” my father would yell (he never spoke but bellowed) “Return things to where you found them.”  That might come naturally to salmon but I found it unoriginal.

When we buried him I wanted to shout,  “Look we got it right.”

In the course of becoming an old lady I now care less about order and more about comfort.  It’s difficult to release the foot rest on my recliner and  get up to retrieve  what I want.  Never mind returning it.  A sound repeats: “Forget about it.” Consider the sound of Hobbit and habit.  Definition of Hobbit?  Small with hairy feet.  Nothing grows on my feet,  though  my size grows along with a mustache.

Growing up I had a habit of leaving the light on while I walked out of my bedroom to go across the hall to the bathroom.  Down the hall with the speed of a freight train came my Father whooping:  “You burn holes in the daylight.”  Before I could explain: “I’m making a pit stop.” he’d be slapping at the switch like a mad drummer  after mosquitoes.

As a child my mother taught us to make windows in shoe boxes, cover them with tissue, attach a string and fill the box with lightening bugs. Of course I was only five so I went by Daddy’s white wooden lawn chair and said:  “Look Daddy, they turn on and off the light all the time.” As I say I was five not fifteen or I’d have gown up with the box implanted in my lip.

In our country church we had baptisms following a Sunday mass.  During mass nobody noticed but a bird flew in, took a quick bath in the baptismal font and left.

The priest didn’t notice.  My father was oblivious.  But the bird could fly.  There’s the answer: flight!  Before high school graduation I heard it cost more to turn off a light than to leave it burning a short time but I was too busy cleaning out my drawers, packing, determining how to pay my own  electric bill.

Today  AARP speaks advice to the elderly.  They claim by developing new habits your brain will easily adjust. Take something you don’t do well.   Like I am hopeless with numbers.  My father tried to teach me Algebra and my answers caused him to break pencils and masticate his tongue.

I’m going to rush out and take a course in mathematics so my brain can rejoice while my body has a nervous break down.  A full happy life to that AARP writer.  Whenever I feel the need for  studying mathematics I’ll pop some corn, sprinkle  sea salt, climb in my recliner and let the good habits roll.

Golden Seal, a Selkie Story

Written by Laura Beasley

In the bitter cold of a northern winter, a blue-eyed man in a kayak paddled and rested, paddled and rested, drifting with the tides.  Even though storm clouds shielded the moon and he’d never been in this part of the bay before, he didn’t worry enough to consider himself lost.  At twilight as the fog skimmed the surface of the ocean and the waves slapped the sides of the hollow kayak, he had not decided which direction to turn next.  He heard a strange sound.  The sound was unlike any he had ever heard, high-pitched, almost lyrical.  He hurried his kayak toward the mysterious noise.  When he got closer, the fog and mist cleared, revealing an island of rocks exposed by the low tide.  He abandoned his kayak, scrambling over the rocks and stumbling in the darkness toward the sound.  Was it singing?  Certainly not in any language that he could recognize.

The sound was coming from the moonlit shore and beyond the dark rocks. He realized he could watch without being seen.  As his eyes adjusted to the illumination, he saw a swirling circle of naked bodies with twirling hair that seemed to float on the air.  The women were dancing on the sand.  He could see their long hair flowing in the moonlight, brown and blonde, black and white, red and gray, silver and golden.

He sat down, mesmerized by their song and transfixed by their dance.  As he leaned back, he felt instead of cold, hard rock, something warm and soft.  Had he been sitting on a pile of pillows?  He discovered some wound-up bundles of fur in all different colors, brown and blonde, black and white, red and gray, silver and golden.  He picked up the golden bundle of fur which smelled of the salty sea air, as familiar as the golden sand on a sunny day.  Even though he knew he shouldn’t, he shoved that bundle of golden fur inside his parka.  In the next moment, he heard nothing but silence; the women had stopped singing and were moving in his direction.  He found himself a new hiding place.  From behind that rock, he watched as the women walked up to the pile of furs, joking, laughing, nudging and elbowing each other.

The tallest woman with long black hair reached into the pile.  She took out a bundle the same color as her hair.  She stretched a string at the top of the bundle until a long tube of the darkest fur rolled out.  She pulled this over her feet.  She pulled and tugged, pulled and tugged until her legs disappeared.  She pulled and tugged, pulled and tugged until her arms disappeared.  She pulled and tucked until her face disappeared except for her soft brown eyes.  She had become a seal.  The selkie barked a farewell before diving into the dark sea.

Woman after woman reached in, grabbing another sealskin, gray or white, blonde or brown.  He watched as the selkies were transformed into seals which barked while leaping and splashing in the water.  The process of transformation continued until there was one woman standing on the rocky island.

Her sisters, swimming nearby, barked as if to shout encouragement.  In spite of persistent searching, she could not find her missing sealskin.  After some time, her sister seals dove beneath the ocean and left her alone.  As the man stepped out of the shadows, she ran to him, begging, “I have to have it; give me my sealskin.”

Stroking her golden hair, he explained, “I’ll give it to you in seven years, but first you will have to be my wife.”

Having no choice, she went home with him to a cold stone cottage at the end of a cobble-stoned path.  Although not a handsome or a young man, he spoke kindly, and he held her gently.  His aroma of salt water and fish was familiar and comforting.  In the beginning, she did not love him, and yet she made a loving home.  The blue-eyed man awoke daily to the sound and smell of fresh fish sizzling on the stove.  Every day when he came home from fishing, he heard the humming of her strange tunes and smelled the earthy odor of fresh-baked bread.  They would eat a delicious dinner together.  Before falling into crisp clean sheets, they would share an evening filled with spirited conversation, songs, and stories.  She told him stories of the selkies:  stories of the seals, stories of the sea itself, tales of sadness, tales of sweetness.  They shared a loving life together.  She warmed his life in other ways, and within a year, a child was born.

Nanook had magic hazel eyes that could mimic the blue eyes of his father, and yet, in the dimness of firelight, mirrored the soft brown eyes of his mother.  She loved her baby, nursing him, and singing him lullabies.  Her lullabies did not sound like those of the other women in the village.  She sang Nanook the lullabies of the humpback and the beluga.  As he grew, she taught her son how to swim and to fish, how to cook, and how to keep house.  She told him stories.  These were not the same stories that the other mothers told their children.  Instead of “Little Red Riding Hood,” Nanook heard “Little Red Snapper.” The boy did not learn the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” instead he heard “Goldi-fish and the Three Sharks.”  Instead of the “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” he listened to the story of “ The Three Catfish Gruff”– brothers who manage to outwit an octopus.

Like all mothers, she wasn’t perfect.  Although she never spanked Nanook, when she was angry, she would shake her arms and bark at him.  Nanook grew taller, loving his mother, loving his father.  Being a child, he assumed things would stay the same, and he did not notice when his mother became ill.  Sometime after his sixth birthday, she started to change.  She was tired and pale, she complained of headaches, and she needed to nap much of the time.

The raging of loud voices woke Nanook one night.  He heard his mother’s voice shouting, “Give it back to me!  It’s been seven years.  I have to have it.”

His father, insisted, “No I can’t give it to you!  If I do, I won’t have a wife.  Our son won’t have a mother.”

“I don’t know what I will do.  I just know that you have to give it back to me.”

Even though his parents continued to argue, Nanook fell back to sleep as tired children do.  Later that same night, he was awakened again.  Someone was calling his name in a deep, distant voice, “Nanooook.”

He heard the voice from far away call again, “Nanooook.”

Even though he knew he shouldn’t, when he heard his name called for the third time, the boy climbed out of the window.  He scrambled down the path searching for where the voice had originated.  He went up high above the swirling sea to the dangerous cliff where he’d been forbidden to play because the rocks were too slippery.  Nanook needed a high vantage point because the sound was coming from the ocean.  As his eyes adjusted to the illumination of the moon, Nanook scanned the swirling darkness, finding, on the edge of the horizon, a large rock.  A huge silver seal which had hauled itself onto the rock commanded, “Dig, Nanook. Dig.”

On the top of the cliff, Nanook began to dig.  His bare hands bled as he clawed at the sharp rocks until he found something.  Lifting a soft bundle to his face, he absorbed the smell of the salty air as familiar as the golden sand on a sunny day.  Nanook held the bundle in his arms, feeling safe and complete.

Meanwhile, back in the cold stone cottage, the woman opened her eyes.  Sensing that something was wrong, she ran to her son’s bed and found it empty.  She ran out of the house, up and down the streets of the village calling for him, “Nanook, Nanook, Nanook!”

She searched by the shore where they would collect shells, swim and fish.  She glanced up at the cliff and saw Nanook silhouetted in the moonlight.  After climbing up the mountainside, she gathered her child in her arms.  As tears of relief that her son was safe wet her cheeks, she closed her eyes.  When her eyes opened, she saw the softness clutched in his young arms.  Even though she knew she shouldn’t, she took the bundle from him.  She loosened the thread until the golden fur spilled out in a long tube.  Slipping the tube over her feet, she pulled and tugged, pulled and tugged until her legs disappeared.  She pulled and tugged, pulled and tugged until her arms disappeared.  She pulled and tucked until her face disappeared except for her soft brown eyes.  She had become a golden seal.

She grabbed her son under her flipper making an enormous leap into the ocean below.  She swam out with him all the way to the rock on the horizon.  She said to the big silver seal waiting for them, “Father, the breath of life!”

The two seals huffed into the face of Nanook, seven times in all.  She dove under the surface of the ocean carrying her son with her.  As he was pulled deeper under the dark water, the boy struggled to hold his breath.  When he finally opened his mouth, Nanook did not drown.  In fact he discovered that he could breathe under water.  Living under the ocean, he saw things never seen by any human, man or boy.  He learned the wit and wisdom of the whales and to dance and dive with the dolphins.  He met his seven selkie brothers and sisters, siblings he never knew he had.  He learned the songs and stories of the seals and the selkies while he was living there in his mother’s world.  After seven days, a single magic week below the sea, Nanook was told he had to leave.  He returned to the land of men.

The old man cared for Nanook until the boy could take care of himself.  One day, his father was lost at sea; the body was never recovered.  As Nanook grew to manhood, he was not like the other men.  He didn’t hunt and kill the whales, the otters, the seals.  Nanook was never hungry for he caught plenty of fish.  He was well-loved because he was the teller of stories and tales.  He told stories of the selkies, stories of the seals, stories of the sea itself, tales of sadness, and tales of sweetness.  Later some villagers even told stories about Nanook, the strange man who denied he’d been orphaned.  Nanook would climb into his kayak and paddle out to that rock jutting out of the sea, that rock skimming the horizon.  He would spend hours out there, talking and listening with two seals which had hauled themselves out.  One seal had clear blue human eyes.  The other seal had soft brown selkie eyes.  She was the GOLDEN SEAL.

Playing With Fire

Written by Barbara Straus Lodge

By the time I notice the 2 blazing torches stuck in my rose bush, Luke is deep into his moderately choreographed routine of twirling fire sticks and launching them into the air, then catching them with his bare hands and one leg raised, karate kid crane style.  From inside my house, I shriek for my son to “Make Him Stop”, and slosh my dog’s water bucket outside to the left of Luke’s impromptu stage, next to the pool. All 200 teenage kids at ‘No Drugs or Alcohol Allowed End of Summer’ party are mesmerized.  My son tells me fire juggling was on the mass Facebook invitation and Luke has been juggling for years and he knows what he’s doing and everyone’s expecting the show and I should just give it a chance and nothing bad will happen. So I watch in stunned reverential silence, counting the minutes until its end.

After the show when I drag both Luke and my son aside and reprimand them for neither warning me, nor having an obvious plan of action in case ‘things’ caught on fire, Luke says his mom makes him carry a fire extinguisher in his car.  And it’s just down the street.  My son nods enthusiastically, “See mom??”

My son gets called away to tend to a ‘real’ party crisis in the form of an overflowing toilet in the pool house and I take the opportunity to have a heart to heart with Luke, one of my favorites of his group of friends. “Luke you don’t ever do this drunk, do you?”  Luke is a ‘serious’ weekend partier, who is known for his big heart, small brain and especially for the fact that he intermittently smokes weed to the point of catatonia.  “Oh no, Barbara, never drunk.”  Then it hits me. “But Luke, your eyes are all red and puffy….Oh my God, are you high?  Luke were you juggling HIGH?”  The thought is almost unfathomable.  “Luke, you wouldn’t juggle with fire high, would you?”

He avoids my eye.   I pull him in and give him a hug and say a silent prayer of gratitude that no one was hurt.  I love this child.  “Luke, no!  Promise me you will never do that again.”

“I’m sorry, Barbara. Please don’t think less of me.”

And it’s only 10pm.

I hadn’t seen Luke setting up because, well, the backyard was crowded and I had been arguing with the kid who got caught smuggling in an unopened gallon (yes, gallon) of Smirnoff in his left pant leg.  “Um, Mrs. Lodge, can I have it back?  It’s still sealed and I can return it to the liquor store in the morning.”

“Of course you can’t have it back. You’re 16 years old. Are you serious??”

Yes, they ‘all do It’ and yes, most parents know they do and look the other way.  But that’s not how I do It.  My reputation as the mom who drug tests her own son, searches his friends’ backpacks, confiscates their drugs and calls parents is well known. To my surprise, the kids still like me.  Parents, not so much.  Last month I called the parents of a kid to report that I had found 5 glass pipes, a bong zig zag rolling papers, and a bulging baggie or ‘medical’ marijuana in his backpack.  Not only were they unphased, but they seemed annoyed at my call. I later learned that they allow their son to smoke pot and in fact support his habit so he has a greater appetite and qualifies in a heavier weight category for high school wrestling.  He’s ranked within the top 20 in the state.  All good?

Not on my watch.  And boy am I watching, or so I think.

During the school year and especially on weekends, there’s a constant flow of teenage boys into and out of my home. More often than not we talk about their lives, their cars, their grades, their parents and how bad drugs and cigarettes are for them.  Perhaps they want to be mothered.  Or perhaps they like knowing that I know that they know that I know they know I know ….no no no ….. Maybe they look to me for disapproval. Maybe they look to me for tough love. Maybe they don’t look to me at all.  But they keep coming back, fully aware there are no secrets when they enter my house.  That says something, doesn’t it?

By 2am, our party is merely a smoky memory.  No accidents, injuries or drownings and I feel accomplished that over the course of the evening, I confiscated only a ‘designer’ glass pipe, and a couple of baggies of marijuana from kids I had never seen before.  My rules had been respected and kids learned that they can have fun at a party where the beer is not flowing.

My son’s 9 closest friends and I debrief over pizza and I suggest we check the street in front of our house so the neighbors don’t wake up to any trash in the morning. We spend the next hour, grocery bags in hand, gathering tens of dozens of discarded liquor and beer bottles, even empty cases. With each bag we fill, with each clank, clink and clatter my heart breaks a little more. The kids think it’s hilarious.

Facts are facts; most of our 200 guests were drinking, smoking and God only knows what else-ing and I was busy looking the other way. Although I might have stopped 1 kid from drinking inside my house, 10 others were getting wasted on the sidewalk. They were hiding from me in plain sight and it turns out that Luke wasn’t the only one playing with fire.